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21 Best Day Trips From Chicago In 2024

21 Best Day Trips From Chicago In 2024


Welcome to the Windy City! Whether a local or a traveler eager to explore beyond the skyline, our guide to the best day trips from Chicago is your ticket to adventure. We’ll show you how to swap city streets for scenic escapes, all within a day’s reach of Chicago. From charming small towns to natural wonders, get ready to discover the Midwest’s most unforgettable experiences. Pack your sense of adventure, and let’s hit the road – Chicago-style day trips await!

Table of Contents

Incredible Day Trips from Chicago1. Milwaukee, WI2. South Bend, IN3. Madison, WI4. Starved Rock State Park, IL5. Cedarburg, WI6. Illinois Beach State Park, IL7. Lake Geneva, WI8. Rockford, IL9. Indiana Dunes National Park, IN10. Lakeshore State Park, WI11. Monroe, WI12. St. Joseph, MI13. Channahon State Park, IL14. Oak Park, IL15. Grand Rapids, MI16. Windmill Island Gardens, MI17. Galena, IL18. Michigan City, IN19. Peoria, IL20. Six Flags Great America, IL21. Glacial Park Conservation Area

Incredible Day Trips from Chicago

In this guide, we give you ideas for the top day trips from the third most populous city in the US. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, many places will tempt you away from the city center. After exploring all of the awesome things to do in Chicago, from the Chicago River to historic landmarks, head to these fantastic places located within easy reach of the city.

The city is ideally located with easy border-crossing into Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. It is also a great starting point for a day trip further south into central Illinois. You have four states at your fingertips – so you should carve out time for a day trip while visiting.

1. Milwaukee, WI

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Milwaukee is a big deal. This major city is located on the shores of western Lake Michigan in Wisconsin – just a 1.5 hour train ride or drive north of Chicago. We’d suggest catching the train if possible, as Milwaukee is best known for its breweries. Taking guided brewery tours is one of the best things to do in Milwaukee. Aside from its alcohol, though, it is also home to the Holler House and Milwaukee Art Museum. Don’t forget the Harley-Davidson Museum, which hosts a beautiful display of motorcycles and documents iconic biker culture. The Milwaukee Public Museum also has a large-scale European village.

If you want a fantastic day out from Chicago, Milwaukee is ideal. It has a strong sense of culture and many niche pockets of interest, like Harley-Davidson bikes and breweries. It is also a breeze to reach by train or car.

Distance from Chicago: 1.5 hours How to get there: Train, bus or coach

Suggested Tour: A Group Tour to Discover Milwaukee

2. South Bend, IN

Day Trips from Chicago South Bend IL
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South Bend has a different vibe as a university city on the St. Joseph River. It is fantastic if you are looking for a more sedate city experience. You can visit the University of Notre Dame’s iconic campus, with its classic gold-domed building. There’s also plenty of local history that you can experience in the city center, like car manufacturing from years gone by at Studebaker National Museum and the regional history at the History Museum.

South Bend is definitely slower-paced than quick-footed Chicago. However, it has lots of attractions too. Think of it as a relaxing and intellectual place to spend a day sightseeing. It has lots of fun and student twists, like cheap bars and coffee spots.

The city is located just east of Chicago, on the other side of Indiana Dunes National Park, and on the lower east shore of Lake Michigan. It is best reached by car, and we’d recommend stopping off at the national park en route.

Distance from Chicago: 2 to 3 hours How to get there: Car or train

3. Madison, WI

Day Trips from Chicago Madison IL
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Small Madison might not seem capital-worthy, but it is actually the capital city of Wisconsin, not the major, sprawling giant of Milwaukee. This smaller city has beautiful architecture galore. You can get up close to the historic domed Wisconsin State Capitol and walk the Capital City State Trail to sightsee different city attractions. There’s a botanic garden experience, too, at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, plus a quirkier downtown area with bars and coffee shops. Madison is your best choice if you fancy a political sightseeing day trip from Chicago.

Madison is also beautifully located next to two huge lakes – Lake Mendota and Lake Waubesa. Summer leaves plenty of opportunities for water sports and sunny waterfront hiking trails. Follow this walking tour to see the city’s architecture including the State Capitol, Der Rathskaller, Bascomb Hill, and Memorial Union.

Distance from Chicago: 2 to 4 hours How to get there: By car or shuttle bus

4. Starved Rock State Park, IL

Day Trips from Chicago Starved Rock State Park IL
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Starved Rock State Park is one of the most popular attractions in Illinois. The park sits on the banks of the Illinois River and holds a collection of sandstone canyons amidst beautiful forests. The canyons were initially cut with glacial meltwater, and you can explore the scenery using a network of clearly marked wooden boardwalks. Starved Rock State Park also has tons of waterfalls, which get impressively powerful in wetter months.

Nature lovers will adore this day trip choice. Not only is the natural scenery astounding, but you can also spot wildlife like white-tailed deer and bald eagles. Starved Rock State Park covers over 2,600 acres and has 13 miles of trails, with 18 canyons to admire. It is located inland from Chicago and Lake Michigan.

Distance from Chicago: 1.5 hours How to get there: Car

5. Cedarburg, WI

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Cedarburg has serious charm. It has old-school-style houses and is frequently compared to a movie set. The town was founded in the 1840s by a mixture of predominantly Irish and German settlers and is now considered a suburb of Milwaukee. Cedarburg has many cute and aesthetic things to do, with the bonus of brewery and winery tours. You can walk the vineyards and tour brewing rooms or head to unique attractions like the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fine Arts. Cedarburg is a real gem and beats to its own drum, making it a memorable day trip from Chicago.

This Wisconsin town is located just north of Milwaukee’s city center. It is best reached from Chicago by car, and you can always incorporate a stop-off in Milwaukee’s city center – parking in the outskirts and commuting in.

Distance from Chicago: 2 hours How to get there: By car

6. Illinois Beach State Park, IL

Day Trips from Chicago Illinois Beach State Park IL
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If you want beaches, Illinois Beach State Park is the place to be on a Chicago day trip. The park covers over 4,000 acres, with a beautiful shore path and network of hiking trails. It is an ideal place for a beach day along the shores of Lake Michigan. However, Illinois Beach State Park is equally more than just a beach destination.

It has campgrounds and playgrounds, plus shower blocks and a nature center. Illinois Beach State Park is somewhere to spend an entire day. Start with a hike and visit the nature center before heading to Isherwood Beach, and even camping overnight if your schedule allows it.

The park is quite close to Chicago, taking less than an hour to reach by car. It’s a great day trip if you have a warm day or fancy a beach trip. Or it is the perfect adventure if you fancy camping a night to break up your classic city break.

Distance from Chicago: 1 hour How to get there: By car

7. Lake Geneva, WI

Day Trips from Chicago Lake Geneva WI
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Lake Geneva is a beautiful resort city along the banks of Geneva Lake in Wisconsin, northwest of Chicago. As a small city out of the leading public transport lines, it is best reached by car.

Once you arrive, you are greeted by Gilded Age mansions with dramatic architecture and a scenic Shore Path that snakes around the city’s section of Geneva Lake. Historically, Lake Geneva was used as a bolt-hole for affluent Chicago residents, and looking at the city’s surrounding natural beauty, it’s easy to see why.

Admire Victorian history and Gilded Age architecture, and visit the Lake Geneva beaches. Big Foot Beach State Park has brilliant beaches, especially for a lazy afternoon. Lake Geneva is a beautiful day trip destination to unwind before revisiting Chicago’s chaotic sightseeing scene.

Distance from Chicago: 1.5 hours How to get there: By car

8. Rockford, IL

Day Trips from Chicago Rockford IL
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Rockford is a major city located on the banks of the Mississippi River, giving it the nickname’ River City’. Rockford is also called the ‘Forest City’ because of its history of tree felling, forests, and furniture-making industries. It is a shapeshifter with a long history and a prominent place in Illinois’ society. Nowadays, though, it is an ideal day trip candidate and is full of popular attractions and historic places. You can stop by the koi-filled ponds at Anderson Japanese Gardens, kick back in numerous public parks, or head to the Rockford Art Museum. Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens is also brilliant.

Rockford is located in northern Illinois, right under the Wisconsin border. We’d recommend combining it with a trip to Madison, located roughly an hour above the city. It is a great stop-off point for those driving to the Wisconsin capital.

Distance from Chicago: 1.5 hours How to get there: By car

9. Indiana Dunes National Park, IN

Day Trips from Chicago Indiana Dunes National Park IN
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Forget state parks if you like natural beauty – aim big with Indiana Dunes National Park. This stunning park is far more than just sand dunes and covers 15 miles of beautiful shoreline perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Indiana Dunes National Park is also a hot spot for bird watching and hiking. The national park is located on the southern end of Lake Michigan. It is a beautiful spot to visit to embrace the lake’s beauty. An entrance ticket costs around $20, and you can spend the whole day exploring the park.

Indiana Dunes National Park is located just southeast of Chicago and is ideally combined with visits to South Bend or day trips into Michigan or Indiana.

Distance from Chicago: 50 minutes How to get there: By car

10. Lakeshore State Park, WI

Day Trips from Chicago Lakeshore State Park WI
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Everyone loves an urban park. This stunning park sits just off Milwaukee’s coastline. Still, we will include it as a standalone attraction since it justifies a visit on its own merit. Lakeshore State Park is best explored on foot by walking the Hank Aaron State Trail. You can enjoy city skyline views and expansive vistas over Lake Michigan. And if you are looking for a romantic day trip from Chicago, head to Lakeshore State Park at sunset with a picnic.

The state park is obviously well combined with a visit to Milwaukee. This little island state park is a beautiful spot near the city. It is located off the Historic Third Ward and accessible by a pedestrianized bridge connecting it to the mainland.

Distance from Chicago: 1.5 hours How to get there: By car

11. Monroe, WI

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Monroe is pretty cool. The quirky city is known as the Swiss cheese capital. It has a vast history of dairy farming that has given it a massive cheese reputation. You can visit to take food tours – highly recommended – and try local products and produce. You should visit the National Historic Cheese Making Center Museum and the Chalet Cheese Cooperative. There’s also beautiful architecture and historic places, like the Green County Courthouse, completed in 1891. The Monroe Historic Square is in the city’s center, surrounded by shops and aesthetic scenery.

Monroe is a tiny city compared to some of Chicago’s neighboring giants. It is roughly located halfway between Madison and Rockford. It is definitely best accessed by car.

Distance from Chicago: 2 hours How to get there: By car

12. St. Joseph, MI

Day Trips from Chicago St Joseph MI
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St Joseph is a scenic coastal city in southwest Michigan and an ideal day trip if you want to venture into MI on a day trip from Chicago. It sits along the shore of Lake Michigan with beautiful attractions like Silver Beach County Park and Lions Park Beach. Silver Beach is particularly cute to visit, with a 1910 carousel and restored pavilion that bring a wonderful, vintage-style aesthetic to the city. A classic red and white lighthouse is near the city’s North Pier.

St Joseph is a beautiful choice if you want one of those traditional seaside day trips. It is only a short drive from Chicago, despite the fact that you’ll be venturing through Indiana and crossing the Michigan border. Hooray for Lake Michigan’s close network of US states. It is fantastic to combine with Indiana Dunes National Park and Michigan City.

Distance from Chicago: 1.5 hours How to get there: By Car

13. Channahon State Park, IL

Day Trips from Channahon State Park IL
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Channahon State Park is an absolute must. The state park sits on some of the most historic Illinois canals, housing a restored lock tender’s house for extra historical value. You can enjoy a network of hiking trails with waterfalls, birds, and historic towpaths to snap photos of. Distance isn’t an issue when visiting inland Illinois; Channahon State Park is less than an hour’s drive from central Chicago. It is a great day trip if you want minimal travel time and an insight into Illinois’ canal history.

You can organize guided tours around Channahon State Park, including canoe trips. The state park is a designated part of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. It is widely hailed as an essential part of the state’s history. It is a nature-given adventure park.

Distance from Chicago: 50 minutes How to get there: By car

14. Oak Park, IL

Day Trips from chicago Oak Park IL
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Oak Park is a beautiful village in the suburbs of Chicago. It really packs a punch beyond pretty architecture for such a small area. Visitors can enjoy attractions like the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Ernest Hemingway’s Boyhood Home, the National Historic Landmark of Mills Park and the Oak Park River Forest Museum. Oak Park is a quickfire selection of museums in a tiny area, accessible from central Chicago using public transport. What’s not to love? It is the perfect choice if you want trips from Chicago done easily.

It is so handy to jump on a train and be amongst dozens of museums. Additionally, its Unity Temple was recently designated as a UNESCO World Heritage in 2019. Despite all its existing attractions and offerings, Oak Park is very much up and coming in terms of visitor recognition and value for tourism.

Distance from Chicago: 15 to 20 minutes How to get there: By train

Suggested Tour: Private Frank Lloyd Wright Tour from Chicago

15. Grand Rapids, MI

Day Trips from chicago Grand Rapids MI
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Grand Rapids is another major city – think skyscrapers and a beautiful riverside setting with dramatic bridges. Grand Rapids has plenty of culture, with museums like the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum and Grand Rapids Public Museum. It also has a cool, safe, and walkable downtown district, which includes the Grand Rapids Art Museum, an attraction and initiative that spotlights local artists.

We like to catch a shuttle to Grand Rapids, as it has an illustrious brewery history. In particular, it is known for New Holland Brewing, and you can take guided tasting tours at the local breweries that are still running. Otherwise, driving is quicker, and you can stop off at spots like Indiana Sand Dunes National Park, St Joseph, and South Bend. You hug the lower shoreline of Lake Michigan, which is a long but very scenic drive. Ideally, rotate drivers and have a few different stops en route.

Distance from Chicago: 3 to 5 hours How to get there: By car in just under 3 hours or by shuttle in under 4 Suggested Tour: Grand Rapids Ghost Tour

16. Windmill Island Gardens, MI

Day Trips from chicago Windmill Island Gardens MI
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Chicago might be known as ‘Windy City,’ but check out Windmill Island Gardens. This seasonal park features a 250-year-old windmill in an ode to the city’s Dutch influence. You can take self-guided tours of the park, admire the windmill, and meet guides in traditional Dutch costumes. There’s also a tulip garden, which is stunning in spring.

This is one of the leading day trips from Chicago if you want Dutch heritage, and it is even located outside of a city named Holland. Windmill Island Gardens is located in Michigan, so you’ll be driving the south coast of Lake Michigan, cutting through northern Indiana and across the Michigan border. When it comes to visiting Michigan, distance can be a concern. Is it a long day of driving? Yes. But it is incredibly scenic and a great way to combine several attractions. If you have a few drivers, you won’t have any trouble as you can just rotate driving time.

Distance from Chicago: 2.5 hours How to get there: By car

17. Galena, IL

Day Trips from chicago Galena IL
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Galena is an absolute gem of a charming small town, sitting on the banks of the Galena River with tons of Civil War history. The town was home to the Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant, and his former home is a State Historic Site. Of course, Ulysses S. Grant later became a US president, so his story is immortalized. Galena is a great place to visit if you are interested in politics and history. Its town center is relatively walkable and is full of stories and scenic 19th-century architecture.

Galena is right in the top left corner of Illinois, on the border of Iowa and Wisconsin. It is a fabulous add-on from Rockford or Starved Rock State Park, around 1.5 hours away by car.

18. Michigan City, IN

Day Trips from chicago Michigan City IN
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Michigan City is just an hour away and is brilliant, accessible day trip material. If you want an easy trip from Chicago, Michigan City is it. Fancy a drive? You can drive there in an hour, passing Indiana Dunes National Park. Fancy a train ride? You can read or nap and reach the city in less than 2 hours. There’s lots of lakeside culture and history, with multiple lighthouses to admire and the quaint Washington Park Beach.

There’s also period history at the Barker Mansion, which showcases English-inspired decor and furnishings in a 19th-century mansion. Admire the history, have a beach day, or enjoy inner-city shopping at outlet stores. Michigan City offers loads and, at the very least, is a change of scene.

You can easily visit Michigan City; proper day-long trips are low on travel time and high on attractions. And that sums up this lakeside city.

Distance from Chicago: 1 to 2 hours How to get there: 1 hour by car or 2 hours by train

19. Peoria, IL

Day Trips from chicago Peoria IL
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Peoria is a beautiful city in Illinois. It was primarily established as a port city and trading center thanks to its position on the Illinois River. It is located much further inland in central Illinois. It is just an hour or so further central than Starved Rock State Park – hello, potential combined day trip.

Peoria has beautiful riverside parks, including Peoria Riverfront Park and Liberty Park. There’s also the Riverfront Museum and Peoria Historical Society. It is a lovely place to just walk and explore on foot. And the contrast between hectic Chicago and sedate Peoria is vast, making it a worthwhile day trip.

The city is located southwest of Chicago and is best accessed by car. This way, you can also stop off at Starved Rock State Park on the way.

Distance from Chicago: 2.5 hours How to get there: By car

20. Six Flags Great America, IL

Day Trips from chicago Six Flags Great America IL
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What about a day at an amusement park? Six Flags Great America is a chain of amusement parks scattered across the US. And there is one on the outskirts of Chicago, creating the best day trip for fun-loving tourists. The park has water park rides, rollercoasters, and all-round fun entertainment. You can get adrenaline on rides like Sky Striker or the American Eagle. Alternatively, try the sedate, family-friendly rides like the Big Easy Balloons or Cubasco tea cups.

Everyone loves a fun day out. And Six Flags Great America is the perfect day trip to skip sightseeing and escape the city to enjoy some quality ‘fun’ time. It is the ideal place to let your hair down and has an impressive range of rides, making it suitable for adults and children. Six Flags Great America is located north of Chicago, just under the Wisconsin border. Get your tickets in advance here.

Distance from Chicago: 1 to 2 hours How to get there: 1 hour by car or 2 hours by train then bus

21. Glacial Park Conservation Area

Day Trips from chicago Glacial Park Conservation Area
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Finally, there’s the beautiful Glacial Park Conservation Area. This 3,400-acre reserve is a stunning mix of wetlands and prairie, with glacial kames and ample scenic canoeing or fishing opportunities. It is one of the most photogenic places to experience natural beauty on a day trip from Chicago. You can explore Glacial Park on foot or by water or shake things up and book a horseback riding tour. The park has a grand total of 8 miles of shared-use trails, and you’ll definitely want to bring a camera.

Glacial Park Conservation Area opens from sunrise until sunset all year round. It is ideal if you want to switch from the standard suburban park experience to a bit of rugged, remote nature.

Distance from Chicago: 1 hour and 20 minutes How to get there: By car

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There’s so much to experience on day trips from Chicago – whether that’s Dutch heritage, rich history related to the Civil War, or riding water park rides at Six Flags America. You can embrace small-town charm at Oglesby, natural beauty and natural wonders at Indiana Dunes National Park, or craft beer at a local brewery. Chicago’s location right next to three other state borders means you have lots of diversity when choosing day trips. And the ever-presence of beautiful Lake Michigan means a constant barrage of water sports and beaches. Hopefully, you have at least 5 or 6 day trip choices.

Are you looking for more inspiration? Why not check out our guides on the best things to do in Wisconsin and the best places to visit in Michigan? We’ve also got notes on the best, most unique things to do in Northern Michigan specifically, so check that out if you have time to add a couple of days to the end of your Chicago trip. If you have longer, why not take a 2-3 day excursion from Chicago? It is a brilliant launchpad to discover more of the experiences in the states around Lake Michigan. Chicago’s location is by far its winning quality, and you should take advantage of it when planning day trips and excursions.

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