One would be surprised that there are more than cornfields outside the city of Chicago. It may take a little bit of driving (but less than two hours), but something magical happens after you leave the city limits and discover the depths of the Land of Lincoln – there is nature, history, culture and community to experience and create new memories.
There are many hidden gems to discover all over the great state of Illinois. Here are our Top activities to do outside of Chicago:
When you drive down Illinois 71, the landscape will morph from corn fields to vast depths of forest trees and brush. The sounds of nature will fill your ears – birds, the raging river, and the rustling trees. And you’d be surprised to find out that once you leave your car, that the hidden gem isn’t only the vastness of forest in rural Illinois, but waterfalls! During certain times of the year, waterfalls fill the anomaly of canyons, and in the winter, they turn into ice which makes for an incredibly spectacular site!
This rare midwest landscape has an incredible American Indian history on top of its beauty. And you can find it all at the #1 State Attraction in the State of Illinois! Starved Rock is a beautiful getaway located right along the river with towering forests, caves, dozens of hiking trails, fishing, boating, camping and more.
Just a few more miles south is another one of Illinois’ best-kept secrets, Matthiessen State Park. Canyons, streams, prairie, and a great place for geology with wondrous rock formations fill the area. Matthiessen is a great place for the outdoors with abundant vegetation and wildlife. And not only is Matthiessen a wonder of nature, there are many activities to boot such as archery, camping, cross country skiing, hiking trails, fishing, hunting, mountain biking and more!
Another hidden gem and a unique way to experience the area is the I&M Canal National Heritage Area. The I&M Canal spans across three towns that are full of adventurous activities and history!
Explore the area from a canal boat, raft, or stand up paddleboard. Or even explore from a biking trail immersed in nature that is 15 miles long running from the towns of LaSalle to Ottawa.
The trail is off the beaten path with incredible and unexpected landscapes from mini rock formations to towering forests. The path stretches along the Illinois and Fox Rivers, with many historic stops along the way such as Buffalo Rock, two museums, the Lincoln-Douglas debate spot, a riverwalk and much more!
Nowadays zip lining is a common term and a highly sought after activity in far away places. However, if you’re not savvy to what ziplining is, it’s an activity requiring a pulley suspended on a cable. Imagine enabling cargo being attached and pushed from one side to another for ease of transportation, but instead of cargo, you are harnessed in for the ride!
Zip Chicago is only an hour outside of Chicago where you can have the thrilling experience from nearly your backyard! Satisfy the need for adventure and experience the Midwest like no other with the highest and longest zip lines in Illinois and Wisconsin – meaning more bang for your buck! Zip Chicago is lead by trained and experienced guides on short or long tours or even a night tour! A fun way to get out of the City and play!
Get in touch with your inner child who loves to go fast, and feel like a kid again with these adult-like go-carts at Concept Haulers Motor Speedway! We love these gocarts so much we often make team trips here for the thrilling experience behind the wheel where you could imagine feeling like Nascar!
This speedway is legit with a pro shop, leagues, and driver training. The gocarts used are fast and technical making it a unique and challenging experience navigating the winding tracks in the countryside!
Wine, Lots of Wine!
Wine isn’t just in Italy or California anymore! We are incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by several wineries in the area such as:
August Hill – known for their extensive collection of reds, whites, and blush wines as well as their infusions, and non-alcoholic wines. Be sure to explore their wine club, and events to make this an unforgettable stop!
Illinois River Winery – known for their sweet wines and friendly service. The winery is a close stop from Starved Rock or Matthiessen State Park and has a pleasant tasting room. Be sure to check out their wine club and events!
Clarks Run Creek Gifts & Wine Tasting – is not a winery, but a wonderful place to taste local wines and craft beers. Known for their hospitality and unique gifts, this is a sure stop on your adventures in central Illinois!
An outdoor place in LaSalle that’s full of fun, but make sure to pack the swimsuits and sunscreen because there is a swimming pool with a splash pad! The fun doesn’t stop there as there are picnic areas, playgrounds, volleyball and tennis courts!
This place is a family owned and run establishment located near the Illinois River and Starved Rock. They are focused on safety first, and their customer service and facilities have made them a destination shooting range. From lessons to private events, to the various ranges available, Buffalo Range Shooting Park is an awesome place to experience firearms!
We don’t mean to toot our own horn, but yes! Skydiving is definitely on our list of top things to do outside of Chicago! Skydiving is an experience like no other, where you are harnessed to an experienced instructor and taken up to 13,500’ for 60 seconds of unforgettable freefall! The parachute opening is like magic, taking you from 120mph to a peaceful descent back to earth. Afterward, your instructor personally welcomes you to the sport with a logbook and certificate (aka proof) of your jump!
The wonderful thing about Skydive Chicago is we are on a 250-acre private resort with our own onsite cafe, Eat Up, and opportunities for camping, swimming, and fishing.
Why not pack up the car and make a weekend out of these top adventures as all of the activities are within 30 miles or less of each other! It’s a great opportunity to reconnect with nature, make incredible memories, and fall in love with the outdoors again, all close to home!