Some of the Midwest's finest family vacation destinations offer a quick getaway from the Windy City. Less than a tank of gas connects nature-loving families, the thrill seekers and history buffs to inspiring Great Lakes ecosystems, indoor and outdoor amusements and Land of Lincoln heritage venues.
Roller Coaster Heaven
It's just a 45-minute drive north of Chicago to Six Flags Great America theme park, where thrills and chills await families. Six Flags is home to Goliath, the world's fastest wooden roller coaster, 13 other roller coasters, more than 30 children's rides and a 20-acre water park with a million-gallon pool, lazy rivers, plunge rides and a kiddie zone. Even the family's picky eater is satisfied at meal time thanks to the nearly 30 park restaurants serving pizza, vegetarian dishes, American fare and more. National chain hotels sit within walking distance of the park or a short drive. Some offer shuttle service to the park for convenience. Learn about discounts and get park tickets online or at the gate.
Great Lakes Dune Experiences
Spanning 15 miles of the Lake Michigan coast about 50 miles east of Chicago, the towering Indiana dunes attract nature-loving families. No car? No problem. Chicago and South Shore Train makes four stops at the park. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with its towering dune structure, encompasses six beaches for water play and sunning. Families with small children may prefer West Beach, the only park beach offering lifeguards. Explore 11 easy to moderate level trails winding through coastal ecosystems. Stop at the Visitor Center at Porter for maps and family programming information. Dunewood Campground sits a little more than one mile south of the shoreline for lodging beneath the stars. Its 66 sites are without electricity, but the campground offers restrooms, showers, a dump station and a convenience store. Camping runs from the end of April through October. A host of family restaurants and stores for supplies are in surrounding communities accessed off Interstate 94.
Playtime at Lake Geneva
Action-oriented families enjoy a treasure house of recreation options at the resort town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Situated 80 miles northwest of Chicago, paintball, canopy zipline tours and laser tag facilities keep teens engaged. Youngsters of all ages enjoy the interactive baby animal petting zoo at Animal Gardens and The Dancing Horse Theatre, a showcase for performing horses. Kids 6 and younger swim and play free at the city's Riviera Beach and older kids get a discount. A sandy beach, bath house and lifeguards make Riviera a family-friendly experience. Tennis, golf, bowling, boating, and fishing round out summer options, while sledding, sleigh rides and ice skating offer winter recreation. The entire family eats and learns with casual dining at the 1897 vintage Clausing Barn Cafe within Old World Wisconsin museum village in nearby Eagle. For overnights and play, Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark is the ticket, with structured recreation including arts and crafts, movies and other activities.
Capital City Adventures
It's no surprise that in the Land of Lincoln, a historic vacation experience appeals to families. A three-hour drive from Chicago, the Illinois state capital of Springfield celebrates the 16th president who called the city home. Overnighting at the President Abraham Lincoln DoubleTree Hilton hotel places visitors within walking distance of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and Presidential Museum. Other Lincoln sites include the Old State Capitol building where Abe got his start in politics, and the reconstructed New Salem Village where he once lived and worked. For a 1950s retro dining experience, take the family to Cozy Dog Drive-In along Route 66. Try the dog on a stick, and shop for souvenirs commemorating the famed roadway.
- Six Flags: Six Flags Great America
- National Park Service: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
- National Park Service: Dunewood Campground
- Lake Geneva Convention & Visitors Bureau: Play
- The Dancing Horses Theatre: About Our Show
- City of Lake Geneva: Riviera Beach
- Animal Gardens: Home
- Old World Wisconsin: Clausing Barn Cafe
- Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark: Home
- Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau: Lincoln
- Photo Credit SmileLikeUMeanIt/iStock/Getty Images Snikeltrut/iStock/Getty Images Sue Smith/iStock/Getty Images
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