9 Spectacular Must-Do Day Trips From Chicago (2024 Guide)

Looking for a good day trip from the Windy City? Here are 9 amazing day trips from Chicago that include state parks, beaches, historic sites and more.

Chicago is a city of mouthwateringly good deep-dish pizza, pristine architecture, and an enriching atmosphere. Full of top-notch restaurants, eye-catching fashion, and upscale attractions, the Windy City is a place people travel from all over to visit.

A place of innovation, Chicago is constantly up to speed with new trends – or establishing the trends for everyone to catch onto.

Of course, as the birthplace of modern architecture, this is not a big surprise. Still, a visit here catches one’s eye with the fascinating designs and structures of the buildings within the third largest city in the United States. 

While visiting this trendy city, we recommend spending a day outside Chicago to see nearby top attractions like state parks full of hiking trails. There is so much to see outside the town center of Chicago, so why not add a day trip or two to your Chicago itinerary?

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

The 9 Best Day Trips From Chicago

It’s time to spread your wings and leave the city on an incredible day trip. Take your pick from our curated selection of the 9 best day trips from Chicago. From living in luxury in Lake Geneva to exploring the rich history and architecture of Oak Park, get ready to have the time of your life.

Find more of the best things to do in Chicago here!

1. Starved Rock State Park

  • Distance from Chicago: 91 miles/146 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1½ Hours

Settled along the Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park is an oasis teeming with seasonal waterfalls, towering sandstone canyons, thriving wildlife, and scenic hiking trails.

However, the most well-known landmark at the park is the cliff the park is named after – Starved Rock. This imposing sandstone cliff is a natural landmark that holds history. 

Archaeological excavations have been run at Starved Rock for further research to verify information shared throughout history. In 1683, the French used Starved Rock to establish a fort called Fort St. Louis. It was later abandoned in 1691. 

The sandstone cliffs were named “Starved Rock” by Native Americans in 1770 after what is estimated to be about 2,000 Native Americans died atop the cliffs. This was after the Potawatomi Indians attacked the Peoria Indians.

As a result, the Peoria Indians were trapped on the rock and suffered starvation. 

What Is There To See And Do?

Today, Starved Rock State Park has become a favored spot to sink into nature’s beauty. People come from all over to see Starved Rock and other popular landmarks, including the St. Louis Canyon Falls.

The St. Louis Canyon Falls towers an impressive 80 feet, one of the highest waterfalls in Illinois. In summer and spring, visiting these falls is one of the top activities to do at the park. You can also go kayaking, canoeing, or try other water sports.

Top attractions in the park include:

  • St. Louis Canyon Falls
  • Aurora Canyon
  • Illinois Canyon
  • Starved Rock State Park Lodge 

Popular hiking trails:

  • St. Louis Canyon Trail
  • River Trail
  • Bluff Trail
  • French Canyon Trail

Getting There and Away

There are two popular methods of getting to Starved Rock State Park from Chicago without a car. The first is taking the train from Chicago Union Station to Mendota Amtrak Station. The second would be to take a taxi, which can be much more expensive but is a quicker route.

Best Time Of Year To Visit

We recommend visiting from April to September as it’s ideal weather for outdoor activities. If you’re an avid birdwatcher, then the best time of year to visit Starved Rock State Park to see the eagles is in January and February. 

The spring is the best time to see the waterfalls as they are seasonal and fed by heavy rains often experienced during the spring.

The summer is the most popular time to visit Starved Rock State Park. Unfortunately, this is when the park can get overcrowded, resulting in the park cutting off entry for visitors, as many people come to kayak and raft on the river. 

Starved Rock State Park
Immerse yourself in nature at this beautiful state park.

2. Lake Geneva

  • Distance from Chicago: 83 miles/134 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

A resort city, Lake Geneva, was named “Newport of the West” after the American Civil War. The year-round resort city was where rich Chicago residents constructed their summer homes. Some famous names that visited the area include General Sherman and Mary Todd Lincoln. 

This area has a rich history, where ancient Oneota Tribes of the lost Hopewell Culture Indians once thrived. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Oneota Tribes had an advanced civilization here in 1,000 BC.   

What Is There To See And Do?

Today, Lake Geneva is one of the best weekend getaways from Chicago. A day trip or weekend trip here is worth taking because of its natural beauty, impressive architecture, and luxurious resorts.

Take your pick of boating on the lake, hot air ballooning over the resort city, joining a history tour, or sinking into luxury with a spa day at The Abbey Resort.

Examples of popular things to see include:

  • Riviera Beach
  • Big Foot Beach State Park 
  • Lake Geneva Shore Path
  • Royal Oak Farm 
  • Safari Lake Geneva

Getting There and Away

There are no trains directly connecting Chicago to Lake Geneva. Another option would be to take the train from Chicago Union Station to Fox Lake. From there, snag a taxi to this Wisconsin resort city. 

Best Time Of Year To Visit

To catch some sun outdoors by the lake, the best time to visit Lake Geneva is in the summer. This is the optimal time for weekend getaways or day trips from Chicago. The days get hot, so wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Have 3 days to spare in Chicago? Check out our ultimate 3-day itinerary

3. Indiana Dunes National Park

  • Distance from Chicago: 39 miles/62 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour

One of the best day trips from Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Park is thriving with natural wonders with over 50 miles of scenic trails to observe these eye-catching features. A road trip through here is sure to be a beautiful one!

The park has one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the United States, including wetlands, shorelines, prairies, and sand dunes. This includes the 15 miles of Indiana Dunes National Park beaches stretching down Lake Michigan’s southern tip. 

What Is There To See And Do?

Though the beach is one of the top things to do when visiting Indiana Dunes National Park, the park is also notorious for its rich history.

The Bailly Homestead, a National Historic Landmark, was the home of one of the first settlers in the area, Joseph Bailly de Messein. This fur trader’s trading post acted as an in-between for travelers from Detroit to Chicago. 

Top attractions in the park:

  • West Beach
  • Chellberg Farm
  • Bailly Homestead
  • Kemil & Dunbar Beaches

Popular hiking trails:

  • Paul H. Douglas Trail 
  • Great Marsh Trail
  • Cowles Bog Trail
  • Dunes Succession Trail (Diana of the Dunes Dare)

Getting There and Away

The best way to get to Indiana Dunes National Park is by renting a car. Unfortunately, there are no methods of transport that take you directly to the park. You can take a taxi, but it will be quite expensive!

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Summer is the best time of year to visit Indiana Dunes National Park. This is when the beaches are open and prime for sunbathing and swimming. Other activities like fishing and hiking to see the sand dunes are also great at this time. 

Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park is one of the nest day trips from Chicago!

4. Silver Beach County Park

  • Distance from Chicago: 98 miles/157 km 
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour 45 Minutes 

Bordering four states, Lake Michigan seeps into Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Though Lake Michigan is technically within access of Chicago, with popular attractions like the Navy Pier and Millenium Park, one of the top day trips from Chicago is Silver Beach County Park.

Located at the mouth of the St. Joseph River on Lake Michigan’s southern shore, Silver Beach County Park has lots of picturesque viewpoints.

The long, clean stretch of beach has become a top tourist destination with upgraded renovations made to the park to promote accessibility and convenience. 

What Is There To See And Do?

Access to Silver Beach County Park is free, though parking can be tricky depending on how busy it is. The barrier-free walkway gives easy access to the South Pier, Dunes Pavilion, concession stand, Shadowland Pavilion, and restrooms.

Using the park’s sidewalks along the beach, you can reach the Silver Beach Center, find the Whirlpool Compass Fountain, and take a refreshing stroll to downtown St. Joseph.

Cool things to see in the area:

  • Silver Beach Carousel
  • Krasl Art Center
  • Harbor Shores Golf Club
  • Whirlpool Compass Fountain

Getting There and Away

There are several ways to get to Silver Beach County Park from Chicago without a car. The first is a train ride from the Chicago Union Station to St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, Michigan.

The second is a bus ride from the Chicago Bus Station to Benton Harbor and a taxi to Silver Beach County Park. The third would be getting a taxi or renting a car to reach Silver Beach County Park. 

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Silver Beach County Park is open daily from dusk to dawn. For swimming, the best time of year to visit is usually anywhere from July to September. Lifeguards are on duty at the park from June to August. 

Exploring more of the Midwest? Check out our list of the best things to do in Minneapolis, Minnesota!

5. Anderson Japanese Gardens

  • Distance from Chicago: 85 miles/137 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

One of the highest-quality Japanese gardens in the United States, the Anderson Japanese Gardens is among the most rewarding Chicago day trips.

The authentic Japanese garden inspires by its refined outdoor setting that has been maintained and designed with the highest standards.

The Anderson Japanese Gardens were designed by Hoichi Kurisu, who established many other Japanese gardens, including the one at the Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital that won the Healthcare Environment Award in 2006 for Landscape Design. 

What Is There To See And Do?

Exuding eloquence and grace, this location soothes the soul as guests stroll through the thriving landscapes.

Yoga sessions are taught within the gardens in the Hatha Yoga tradition amongst the refreshing air of the gardens. There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes for Tai Chi led at the gardens to encourage relaxation and mental focus. 

Fun things to do here include:

  • Amanda Stivers yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Meditation
  • Sound & gong bath
  • Awareness walks

Other fun things to do in the area include:

  • Rockford Art Museum
  • Laurent House
  • Prairie Street Brewing Company
  • Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens
  • Burpee Museum of Natural History
  • Discovery Center Museum

Getting There and Away

Take the bus from the Chicago Union Station to Rockford Amtrak Station. From there, hitch a ride on a taxi.

Another option is to take the subway Jackson-Blue to O’hare in Bensenville. Once you reach the station, hitch a bus ride from the Chicago – O’hare Airport to the Rockford Bus Terminal. Then, grab a taxi to reach the gardens.

Taking a car is the second best option for a more cost-effective option, but it is more convenient than taking the bus and taxi to reach Anderson Japanese Gardens.

Best Time Of Year To Visit

The best time to witness the stunning transition of the leaves as they turn color at Anderson Japanese Gardens is in Fall, from September to October. However, summer is the peak season, so if you want to avoid the crowds stick to visiting in the spring or fall. 

Anderson Japanese Gardens
Soak in the serenity at these stunning Japanese gardens.

6. Oak Park

  • Distance from Chicago: 10 miles/15 km
  • How Long it Takes: 20 Minutes

Within a short distance from Chicago, Oak Park is a historically rich village place to visit. It is also considered one of the best places to live in Illinois, intertwining suburban and urban living in one favorable family-friendly location. 

There are plenty of activities in the area, with family-friendly attractions like the Brookfield Zoo and the Galloping Ghost Arcade. The arcade is the largest video arcade in the United States. Oak Park is notorious for its trendy restaurants like Maya Del Sol or Hemmingway’s Bistro. 

What Is There To See And Do?

If you’re a history buff or appreciate architecture, you’ll love this beautiful spot. Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright showcased his talent here for the first 20 years of his career.

Walking tours take visitors past significant historical and architectural sites such as Wright’s home, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. 

There is also the home of famed author Ernest Hemingway, who grew up in Oak Park. The Ernest Hemingway Foundation restored Hemingway’s home, and now tours of the author’s birthplace are given. Join a guided architecture tour to learn all about the history and creativity of the area’s top attractions!

Top sights here include:

  • Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
  • Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum
  • Brookfield Zoo 
  • Oak Park Conservatory

Getting There and Away

There are lots of convenient ways to get from Chicago to this charming village. The train at Chicago OTC and the subway both head straight to Oak Park at inexpensive prices. The fastest way to get there would be a taxi, though this will run a little more costly than the subway or train. 

The Line 20 bus also comes here at an affordable price, though it will take longer to reach your destination as stops are included. 

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Oak Park’s busiest month is from May to July. However, we recommend visiting anywhere from August to October if you want to avoid the crowds and high prices for these tourist-heavy months. 

Read next: The 21 Best Things To Do In St Louis, Missouri

7. Holland, Michigan

  • Distance from Chicago: 152 miles/245 km
  • How Long it Takes: 2½ Hours

Notorious for its award-winning breweries, Holland, Michigan, is only a few hours from Chicago and worth the trip. 

Holland’s natural beauty and charm are one for the books, with its lush nature, flower-speckled fields, and waterfront views.

The city is home to numerous parks to choose from for a picturesque stroll through nature with outstanding vistas. Holland’s downtown is thriving with locally-owned businesses to shop at.

The historic area was named one of “America’s Prettiest Towns” by Forbes magazine, with its cobblestoned sidewalks, live performances, and award-winning eateries and breweries to choose from. 

What Is There To See And Do?

The Windmill Island Gardens is one of the top attractions in Holland. The gardens feature a 251-year-old windmill called De Zwaan. It is the only authentic Dutch windmill working in the nation.

Holland State Park is another largely popular attraction. The park showcases its iconic “Big Red” lighthouse for breathtaking sunset scenery and long stretches of beach on Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan.

Many travel to the park to go camping, fishing, paddleboarding, sunbathing, and more for one of the best weekend trips from Chicago.

Examples of popular things to see include:

  • Windmill Island Gardens
  • Holland State Park
  • Holland State Park – Macatawa Campground
  • Big Lake Brewing
  • Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Getting There and Away

For those without a car, there is a direct connection by train from the Chicago Union Station to the Holland Amtrak Station. However, if you have a car or can rent one, that is the only other option to get back and forth to avoid ridiculous fees for a taxi. 

Best Time Of Year To Visit

We recommend visiting Holland in spring when the flowers bloom to see the tulips that the area is known for. They usually bloom around late April and continue to bloom to mid-May.

Visiting Holland in the summer is extremely popular, so if you don’t mind crowds and want to catch some sun, take a trip to the city to soak in the sun and picturesque views. 

Holland Michigan
Enjoy charming scenery on Windmill Island in Holland, Michigan!

8. Peoria, Illinois

  • Distance from Chicago: 173 miles/267 km
  • How Long it Takes: 3 Hours

Nestled along the Illinois River, Peoria is a bustling shipping center and agricultural production zone. Presenting a suburban feel, the city has family-friendly attractions to savor. It was once known as the Whiskey Capital, with 40% of alcohol produced in the United States coming from Peoria in 1890. 

On the city’s historic Distillery Row along the Illinois River, visitors can taste Peoria’s specialized whiskey distilleries that have maintained the city’s legacy.

What Is There To See And Do?

There is much to see and do in Peoria. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects John Burgee and Philip Johnson, the Peoria Civic Center is a hotspot attraction in downtown Peoria. The center showcases an exhibit hall, an arena, and a theater that hosts live entertainment for comedians, Broadway shows, concerts, and more.

The Luthy Botanical Garden is a refreshing stroll through themed gardens, including a children’s, Japanese, rose, and herb garden. It was also the first botanical garden in the state.

For a fun new experience, hitch a ride on this guided architecture cruise to experience the iconic architecture along the Chicago River. 

Top things to do include:

  • Peoria Civic Center
  • Peoria Riverfront Museum
  • Louisville Slugger Sports Complex
  • Forest Park Nature Center
  • Luthy Botanical Garden

Getting There and Away

The cheapest method of getting to and from Peoria from Chicago is by driving. Another method of taking the train from the Chicago Union Station to Peoria Amtrak Station. This route will take longer than the alternative of going by car. 

Best Time Of Year To Visit

The most popular time to visit Peoria is in the summer. However, if you’re looking for cooler weather, we recommend visiting the city in September to early October when the weather is getting cooler.

Read next: 23 Best Things To Do In Kansas City, Missouri

9. Michigan City

  • Distance from Chicago:: 60 miles/96 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour 15 Minutes

The source of Michigan City’s name is initially confusing for many. The city was not named after the state of its namesake but Lake Michigan that it is near. Michigan City is a favored tourist spot thanks to its convenient location near top attractions such as Indiana Dunes National Park and Lake Michigan. 

The city has a rich history with a small-town charm, and history buffs will be pleased to find the city flooded with attractions.

The historic city preserves its oldest structure, a lighthouse established in 1858, at the Old Lighthouse Museum. It was the home of the creator of Wikipedia, Howard G. “Ward” Cunningham, who grew up in the city.

The Barker Mansion is an English manor built in 1857, preserving period furnishings from the Gilded Age. It is part of the National Register of Historic Places and is open for tours.

What Is There To See And Do?

Michigan City is a rewarding day trip from Chicago. Other than its historical attractions, there are nature-based activities such as Friendship Botanic Gardens and Indiana Dunes National Park. Go for a relaxing evening or tour the vineyards at Shady Creek Winery. Or test your luck at the Blue Chip Casino Hotel Spa.

Top attractions include:

  • Washington Park Zoo
  • Friendship Botanic Gardens
  • Shady Creek Winery
  • Blue Chip Casino Hotel Spa
  • Michigan City Lighthouse and Pier

Getting There and Away

In Chicago, there are direct routes to take on the buses and trains that head to Michigan City from Chicago. Other than that, the only other inexpensive way to reach Michigan City is by driving. 

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Ideally, summer or early fall in September is the best time to visit Michigan City to savor outdoor activities while in town.

Unfortunately, the winter months are frigid, from November to February. Therefore, we recommend not visiting during these months if you plan on spending time outdoors at the parks or gardens. 

Michigan City Pier
Go for a stroll down the Michigan City Pier!

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About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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