Chicago is spectacular in the fall, with cool temperatures and plenty of things to do. But the cities and states surrounding the Windy City are just as vibrant and exciting. Whether you’re a Chicago native or a vistor looking for something unique to do on vacation, here are five day trips you can enjoy taking from Chicago this fall.
Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
This state park on the Illinois River is less than two hours away from Chicago and has long been considered the best in the state. At Starved Rock you'll find 13 miles of hiking trails, 18 canyons, 14 waterfalls, and the biggest two-sided fireplace in the state. Bring your camera along to snap photos of its various native wildflowers and wildlife (such as white-tailed deer, bald eagles, and many other types of birds). It's only a two-hour drive from the city, so you'll be able to get back to the city for a slice of pizza after a long day of exploring.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Want to see some beautiful fall foliage? Lake Geneva is your best bet. Visit one of the orchards in the area like the Brightonwoods Orchard, which is open from September through November (it’s not "pick-your-own," but you can still walk through the trees and purchase apples). You can also see the beautiful fall leaves at one of Lake Geneva’s beaches. And while you’re there, don’t forget to visit the Dancing Horses Theatre to take in the amazing equestrian show or tour some of Lake Geneva’s opulent mansions by boat.
South Bend, Indiana
South Bend has become a player on the national stage thanks to the presidential bid by Mayor Pete Buttigieg. What is there to do in this city, two hours outside Chicago? The South Bend Farmers’ Market is open through September where you can browse local produce, cheeses, and artisan breads. Go to the History Museum to learn about the area or visit the Studebaker National Museum if you enjoy classic cars. The University of Notre Dame is just outside the city, so you can swing by and catch a Fighting Irish football game if you feel so inclined. South Bend also has many beautiful churches and historic homes that you can view as you walk around the city.
Michigan City, Indiana
Only an hour-and-a-half drive from Chicago, Michigan City offers fun for the whole family. Splash in the water at Washington Park and Beach or just sit in the gazebo and admire the view if it’s getting too chilly. The Washington Park Zoo is open until October 31st each year and has over 90 different species of animals. Michigan City also has a Lighthouse Museum where you can learn about shipwrecks and maritime history, plus tour the 1858 Michigan City Lighthouse. On a clear day, you can see the Chicago skyline from the top of the lighthouse. And don't forget the Indiana Dunes National Park. Explore 15,000 acres of the nation's newest national park and enjoy hiking, birdwatching, and geocaching.
Cahokia Mounds, Illinois
Up for a little more of a drive? Check out the Cahokia Mounds, a Native American city that existed long before Columbus came to America. It's located minutes away from St. Louis and is only five hours from downtown Chicago. The Mounds, however, are a can’t-miss. In 1250, Cahokia was bigger than the city of London. Throughout the years, Cahokia has had over 80 separate mounds, although some have been destroyed over time. Monks Mound is the largest man-made mound in North America. You can climb up it and, at Cahokia’s Interpretive Center, learn more about the Mississippian culture.