Chicago boasts acclaimed restaurants, abundant shopping, historic sites, and attracts visitors from around the world. Beyond the Magnificent Mile, River North, the Navy Pier, Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park, and all that the city has to offer, you can enjoy a variety of outdoor destinations in as little as one hour from the windy city. Before venturing outside of the city, however, check out these 25 locations on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places; sure to provide interesting opportunities for all who visit.
As you plan your route to these outdoor hotspots, consider venturing along the famous and historic Route 66. The Mother Road—as it is known—is one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System and begins in Chicago extending 2,451 miles (3,945 km) to Los Angeles, California. Enjoy a nostalgic journey of American history by interacting with 31 wayside exhibits in 17 communities along the Illinois section of Route 66.
From tallgrass prairie to scenic sandstone formations, these locations offer plenty of outdoor recreation for an adventurous day trip from Chicago.
Van Patten Woods, Lake County Forest Preserves is within one hour south of Chicago and offers something for everyone. Trails for hiking, cycling, horseback riding and cross-country skiing; a boat ramp to launch canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and other small watercraft; and youth group camping provides a range of activities.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is about one hour southwest of Chicago and is the largest contiguous open space area in northeastern Illinois. Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, visitors to the nation’s first tallgrass prairie can enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, bird watching and hunting.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is about one hour southeast of Chicago along the southern tip of Lake Michigan in Indiana. Enjoy outdoor activities year-round at this unique and diverse park with 15 miles of shoreline featuring accessible beaches, sand dunes, oak savannas, prairies, rivers and forest. Visitors enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, bird watching, horseback riding, swimming and boating.
Starved Rock State Park is about 1.5 hours southwest of Chicago and one mile south of Utica. This park’s most notable features are the fascinating rock formations of St. Peter sandstone offering scenic backdrops for hiking, horseback riding, fishing and boating along the banks of the Illinois River.
As you travel into the heart of Illinois, historic attractions beckon travelers to learn more about our 16th President and his life in the Midwest.
The American Club, located 2.5 hours north of Chicago, combines a luxury experience with the genuine historic atmosphere of an authentic Historic Hotel of America on the National Register of Historic Places. World-class golf courses designed by Pete Dye, Five-Star Dining, outdoor adventures, and exclusive Kohler spas and furnishings are just a few of the highlights of this Wisconsin oasis. Immerse yourself in the luxury of the present while celebrating the unique American story of the historic resort.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service, is located about three hours southwest of Chicago, in Springfield, Illinois. Learn more about our 16th President and the many facets of his life. Also located in Springfield is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum where his legacy is interpreted and preserved.
Lincoln Trail Homestead State Memorial is located three hours south of Chicago and about 45 minutes east of Springfield. This is the site of President Lincoln’s first home in Illinois and offers fishing, hiking and picnicking.
Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge is about 3.5 hours southwest of Chicago near Havana, Illinois. The refuge has been designated as an “Important Bird Area” and is a significant destination for migrating birds every year. Wildlife viewing, bird watching, photography, fishing and hunting are all popular activities at the refuge.
Huron-Manistee National Forests in Michigan are approximately four hours from Chicago on the east side of Lake Michigan. Recreation opportunities are abundant and year-round with groomed cross-country skiing trails, snowmobiling, off-road vehicle trails and roads, hiking, boating, fishing, camping, hunting and much more. These forests entertain about four million visitors each year and cover nearly one million acres.
Carlyle Lake is just over four hours south of Chicago and 50 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri. This is the largest lake in Illinois and offers plenty of water-related activities, along with camping, picnicking, hiking and plenty of amenities for a one- to multiple-day visit.
Rend Lake is also just over four hours south of Chicago and within an hour of Carlyle Lake. Located in the heart of southern Illinois, this is a natural haven for wildlife and a recreational haven for visitors. Campers will delight in the nearly 800 sites found in five public campgrounds. Boaters are provided access to the lake through the numerous boat ramps and beaches, picnic sites and trails provide the perfect backdrop for outdoor fun. Nearby attractions such as the 27-hole championship Rend Lake Golf Course, Southern Illinois Artisans Shop, and the Rend Lake Resort provide special opportunities for the recreationist.