Summer is a great time for a getaway, and road trips are a fun and cost-effective way to make great memories.
Road tripping can be a great way to expose your kids to new locations and you can turn them into traveling pros with a few long weekend adventures. Chicago Parent partnered with Expedia to bring you five fun cities to check out that you can drive to in a day from Chicago that feature some great family-friendly activities.
St. Louis, Mo.
There’s a lot of family fun to be had in St. Louis, and the Gateway Arch is probably the first activity everyone thinks of. While it’s certainly worth a visit, it’s not the only fun spot in town.
Families consistently rave about the City Museum, which boggles the mind and thrills kids with features like a 10-story slide. Located in the 600,000 square-foot former International Shoe Company building, the museum describes itself as “an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects.” It’s hard to describe but easy to appreciate once you’re there. Chances are your kids won’t want to leave.
Grant’s Farm is the 281-acre ancestral home of the Busch family, named for Ulysses S. Grant who once lived on the land. Grant’s Farm offers a wide variety of activities. You can do everything from visiting a log cabin originally built by Grant in 1855 to watching bison and zebra roam free at the Deer Park to riding a carousel.
Speaking of the Busch family, the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour is surprisingly family friendly and includes a chance to see the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales in historic stables on site.
The gateway to the west is about five hours from Chicagoland.
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
For families who don’t mind a day in the car, the Twin Cities are around six and a half hours from Chicago, so you can get here in a day.
The Spoonbridge and Cherry (the sculpture of a spoon with a giant cherry on the tip) is an iconic sculpture for a reason, and it’s worth a trip to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to see it. The Cowles Conservatory and the Alene Grossman Memorial Arbor and Flower Garden are also located there. The Garden also hosts free family activities monthly during the summer.
Nature lovers will appreciate Minnehaha Park, home to the famous Hiawatha Falls. The falls were immortalized in the epic poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1855. You can do one better than Longfellow, however, when you see the falls in person, which Longfellow never did. They’re breathtaking, and easily accessible for little naturalists.
The Mall of America is a good place to get a jump on back to school shopping, as Minnesota does not have tax on clothing.
Between the beautiful lakes, the Madison Children’s Museum, the University of Wisconsin, the arboretum and the State Capitol, it’s easy for families to stay busy in Madison, which is less than three hours from Chicago. If you have a dinosaur lover, don’t miss the Geology Museum on campus.
It seems a crime to not have ice cream when visiting Wisconsin, which calls itself “America’s Dairyland,” in the summer. Check out Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor, a Madison institution that features a carousel.
Madison is also a great stopping point if you want to break up the trip to the Twin Cities.
If you’re happy staying in the Land of Lincoln with no need to cross state lines, Galena is just three hours from Chicago. It is a great “starter road trip” for families with little ones or those who just don’t want to spend a ton of time in the car but want to feel like they’ve traveled somewhere.
A walk down Main Street feels like you’ve traveled back in time. You can do everything from visiting the many historical sites, including another home of Ulysses S. Grant, to horseback riding.
Should you want to cross state lines, Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, isn’t far away. Have a catch with your favorite little baseball player where the movie was filmed. It hasn’t changed a bit. On some Sundays in the summer you can watch the Ghost Players emerge from the magical corn.
If you have kids who are all about visiting different states, you know that you can walk across the bridge over the Ohio River from Cincinnati and be in Kentucky. Drive time from Chicago to Cincinnati is about five hours.
The range of activities in the Queen City is impressive. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center located in downtown Cincinnati aims to “reveal stories of freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps of freedom today.”
The Cincinnati Art Museum encourages kids to be hands on with art in its interactive Rosenthal Education Center.
Kids and kids at heart love Kings Island, the largest amusement and water park in the Midwest where you can visit with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the gang, ride some roller coasters or take in the views of the area from the observation tower near the top of the one-third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower.
Wherever your travels take you, have a summer full of fun, adventure, and exploration.