When warm breezes and sparkling sunshine beckon, but you have one day to escape the ordinary, it’s nice to know what lies out there within a couple of hours from Chicago. Boating? Yes. Biking? Of course. Shopping? Definitely. Zip-lining? No problem. Merely walking and exploring? You’ve got it. The five destinations here are about choices that appeal to different ages and interests. They may even give you a chance to try something new.
(Photo Credit: visitlakegeneva.com)

(Photo Credit: visitlakegeneva.com)

Lake Geneva, WI
Visitor Center
201 Wrigley Drive
Lake Geneva, WI 53147
(800) 345-1020 and (262) 248-4416

Lake Geneva, a vacation spot 80 miles northwest of Chicago over the Wisconsin border, is a great choice when you’re not sure what you want or the family wants to do different things. Here, water lovers can rent just about any kind of boat, do a guided boat tour of the lake with Lake Geneva Cruise Line that tells about the town’s storied industry captains and mansions, and even book the boat tour that stops for a mansion tour at Black Point Estate & Gardens. Bicyclists can bring theirs or rent bikes from Pedal & Cup to do miles of bike trails. Walkers like to see the lake and its mansions from a trail that circles the water. Anyone who enjoys ziplining or wants to see what all the excitement is about should check with Lake Geneva Canopy Tours. Some visitors come here to browse boutiques, art galleries, antique shops and see what’s new in the area’s beer, wine and spice scene.

The Elegant Farmer
1545 Main St.
Mukwonago, WI 53149

To combine a love for pies, fresh produce and trains, drive about one hour, 45 minutes north from Chicago to The Elegant Farmer. Lying west of Interstate Highway 43 and north of East Troy, this Wisconsin destination is a terminal on the East Troy Electric Railroad line and a destination for folks who want to pick up its famed apple pie baked in a paper bag at its sources. If there by June 26, 2016, stop in the Spring Garden Center for herbs and veggies. Be sure to go to the greenhouse for hanging baskets. But the place to linger at is the bakery-deli for fruit breads, cheese and sauces. As for the train you see pulling in, it does a round trip between The Elegant Farmer and its home base in East Troy. You can hop on at the farm, take the 45-minute ride to the station where you pay for the trip and get your hand stamped to return to the farm. For an elegant train experience, get a ticket to the Wisconsin Cheesemakers’ & Wine Train. The event is June 18, 2016 from 1 to 3 p.m.

(credit: starvedrockstatepark.org)

(credit: starvedrockstatepark.org)

Starved Rock State Park
2668 E. 873 Road
Oglesby, IL 61348
(800) 868-7625 and (815) 667-4211

After driving the flat landscape for nearly 1.5 hours from Chicago, the forests and bluffs around the Illinois River are a delightful surprise to Starved Rock State Park visitors. The park, among Illinois’ top attractions, is a fun place to hike. There are about 13 miles of trails of different degrees of difficulty. Bring the camera or cell phone to snap waterfall photos for Facebook. Stop at the visitors center to an Indian wigwam, find out about the Starved Rock legend, see a model of Fort St. Louis, which was on Starved Rock during the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century. For an activity of a different kind, take a trolly tour of the area that goes from the State Park Lodge to Utica and then over to LaSalle for a boat ride on the I&M Canal. The boat is pulled by mules.

Related:  Best Bodies Of Water To Visit Near Chicago

Galena, Illinois
Galena Visitors Center
Old Market House State Historic Site
123 N. Commerce St.
Galena, IL 61036
(817) 777-3310

Tucked into the far northwest corner of Illinois about three hours from Chicago is Galena, a picturesque river town where every section is on the National Register of Historic Places. Certainly this is a destination for history buffs who have followed Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Indeed, a good place to start the exploration is at the Old Market House, which has a Grant exhibit and the visitors center. However, don’t go down the town’s Main Street worried about calories. Galena is also a place to nosh. Its American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor is a must-stop. For fresh, roasted on-site coffee, go to Mean Bean Roasters. In the late afternoon, do a wine tasting break at Galena River Wine & Cheese and Massbach Ridge Winery. Wine goes with chocolate, so stop at Chocolat’ for fab imported treats. Save room for sauce samples at Galena Canning Company, homemade candy at Galen’s Kandy Kitchen and treats from the Great American Popcorn Company. Hopefully, you have done a lot of walking before getting here. So, think about these places to stop in Elizabeth on US Highway 20 on the way into town. They are the apple River Fort State Historic Site and the Chicago Great Western Railway Depot Museum. The rail museum is only open weekends from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tip: look for Galena Trail and Coach signs on US 20 to photograph.

Illinois Amish Country Welcome Center
106 E. Progress St.
Arthur, IL 61911
(800) 722-6474 and (217) 543-2242

For a cultural experience of a different kind, drive Interstate 57 south of the Urbana-Champaig towns to exit 203, then head west to Arthur. The drive, about two hours, 45 minutes takes you to the center of Illinois’ Amish Country. Pick up a driving map of the area from the Amish Country Welcome Center. You will be passing farms, stores, quilt and furniture shops and Beachy’s Bulk Foods. Stop at Beachy’s on Country Road 200 E., where you are sure to find buggies parked outside and something inside to take home. Downtown Arthur and the road leading into it is lined with quilt and craft stores and places to eat. By the way, It is OK to take photos of horses and buggies, but not of people.

Related:  Best Places To Go Fishing Near Chicago

Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.