Chicago’s location makes it an ideal place to get in the car and go, whether you live in the city or you make it your home base for some Midwestern exploration.
I’ve lived in Chicago and its suburbs for twenty years, and in the Midwest my entire life (except for a brief four years in my early twenties). Let’s just say I’ve been to a LOT of towns, villages, cities, parks, etc., that are within easy driving distance from the Windy City.
And while I love Chicago (I even wrote a book about it) and The Local Tourist began as a guide to the city’s River North neighborhood, sometimes even I just need to get away.
I’ve hand-picked some of my favorite places that are within a few hours’ drive of Chicago. If you’re looking for delightful towns with delicious food and drink, boutiques and artisan shops, intriguing history, outdoor adventures, natural beauty, and so much more, you’re sure to find your perfect road trip from Chicago.
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Choosing the Best Road Trips from Chicago
How far will you drive for a weekend trip?
I asked that question of members of The Local Tourist Facebook group and their answers surprised me. The winning time was five hours, and second place was four hours. Several of these road trippers would even drive eight hours for a weekend vacation!
Based on their input, and my own obsession with road trips, I’ve included some destinations that require a few hours behind the wheel.
I’ve also included places that are much closer. In fact, there are a few towns and cities that are technically suburbs of Chicago. Depending on your starting point, these destinations may provide more of a staycation than a vacation.
But hey – that’s what being a Local Tourist is all about, right?
I’m only including destinations that I’ve personally visited and enjoyed. Clearly, I need to spend more time in Ohio and Michigan, and I’ll be making an effort to do that in 2022.
For each road trip destination, I’ve included driving time. This assumes you’ll be driving interstates and won’t be avoiding toll roads. It also assumes no traffic. Depending on when you leave for your weekend road trips from Chicago, traffic could increase times by at least an hour, so check Google maps or Waze before you go.
I’ve also included suggestions for places to stay, as well as links to each destination’s official Convention and Visitors Bureau, or CVB. These local resources are my travel planning not-so-secret weapon.
Ready to plan your road trips from Chicago? Let’s go!
Related: before you go, check out all my tips for planning a road trip.
9 Short Road Trips from Chicago
If you’re looking for a quick getaway or even a day trip from Chicago, these locations are all within two hours of the Windy City.
Driving time: 1 hour
Known as the City in the Suburbs, Elgin, Illinois, is a relatively quick drive or an easy train ride from downtown Chicago. Its proximity makes it perfect for a day trip, but there’s enough to do that you’ll want to make a weekend of it.
A good place to start is downtown Elgin. Located right on the Fox River, it’s filled with public art and historic buildings. Get the history of the area at the Elgin History Museum (pictured above).
You can also take a free self-guided walking tour of the Elgin Historic District. Since that walking will make you hungry, grab a sandwich at Blue Box Café or head up to West Dundee for a burger and a pint at Emmett’s Brewing Co., an award-winning brewery.
Another one of the great things to do in Elgin is visit Lords Park and Zoo. On its grounds is the Elgin Public Museum, the only natural history museum in the Fox Valley.
Where to stay in Elgin, Illinois: Most of the hotels in Elgin are along the I-90 corridor. The Holiday Inn & Suites is one of the most highly rated accommodations near Elgin.
CVB: Explore Elgin Area, exploreelginarea.com
Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
Driving time: 1 hour
One of our newest national parks is a short drive or train ride from Chicago. Established in 2019, Indiana Dunes National Park is 15,000 acres along the southern shores of Lake Michigan.
There are over fifty miles of trails, making hiking Indiana Dunes National Park one of its top attractions. Hikers can traverse dunes, wetlands, prairies, rivers, and forests, all in one park.
Access to the park is free, unless you’re visiting West Beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Then it’s a $6 charge, which helps maintain the bathhouse and pay for lifeguards.
You could spend the entire weekend at the park. However, if you want a break, drive a little further east to Michigan City. While the town is known for Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets, it’s also home to several museums, including the Old Lighthouse Museum.
Where to stay near Indiana Dunes State Park: Camping is available within the park itself, and there are several hotel chains in Michigan City.
CVA: South Shore Indiana, southshorecva.com
Harbor Country, Michigan
Driving time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Just across the border from Michigan City, Indiana, is Harbor Country.
The Red Arrow Highway takes you through eight small towns, each unique, each charming in its own away. Think boutique instead of big box, locally owned versus chain.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find everything from kayaking and paddle boating to fishing, surfing, and golf. Of course, you can also spend the day at the beach.
One of the biggest attractions is the number of Southwest Michigan wineries and breweries. The climate is very similar to Napa Valley, and the area’s known for its award-winning wines.
Where to stay in Harbor Country: You can find inexpensive hotels as well as private homes in New Buffalo, Michigan.
CVB: Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce, harborcountry.org
Driving time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Kenosha is the fourth largest metro area in Wisconsin as well as the fourth-largest city on the shores of Lake Michigan, and there are TONS of things to do.
It’s the home of the oldest operating velodrome in the country, a free dinosaur museum, historic restaurants, not one but two lighthouses, and you can still ride an electric trolley.
Start your visit at the Kenosha History Center for an overview of the area’s past. Then don’t miss the Dinosaur Discovery Museum or Kenosha Public Museum, both of which are free. The Civil War Museum is an impressive look at Wisconsin’s role in the war.
A must-visit restaurant is House of Gerhard, featuring traditional German specialties. Another favorite is Franks Diner. Guy Fieri featured it on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and it serves up tasty American cuisine with a side of sass.
Check out more reasons you should visit Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Where to stay in Kenosha: you can stay in Kenosha hotels that are conveniently located off I-94, or you can choose an historic inn like The Stella Hotel and Ballroom. For a great view, check out Wyndham Garden Kenosha, right on the harbor.
CVB: Visit Kenosha Wisconsin, visitkenosha.com
McHenry County, Illinois
Driving time: 1 hour 30 minutes
I’ve lived in McHenry County, whose northern border is shared with Wisconsin, for more than three years and I’m still finding new things to do.
One of the most surprising aspects of the area is the sheer number of parks. The McHenry County Conservation District manages more than thirty conservation areas, and most of them have hiking trails. There are also city and village parks, as well as two state parks within the county.
Another great thing about the area is the food. Oh, the food! There’s farm-to-table at 1776 Restaurant and Duke’s Alehouse and Kitchen, incredible Italian at 750° Cucina Rustica, rich encased meats at Richmond Brathaus, and the best custard anywhere at Julie Ann’s Frozen Custard.
All are local; all are family-owned; all are delicious.
McHenry County’s county seat is Woodstock, which you might recognize. It’s where Groundhog Day was filmed, and the town celebrates with their very own groundhog, Woodstock Willie.
You can even stay in the same bed and breakfast where Bill Murray’s character woke up again, and again, and again. With the mouthwatering breakfasts served each morning at Cherry Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast, though, you won’t mind if the same thing happens to you.
Read more about why I love being a Local Tourist in McHenry County, and you will, too!
CVB: Visit McHenry County, visitmchenrycounty.com
Driving time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Located right off I-90, Janesville is an ideal weekend road trip from Chicago, especially if you like the great outdoors, art, and history.
The town’s tagline is “Wisconsin’s Great Outside,” and there are thirty miles of trails in Janesville, including a portion of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. One of the most scenic treks is the mile and a half hike to Devil’s Staircase.
The Rotary Botanical Gardens is a non-profit garden covering twenty acres. You won’t want to miss their Holiday Light Show. From Thanksgiving weekend through December, the gardens become a magical winter wonderland strewn with hundreds of thousands of lights.
History buffs will get a kick out of exploring Janesville’s thirteen historic districts. One of the highlights of any visit to Janesville would be the Lincoln-Tallman House. Built in 1857, it’s been a museum since 1951. Eighty-five percent of the furnishings in the house are original, including the bed that Lincoln slept in when he was a guest.
Janesville’s dining scene is relatively new, but with restaurants like Genisa Wine Bar and the Sandwich Bar, it’s gaining steam and there are enough unique spots to keep your palate happy. I definitely recommend bellying up to the 1933 Art Deco bar at O’Riley and Conway’s Irish Pub for some Scotch eggs.
Combine history and beer at Gray Brewing Co. They’ve been brewing beer since 1856, except during that pesky Prohibition when they turned to sodas. It’s one of the oldest family-owned breweries, not just in Wisconsin, but in the United States.
When you visit Janesville, make sure you’ve got your walking shoes and plenty of room on your SD card, because the town is filled with vibrant and colorful murals.
Where to stay in Janesville, Wisconsin: Renovated in 2019, the Hampton Inn provides comfortable rooms with modern décor. Breakfast is included, and it’s one of the better spreads I’ve seen. When I stayed, the hot items were frequently replenished and there were several options including both waffles and mini-waffles.
CVB: Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, janesvillecvb.com
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Driving time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Located just 75 miles northwest of Chicago on the other side of the Wisconsin border, Lake Geneva provides a year-round escape from hectic city life and is a short day trip or great weekend destination.
One attraction with a direct tie to Chicago is the Yerkes Observatory (pictured above). It’s considered the birthplace of modern astrophysics and was funded by Charles Yerkes, who had a huge role in developing Chicago’s public transportation. The observatory is being renovated and will open to the public sometime in 2022.
Lake Geneva has long been a playground for Chicagoans. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it seemed that every wealthy Chicagoan built a mansion on the shores of the lake. Today, many of those mansions still stand.
The best way to see them is to take a boat tour, especially if you can ride along when they’re delivering the mail. Lake Geneva is one of the few places left in the country where mail is delivered by boat.
Another way to see the mansions is to walk the path that surrounds the lake. Like Chicago’s lakefront with its public beaches, Geneva Lake is surrounded by a path that’s open to everyone.
One place you can only visit from a boat, unless you have physical limitations and can’t climb the many stairs from the dock, is Black Point Estate. This historic mansion has many ties to Chicago, including Jane Addams.
For something completely different, feed an ostrich. Safari Lake Geneva is a drive-through experience that allows you to feed giraffes, alpacas, elands, and emus.
An experience that’s both fun and tasty is taking a class at Lake Geneva Cooking School. Chef John teaches you how to make dishes you might never attempt on your own, and he pairs them with stellar wines.
Like many, during lockdowns he pivoted and fulfilled his dream of publishing a cookbook. I’ve made several recipes from it, and highly recommend it.
Golf is one of Lake Geneva’s biggest draws. During the winter months, you can ski, snowboard, snowshoe, and ice fish.
Where to stay in Lake Geneva: Technically located in Fontana on the west side of Geneva Lake, The Abbey Resort is a sprawling complex with beautiful rooms overlooking a marina. They also have multiple pools and there’s often live music, either in the bar or outside during the summer.
CVB: Visit Lake Geneva, visitlakegeneva.com
Driving time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is an urban getaway filled with culture and outdoor fun.
The instantly recognizable Milwaukee Art Museum is definitely worth visiting, and after you’ve browsed its collections you can take a walk along the lakefront.
For more art, book a room at Saint Kate The Arts Hotel. This astounding hotel is like staying in a work of art – because you are. It’s right downtown, providing easy access to the river walk.
Beer lovers will have a blast exploring Milwaukee’s breweries. Lakefront Brewery is known for its fun tours. Milwaukee Brewing Company and Mobcraft are also great places to visit.
There’s no beer at the Pabst Mansion, but you’ll still want to see Captain Frederick Pabst’s house, built in 1892. It’s a gorgeous Flemish Renaissance Revival mansion that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
Another nautical stop is North Point Lighthouse. Built in 1888 high on a bluff, Frederick Law Olmstead himself designed the grounds. Chicagoans will recognize the famous landscaper’s name from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the University of Chicago, among others. He also landscaped Lake Geneva’s Yerkes Observatory, which was part of the University until recently.
The Harley-Davidson Museum is another must-stop and be sure to dine at Motor, the on-site restaurant.
During the summer there are festivals just about every weekend, so check Visit Milwaukee’s events calendar to find out what’s happening. And of course, make sure you have some cheese curds, brats, and beer.
Where to stay in Milwaukee: Saint Kate The Arts Hotel for a modern art experience, The Pfister Hotel for a dose of history, and Iron Horse for more industrial décor and easy access to the Harley-Davidson Museum.
CVB: Visit Milwaukee, visitmilwaukee.org
Driving time: 2 hours
My grandparents lived in West Lafayette, Indiana, so I grew up visiting. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually explored the town. Boy, had I been missing out on a lot.
Known as the home of Purdue University, West Lafayette, and its sister city Lafayette, have history, art, culture, delicious food and drink, and a vital sense of community.
There are several places that make this a great place for a road trip from Chicago. One is the Haan Mansion Museum of American Art.
The mansion was originally built for the 1904 World’s Fair in Saint Louis. Now it’s in West Lafayette and is filled with impressionist paintings and historic furniture.
Another is SAMARA. Designed inside and out by Frank Lloyd Wright for Dr. John and Catherine Christian, it’s a nearly perfectly preserved example of Wright’s Usonian architecture.
Another fascinating spot is Prophetstown State Park, combining a landscape that’s distinctly Indiana with the history of the Native Americans who fought the settlers’ encroachment, and the farmers who eventually tilled the land. While there, visit the nearby Tippecanoe Battlefield.
I’ve got even more places to visit in Lafayette. These include not only places I’ve been, but also spots recommended by students at Purdue University. I’ve partnered with a 400-level travel-writing class since 2018, and many of their submissions are local to the college town.
See why you should visit Lafayette and West Lafayette Indiana
Where to stay in Lafayette, Indiana: Mr. TLT and I loved the cozy intimacy of Black Blanket Farms Bed and Breakfast. If they’re booked, Lafayette has a gazillion hotel options since it’s a college town.
CVB: Visit Lafayette-West Lafayette, homeofpurdue.com
7 Road Trips from Chicago between 2 and 3 hours
Driving time: 2 hours 30 minutes
When people ask me the destination that surprised me the most, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, tops the list.
I visited in August of 2021, and it was my first press trip post-cancer. It was exactly the experience I needed: waves, beaches, amazing food, brilliant art, and a community that preserves its past.
Your first stop should be the Sheboygan Visitor Center. It is absolutely the coolest visitor center I’ve ever seen – and I’ve been to a lot.
Sheboygan’s known as the Malibu of the Midwest, so of course I had to get out on the water. One of my favorite things to do was take a first sailing lesson in Lake Michigan. That’s right – you can learn how to sail on a weekend trip to Sheboygan.
The Kohler name is prominent in the area. In addition to the manufacturing company and a nearby resort, there’s also the Kohler Arts Center and the Kohler Art Preserve, which opened in 2021. Kohler also manages the James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden, one of several artist-built environments throughout the state.
History geeks will want to stop at Sheboygan Indian Mound Park and the Sheboygan County Historical Society and Museum.
For dining, don’t miss Black Pig, Il Ritrovo, and BoMallies. Breakfast should absolutely begin at Paradigm Coffee and Music. Best. bagel. sandwich. ever.
Check out my piece about this surprising place, and I’ve even included the perfect 3-day Sheboygan itinerary.
Where to stay in Sheboygan: Blue Harbor Resort offers gorgeous rooms and an even better view. They’ve also got a whole water park, on-site dining, and easy access to the beach.
CVB: Visit Sheboygan, visitsheboygan.com
Driving time: 3 hours
Galena, Illinois, is located near the Mississippi River on the opposite side of the state from Chicago. Surrounded by the rolling hills and bluffs of the Driftless Region, it’s an area dotted with wineries and golf courses.
There are many reasons nearly a million people visit the former mining mecca each year. From shopping along its historic main street to the many wineries in the area, it’s a great spot for a romantic weekend or a girls getaway.
A stroll down Main Street feels like a step back in time. Be sure to stop into Galena Canning Company for a taste of salsas and jams, and Galena Brewing Company offers a lineup of tasty beers.
Thrill-seekers will love a visit to Long Hollow Canopy Tours, a zipline adventure through the woods.
Nature lovers can explore trails along the nearby Mississippi River, and golfers will love a few rounds at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa.
There are also several historic buildings, and the Ulysses S. Grant Home is one of the most popular places to visit for a look into the past.
Where to stay in Galena, Illinois: While there are hotels that are closer to Galena’s historic Main Street, two of my favorites are a short drive from downtown. Goldmoor Inn Bed and Breakfast is an elegant getaway overlooking the Mississippi River. Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa is my home away from home when I’m in Galena. I’ve stayed there at least five times. I love the variety of accommodations, activities, and the delicious food.
CVB: Visit Galena, visitgalena.org
Hendricks County, Indiana
Driving time: 3 hours
My first visit to Hendricks County, Indiana, was in 2017, and since then I’ve returned four? five? times. You might say I like it. I even taught the first writing workshop for Midwest Travel Network (I’ve now taught three) at Natural Valley Ranch, a cabin with that private pond out its back door.
There are also horses, that you can ride. Squeee!
It’s a large county comprised of several towns. Some are large, like Plainfield and Avon, and others are small, like the tiny Lizton, which is home to the best barbecue – and pecan pie – in Indiana (and possibly the Midwest).
Race fans not only have easy access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they can also see the NHRA Finals at the Lucas Oil Raceway within Hendricks County.
The only Doctor Who Museum and Store is in Hendricks County, as is the Tie-Dye Lab, where you can make your own tie-dye apparel. Beasley’s Orchard has the best apple cider. Oasis Diner is the only diner on the National Road and it’s got one of the best pork tenderloin sandwiches anywhere.
Basically, go to Hendricks County. There’s so much to do I bet you’ll want to go back again and again, just like I do.
Where to stay in Hendricks County: Natural Valley Ranch is great if there’s a big group of you exploring the area. If not, then I’m a fan of Staybridge Suites. Each room includes a kitchenette, plus they offer free breakfast and weekday happy hours.
CVB: Visit Hendricks County, visithendrickscounty.com
More Road Trips from Chicago between 2 and 3 hours
- Madison, Wisconsin; 2 hours 45 minutes
- New Glarus, Wisconsin; 2 hours 45 minutes
- Indianapolis, Indiana; 3 hours
- Quad Cities, Illinois/Iowa; 3 hours
9 Road Trips from Chicago between 3 and 5 hours
Driving time: 3 hours 20 minutes
You’ll be glad Dubuque Iowa is one of these easy road trips from Chicago, because there’s so much to do you’ll want to return again and again.
Dubuque’s location on the Mississippi means it’s filled with river lore. Begin your visit at the Mines of Spain, a National Historic Landmark and Iowa State Recreation Area. It’s named for the mines that Julien Dubuque, the town’s founder, worked with permission from first the Mesquakie and then the Spanish. The Julien Dubuque Monument resembles a rook and overlooks the Mississippi; Dubuque is buried on the site.
Get an in-depth introduction to the river and the region at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, then go on the river itself. You can take a steamboat tour or an American Lady River Cruise aboard a yacht.
Like Janesville, Dubuque’s downtown is also covered with murals, and it’s a fun afternoon to walk the streets and find your favorite.
Dubuque’s most unusual attraction is the Fenelon Place Elevator. It’s the shortest, steepest railroad and a ride to the top provides some of the best views in the city.
Another spot for great views is Eagle Point Park. You’ll get a birds eye view of Lock and Dam #11 and can see into both Wisconsin and Illinois.
One of the most famous attractions is in nearby Dyer. The Field of Dreams Movie Site is surprisingly moving, especially now that you can tour the house. Inside you’ll discover stories behind the filming of this beloved classic.
I think the food scene in Dubuque will surprise you. It certainly surprised me to discover several innovative chefs serving quality cuisine. Make reservations for both Brazen Open Kitchen and Pepper Sprout and you’ll be one happy diner.
Where to stay in Dubuque, Iowa: since it’s right downtown, you can’t get much more convenient than Hotel Julien Dubuque. Plus, it’s a gorgeous hotel with oodles of history, including stories about Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and a certain gangster from Chicago.
CVB: Travel Dubuque, traveldubuque.com
Brown County, Indiana
Driving time: 4 hours
Brown County, Indiana, is known for its beauty when the leaves change colors, but that doesn’t mean you can only visit in the fall. The rolling hills are beautiful year round.
While the area is easy to get to now, that wasn’t always the case. Its relative isolation fostered a vibrant artists community, which thrives to this day.
Visit Brown County and you can see the home and studio of one of the founding artists T.C. Steele. He was one of the five members of the acclaimed Hoosier Group. In the late 1800s, that group put Indiana’s art scene on the map, and Brown County in particular.
Browse the galleries of Nashville, Indiana, and you’ll see works of art from those early painters as well as artists of today.
Get a two-for-one cultural experience at Country Heritage Winery. Not only can you taste wines, when you take a weekend road trip from Chicago, you can do so while listening to live music.
Another favorite is Hard Truth Hills. Inspired by Sierra Nevada’s set-up in Asheville, North Carolina, this is a multi-purpose destination with a brewery, a distillery, a restaurant, and an outdoor stage. Pro tip: get the to-die-for pulled pork nachos.
Brown County is one of those places where you can choose to go-go-go, or you can kick back and relax. Either way, it’s definitely worth the drive.
Learn more about Brown County and how it became the tourist destination it is today.
Where to stay in Brown County: Abe Martin Lodge is located within Brown County State Park. Bring the kids and your swimsuits; they’ve got an indoors water park. Want something more secluded? There are cabins, too.
CVB: Brown County, browncounty.com
Driving time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Sandusky is most famous for being the home of Cedar Point amusement park, but this city on the shores of Lake Erie is much more than roller coasters and funnel cakes.
A fun way to get an overview is to take a Segway tour. Sandusky Segwave offers guided tours through the historic downtown. Perched atop your personal transporter, you’ll glide past historic sites, through city parks, along the lakefront, and past the Merry-Go-Round Museum. You’ll learn about the town’s very beginnings, as well as its role in the Underground Railroad.
Another reason to visit Sandusky is Kelleys Island. Take a high-speed ferry to the largest American island in Lake Erie for a day of art, shopping, and wine.
While you’re on the island, don’t miss Glacial Grooves State Memorial. This National Natural Landmark protects the largest easily accessible grooves in the world. To see them is to witness the power of the glaciers that shaped North America.
Before you go back to Sandusky, get a scoop of Lake Erie Cookie Island Monster. It’s the official ice cream of Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores and Islands, Sandusky’s visitors bureau.
Warning: it will turn your tongue blue!
Where to stay in Sandusky, Ohio: Hotel Kilbourne. This place puts the boutique in boutique hotel. In addition to being the only Sandusky hotel that’s on the water, it’s also got a rooftop bar and an on-site restaurant.
CVB: Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores and Islands, shoresandislands.com
More road trips from Chicago between 3 and 5 hours:
- Iowa City , Iowa; 3 hours 45 minutes
- Door County, Wisconsin; 3 hours 50 minutes
- Bloomington , Indiana; 4 hours
- Collinsville, Illinois; 4 hours 45 minutes
- Traverse City, Michigan; 4 hours 55 minutes
- Route 66 , Illinois; 5 hours
Map of Road Trips from Chicago
I hope these delightful road trips from Chicago will help you find someplace wonderful to visit for your weekend getaways. Each place is special and offers unique experiences. When you go, I’d love it if you’d share your photos in our Facebook group.
Oh, and be sure to bookmark this page, because I’ve got more destinations to add!