Chicago, Illinois, is one of the busiest cities in the United States, with a dense network of thriving suburban communities across its greater metropolitan space. The region's high population density also makes it an important hub of activity — that's why there's always lots to do there.
Here's what locals know — living in Chicago means you never have to travel far to have a good time. Still, traffic congestion and fast-paced city living can make one yearn for a good weekend escapade. During such times, renting a car and exploring beyond the city limits may satisfy the craving for a change of scenery. Whatever your motivation for a day-long adventure, here are five thrilling day trips you can take from Chicago.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Round Trip Travel: About three hours by car
If you're looking for a change in scenery, Lake Geneva is the place to go. According to its tourism site, the region is a traveler's paradise, "where memories are born and reborn." As corny as that may sound, this premier tourist destination is perfect for romantic getaways or vacations.
You'll get to enjoy a variety of recreational activities here, from ziplining to hiking. If you prefer a less strenuous pace, try strolling through the Lake Geneva countryside in the cool of the evening. You can also enjoy a soothing massage at one of the world-class spas on-site. Not sure which spas to head to? Check out 10 of the most luxurious spas in Lake Geneva, where you can enjoy everything from pampering manicures to deep tissue massages.
If you're looking to get some shopping done, the lake-front boutiques and retail shops should meet your needs admirably. And, if all that shopping helps you work up an appetite, the Lake Geneva dining scene won't disappoint. You'll find many bakeries, restaurants, cafes, and pizzerias to satiate your hunger.
Six Flags Great America, Lake County, Illinois
Round Trip Travel: Less than two hours by car
If an adrenaline rush is more your speed for a day trip adventure, you'll want to include Six Flags Great America in your travel itinerary. This massive park boasts the most spectacular rides in the Chicago region.
One of its most popular roller coasters is Maxx Force, which opened in spring 2019. It has the fastest launch speed of any roller coaster in North America, going from 0 to 78 miles per hour in a mind-boggling two seconds! Maxx Force also features the fastest inversion and tallest double inversion of any roller coaster on earth.
If you think the park is slowing down anytime soon, think again. Tsunami Surge will premier as the world's tallest water coaster in 2020. This coaster will be 86 feet tall and will feature 950 feet of tunnels and air slides. You'll experience five vertiginous drops and navigate five hairpin turns when you ride this monster.
Round Trip Travel: About five hours by car or seven hours by ferry
You may have to leave earlier in the morning to make this a one-day trip. However, you'll find Holland, Michigan, an absolute delight. This city is located on the shores of Lake Macatawa in Michigan. Due to its Dutch heritage, you'll feel like you're in the Netherlands when you arrive (even though you're only about 150 miles from Chicago).
Holland's gorgeous beaches along the Lake Michigan coastline is worth at least one trip to this beautiful region. For beautiful sunsets and breathtaking panoramic views, be sure to visit Holland State Park, Kouw Park, and Laketown Beach. After a relaxing time at the beach, head to Windmill Island Gardens, where you'll see the only Dutch windmill in America, replicas of Dutch inns, canals, and 36 acres of perfectly landscaped gardens.
Holland is also a wonderful spot for some retail therapy (there are more than 200 retail shops downtown). You can also embark on a Dutch holiday experience by attending the Dutch Winterfest in December. During the event, you can stroll through a European-style open-air market, nibble on roasted chestnuts, watch floats go by during the Parade of Lights, and even meet Sinterklaas (the Dutch St. Nicholas).
And did we mention the food? The pastries and other culinary specialties in Holland are simply to die for.
Starved Rock State Park, Oglesby, Illinois
Round Trip Travel: About three and a half hours by car
There are 18 canyons at this lush state park, many of which contain vertical stone walls that are coated in moss. Hiking opportunities are abundant at Starved Rock State Park. You'll find 13 miles of trails here that provide access to waterfalls, sandstone overhangs, and natural springs. There are also several overlooks from where you can enjoy panoramic views of the park's gorgeous landscapes and geological formations.
Starved Rock State Park is perfect for anyone seeking repose from the fast-paced lifestyle in Chicago. Matthiessen State Park, located a few miles to the south, is also a hidden gem. The hiking trails there are flanked by serene rivers and waterfalls. If you'd like to enjoy some horseback riding, the park's Vermillion River Area horseback trails are now open to the public.
Indiana Dunes National Park, Porter, Indiana
Round Trip Travel: About two hours by car or about three hours by commuter rail
If you're looking for a place you can access without a car, Indiana Dunes National Park is the perfect day trip for you. We suggest taking the South Shore Line to Dune Park. From there, it'll take you approximately 15–20 minutes to get to the park.
If you're a nature enthusiast, you'll love this park, which includes 15,000 acres of sand dunes, prairies, forests, swamps, and oak savannas. The park also boasts more than 300 species of birds.
If you're on foot, you may enjoy the 50 miles of trails at this park. There are 14 trail systems at Indiana Dunes National Park. The easiest trails include the Calumet Dunes Trail System, the Heron Rookery Trail System, and the Hobart Prairie Grove Trail System.
The Calumet Dunes Trail System is the shortest. It's wheelchair accessible and takes only 20 minutes to hike. If you'd like a more challenging trail, we suggest the Paul H. Douglas Trail. It's a moderate trail, which takes you through sand dunes and one of the rarest black oak savannas in the world. The average hike time for this trail is about two and a half hours.
If you're not a hiking enthusiast, check out some of the historic buildings on-site. Be sure to visit Bailly Homestead, Chellberg Farm, and Century of Progress Homes to explore structures of cultural significance.