Road Trip! We love Champaign-Urbana but there’s a great big world out there to explore with your family!
Having fun in Champaign-Urbana in the summer isn’t hard to do. But summer is an ideal time to travel — aside from dodging orange barrels — and road trips that won’t break your piggy bank are highly valued. So we’re offering our list of ideas for summer travel.
Thanks to BIGGBY COFFEE for sponsoring our list of best summer road trips. Swing by BIGGBY COFFEE at the corner of Mattis and Springfield Ave for a quick pick me up and food item. Starting in June you can even pre-order/pay via their Facebook page, Biggby Coffee – Champaign for pickup or they can run it out to you. They offer lattes, smoothies, teas, hot chocolates, kid’s drinks and grab-to-go food items; muffins, bagel sandwiches, cookies, donut holes and cinnamon rolls. Friday nights they have Lego Night from 6 – 8pm with free kids drinks.
Road Trips Within 2 Hours of Champaign-Urbana
Decatur (45 minutes)
A trip to Decatur may offer more for you to do than you expect. One of our favorites is the Scovill Zoo, which is free on Thursdays all summer and has the best goat petting area (right) you will ever find! After your zoo visit, you might cool off at the Children’s Museum of Illinois, which is located very close to the zoo. We hear that the Ropes Course at Overlook Adventure Park is worth a visit too, but we’ve yet to try it. Held in August, the annual Decatur Celebration has a reputation for being the Midwest’s most family-friendly street festival.
Bloomington-Normal (one hour)
This easy drive on I-74 can bring you to a day of fun including the Children’s Discovery Museum, Miller Park Zoo, an awesome splash pad at Miller Park, Sugar Grove Nature Center and Altitude Trampoline Park. There are plenty of great dining options in the Bloomington-Normal area.
Peoria (one hour, 15 minutes)
You may not realize just how much Peoria has to offer your family for a quick road trip! If Touch-A-Truck day is your child’s favorite day ever, plan to visit the Caterpillar Visitors Center (note they are closed on Sundays). You can also find the Peoria Zoo in the parking lot adjacent to the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum, which ends up being a whole lot of excitement, especially if you have younger children. Free entertainment includes a visit to the East Peoria Bass Pro Shop and our favorite place to eat is Blue Duck BBQ.
Springfield (one hour, 30 minutes)
There’s so much for your family to do in Springfield, we have a whole guide for you to plan your trip! Of course you will get your fill of all things Abraham Lincoln, but there’s more to the area than that. Springfield is also the home of the Illinois State Fair each August, so you may want to plan ahead if your trip involves an overnight stay during that time of year.
Indianapolis (two hours)
Coming in just under two hours, you can head across the state line to the closest “big city” to C-U. The “big ticket” attractions are The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Zoo. Think *all day* for a trip to either of these places. Indy is the perfect destination for a short road trip that you can combine with a hotel stay that will provide countless opportunities for things to do and eat.
Road Trips 2-4 Hours from Champaign-Urbana
Chicago (two hours, 30 minutes)
We’ve put together a comprehensive list of museums you can go to for free during the summer, but the list of things to do in Chicago is truly endless. Walk around Navy Pier, play at Maggie Daley Park, stroll the free Lincoln Park Zoo and so much more. Or venture out to the suburbs and just spend a day shopping and eating. For example, did you know you can drop your kids ages 4-10 in a supervised play area at IKEA for an hour while you shop alone? Everyone will love it!
St Louis (two hours, 45 minutes)
St. Louis is my favorite place to go for big city FREE activities! It’s hard to believe but the St. Louis Zoo is a FREE zoo, and as long as you’re willing to walk a short distance, you can park for free in the beautiful Forest Park area. Be prepared to spend an entire day at this large zoo. Another FREE family favorite is the St. Louis Science Center (right), which you won’t want to miss if you have dinosaur fans in your family. Regardless of whether or not you want to go up in the Gateway Arch, you can check out the newly renovated Gateway Arch Museum for FREE (no ticket to the top required). And while not free, the City Museum is another popular choice but be prepared, you may lose your children in its sea of climbing structures and slides.
Rockford (two hours, 45 minutes)
Some of the big city perks without actually having to navigate a big city. Visit the Discovery Center Museum for some indoor fun, or head out to the largest outdoor waterpark in Illinois at Magic Waters. With plenty of lodging options, this makes a great stop along the way up to Wisconsin Dells or other road trip destinations in Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota.
Gurnee (three hours)
With the opening of the new Great Wolf Lodge in proximity to Six Flags Great America and nearby Gurnee Mills Shopping Center, you can fill several days in Gurnee. We hear it’s worth it to buy a season pass if you’re going to go even two days, so while it’s not an inexpensive trip, you certainly can pack a lot in depending on how many days you have.
Holland, Mich. (three hours, 45 minutes)
Michigan beaches, quaint downtown area to stroll, gorgeous hikes and more await in Holland! You’ll feel like you’ve traveled much farther than a few hours when you road trip here.
Cincinnati (three hours, 45 minutes)
Did you know Cincinnati is less than four hours from Champaign-Urbana? Another close-ish “big city” to add to your family’s list to visit. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens will impress you with all of its up close animal encounters. The city itself is nestled along the river right between Ohio and Kentucky, so stroll the riverfront to find places to eat and play. Nearby Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, is one of the nation’s great amusement parks (The Brady Bunch even shot an episode there!) And don’t forget there’s another Great Wolf Lodge located in the area, too.
Santa Claus, Ind. (three hours, 45 minutes)
You may hear of friends in Champaign-Urbana that drive over to Holiday World to find a huge outdoor waterpark and thrill rides in the theme park. Camping is a popular option for families that trek to Santa Claus but you can find lodging within about a half hour if camping isn’t your thing.
Road Trips More than 4 hours from Champaign-Urbana
Wisconsin Dells (four hours, 30 minutes)
Without a doubt, you’ve heard us talk about Wisconsin Dells here at chambanamoms before. The Dells are the top family-friendly Midwest road trip destination, and whether you want to just stay on site at a waterpark resort or venture out and choose from any of the hundreds (literally) activities located in this fun zone of a town, your kids will be begging to return to the Dells every year.
Gatlinburg, Tenn. (eight hours)
A little farther than our other suggestions, Gatlinburg is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. Think Dells-type activities plus ample hiking/rafting/outdoor opportunities (right) with the mountains as the setting for the whole trip. It’s close enough you can drive it easily in a day, or break it up with a stay in Cincinnati or somewhere else along the way.
Which road trips would you add to our list?