Weekend Plans: 14 Fun Options to Explore Across Illinois

You could spend the 14 weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day exploring Illinois. Here’s a getaway for each one.

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1. Six Flags Great America, Gurnee

Twist and shout on water rides like Bahama Mama and Bubba Tubba, and Hammerhead and Barracuda at Hurricane Harbor, the water park inside the theme park known for its thrilling, high-speed coasters. Purchase a day pass or get in free as a Six Flags Member or Season Pass Holder. You’ll find plenty of food and shows, and hotels near the park entrance make it easy to stay overnight.

2. Chicago City Pass

Save with one ticket to five spots: Art Institute of Chicago (home to Grant Wood’s American Gothic) or Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science and Industry (one of the world’s largest) or 360 Chicago Observation Deck, Field Museum (home to a T. rex named SUE), Shedd Aquarium (sharks, beluga whales and penguins), and Skydeck Chicago (talk yourself onto the Ledge, a glass box 103 floors up).

3. Springfield

Explore the Lincoln Home and historic neighborhood before taking a deeper dive into Lincoln lore at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Here, you can traverse his life from prepresidential years to the White House. Stay at the President Abraham Lincoln Springfield, a Doubletree by Hilton hotel.

4. Chicago Cubs and White Sox

Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field welcome back Major League Baseball. Come for a weekend and experience Wrigleyville on the north side and Bridgeport on the south—the CTA Red Line train goes to both from downtown. Chicago Cubs fans can splurge on a stay at Hotel Zachary across the street from Wrigley.

5. Casey

Caution: Objects in this small town appear larger than normal. Guinness World Records recognizes 12 of the giant public art pieces (there are still more), including wind chimes, a golf tee, a rocking chair and a pitchfork. If it’s too big a task to see them all in a day, spend the night at the Eighteen-Ninety Sleepover, a boutique hotel in a historic building.

6. Galena

This small town’s charm comes from a robust downtown with more than 125 shops, galleries, restaurants and wineries, and boutique hotels, inns, and B&Bs in century-old buildings. Main Street parallels the Galena River and Grant Park, named for Ulysses S. Grant, who once called Galena home. Race down an alpine slide and see the Mississippi while ziplining at nearby Chestnut Mountain Resort.

7. I&M Canal

Follow this historic water route through towns between Chicago and LaSalle, where you can ride the canal the old-fashioned way: in a boat pulled by a mule. (FYI, the animal walks a path on shore.) Explore Starved Rock State Park near Oglesby, kayak the Illinois River at Morris, see Joliet’s lift bridges, and marvel at Lockport’s limestone buildings.

8. Frank Lloyd Wright Trail

Tour Wright properties around Chicago and downstate that are open to the public, including his Oak Park home and studio. Wright designed Rockford’s Laurent House for an owner with special access needs, Springfield socialite Susan Lawrence Dana’s home reflects love of Japanese aesthetics, and Kankakee features the 1900 Wright design as the beginning of the Prairie-style home.

9. Mt. Vernon

Stroll historic downtown; see the courthouse where Abe Lincoln tried a case; and shop Market Days, a summertime vendor fair. A real gem is the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, an 85-acre estate with five art galleries, a sculpture park and a music hall. Stay at Sidwell Friends Bed and Breakfast, set in an elegant 1920s Colonial home amid towering trees.

10. Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Skokie

This Chicagoland institution, through its permanent and temporary exhibitions, contrasts unfathomable atrocities—the murder of 6 million Jews—with life-affirming lessons about “Upstanders,” people who speak up and act against injustice. Find further space for contemplation at the Bahá’í House of Worship, a striking domed structure in nearby Wilmette. It’s surrounded by nine gardens and fountains.

11. Amish Country

You might witness a barn raising or a horse-drawn buggy around Arcola, Arthur, Sullivan and Tuscola, the area where the state’s largest group of Old Order Amish lives. Mix and mingle with the locals as you visit shops and sample flavors. Arthur’s Country Inn features fine Amish-made furniture in every room.

12. The Forge: Lemont Quarries, Lemont

The country’s largest aerial challenge course beckons adrenaline addicts to this adventure playground outside Chicago. Thrill to views from the three tallest climbing, rappelling and ziplining towers in the U.S., or go mountain biking, hiking and paddling. Nearby is the charming village of Lemont, with antiques stores, a brewery and restaurants.

13. Parkway Bank Park, Rosemont

Bank on fun at this suburban Chicago district built around a green gathering space. Sports fans score at the interactive Big Ten Experience, and thrill-seekers fall for indoor skydiving at iFLY. Sugar Factory sparkles with its colorful array of sweets and treats. Enjoy restaurants, bars, music spots and a comedy club, plus on-site lodging at the trendy Aloft Chicago O’Hare.

14. Nauvoo

Explore the roots of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this town along the Mississippi River. Take a horse-drawn wagon past historic sites downtown, and walk the grounds of the Nauvoo Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—only members of the church in good standing can go inside. Sleep in a four-poster bed at Hotel Nauvoo and you’ll wake to the aroma of cinnamon rolls from the breakfast buffet.

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