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The 15 Best Day Trips From Chicago to Take in 2023

The 15 Best Day Trips From Chicago to Take in 2023

Chicago is a thriving city of culture and adventure that draws millions of tourists each year. But for those who live there, sometimes all you want is to get past the city limits and experience something new.

The 15 Best Day Trips from Chicago in 2023

Maybe you’re craving a waterfront view beside Lake Michigan or even just greeting it from another angle. Or perhaps you want to explore the history of another city besides your own.

Whether you’ve got kids or you’re a kid at heart, Illinois has a ton of attractions perfect for embracing fun, including theme parks and water parks galore. State parks and national parks let you experience the great outdoors regardless of your experience level with hiking.

Just a handful of hours in any given direction lies adventures waiting to be experienced like none other. Let’s look at a sampling of what’s available to see just how much there is to do just a few hours from Chicago.

1. Starved Rock State Park, Oglesby, IL

Man walking through the Starved Rock State Park in Illinois, one of the best day trips from Chicago

Nejdet Duzen/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 1 ½ hours by car

Stunning waterfalls and gorgeous sandstone characterize this state park that draws in over two million visitors from all over to trek its family-friendly trails.

Starved Rock State Park is overlaid with many canyons suitable for treks. There is a lodge nearby that plays host to several events.

2. Naper Settlement, Naperville, IL

Log cabin in the middle of a wooden log wall pictured for a piece on the best day trips from Chicago

Mark Baldwin/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 45 minutes by car

If you’re looking for a blast to the past, you’ll find it at Naper Settlement. This 13-acre historical reenactment site features countless ways for visitors to engage with the story of Illinois’ earliest colonizers.

An outdoor history museum, Naper Settlement features interactive learning opportunities for guests of all ages. At Christmastime, they host a Christkindlmarkt for local vendors.

3. Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, IL

Roller Coaster at Six Flags pictured for a piece on the best day trips from Chicago


  • Travel time: 1 hour by car

There’s no thrill ride like a Six Flags ride, and these incredible coasters are just an hour away. With 15 roller coasters available for visitors, Six Flags Great America has the fourth most coasters in the world.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a great place for thrill seekers to get their screams out. If the summer heat has got you down, hop next door to Hurricane Harbor, a water park with 25 water slides and many other attractions that make it a perfect place to spend a sweltering day.

4. Milwaukee, WI

Buildings in the downtown area of Milwaukee pictured with a river running through them for a piece on the best day trips from Chicago


  • Travel time: 1 ½ hours by car

Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin and is only 90 minutes from Chicago. For those who love the wind in their hair and just two tires between them and the road, the Harley-Davidson museum is a must-visit.

The brand was created in Milwaukee and the city is proud to celebrate that legacy. In line with its daredevil heritage, Milwaukee is known for its numerous trampoline parks. Take a leap of faith and try out one of these unique attractions!

5. Indianapolis, IN

Indianapolis pictured at dusk with clouds in the sky for a roundup of the best day trips from Chicago


  • Travel time: 3 hours by car

Host of the world’s largest single-day sporting event, the Indy 500, Indianapolis is a city of speed, sights, and thrills. Check out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum to learn about the history of racing and see where the famous sporting event happens every year.

And if that visit leaves you craving some speed of your own, enjoy some go-kart adventures at K1.

If you’re looking to cool down with something a bit slower and a lot spookier, head to the catacombs beneath Indianapolis, known as the Market Street tunnels. These sprawling tunnels span over 20,000 feet.

6. Peoria, IL

National Park in Peoria, one of the best day trips from Chicago

Clarence E. Carr III/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 2 ½ hours by X

Once the center of the whiskey industry, this hub of trade on the Peoria River is a town not to be missed by Midwesterners. Take a swing by the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum with the little ones to learn about arts and science, and ask questions.

Then, discover even more at Peoria Zoo, where there are over 250 species on display. After even the shortest of trips to the city, you’ll know the answer to that age-old question “will it play in Peoria?” is always, “Only if you play along.”

7. Rockford, IL

Neat sign above the downtown area in Rockford

Rockford, IL, USA – June 4, 2017: A welcoming signboard of the Main Street District of the village/Cheri Alguire/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 1 1/2 hours by car

Beyond Chicagoland, Rockford is the largest city in Illinois. Once a titan of industry, it still holds strong as a wonderful place to visit.

For lovers of greenery, Forest City features the Klehm Arboretum, Rock Cut State Park, Lowden State Park, Atwood Homestead County Forest Preserve, and the Anderson Japanese Gardens.

8. Urbana-Champaign, IL

University of Illinois pictured for a piece on the best day trips from Chicago


  • Travel time: 2 hours by car

Whether you call this dynamic duo Urbana-Champaign, Champaign-Urbana, or Chambana, you’ll find plenty to do in this enormous university town. With a population just scraping at a quarter of a million, it’s one of the largest settlements in the state and has a thriving culture to match.

Garden lovers are in luck as Urbana has plenty of lovely green spaces to adore. With a stunning Arboretum at the University of Urbana-Champaign and several gardens around the campus and the walkable cities themselves, there is abundant greenery to explore.

9. Indiana Dunes National Park, IN

Boardwalk steps down the dunes at the Indiana Dunes National Park, one of the best day trips from Chicago

Jon Lauriat/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 1 hour by car

Some 15 miles of Lake Michigan coastline make up the magnificent Indiana Dunes, a beautiful geological and ecological wonder that brings in many visitors each year to relax on its beaches.

The stunning national park is home to multiple endangered species, including the rare piping plover and rufa red knot, the eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, and the Indiana bat.

10. Bloomington-Normal, IL

State Farm headquarters in Bloomington IL

Bloomington, Illinois, USA – March 26, 2022: State Farm corporate headquarters in Bloomington, Illinois, USA. State Farm Insurance is a large group of mutual insurance companies throughout the USA/JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 2 hours by car

Bloomington-Normal is a major metropolitan area hosting the state’s oldest public university, Illinois State University. In addition, you’ll find Illinois Wesleyan University and countless other institutions of significance to the state and the Midwest as a whole.

A massive ice skating rink right across from the Miller Park Zoo makes for a great place for family excursions.

With plenty of restaurants featuring a dizzying array of cuisines, Bloomington-Normal is perfect for anyone looking to be adventurous. Or, you can talk to Jake from State Farm!

11. Kenosha, WI

Kenosha WI beach and lighthouse pictured for a piece on the best day trips to take from Chicago

Nejdet Duzen/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 1 1/2 hours by car

One of the biggest attractions Kenosha boasts is the Bristol Renaissance Faire, a fantastical event sure to delight fans of all ages with its whimsy. Kenosha also has many museums, lots of local history waiting to be discovered, and over 100 miles of bike trails to travel.

The downtown district has an abundance of local businesses, with specialty goods unavailable elsewhere. Spend an afternoon there for a fresh take on city life.

12. Wisconsin Dells, WI

Very neat rock formation on the river in the Wisconsin Dells, one of the best day trips from Chicago

Lorraine Swanson/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 3 hours by car

Named after a gorge carved by a glacier nearby, the Wisconsin Dells are a fantastical place with an endless array of attractions for the whole family to enjoy.

This one-of-a-kind city in Wisconsin features nearly two dozen water parks, roller coasters, miniature golf, and go-karting, among many other activities. It’s no surprise that the Dells has long been a hotspot for Chicagoans looking to have some splashing fun in the summertime.

13. Lake Geneva, WI

Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, one of the best day trips from Chicago, pictured on a blue-sky day with a kitesurfer off in the distance on the left

Nejdet Duzen/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 2 hours by car

Named for the body of water it borders, Lake Geneva is the perfect getaway for Illinois urbanites. Beautiful beaches make for idyllic spots to recline and relax. If you’d rather not stay on land, this lake has boat trips galore.

You’ll get to sip drinks and chill out with newly gained souvenirs from the area’s breweries. Hot air balloon tours even let you see the beautiful landscape from a bird’s eye view.

14. Springfield, IL

Aerial view of the State Capitol building with its green dome and clouds overhead in Springfield, one of the best day trips from Chicago


  • Travel time: 3 ½ hours by car

As the state capitol of Illinois, Springfield carries massive weight as the legislative seat of the state. Chicago and Springfield work in a tight partnership as major players in determining the fate of the state as a whole.

Illinois is widely known as the Land of the Lincoln, and Springfield was Abraham Lincoln’s home for part of his life.

Given that, the city has lots of memorabilia related to his life, including a hologram of the president. For those interested in arts and theater, the Springfield Performing Arts Center sees over 30,000 visitors a year.

15. Holland, MI

Colorful tulips and windmills in a park in Holland Michigan, one of the best day trips from Chicago

Yochika Photographer/Shutterstock

  • Travel time: 2 ½ hours by car

Holland, Michigan, earned its name by much more than coincidence. Founded by Dutch immigrants, the town stays close to its roots by hosting festivals inspired by Dutch culture. In particular, Holland hosts a Tulip Time Festival each spring.

Over six million tulips appear throughout the city, which helps the community consistently earn its spot as one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Holland also has a large windmill, reminiscent of the architecture of its namesake.

Things to Consider

Before heading out to these destinations, there are quite a few factors you’ll want to consider. First, driving times can vary wildly. Distance won’t change, but driving to and from Chicago can change dramatically based on traffic.

Depending on the density of the destination city, this can also affect the travel time. Most map software can predict traffic if provided with departure or arrival times.

Use those to see how traffic would impact your travel time. Another major consideration is that most of these destinations are large cities.

While they can be reached in under a day, they can’t possibly be experienced in that time. You’ll need to carefully plan what you want to do and for how long to make the most of your day trip.

Frequently Asked Questions

Early spring morning with moss on the rocks at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois

Nicola Patterson/Shutterstock

With a city of millions of people all looking to get away from it all every once in a while, there are bound to be a few questions that crop up. Let’s tackle the most commonly asked ones:

Where do people who live in Chicago go on vacation?

A big vacation spot for Chicagoans is Starved Rock State Park, a stunning natural area of waterfalls and geological wonders. Perfect for hiking, camping, and generally relaxing, many see it as an idyllic refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city.

What is the best road trip from Chicago?

One of the most popular destinations is Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. Other options include the Indiana Dunes National Park and Mackinac Island in Michigan.

What cities are two hours from Chicago?

Some of the most notable places two hours from Chicago are Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, La Porte, Indiana, Union Pier, Michigan, and Rockford, IL. Milwaukee is the largest and is only 90 minutes from parts of the city. Lake Geneva is also within two hours.

What is three hours away from Chicago?

Several cities exist within a three-hour radius of Chicago. These include Peoria, IL, Indianapolis, IN, Fort Wayne, IN, Clinton, IN, and Davenport, IN. As Indiana is very close to Chicago, it makes for a popular destination for Chicagoans to visit when they have the time.

Where can I go that is five hours from Chicago?

If you’re willing to spend quite a bit of the day driving, even more of the Midwest opens up to you. Columbus, Ohio, is within five hours of driving from Chicago, as is St. Louis, Missouri, and the state capitol Springfield, IL.

So, What’s the Best Day Trip from Chicago?

Day trips from Chicago can take all sorts of forms to the point of being nearly a no-brainer. If you’ve got a full gas tank and a few bucks, you’re ready to have a great day somewhere near Chicago.

The hardest part will be narrowing down exactly where to go and trying to focus on a particular set of activities in the time you’ve got. Chicago earned its title as the gateway to the Midwest.

Surrounding it is a plethora of thriving cities and towns eager to show off their beautiful, wonderful treasures to visitors, whether that’s unique commerce, earnest academic endeavors, or devoted upkeep of the natural world.

While there will always be plenty to enjoy within the city limits, consider taking the time to take a trip beyond Chicago soon and see just how much this wonderful world has to offer. So what are you waiting for — book your trip today!