Illinois is mostly known for Chicago. But this state's nature, history and food can make for some killer day trips. Located all within a couple of hours of the Windy City, these are some of the best places in the state to relax, unwind and enjoy what Illinois has to offer.
8 Illinois Day Trips for When You Just Need to Get Away
We get it. Sometimes you need a trip but all you have is a day. We've got you covered.
1. Illinois Beach State Park
You don’t have to head to Florida to get your beach fill. Illinois Beach State Park stretches along Lake Michigan for six and a half miles in Zion, giving visitors plenty of room to bike, walk and camp. The beautiful park, which spans 4,160 acres, is known for its wide variety of plants. More than 650 different plant species have been recorded in the dunes area alone. Illinois Beach is the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state.
2. Anderson Japanese Gardens
If you’re looking for a serene getaway from everything, this is your place. The Rockford-based Anderson Japanese Gardens have been ranked as some of the country’s most beautiful and authentic Japanese gardens, and we can see why. The gardens' season runs from early spring until the fall season. Grab a map, buy some fish food for $1 and take in the beauty away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago.
3. Historic Galena
This charming, historic town is known for its extremely well-preserved 19th century houses and buildings. In fact, nearly 85% of Galena's buildings are in a National Register Historic District. Walk the streets Galena that Ulysses S. Grant once walked on your way to a tour at the Blaum Bros Distillery. Afterwards, catch a magic show at the P.T. Murphy Magic Theater.
4. Starved Rock
Voted Illinois’ number one attraction, Starved Rock State Park in Oglesby offers some incredible views unlike anything else in the Midwest. Thirteen miles of hiking trails allow visitors to wind their way through 18 different canyons, viewing 14 waterfalls, overhangs and incredible overlooks along the way. Feeling more adventurous? Whitewater rafting is offered on the Vermillion River just four miles south of the park.
5. Illinois Railway Museum
As the largest railroad museum in the United States, this spot is great for both train lovers and history buffs alike. Located in Union, about 55 miles north of Chicago, the museum offers many exhibits including a huge collection of historic railway equipment. The best time to visit the Railway Museum? From April to October, visitors can actually ride on some of the trains, so plan accordingly!
6. Shawnee Hills Wine Trail
Located in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest is Illinois first, and most award-winning, wine trail. While it might be impossible to hit all of the wineries in one day, if you’re of legal drinking age, visiting a few of the 12 award-winning wineries on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail makes for a great day trip. If you can only try a few, Pomona and Owl Creek are some favorites. Looking to extend your trip? No worries, guests can partake in several hiking and biking spots, spas and specialty shop stops along the trail.
7. Cahokia Mounds
Located in southern Illinois right outside Collinsville, the Cahokia Mounds are a unique part of Illinois’ history. The park’s approximately 80 mounds represent the site of a pre-Columbian Native American city. The park covers 2,200 acres, so guests can spend hours exploring what has been called “the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico.”
8. Urbana’s Market
Illinois is known for its many farmer’s markets, but perhaps the best one is Urbana’s Market, located in Downtown Urbana. Just a two-hour drive south of Chicago, Urbana’s offers one of the best selections of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy as well as artisan breads and pastries. Thousands of people flock to the downtown square every Saturday morning from May through October. For nearly 40 years, the market has been a mainstay for residents and offers the best selection of locally made goods.