Chicago is a great home base for road trips. As the third largest city in the United States, it has plenty to offer residents and visitors. But when you’re ready to get out of the city for a bit, there are incredible road trip destinations just a short drive away. From state parks to quaint small towns, here are 8 awesome road trips from Chicago.
1. Starved Rock State Park
Located just 100 miles southwest of Chicago, Starved Rock State Park is one of the best road trips from Chicago for outdoor enthusiasts. The park gets its name from a Native American legend about a group of Illiniwek warriors who starved to death while trapped atop a 125-foot sandstone butte.
Today, Starved Rock is best known for its incredible canyon hikes, 13 miles of hiking trails, and 18 waterfalls. Spend a day or a weekend hiking to destinations like the seasonal 96-foot-tall St. Louis Canyon waterfall or the permanent Council Overhang waterfall. The park also offers boating, fishing, and camping.
2. Galena, Illinois
For a quintessential small-town getaway, head to Galena, Illinois. This town of just 3,000 residents offers charming Main Street lined with Victorian buildings.
Once a prominent Midwestern mining town, today Galena is a relaxing retreat with historic architecture, lovely bed and breakfasts, great restaurants, and even a few wineries.
Spend some time wandering Main Street, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, and enjoy the great outdoors along the Galena River Trail. It’s just under 3 hours from Chicago to Galena, making it a perfect weekend road trip.
3. Madison, Wisconsin
The capital of Wisconsin, Madison offers a blend of culture, cuisine, and the great outdoors. Drive 2.5 hours north from Chicago and spend time exploring the University of Wisconsin campus and the lively State Street. Wander through the domed Wisconsin State Capitol building and learn about the state’s history at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. Hike through the lakeside University of Wisconsin Arboretum or take a stroll along the shore of Lake Mendota. With farm-to-table restaurants, microbreweries, and a vibrant music and arts scene, Madison offers a compelling urban escape from Chicago.
4. Holland, Michigan
For a charming seaside town lookalike, head to Holland, Michigan on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. Located about 3 hours from Chicago, Holland has delightful Dutch influences like Dutch-inspired architecture, tulip gardens, Dutch windmills, and an annual Tulip Time Festival each May.
Spend some time strolling along 8th Street lined with cute shops and cafes. Tour the replica Dutch village at Nelis’ Dutch Village theme park or visit the beautifully manicured Veldheer Tulip Gardens with over 5 million tulips. You can even take a Dutch dance class and try your hand at making wooden shoes!
5. Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin
If you are looking for the best family road trips from Chicago, then Peninsula State Park in Wisconsin is the best choice. For nature lovers, the Peninsula State Park in Door County, Wisconsin is a top choice. The nearly 9,000-acre park sits on the wooded Door County peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan.
Drive 3 hours north from Chicago to explore nearly 20 miles of gorgeous shoreline, 11 miles of biking trails, a lighthouse you can climb, and the peaceful forests surrounding Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
Camp right along the lakefront or book a stay at the Inn at Peninsula State Park. With hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, swimming, and golf, there’s so much to enjoy. Visit in the summer or come in the fall for vibrant fall colors. And, this is also one of the best road trips from Chicago in winter to take.
6. Indiana Dunes National and State Parks
You don’t have to go too far from Chicago to enjoy beautiful sandy beaches and lush forests. The Indiana Dunes National and State Parks sit right along the shores of Lake Michigan, just 50 miles from downtown Chicago.
Drive out and spend a day walking along the lakefront, hiking through the wooded dunes, or swimming in Lake Michigan. Other park highlights include scenic trails, the historic Chellberg Farm, and the Century of Progress Homes architecture exhibit.
With 15,000 acres between the two parks, you’ll find plenty of natural beauty and solitude. The National Lakeshore section is a designated International Dark Sky Park, making it a prime spot for stargazing.
7. Green Bay, Wisconsin
Football fans will enjoy the 3-hour drive from Chicago to Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of the Green Bay Packers. Tour the Packers Hall of Fame or take a tour of the iconic Lambeau Field. You can also watch the players during a training camp session in the summer.
Green Bay also offers museums like the National Railroad Museum, wildlife and nature spots like Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, and scads of cheese shops and supper clubs to indulge in Wisconsin cuisine. Nearby Door County offers plenty to explore like lighthouses, lavender farms, and quaint lake towns. And, this is one of the top-rated road trips from Chicago for couples.
8. Iowa City, Iowa
An underrated Midwest destination, Iowa City offers culture, history, and college-town vibes just 4 hours west of Chicago. Home to the University of Iowa, the town revolves around the artsy downtown pedestrian mall full of boutiques, bookstores, restaurants, and culture.
Visit the Old Capitol Museum where you can take a free tour, or check out the arts and natural history exhibits at the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History and Museum of Art.
Take a walk along the Iowa River or people watch at local cafes. With a lively literary and writing scene, Iowa City is also a UNESCO-designated City of Literature. It is one of the popular short road trips from Chicago.