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Weekend Trips From Chicago With Kids | Family Vacation Critic

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All Ages

Weekend Trips From Chicago With Kids

See recent posts by Amanda Geronikos

For families who live in and around Chicago, there”s a wealth of fun to be had year-round, from outdoor explorations at Lincoln Park Zoo to indoor interactions at Kohl Children”s Museum. When a change of scenery is in order, however, these destinations — located less than four hours from the Windy City — are just the ticket for weekend trips from Chicago with kids.

Written by Amanda Geronikos


Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

In Wisconsin Dells, slightly over three hours from Chicago, most of the resorts are destinations in themselves (hello, Great Wolf Lodge), with water parks worthy of an entire weekend trip from Chicago with kids; this is the Water Park Capital of the World, after all.

Must-See Attractions and Activities
Great Wolf Lodge
Water temperatures at 84-degrees year-round, you say? Sign us up. Great Wolf Lodge touts an 80,000-square-foot water playground, plus MagiQuest, Scooops Kids Spa, Northern Lights Arcade and, of course, overnight accommodations.

Chula Vista Resort
The Chula Vista Resort offers more water fun, with separate slides and areas for specific age groups. Bonus: It consistently offers good deals and reasonable rates.

Kalahari Resort
You can"t go wrong with a trip to Kalahari Resort, which offers a water roller coaster-like ride and spiral flume, plus traditional activity and wave pools.

Kid-Approved Restaurants
Macaroni and Choose Shop (MACS)
Can you really go wrong with a name like that? Gourmet variations of the dish are offered, along with melts and wedge salads. Counter service and a cozy atmosphere add to the draw.

Monks Bar & Grill
If you"re in the mood for a burger or wrap, head to Monks Bar & Grill. Kids" meals are served on Frisbees, which they can take home afterward.

Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co.
Enjoy local microbrews while you nosh on pizza, or choose a burger, salad, sandwich or full entrée. A Mini-Moose Menu is also available.

Hotel Picks
Budget: Mt. Olympus Resort
Moderate: Chula Vista Resort
Luxury: <a href="Great Wolf Lodge


Indianapolis, Ind.

Indianapolis is just under three hours from Chicago, making it a perfect weekend trip from Chicago with kids. It offers several unique attractions you won"t find in any other city, and you"ll find that Indianapolis is easy to navigate.

Must-See Attractions and Activities
Conner Prairie Interactive History Park
Just outside of the city, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park features modern-day fun with an old-school twist. Participate in an 1890"s-era baseball game -- costumes included -- and pilot a hot air balloon from the 19th century. Conner Prairie is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute.

Children"s Museum of Indianapolis
With 18 themed exhibits, such as Terra Cotta Warriors and SpaceQuest Planetarium, the Children's Museum of Indianapolis is the largest children"s museum in the world.

White River State Park
White River State Park is where you"ll find the Indianapolis Zoo and Indiana State Museum, plus plenty of opportunities to picnic, bike and even enjoy a gondola ride during your weekend trip from Chicago with kids.

Kid-Approved Restaurants
Craft pizza, beer and a warm atmosphere compose this restaurant, conveniently located near Connor Prairie. Plus, kids are given wikki sticks and encouraged to color on the paper-covered tables.

For a classic burger or hot dog, head to Mug-n-Bun. Be sure to order a homemade root beer, too. Both indoor and outdoor seating are available.

Scotty"s Brewhouse
For some of the best pub grub in town, head to Scotty"s. Gluten-free and kids" menus are available.

Hotel Picks
Budget: Fairfield Inn & Suites Indianapolis East
Moderate: Hampton Inn Indianapolis Northwest Park 100
Luxury: JW Marriott Indianapolis


Lake Geneva, Wis.

Get out of the city and into a lakeside town. Lake Geneva offers a nice change of pace, and -- because it"s just an hour and a half from the city -- it"s an ideal place for a day trip from Chicago with kids.

Must-See Attractions and Activities
Geneva Lake
This, of course, is the reason families come to Lake Geneva. Take a hike at Fontana Fen, or, if the weather allows, relax on one of several beaches along Geneva Lake. Playgrounds, picnic spots and biking trails are aplenty, too.

Lake Geneva Canopy Tours
Try something new at Lake Geneva Canopy Tours, where eight zip lines, five sky bridges and three spiral stairways beckon thrill-seekers. Team Building Programs are also available and are especially perfect for families or large groups.

Dan Patch Stables
Ride a pony or horse before visiting a petting zoo, where kids will have a chance to feed the animals. Haunted hayrides and sleigh rides are available in the fall and winter, too, at Dan Patch Stables.

Kid-Approved Restaurants
As the name implies, simple, yet delicious food appeases all palates at this colorfully decorated restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch. A kids" menu includes pancakes and a chicken rice bowl.

Egg Harbor Café
There"s a reason this restaurant has several locations in several states. Egg Harbor Café offers a delicious mix of entrees for breakfast and lunch, along with a kids" menu. Gluten-free options are available, as is carry-out service.

Lake Geneva School of Cooking
Treat the kids to a cooking class, or participate as a family. With the expertise of a chef, you"ll be able to make a delicious meal and, of course, enjoy it afterward.

Hotel Picks
Budget: Comfort Suites Lake Geneva
Moderate: Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark
Luxury: Grand Geneva Resort and Spa


Utica, Ill.

Where"s Utica? It"s just an hour and a half from the Windy City, and quite popular with Chicagoans, who escape to the area for outdoor weekend trips near Chicago. That said, many people opt to camp in this area (plus, there aren"t many hotels to be found, though you can find a few within a short driving distance).

Must-See Attractions and Activities
Starved Rock State Park
Plenty of easy or moderate trails and even staircases welcome families, who are rewarded with waterfalls, sculpted cliffs and rich foliage in the fall at Starved Rock State Park. When you get hungry, stop at Starved Rock Lodge for lunch -- it serves a plentiful buffet for $15 per person.

Matthiessen State Park
More canyons, caves and hiking trails can be found at this park, easy for families with young kids to navigate. Pack a picnic lunch and stop to enjoy the views at Matthiessen State Park.

Enchanted Forest
If it"s raining or just too cold to be outside, escape to the Enchanted Forest for indoor zip-lining, laser tag, rock climbing, arcade games and more. Part of Grizzly Jack"s Grand Bear Resort, Enchanted Forest provides hotel guests with free admission.

Kid-Approved Restaurants
Duffy"s Tavern
Comfort food, such as burgers, sandwiches and soups, is served at this traditional Irish pub, and live music if offered on select evenings, too.

Nonie"s Bakery & Café
Grab breakfast or lunch at the cute café. Order a few pastries to take home, too -- they"re outstanding!

Cajun Connection
Spice up your visit to Utica with a meal to Cajun Connection. Options include jambalaya, gumbo soup and frog legs. For less adventurous eaters, there are chicken tenders and popcorn shrimp.

Hotel Picks
Budget: Grizzly Jack"s Grand Bear Resort
Moderate: The Willows Hotel
Luxury: Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center


Galena, Ill.

Exactly three hours from “Chi-Town,” Galena is a charming community and an ideal family driving trip from Chicago. Packed with history, greenery and a ski resort, to boot, the town draws many Chicagoans, some of whom own second homes in the area.

Must-See Attractions and Activities
Galena Historic District
Stroll the streets of the Galena Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You"ll find antique shops, retail stores and an array of eclectic restaurants.

Ulysses S. Grant Home
Take a short tour through the former home of Ulysses S. Grant, where you"ll find original furnishings and discover fun facts about our 18th President. Tours are free (donations are encouraged).

Chestnut Mountain Resort
Obviously, many families flock to Chestnut Mountain Resort during the winter months, but there"s plenty of year-round fun to bad via mini golf, disc golf, a giant alpine slide and even river cruises.

Kid-Approved Restaurants
Otto"s Place
This downtown restaurant, which dates back to the 1800"s, is best known for its breakfast. Lunch is also available, and dinner is served on Fridays and Saturdays. Note: Highchairs aren"t available.

Durty Gurt"s
This casual joint serves a wide array of salads, burgers, sandwiches and melts -- the names are entertaining, too (Belly Buster and Kitchen Sink, to name a new). A separate kids" menu is also available.

Root Beer Revelry
Root beer floats, root beer candies, root beer on tap, root beer in bottles… that"s just a taste of what this all-things-root-beer shop has to offer.

Hotel Picks
Budget: Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center
Moderate: Country Inn & Suites Galena
Luxury: Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa

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