The 7 Best Outdoor Getaways From Chicago
By Lisa White in Best Of on Jul 2, 2015 7:20PM
As much as we love our bright lights and big city, all Chicagoans need a little fresh air and a brief escape from the hustle and bustle of enjoying life in an urban environment. A short respite from noisy neighbors, hectic commutes and a downtown clogged with tourist, but still close enough to make it back to work on Monday.
Thankfully, there are a bounty of outdoor options for whatever type of relaxation you are looking for. From sandy beaches to bike rides, pampered retreats to lazy days floating along the water, the Midwest is a beautiful region if you're looking to enjoy nature. Below we share some of our favorite picks, so grab some sunscreen, wave goodbye to the skyline behind you and enjoy a quick trip outdoors.
Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock is a 2,600-acre state park known for its gorgeous canyon-scape, hiking trails, historic archeological sites and prime camping grounds. Whether you plan to camp out tent-style or take advantage of the park's modern lodge and cabins, you'll have plenty of opportunities to commune with nature on your visit to Starved Rock. First of all, the park boasts more than 13 miles of hiking trails and several canyon waterfalls. Camping, boating and fishing are all popular summer activities, and in the winter visitors can try out ice skating, tobogganing, cross-country skiing and, surprisingly, bald-eagle-spotting. The campground is about 90 miles outside of Chicago. But one pro-tip from friends who’ve camped there: Watch out for poison ivy. —Rachel Cromidas
Starved Rock is located in the village of Utica, Illinois.
Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan
When I think of the outdoors, my mind immediately goes to a beach—and one of the best in the area is Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan. Bordering this Lake Michigan gem, the town is full of art galleries, wine-tasting rooms, restaurants and specialty shops. Just 140 miles from Chicago, it is a perfect place to get away from the city to breathe some fresh lake air, enjoy the ever-changing abstraction of the sand dunes and walk along the water with sheer abandon. There are hidden nooks to be discovered along the beach, offering a meditative opportunity for reflection on the intoxicating winsomeness of Lake Michigan. Even when this beach is busy, it is incredibly relaxing and truly beautiful, so it is the perfect place to escape for "R and R" as well as a great place to take photos, write or sketch. It is no wonder so many writers and artists call Saugatuck home; its beauty and unique, homey charm is a limitless source of inspiration. — Carrie McGath
Oval Beach is located in Saugatuck, Michigan.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
About 50 miles east of Chicago, you'll find one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. As the glacier that created Lake Michigan thousands of years ago gradually melted, it created a number of distinct environments over the 22,000 square miles that encompass the federally-protected lakeshore. While hiking through the abundant trails through the area, you can enjoy white sandy beaches, impossibly steep sand dunes, lush wetlands and dense forests all in one trip. It's the perfect spot to read a book by the water, have a picnic with your closest friends or take an exhausting trek through the woods. Granted, the beach is bookended by two large factories and there's the occasional pesky E. coli outbreak to deal with. But it's well worth those inconveniences to explore a one of a kind world just an hour away from home. — Jim Bochnowski
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is located in Porter, Indiana.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa
There’s a reason rich people have summer homes in Lake Geneva and why Guns N’ Roses was inspired to write “Paradise City” about the Wisconsin destination just 90 minutes from Chicago: It’s kind of a slice of heaven on earth. Beyond the boat tours and old-time confectionary is a place just on the outskirts called the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, which used to be one of the old Playboy Clubs until it was purchased and remodeled—kind of. The indoor swimming pool still looks like a grotto and the old chalet and ski ‘bunny’ hill are still there. And there are no fewer than five gourmet restaurants, as well as deluxe guest rooms with balconies that overlook beautiful greens and golf courses, skiing, horseback riding, a petting zoo, full-service spa, athletic club with tennis courts, two pools, a water park and a gaming center. And there’s easy access to Alpine Valley for any concerts on your schedule as well as all that the quaint area of Lake Geneva offers. Just be sure to hit up Mars Cheese Castle and stock up on dairy and New Glarus beer on your way there, and probably your way home, too. — Selena Fragassi
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is located at 7036 Grand Geneva Way in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Bike To Two Brothers Brewery
For a day trip that can be relaxing or rigorous, depending on your cycling experience, take your bike on Illinois' historic Prairie Path one-way or roundtrip out to Warrenville, home of Two Brothers Brewery and Tap House. The ride is about 40 miles if you leave from the city and take the Metra home, or 40 miles roundtrip from the Metra stop in Elmhurst to the brewery and back to the train. The path is paved with hard-packed limestone fit for road bikes, and has stops along the way with water fountains, bathrooms and several sights to take in, including bird habitats and prairie restoration sites. Just remember to bring snacks and a spare tire tube in case of a flat on the road. And when you get to Two Brothers, enjoy the ever-popular Wobble, Bitter End or Prairie Pat—a golden ale named for your ride. For a shorter trip with maximum beering and snacking, head from the Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora to the Tap House and back in just about 18 miles. —Rachel Cromidas
Two Brothers Tap House is located at 30 W. 31 Calumet Ave. W in Warrenville, Illinois.
Kalamazoo Nature Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan
The Kalamazoo Nature Center (KNC) is about three hours from Chicago and offers numerous trails for nature lovers and hikers of all levels. From the easygoing Prairie Pathway Trail, to the difficult Raptor Ridge, these trails deliver sights for horticultural enthusiasts, birders and all manner of nature admirers. KNC is dedicated to the preservation of the environment with a mission for research and education with collaborative conservation programs like the Michigan Butterfly Network. Started in 2011 by the KNC to study the vital role butterflies play for a healthy ecosystem, field trips are available for everyone to learn more about these whimsical and winged creatures' profound role in nature. For a more metropolitan trail, the KNC connects up with the brand new Urban Nature Park. Spanning 4 acres of green space in downtown Kalamazoo, it runs along Portage Creek affording views of both nature and the eclectic downtown of this small but burgeoning city. — Carrie McGath
Kalamazoo Nature Center is located at 7000 N. Westnedge Ave. in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
River Tubing Down The Tippecanoe
It’s no big secret that I am not an outdoors person. Nature is beautiful and I love enjoying it...from the view of a balcony or laying on a beach. Dirt, bugs, wild animals and possible poisonous plants are just not for me. But every city dweller needs some fresh air from time to time, and one way to enjoy a relaxing day in nature is tubing. One of the best bets that isn’t too far from Chicago is tubing on the Tippecanoe River in Indiana. Its a little under a 2-hour drive from Chicago—the perfect amount of time for carpool karaoke with friends before arriving, and an easy drive back. There are two main rental spots: Riverside Rentals and Tippy-Canoe Rentals. Riverside is a bit more flashy than the no-frills Tippy, but either place will do. You pay a low fee to rent your tube then off you go, rolling down the river. Key things to bring with you: plenty of booze, food and water for your designated drivers; shoes with straps on them so they aren’t lost to the river; sunscreen and bug spray and rope to tether together your tubing crew. You can rent a cooler float for your beverages, tie your tubes (literally) together and enjoy a lazy day with friends, brews and lovely nature views. They also rent canoe and kayaks, but for the laziest and most affordable option, tubing is your best bet. If you want to head north instead, Wisconsin has a bevy of tubing options as well. — Lisa White
Tippecanoe River State Park is located in Winamac, Indiana.