10 Inexpensive Day Trips Near Lake County

Family Travel

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I love taking day trips because one, they are cheaper than “week” trips; two, you don’t have to be stuck in the car for hours on end with the kids and three, they get you out of your house. Raising kids is expensive and exhausting. I see you need a break and I am here for you. Get out of that house this weekend and you won’t even have to break into your kid’s piggy bank to do so!

inexpensive midwest day trips

10 Inexpensive Midwest Day Trips

1. Chicago 
This one is pretty obvious because almost everyone I know goes here on a regular basis but it is the perfect place for a day trip. It is just close enough that you won’t be exhausted by the time you get there, but you feel like you’ve been far away when you return home. There are lots of inexpensive things to do in the city but here are some fun ideas that we have done in the past!

  • Take the Metra down on the weekend when rates are lower or just drive. We have gone down during the week when the kids are out of school and traffic is much better. Maybe even take the kids out of school for the day and call it a field trip!
  • Walking around the city is the cheapest form of entertainment and there is so much to look at! We have even popped into a church service at the United Methodist Church on Washington Street! They offer weekday services and the church is so beautiful and welcoming that you will feel right at home, even if you’ve never stepped foot in a church.
  • Hot chocolate at Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. It is worth the walk and the splurge. Trust us.
  • Visit the Chicago History Museum near Lincoln Park Zoo and kids 12 and under are always free! The Lincoln Park Zoo which is right around the corner is free for everyone and is open year-round!

2. Milwaukee
Only one hour to our north, Milwaukee is a great idea for a day trip! Here are some ideas to keep the cost low.

  • The Milwaukee Public Market is completely free and full of food and fun. You can eat a meal, buy a present, sample foods from all over the planet or even just sit and people watch. It is located in a great neighborhood full of little shops and restaurants as well, so leave the market and explore the area.
  • Don’t feel like heading downtown? Hit the suburbs and go to Kopp’s Frozen Custard. Get the life-changing cheeseburger and onion rings. But do NOT leave without trying the custard. Best I’ve ever had. (My personal favorite is the Dutch Chocolate)
milwaukee art museum

3. Madison 
About a 90-minute drive from Lake County, Madison is a great place to get away.

  • Hit the campus of University of Wisconsin and feel like you’re back in college. Walking the streets near the campus filled with little shops and restaurants is so much fun.
  • The Dane County Farmers Market is worth the 90-minute drive. Operating almost year-round, it offers everything from fresh vegetables, breads, and pastries to gifts for the home. It is world-famous and completely free to attend (but bring spending cash!).

4. Dyersville, Iowa
First, make sure you have the kids watch Field of Dreams (make sure you watch it as well).

  • Make the three-hour trek to Dyersville to see the actual filming location. Everything is in the same shape as it was when they filmed the movie in 1988 and after seeing the movie, you will want to see what is in that corn. Save this day trip for a beautiful spring or summer day as it won’t have the same effect in November.
  • Try and stop at the Country Junction Restaurant on your way out-of-town. Only in Iowa can you get a massive cinnamon roll and a glass of beer. Maybe in Wisconsin too. I LOVE IOWA AND WISCONSIN.

5. Kettle Moraine Forest, Wisconsin 
I mentioned Kettle Moraine in my 10 Date Nights that Won’t Break the Bank. You can read all about it here.

6. Indiana Dunes
Depending on the time of year, this place is a beautiful place to walk around and enjoy nature as well as a great backdrop for family pictures. Make time to stop at Albanese Candy Factory in Merrillville on your way home.

starved rock french canyon
The French Canyon at Starved Rock State Park in Oglesby, Illinois. Photo provided by the Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center.

7. Starved Rock State Park 
A great place to get out and explore nature year-round, Starved Rock also has a great resort with rooms, dining, and even cabins to stay in if you decide not to make the two-hour trip home. Or try Grizzly Jack’s which offers an indoor water park as well.

8. The Original Culver’s 
So I guess I could have lumped this in with Madison but then I would only have 9-day trips instead of 10. But this needs its own special trip because you really want to go here especially if butter burgers are your thing. Why not eat at the restaurant that started it all in Sauk City, Wisconsin? A little over two hours from Lake County, this unassuming place was where Culver’s became CULVER’S. Fun story, a few years ago we were on our way home from the Dells and stopped here not even knowing its history. This sweet older man served us our food and we struck up a conversation. I remember thinking what a nice man only to learn that it was the owner/founder of Culver’s.

9. DeKalb, Illinois
I know some of you are like really?? But I think it’s a great little gas tank getaway for a couple of reasons:

  • College towns are always fun to explore
  • There are lots of bars disguised as restaurants for you parents out there who want to relive your youth.
  • Portillo’s has a location in Sycamore which is just around the corner for those of you who get homesick traveling more than an hour from the suburbs.
  • DeKalb is only a little over an hour from most parts of Lake County.
  • They have a whiskey distillery called Whiskey Acres in DeKalb. That means samples. Maybe go here for a date-day. 

10.  Galena
If I lost you at the last one, I got you back with this one. Galena, if you’ve never been, is on the Iowa border along the Mississippi River. There is so much to do here, I don’t even know where to start. Skiing in the winter with views of the Mississippi River or walking through the winding downtown with so many shops and restaurants. Galena is a little under three hours from Lake County but we have done the trip in one day several times. Leave early, stay late and drive home while they sleep in the backseat.

Where do you love to get away to? 

By Kari
Round Lake

Kari loves to write and take photos, not necessarily in that order. Kari loves making people laugh, being real, and spending time with her husband and two daughters. She also really loves her dog Buddy and fish Lucy. When she is not busy writing or going through the Starbucks drive-thru, you can find her talking to her plants Zoe, Evie, and Albert. She didn’t name Evie. Her nine-year-old did. But she’s totally an Edna so that’s what Kari calls her when her nine-year-old isn’t home.

10 Inexpensive Day Trips Near Lake County

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