10 options for social distance traveling near Chicago

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From dunes to canyons to lighthouses: here is a list of 10 adventures near Chicago.

Chicago is known as a busy tourist destination with lots of food, nightlife, and baseball to experience. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are opting for less crowds and traveling outside major cities. There are plenty of amazing gems to discover in places you wouldn’t expect!

Here are 10 great options for social distance adventures near Chicago:

1. Chicago Botanic Garden

Just a short drive from the city, the Chicago Botanic Garden has 385 acres of beautiful gardens and natural areas. Spend a day exploring the themed gardens, waterfalls, nine islands, or six miles of lake shoreline. The Garden is also offering online classes with topics in gardening fundamentals, photography, yoga, and more.

Much of the garden is open to visitors, but some services will be limited. Face coverings are required when you’re within six feet of people outside your own party. All visitors must pre-register for a specific date and time from the Garden’s website (https://www.chicagobotanic.org/).

Time from Chicago: 30 minutes


2. Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park has several beaches, hiking trails, rivers, campgrounds, and much more. It has the area’s three tallest dunes and over 50 miles to explore. Walk the pier to the Michigan City lighthouse, take in the picture-perfect Lake Michigan sunset, or try and spot the Chicago skyline. With 15 miles of shoreline, Indiana Dunes is the perfect beach getaway!

Most of the park is open, but parts of Lake Front Drive in Beverly Shores and Central Avenue Beach are closed. Visit https://www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm to stay up-to-date on the park closures.

Time from Chicago: 55 minutes


3. Anderson Japanese Gardens

The Anderson Japanese Gardens is one of the most premier Japanese gardens in North America. Japanese gardens are designed very carefully and are a peaceful beauty. The gardens work to create an art that inspires calm, discovery, and invigoration, which is definitely needed during these times!

The Gardens have reopened with reduced capacities and strict social distancing protocols. Pre-purchased timed admissions are required for entry. Book directly from their website: https://andersongardens.org/

Time from Chicago: 1 hour and 25 minutes


4. Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park, the state’s first recreation park, is one of Illinois’ most beautiful places with a great deal to explore. The State Park offers 13 miles of trails, 18 canyons, waterfalls, campsites, and fishing and boating on the Illinois River.

Starved Rock is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and indoor/outdoor dining and carry-out is available at the park’s restaurants and concessions. The visitor center and playgrounds are closed, and guests must follow state rules for social distancing. More information on the park can be found here: https://www.starvedrocklodge.com/starved-rock-state-park/

Time from Chicago: 1 hour and 30 minutes


5. Matthiessen State Park

Located a few miles south of Starved Rock State Park, Matthiessen State Park also offers amazing views. Matthiessen has a combination of beautiful rock formations, canyons, streams, prairies, and forests. The park has five miles of hiking trails and many areas for picnics.

If the park reaches capacity, it will be temporarily closed until parking becomes available. Face coverings must be worn in the shelters and playgrounds if social distancing cannot be obtained, and the horse campground and trails are now open for use. https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/Parks/Pages/Matthiessen.aspx

Time from Chicago: 1 hour and 35 minutes

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Stepping stones at Matthiessen State Park. Image by @thatrudyguy


6. Kettle Moraine State Forest

The Kettle Moraine State Forest, located in southeastern Wisconsin, has more than 30,000 acres of hills, lakes, and forests. The Forest is known for its beautiful glacial features and contains part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a 1,000-mile trail throughout Wisconsin that highlights the wondrous glacial landscape. Take a stroll through the enchanting paths or enjoy one of the three swimming beaches.

Starting July 13, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will begin to allow camping for groups of 50 or less with reservations. Shelters, playgrounds, and visitor centers will remain closed until further notice. For more information, visit: https://dnr.wi.gov/covid-19/

Time from Chicago: 2 hours and 10 minutes

shutterstockRF_1494962276-1.jpg?mtime=20200720195911#asset:108699Kettle Moraine State Park. Photo by Tony Savino/Shutterstock

7. Mississippi Palisades State Park

The Mississippi Palisades State Park is known as one of Illinois’ hidden gems. The State Park is located where the Mississippi and Apple Rivers meet up, which complements the steep cliffs and unique rock formations. There are many hiking trails in this 2,500-acre park and plenty of amazing views.

Visitors should check out the guidelines for state parks in Illinois before visiting: https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/closures/Pages/ParksOpenDuringCoVID19.aspx

Time from Chicago: 2 hours and 30 minutes


8. Galena, IL

Galena is a small town in northwest Illinois known for its preserved 19-century buildings. Galena has much history to offer, including the house and leather shop of Ulysses S. Grant’s family. Take a stroll through the downtown district to feel like you’ve traveled back to the 1800s. Galena also offers outdoor recreation activities, including: golfing, hiking, boating, fishing, and more.

Galena is moving into Phase 4 of the governor’s Restore Illinois guidelines (https://www.visitgalena.org/coronavirus-updates/), with restaurants offering indoor and outdoor dining and a 10-person party limit.

Time from Chicago: 2 hours and 45 minutes


9. Grand Haven Beach, MI

You can’t get enough of beaches when you live in a landlocked state, and the Grand Haven Beach is known as one of the best beaches in the U.S. Located on Lake Michigan, Grand Haven has a soft-sand shoreline, a 2.5-mile boardwalk, and two 19-century red lighthouses.

The Channel parking lot is now open. Officials say visitors to the park and beach should follow the CDC social distancing guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html

Time from Chicago: 2 hours and 50 minutes

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Grand Haven Lighthouse. Image by Dean Pennala/Shutterstock


10. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, located in Grand Rapids, MI, features more than 200 works located both indoors and outdoors on their 158-acre campus. The collection focuses on works from the Modern transition to the present. It includes sculptors dating back to the late 19-century.

Some areas will be temporarily closed and face coverings are required when in enclosed public spaces. Look at the full list of safety precautions on their website: https://www.meijergardens.org/

Time from Chicago: 3 hours


Tess Knickerbocker is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a senior at the University of Iowa.


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