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Chicago

Five amazing outdoor day trips in Chicago

The Windy City is a great starting point for day trips to other wonderful destinations. Here are the top five day trips to consider.

1. Hang out in Harbor Country: Located along the Lake Michigan shore in southwest MI, Harbor Country is made up of a chain of beach towns that feature small-town comfort with historical lodges, beautiful beaches and charming shopping. From spring into fall, you’ll find farm markets with wonderfully fresh fruits and vegetables. Several local wineries are producing wines that get very good reviews. Tours and wine-tasting can be part of your day trip. Art fairs, festivals and antique shops also draw visitors to Harbor Country. Nearby Warren Dunes State Park offers trails and kid-friendly beaches.

2. Head north to Lake Geneva: Just 75 miles north of Chicago in Wisconsin, the town and lake were the playground for the wealthy families of Chicago in the early 20th century. Many built big, beautiful homes on the lake. A walkway along the shore allows you to view many of these homes up close. The town offers family-friendly fun, great ice cream and pizza shops, game rooms and more. The area around Lake Geneva boasts apple orchards, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hiking trails and other summer/fall treats. In winter, you can ski or snowboard at Alpine Valley just up the road in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. 

3. Love the leaves in the Morton Arboretum: Just down the road in Lisle, Illinois, the Morton Arboretum is a special place all year. Spring is a great time for birders to visit the park as migratory birds pass through and local species return home for the season. Summers deliver tree-canopied trails, manicured lawns and patches of wildflowers. In autumn, the Arb’ is a blaze of splendid color. There are 10 themed gardens in the Morton Arboretum including a new children’s garden. Bikes are allowed on designated pathways too, so you’ve got options for how you mingle with the trees.

4. Get away to Galena: President and Union general Ulysses S. Grant loved Galena, and you probably will too. It’s a relaxing, out of the way spot where the pace is dramatically slower than you experience in Chicago. You can tour Grant’s home where he was living when he was called to serve the Union Army. LinMar Gardens are splendid from spring through fall with hundreds of species of native and exotic flowers and other plants. Local spas offer the whole works, and the town has several outstanding Italian restaurants providing authentic pizza and other favorites.

5. Feast on natural beauty at Starved Rock State Park: The park is 90 minutes away in Utica, Illinois. Your recreational opportunities abound. There are 44 footpaths with varying degrees of difficulty and length in the park’s 11,900 acres. Some trails are very rugged with sheer drop-offs, and while they afford some of the best views, they may not be suitable for young kids. A map is available at the gate that will help you choose the right ones for you. The biking and wildlife viewing is awesome, and you can canoe, kayak or fish the Illinois River. Interesting rock formations in the sandstone, including the 125-foot sandstone butte named Starved Rock, were caused by glacial activity. Bring your own picnic supplies and use the grills located along the river, or take advantage of the Lodge’s full-service restaurant and bar. Early spring is a great time to see the waterfalls caused by melting snow.