Explore Chicago

Where to Escape Chicago for the Day in Two Hours or Less

As Chicago and the surrounding area begin to steadily reopen, many city residents are looking to change their surroundings. Fortunately, there are plenty of places for Chicagoans to escape from the city and many are fewer than 2 hours away by car. Discover Top Day Trips from ChicagoWhether choosing a cultural escape to a nearby city or running away into the wilderness of the state parks, always remember to wear your mask and follow social distancing guidelines. 
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When Chicagoans want to take a break from their city but still want an urban experience, they venture 90-minutes to Milwaukee. This lively Wisconsin city has something for everyone. Milwaukee is perhaps most famous for its thriving brewing scene. There are more than 30 breweries within the city limits from big names like Miller and Pabst Blue Ribbon to smaller ventures like Good City Brewing and City Lights Brewing Company. The Third Ward is a trendy area for arts and fashion. Visitors can shop at unique boutiques and art galleries. The Milwaukee RiverWalk offers nearly 4 miles of uninterrupted urban trails. Stop off at riverside eateries or wander through the art installations scattered throughout the park. The Milwaukee County Zoo has recently reopened and is welcoming families back to visit their 2,100 animal inhabitants. 


Lake Geneva moves at a slower pace than Milwaukee. Only 1 hour and 40 minutes from downtown Chicago, Lake Geneva seems somewhat frozen in time. The 21-mile shoreline around the lake is dotted with historical mansions from the Gilded Era. There are 10 different golf courses around town making the area a linksman’s paradise. The downtown area is picturesque and perfect for a day of shopping. Luxury sportswear, handcrafted goods, and specialty food shops are conveniently located throughout the pedestrian-friendly shopping district. Wind down for the day at one of the local breweries or wineries. Many of the restaurants in Lake Geneva are offering outdoor seating or take out. Indulge in a steak or seafood feast or keep it cozy at the local, brick-oven pizzeria. 

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The Anderson Japanese Gardens are also only 1 hour and 40 minutes from the Windy City. Founder John Anderson worked closely with designer Hoichi Kurisu to transform the swampy expanse of his backyard into an ornate Japanese garden in 1978. To this day, the placement of every flower, shrub, and stone is done with careful consideration under Kurisu’s guidance. The tranquil space is a harmonious blend of calm pools, pagodas, arbors, and lush greenery. Each detail is meticulously laid out creating a serene ambiance the likes of which visitors won’t find for miles. Like so many cultural institutions throughout the U.S., the gardens are requesting that guests make reservations in advance as they are operating at limited capacity. The Tuesday Evening Summer Series has been canceled for 2020.

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Along the southern shore of Lake Michigan lies the 15-mile stretch of beach known as Indiana Dunes National Park. Besides the shoreline, there are 50 miles of trails that weave throughout the park for hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and bird watching. The Dunes became the nation’s 61st National Park just last year with hopes to protect the local wetland, prairie, sand dune, and forest ecosystems. The beaches are open at limited capacity and a dip in the chilly waters of Lake Michigan is a great way to get a little relief from the sun. All of this beautiful, outdoor recreation is only an hour away from Chicago.

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Where the Illinois and Vermillion rivers meet is the quiet, waterfront town of Oglesby. Outdoorsman flock to this sleepy town because of its proximity to Matthiessen State Park and Starved Rock State Park, the most visited state park in Illinois. Both parks are rife with waterfalls, woodland creatures, and stunning natural beauty. The rivers themselves are great opportunities for recreation. Go rafting down the Vermillion River or hitch a ride on the LaSalle Canal Boat. The Hegeler Carus Mansion, which is now home to the foundation of the same name, has restarted tours after a brief closure due to COVID-19. It’s an excellent example of the Napoleon III style of architecture and truly arresting at first sight. Before making the 2-hour journey back to Chicago, be sure to visit one of the charming, local restaurants along the riverfront.