Travel is not about the distance; it is about the destination – and there are a whole lot of fun family adventures to be found by just crossing a state line or two. Here are a few of our favorite places to visit in our neighboring states.
Giant City State Park
Located in the Shawnee National Forest in the southeastern corner of the state, Giant City State Park is a nature lover’s dream. The park, named for the massive sandstone structures that dot the area, has a prehistoric vibe with lush ferns, moss and more than 75 varieties of towering trees. Enjoy horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing/rappelling and more. For an overnight stay, pitch a tent at one of the area’s well-kept campgrounds or opt for the rustic beauty of the Giant City Lodge. Learn more about all the area has to offer at www.dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/Pages/GiantCity.aspx.
The Windy City is chock-full of big city fun for the whole family. Spend a day at Museum Campus, a 57-acre park on the shores of Lake Michigan that houses three notable museums: Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. Immerse yourself in the shadows of the skyline with a stroll along the Magnificent Mile or get a unique perspective of the city’s architecture with a ride on a Chicago Water Taxi. Of course, no trip to Chicago would be complete without a stop at Millennium Park, home to the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, aka The Bean. For hotel stays and more, visit www.choosechicago.com.
Just 30 minutes north of downtown Cincinnati, Warren County is fondly known as Ohio’s Largest Playground. Take a covered wagon ride at Bonnybrook Farms, check out the waterfalls at Caesar Creek State Park or take one of the monthly themed train rides aboard the Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad. Thrill seekers of all ages will find what they are after at Kings Island, which boasts 9.2 miles of roller coaster track and tons of fun for little ones at Planet Snoopy. Find more things to do and places to stay at www.ohioslargestplayground.com.
Columbus’ population is booming – and so is its entertainment scene. Kids of all ages will have fun exploring the interactive science exhibits at COSI, including the newly opened Dinosaur Gallery. Or blow your kids’ minds by taking them on a tour of the American Whistle Company where they can witness their favorite noisemaker being made from start to finish. For an outdoor adventure like no other, head to the Scioto Mile, an urban oasis comprised of more than 175 acres along the riverfront featuring a stunning interactive fountain and the country’s largest free outdoor climbing wall. For more Columbus fun, visit www.experiencecolumbus.com.
Southern charm meets big city adventure in Chattanooga. The heart of the city is home to both the Creative Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Just outside the city, Lookout Mountain offers stunning views. Take an elevator 1,120 feet under ground to view Ruby Falls and then head above ground to explore Rock City. For a more leisurely pace, spend the day cruising the river aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat. For itineraries, hotel bookings and more, visit www.chattanoogafun.com.
This city’s musical roots come alive at the Country Music Hall of fame, where kids can explore instruments in the musical petting zoo and take part in programs for all ages. Take in a show at the Grand Ole Opry and then tour Ryman Auditorium, the opry’s original home. And who needs a trip to Greece when you can walk through Nashville’s very own replica of the Parthenon, complete with 42-foot statue of Athena. When it comes to accommodations, Gaylord Opryland, with indoor and outdoor pools and nine acres of indoor gardens and waterfalls, is a destination in and of itself. Find more on this musical city at www.visitmusiccity.com.
Beneath the sandstone-capped ridges of Mammoth Cave National Park lies the most extensive cave system on earth comprised of over 400 miles of passageways. Choose from a number of cave tour options that are offered for all ages and abilities. Despite the name, this destination is about more than just caves. The 52,800-acre park also features miles of hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, canoeing, camping, fishing and more. Learn more at www.nps.gov/maca/index.htm.
Best known as the home of the Kentucky Derby, Louisville is packed with attractions that appeal to all ages. Spanning 100 acres deep underneath the city, the Louisville Mega Cavern is home to the world’s only fully underground zip line course, aerial ropes challenge course and bike park. Kentucky Science Center features three floors of interactive science fun for both kids and grown ups, while the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is one part baseball museum, one part fascinating factory tour. Get the scoop on this southern city at www.gotolouisville.com.
Whether you are looking for a last-minute weekend getaway or are planning ahead to summer vacation, there are plenty of fun, family-friendly destinations that are just a short car trip away. Happy travels!