Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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Winters in the Midwest can be long, harsh, and feel never-ending. But summer is just around the corner and offers lots of opportunities to get outside, learn something new, and make memories with the ones you love. Chicago is always a top destination in Illinois for summertime trips, but there are also many other places in Illinois that are worth exploring within a few hours away. To help you get excited for summer and all the fun travel experiences it brings, here are some top summer getaway destinations in Illinois.
If you drive about an hour and a half from Chicago, you can reach the small community of Channahon and go for a boat ride on the I&M Canal. The Illinois & Michigan (I&M) Canal has been a National Heritage Area for over 35 years and offers mule-pulled boat rides on boats that are replicas of an 1840s canal boat. Yet this is not just any ordinary ride on the water. The boats are equipped with period-clothed storytellers to let riders step back in time and learn about Illinois history. The tours typically run from May to October. In addition to boat rides, you can bring your family here to enjoy a scenic bike ride along the I&M Canal Trail, which follows over seven miles of waterway. Bring your own bike or use the bike share program for those aged 18 and older.
Another fun weekend getaway in Illinois involves taking a trip to Matthiessen State Park in Oglesby. This trip is about two hours from Chicago but feels like a whole other world, especially when you notice your child’s face light up while seeing a waterfall for the very first time. At this state park, you can see more than just waterfalls too as you explore the beautiful rock formations, vegetation, and wildlife in the park. This is an ideal getaway spot to bring the whole family to because of the great picnic facilities onsite.
A popular getaway in Illinois, Starved Rock State Park is one of the most beautiful places in the entire Midwest and another must-visit park for your summer getaway itinerary. There’s no place quite like it in the region for rugged canyons, awe-inspiring bluffs, and outdoor adventure close to home. If you’re coming from the Chicago area, you can get here in about two hours. Starved Rock State Park offers hiking, biking, canoeing, climbing, fishing, picnicking, and paddleboat cruises to keep your whole family entertained. There are camping opportunities in this park for tents and RVs. If you don’t feel like roughing it, stay at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort in Utica, which has an indoor water park and amusement park rides to go with its oversized cabins for families.
This Southern Illinois fun weekend getaway spot and a great place to reconnect with nature and remember that Illinois is much more than just farmland and the Windy City. It takes about six hours to get down here from Chicago, but it’s well worth the journey to explore dramatic rock formations and get out into the backcountry. Shawnee National Forest recently celebrated its 80th anniversary and is a prime spot for rock climbing, backcountry hiking, and overnight camping. Garden of the Gods here provides spectacular views and will make you forget you’re even in the Midwest. For family adventure, look into the Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour, which involves an overnight stay in a forest cabin and lots of adventure.
We also love Cave-in-Rock State Park for an outdoorsy weekend getaway in Southern Illinois. This park is along the Ohio River and about six hours from Chicago too. There’s a large cavern with plenty of river pirate history, as well as stunning river views. Bring your camera because this is a highly Instagramable destination with the cave, trees, and river as backdrops. The park offers camping, cabins, showers, and picnic areas. You can also stay in the Cave-in-Rock Lodge atop the overhanging bluffs.
The capital city of Springfield makes an excellent weekend getaway destination, which is why we want to highlight a few different places in Springfield for your next trip. One recommendation is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which has over 40,000 square feet of historic displays, galleries, and theaters to learn from. This is a wonderful place to learn about Lincoln’s life and American history.
Kid-friendly weekend getaways in Springfield don’t get much better than the Kidzeum of Health & Science. This destination is a three-story, 25,000-square-foot museum that teaches kids how to protect the environment, help their communities, practice healthy habits, and make good choices.
The last of the Springfield destinations that we’ll mention on this summer getaway list are the Lincoln Home & National Historic Site and the Lincoln Tomb. These are great places to visit with your family to keep the interactive history lessons flowing after your visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. You can tour the home that Lincoln owned and learn about what life was like for him here as a politician, husband, father, and neighbor. The Lincoln Tomb is also in the area and an impressive landmark that memorializes our 16th president. It’s good luck to stop by and rub the nose of the statute, and couldn’t we all use a little more luck in our lives?
Waterparks are a wonderful way to keep the kids cool and entertained in the summer, so why not plan your next weekend getaway to one in Illinois? One of the best waterparks is in Yorkville, which is a little over an hour from Chicago. The Raging Waves Waterpark is the largest outdoor waterpark in the state and has 19 slides, a kiddie pool area, a lazy river, a wave pool, and much more. Don’t miss the Wonambi water slide that’s only one of three of its kind in the country.
Another epic waterpark experience in Illinois awaits you at Hurricane Harbor at Six Flags Great America. This is in Gurnee, which is also a little over an hour from Chicago. Here you’ll find about 30 water rides, such as Surf Rider, Riptide Bay, Buccaneer Bay, and Wipeout. This waterpark is connected to the Six Flags Great America amusement park, offering plenty of options for all-weekend family fun. Don’t miss the MAXX Force ride, which is the tallest and fastest double inversion rollercoaster in the world.
The Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee is an awesome waterpark for your summer getaway planning. Here you’ll find an 80,000-square-foot waterpark with pleasant 84-degree water and lots of family fun. The park features thrilling water slides, a zero-depth entry play area for little ones, a giant tipping bucket, and something for all ages. Check the lodge’s website for special summer getaway deals for its onsite lodging, which makes travel easy and convenient for busy families.
No summer in the Midwest would be complete without a road trip, and one of the best road trip routes in the world is right in our very own backyard. Route 66 offers an unforgettable experience today just as it did in the past with iconic stops along the way. Route 66 starts in downtown Chicago and continues through Illinois heading southwest. You can travel hundreds of miles along this route after making initial stops at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant and Bakery in Chicago and the Old Joliet Prison in Joliet. Other essential stops on the Illinois portion of the route include the Gemini Giant drive-in diner in Wilmington, Ambler-Beckler Texaco Gas Station in Dwight, Route 66 Association Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum in Pontiac, Cozy Dog Drive In in Springfield, and the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville.