Since spending the night somewhere can be a bit tricky thanks to the constant worry of COVID-19, I am planning some family day trips from Chicago instead! Not staying overnight does have benefits- less packing, less expense, and you get to sleep in your own bed. Here are 4 family day trips that are close enough to Chicago to make it there and back in a reasonable amount of time. Road trip, here we come!
Strawberry Picking Day Trip
If you have ever eaten a juicy, ripe strawberry freshly picked from the bush, you know what a palate pleaser it is. Stade’s Strawberry Farm is a family favorite of ours- we have picked berries and pumpkins there for years. Located in McHenry about 60 miles from downtown Chicago, this is one of the easy family day trips for all ages. I have been to Stade’s Farm about a dozen times, but they are so popular that sometimes they get “picked out” (which means that there aren’t enough ripe strawberries to pick). Make sure to check their Facebook Page the day that you go.
Right before we left, I checked Stade’s page and they had put up a notice that they were closed. I found nearby Heider’s Berry Farm (shown below) and changed our destination. Strawberry season will probably only last for a couple more weeks so make sure to go quick! Here is a link to the Illinois Harvest Calendar so you can see what is in season for picking.
A few tips for berry picking:
- If it is has rained at all recently, wear rubber boots. The fields can get mucky!
- Strawberries are ripe when they are completely red on the bottom- no white or green.
- Bring a cooler with ice packs- strawberries don’t like hot cars.
- To freeze strawberries at home, wash and let dry first. Then, hull the strawberries and spread out on a baking sheet. Freeze overnight or until berries are firm.
Looking for lunch in McHenry after a morning of picking berries? Head to The Snuggery! Located on the Fox River with plenty of outdoor seating, this family-friendly restaurant is an ideal place to kick back and relax with a waterfront view.
Wildlife Preserve Day Trip
Safari Lake Geneva W1612 Litchfield Road Lake Geneva, WI 53147
This unique adventure flips the tables on a traditional zoo- humans are in the “cages” (cars) while the animals roam free! Safari Lake Geneva is a wildlife preserve located five miles from downtown Lake Geneva. Attendees stay in their vehicles and can drive through the reserves as many times as they wish. You can purchase a bucket of feed for $5, which entices animals like buffalo to get up close and personal. The cost is per person, not per vehicle, and is $11.95 for children 2-15 and $18.95 for ages 16+. Reservations are selling out fast, so check out their calendar of availability to plan your trip.
After you visit Wisconsin’s wildlife, head into downtown Lake Geneva for food. The Boat House has a gorgeous, sprawling patio with live music 7 days a week. Open every day for lunch and dinner with brunch on the weekends, this is the hot spot for the summer.
Outdoor Adventure Day Trip
Go Ape 1100 Ogden Ave. Western Springs, IL 60558
If your kids want more active family day trips, Go Ape is the place to burn off all that quarantine energy. Go Ape is an outdoor adventure experience with two options:
Treetop Adventure- 2-3 hour aerial journey through the forest with zip-lines, rope ladders and Tarzan swings. Ages 10+, minimum height 4’7; $39-$59/person
Treetop Journey- 1-hour treetop course with two zip lines and obstacles. No minimum age, minimum height 3’3″; $29/person
Make sure to make reservations- they don’t take walk-ups.
Hillgrove Tap can help with lunch or dinner- they have a perfect patio for sipping a brew and munching on a soft pretzel. Their kids’ menu is reasonably priced, with most items at $6.25.
River Tubing Day Trip
Sweet Minihaha Tubing N4697 County Road E Brodhead WI 53520
Growing up in Michigan, river tubing was a rite of passage for every child. You tie a few tubes together and an extra for the cooler and off you go! I can’t wait to give my kids the experience of laying back and watching the treetops while dipping my feet in the cool river water.
Sweet Minihaha offers affordable tubing service on the Sugar River from 8 am-4 pm daily, weather permitting. The river is fairly slow-moving, so it was a very leisurely trip. They don’t take reservations- first come, first serve. Tube rental is $15/person and includes shuttle, tube rental, and life jacket- credit cards are accepted. Rent a tube for your cooler for $5, just remember no glass or styrofoam on the river. They let me rent cooler tubes for my kids- this is major because these tubes have bottoms. Sweet Minihaha also rent kayaks and canoes for those who want to put a little effort into their adventure!
I liked Sweet Minihaha because they shuttled you to the beginning of the route, then you exited at their location (where your car is). I prefer this to a company that has you start at their location then shuttles you back to your car because you don’t have to wait for anyone at the end of your trip.
River tubing tips:
- This trip takes 3-4 hours so plan accordingly food, beverage, and sunscreen-wise!
- Make sure to bring a dry bag that can clip on to a handle of your tube. If you flip, you want your phone and keys dry and secure, not floating down the river
- Feel free to bring food and drinks- there are a couple of sandy places to stop along the way
- I felt safe letting my kids out of their tubes- they swam for quite a distance and didn’t feel scared by the current or obstacles in the river.
- The tubing company provided twine to tie the tubes together. Tie the handles together right before you launch into the river otherwise it will be tough to get the tubes down the ramp
- I wore my flip flops because there can sometimes be broken clamshells in the water that can cut your feet. You can definitely lose a shoe if you aren’t careful, so try to wear ones that are secure on your feet. My kids went barefoot- they left their shoes in the car and were thrilled to do so.
- Want to stay overnight? You can camp here too!
For food, stop at the Decatur Dairy to pack a picnic lunch. They have been making cheese since the 1940s, winning both US and World Cheese Awards. I am a cheese curd fanatic- this tasty snack is ideal for a cruise down the river. Apparently, their grilled cheese is a MUST HAVE so if it is available, order one and tell me how it is!
PLEASE make sure to call and confirm that all locations are open before hitting the road! Family day trips from Chicago wouldn’t be much fun if your destination wasn’t open. There are always unforeseen closures/issues that can come up.
Cheers to living life to the fullest, even during a pandemic!