5 Scenic Driving Trips To Take Around Chicago
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5 Scenic Driving Trips To Take Around Chicago

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We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful sections of the United States! The great lakes are here, we have amazing country roads close by and just a few highway miles away are the wide open Mid-West farms!

Are you looking to get your Porsche or Mercedes out on the open road to stretch its legs? Then you’re in the right spot, I’ve got five perfect trips for you.

After all these years as  a German Sportscar mechanic, it still amazes me how often my clients cars are just not driven enough. Would you believe that the number one cure for a rough running BMW or Mercedes is a long drive!

Yes, it’s true. I will tell you why in detail another time, but if I ever prescribe a road trip for your car, then below are some solid places to go.

Scenic Drives In The Chicago Area

There are few images so decidedly American as the open road. From the invocation of Go West Young Man to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (an account of his zigzag adventure around North America) to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” the concept of the open road and its power to take you somewhere has captured our popular imagination.

Michigan City, Indiana

Distance from Chicago – 47 miles
Distance from St. Charles – 98 miles

This tiny strip of land keeps Indiana from being completely landlocked. While in town, stroll through Washington Park all the way out to the Old Light, one of the earliest lighthouses on Lake Michigan.

Visit Indiana Dunes National Park which defies every stereotype of the flat Midwestern landscape. The park runs 25 miles along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

One of the most jaw dropping features is Mount Baldy, a 123-foot sand dune that was created by glaciers and actually moves four to five feet a year without trees or beachgrass to keep it in place. Visitors can hike Mount Baldy on designated trails.

Within the Indiana Dunes National Park is Pinhook Bog, a natural wonder created when glacial ice melted and became overrun with moss creating an environment so acidic that only a few strange plants could grow. Walk on the boardwalk and see carnivorous plants and tamarack trees.

Driving-In-Chicago

Also near Michigan City blue herons can be found in a “rookery” along the Little Calumet River. This is a striking place for bird watching during the fall and spring migrations.

Stop in nearby Chesterton and its quaint downtown historic district with many unique and interesting shops. With all the outdoor activity you probably will build up an appetite. You can’t go wrong by stopping at Abbiocco/Luna in Chesterton. They serve very well prepared Italian food.

Their brunch (Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm) is delicious and extensive with such dishes as hangover pasta, ricotta pancakes, steak and eggs and lobster Benedict. If you have time, imbibe in a cocktail on their rooftop bar. Lunch, Dinner, Brunch, Cocktails.

Washington Park
City Hall &100E Michigan
Michigan City, IN 46304
(219) 873-1506

Indiana Dunes National Park
1215 N. State Road 49
Porter, IN 46304
(219) 395-1882

Abbiocco/Luna
600 Gateway Boulevard
Chesterton, IN
(219) 728-1442

Rockford, Illinois

Distance from Chicago – 85 miles
Distance from St. Charles – 60.5 miles

Rockford lives up to its name with plenty of outdoor space to explore. Nicknamed the Forest City for its lush forest and rivers. It’s also known as the Screw Capital of the world, a self-proclaimed label for the factories in town specializing in manufacturing screws, fastener, nuts and bolts.

For a dose of fresh air be sure to hit the Anderson Japanese Gardens. The Anderson Japanese Gardens is a magnificent sanctuary filled with towering trees, waterscapes and beautiful blossoms.

The Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a wonderful respite in a stressful world. Various gardens and an outdoor museum of trees creates an aesthetically pleasing place to visit and enjoy.

Another interesting place to visit is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Laurent House. The famous architect built the house in 1951 and it’s compelling to see how far ahead of its time the house is in terms of design and accessibility. The look is still modernly attuned despite some 70 years passing.

If you need to defer to your appetite, you will be more than happy with Prairie Street Brewing Company, a brew pub serving creative and elevated bar food. Try the Korean Street Tacos, Nashville Hot Chicken, Wild Mushroom Wrap, and our favorite, Steak Sinatra.

Pick up some cans of Screw City Light or (if you want to live dangerously) the Angry Turk – but don’t drink this until you get home because it carries a 10.1 ABV. Lunch, Dinner, Drinks.

Anderson Japanese Gardens
318 Spring Creek Road
Rockford, IL 61107
(815) 229-9390

Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden
2715 Main Street
Rockford, IL
(815) 965-8146

Laurent House
4646 Spring Brook Road
Rockford, IL 6114
(815) 877-2952

Prairie Street Brewing Company
200 Prairie Street
Rockford, IL 61107
(815) 277-9427

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Distance from Chicago – 75 miles
Distance from St. Charles – 53 miles

Legend has it that Guns N’ Roses’ song “Paradise City” is about the Playboy Club in this popular resort city. The Playboy Club closed nearly 30 years ago, but there are plenty of people who wouldn’t hesitate to call Lake Geneva (the town) and Geneva Lake (the adjoining lake) paradise.

The 5,500 square acre lake is popular for boating, parasailing, water skiing and wakeboarding. There are 4 beaches dotting the shoreline and, if you are a diver, two hulking shipwrecks.

There is a 21-mile loop around the lake with sublime forest scenery and great views of the water. If 21 miles seems too much, focus on the two-mile stretch at the West End, which will give you great views.

The south side of the lake features the Black Point Estate, a huge mansion built by Chicago beer baron Conrad Seipp in 1888. You can get a tour and also explore the vast grounds which include 620 feet of shoeline.

Neighboring villages feature an array of attractions. Take a tour of the University of Chicago’s famous Yerkes Observatory (Einstein’s favorite) in Williams. Big name entertainment can be seen at the George William Campus of Aurora University on the lake shore.

And if you want something quieter, there are two more lakes: Lake Como and Delevan Lake, north and west respectively.

If you walk the loop, you will definitely be hungry. For no-fuss comfort diner eats try the Simple Cafe. If you feel in the mood for upscale dining, then the Baker House is for you.

A hotel and dining establishment since 1885, it offers premium steaks, chops, seafood and cocktails. Perfect Prime Rib.

Black Point Estate
West 4270 Southland Road
Lake Geneva, WI 53147

Yerkes Observatory
373 West Geneva Street
Williams Bay, WI 53191
(262) 245-5555

George Williams College
350 Constance Boulevard
Williams Bay, WI 53191
(262) 245-5531

Simple Cafe
525 Broad Street
Lake Geneva, WI 53147
(262) 248-3556

Baker House
327 Wrigley Drive
Lake Geneva, WI 53147
(262) 248-4700

Oglesby, Illinois

Distance from Chicago – 90 miles
Distance from St. Charles – 64 miles

Think Illinois is all cornfields? Think again. Visit Starved Rock State Park. It’s a 2630-acre forest along the Illinois River where you will find amazing sandstone bluffs and canyons that formed as a result of glacial melting and erosion. Bald eagles can be seen fishing below the bluffs during winter.

After heavy rains or during early spring, gleaming waterfalls grace the heads of all 14 canyons. The 20-foot Lasalle Canyon Falls is likely to have a waterfall anytime, and while the St. Louis Canyon Falls may sometimes be dry, its 80-foot height is still impressive.

Just south of Starved Rock is Matthiessen State Park which features impressive rock formations and a 45-foot canyon where you can see water seeping out of the sandstone wall. Several mineral springs can be found in the park. Hiking, camping and horseback riding are among its offerings.

Ride the river! The Vermillion River is a 50-mile waterway with an ideal whitewater rafting stretch of 9.5-miles near Oglesby. Take a ride with Vermillion River Rafting and travel over fourteen rapids.

If you want something simple but good to eat, stop at the Rootbeer Stand, a tradition since 1955. Great root beer floats and burgers.

If you want to spend the night or eat a more substantial meal, the Starved Rock Lodge might be just the place. The hotel is located inside the park and has an indoor pool, hot tub, sauna and full service restaurant and bar.

They have many dining options, but if weather permits, you’ll want to get a table at the outdoor Veranda. You’ll be eating under beautiful pine trees with amazing views. Casual, yet carefully prepared American food.

If you have children with you, try the indoor amusement center and water rides in a large water park at Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort located nearby in North Utica.

Starved Rock State Park
2668 East 875th Road
Oglesby, IL 61348
(815) 667-4726

Matthiessen State Park
2500 IL-178
Oglesby, IL 61348
(815) 667-4726

Vermillion River Rafting
779 North 2249 Road
Oglesby, IL 61348
(815) 667-5242

Rootbeer Stand
225 North Columbia Avenue
Oglesby, IL 61348
(815) 883-9259

Starved Rock Lodge
One Lodge Lane
Oglesby, IL 61348
(815) 667-4211

Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort
2643 IL-178
North Utica, IL 61373
(866) 399-3866

Zion, Illinois

Distance from Chicago – 47 miles
Distance from St. Charles – 70 miles

Want to get a taste of the ocean in midwest Illinois? Then head to Illinois Beach State Park. Located along Lake Michigan, it stretches for 5.6 miles along the sandy shore. Hiking is a great way to sample the beautiful setting.

Several species of plants bound including fragrant pines and stately black oaks. Ample opportunities for boating, swimming and camping.

If you want a secluded spot where the majority of the time nature will be your only companion, then take in Hosah Park, a nature area a half a mile from the beach. It has a beautiful boardwalk and paved pathway.

A scenic experience awaits you at North Dune Nature Preserve located at the north entrance of Illinois Beach State Park. It is a large, waterfront preserve featuring beaches and trails through diverse landscapes of wetlands, prairie and savanna.

Many rare plant species. Notable bird sightings. Hawks during spring and fall migrations. If you need some food, the Pit Stop serves up reliable bar food along with full bar service. Think chili dogs, Chicago Italian beef sandwiches and pizza. For more variety, the Stone Creek Grill Restaurant is a sound choice. Delicious steaks grilled over an open flame. Full Bar. Beautiful setting.

Illinois Beach State Park
1 Lake Front Drive
Zion, IL 60099
(847) 662- 4811

Hosah Park
109 Shiloh Blvd
Zion, IL 60099
(847) 746-5500

North Dune Nature Preserve
1 Lake Front Drive
Zion, IL 60099
(847) 662- 4811

Edge of Escape
600 29th St
Zion, IL 60099
(847) 262-3666

Stone Creek Grill
206 Sheridan Road
Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096
(847) 746-2020

The Pit Stop
1907 Sheridan Rd
Zion, IL 6009
(847) 746-3600

Now is a great time to get on the open road. Enjoy the scenery and fresh air. Play your favorite music. Bring your favorite person/people. We all deserve it. Enjoy. Be safe. Make sure your vehicle is well tuned before you start. See you on the road! 

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