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5 Fun Day Trips From Chicago

sunset lake
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If you visit the Chicago 360 observatory at the top of the John Hancock Tower, you can get a glimpse of four states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. You can also get a sense of the adventures that await beyond the city skyline, from the canyons of Starved Rock State Park to the dunes on the Indiana lakeshore.

These 5 day trips from Chicago will take you there.

Tips for planning day trips from Chicago

  • Watch for summer traffic. Chicago traffic is no joke, and it's particularly bad during the summer. Construction projects are in full swing, and congestion increases on Thursday and Friday afternoons, when Chicagoans are trying to leave town.1
  • A lot of other people will have the same idea. The problem with planning day trips from Chicago? In a city of 2.7 million, chances are you won't be the only one on the road. Choose a weekday to visit popular summer destinations, like Lake Geneva and Six Flags Great America. Or plan your trips in the off season, from late fall to spring.

Day trip from Chicago: Do the dunes in Indiana

An hour southeast of Chicago are the Indiana Dunes, a national lakeshore and state park that offer 15 miles of beaches as well as numerous hiking trails. Check park updates before planning your dunes day trip from Chicago to find out which beaches are open and which have lifeguards. Athletes can take the Three Dune Challenge by running or hiking Indiana Dunes State Park's three tallest dunes.

Do be careful on the dunes. On a warm day in 2013, a six-year-old boy playing on the dunes suddenly vanished. After three and a half hours of frantic digging, he was found 12 feet beneath the sand -- and miraculously, he was still alive. Scientists believe he had fallen into a cavity formed by a decayed tree, but are still researching the phenomenon.2

Day trip from Chicago: Get rattled at Six Flags

Six Flags Great America isn't the biggest theme park you'll ever visit, nor is it the newest. It was built in 1976, and the decor's a little tired. Yet this park remains a popular destination for thrill seekers because it's home to Goliath, the world's fastest, tallest and steepest wooden roller coaster (as of 2015).3 The cars ascend 165 feet, giving you plenty of time to think about why riding Goliath was a really bad idea, then plunge 180 feet at an 85-degree angle. The ride's top speed is a brain-rattling 72 miles per hour. The park also has 11 other roller coasters, water slides (additional admission required) and dozens of smaller rides.

Six Flags Great America is an hour north of Chicago in the small town of Gurnee. If you don't have a car, it's possible to take the Six Flags Great America Express bus from Chicago, Friday-Sunday. Taking the bus makes this one of the longest day trips from Chicago, however: the bus leaves the city around 9:30 a.m. and typically departs the park around 10:15 p.m.4

Day trip from Chicago: Lounge in Lake Geneva

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Lake Geneva, WI, was once a summer getaway for wealthy Chicagoans. Now anyone can enjoy views of the lake and its historic mansions by walking a section of the 20-mile Geneva Lake Shore Path. Make sure you ring the bell as you pass the "Expect a Miracle" mansion, so named for the inspirational messages painted on its fence. If strolling is too slow-paced for you, Lake Geneva Canopy Tours offers a two-hour guided tour of 100 acres of treetops via eight zip lines, five sky bridges and spiral stairways.5 Lake Geneva is one of the most popular day trips from Chicago, so the best times to go are in spring and fall.

Day trip from Chicago: Try a taste of Milwaukee

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With all that Chicago has to offer, it may seem counterintuitive to plan a day trip to nearby Milwaukee, WI. Here's why you should: Milwaukee's laid-back, friendly and has a distinctly Midwestern vibe. Love beer? Take a few brewery tours, including the Miller Brewery (free samples included). If dairy is more your thing, visit the Clock Shadow Creamery for a behind-the-scenes peek and a taste of fresh cheddar cheese curds.6 And the city's home to some surprising gems, such as the ultra-modern Milwaukee Art Museum and the Harley-Davidson Museum. One note: If you hate crowds, avoid the annual Summerfest. Billed as the world's largest music festival, it draws close to 900,000 people.

Day trip from Chicago: Hike Starved Rock State Park

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Canyons. Waterfalls. River overlooks. Beloved for its dramatic scenery, Starved Rock State Park is one of the best day trips from Chicago for anyone weary of the urban buzz. About 90 miles southwest of the city, this popular park offers 13 miles of hiking trails as well as horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking and rafting. Even when the park gets crowded in the summer and fall, you can find solitude by exploring some of Starved Rock's more remote canyons. End your day on the veranda of the 1930s park lodge, which has live music on summer evenings.

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Feb 24, 2017