Hit the road with your kids this summer for more than 20 unique day trip ideas that are a short drive from Champaign-Urbana
We can’t wait to see where our adventures take our families this summer! Load the kids up for a day trip and make some fun memories as a family this summer (no overnight stay required).
If you’re thinking your family needs a change of scenery, perhaps a day trip — without the hassle or expense of finding a place to stay — is a good place to start. We’ve made a list of our favorite low-commitment day trips that are also fairly easy on your budget. All suggestions are less than two hours away.
While this list is focused on summer day trips from Champaign-Urbana, many of these attractions are open year-round, perhaps with different hours and a different type of experience.
Something you’ll notice about this list: We’re not sending you to big cities like Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis, although you can certainly day trip to those. We have TONS of ideas for those three cities on our website.
Plan ahead. Usually day trips are a pretty low-commitment endeavor. But planning anything this summer will require a few extra steps, typically. Many of these attractions require advance reservations or ticket purchase to ensure facility capacities are not exceeded. Learn about other requirements for your visit that are related to COVID-19 precautions while you’re doing your research for where you plan to go.
Please note that attractions (especially museums) might be operating with different hours than typical years in 2021.
We’ve found fun, relatively low-cost attractions from Peoria to Springfield, Decatur to Bloomington-Normal, Effingham to Oglesby … and many places in between. These day trips do take you outside of Champaign-Urbana, and with the exception of a few places, outside of Champaign County.
Nature is calling
Allerton Park, Monticello
There’s plenty to do to fill a whole day (or half a day) at Allerton Park in Monticello. Get into the woods and feel your blood pressure decrease.
Fish, boat, hike and more out at Clinton Lake. There’s a beach to swim, too!
This is a popular spot to canoe and kayak, and renting such gear is easy at Moraine View.
Believe it or not, there’s another lake with a beach in Central Illinois. And on Lake Shelbyville, boat rentals are super popular and doable; our story has lots of tips on how to rent a boat. A hidden gem of Lake Shelbyville: You can take a tour of the dam on summer weekends.
Kickapoo State Park, near Danville
At roughly 40 minutes from Champaign-Urbana, it’s close enough to cut the trip short if gets too hot or rains, and not feel all that bad. Anything you want to do outdoors (in a day or a weekend) can be achieved within the park. This is a popular spot to go tubing.
Gaze at the stars and marvel. While this article highlights “day trips,” there’s no reason why some of them can’t be in the evening. In 2019 Middle Fork River Forest Preserve was recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, the first such designation in the state of Illinois. (Of course, there’s also hiking, boating and other fun to be had.)
Other nearby places to get your nature on: Starved Rock State Park (where winter fun includes bald eagle watching along the river, and a meal at the Root Beer Stand in Oglesby is required year-round) or neighboring Matthiessen State Park, and Turkey Run State Park in Indiana.
South of Champaign-Urbana
The world’s largest crochet hook and knitting needles; the world’s largest mailbox; and the world’s largest wooden shoes … this place is truly unique. Best part? It’s easy on the wallet once you get there. Big things are open year round, although most are outside.
Sunflower Maze, near Paris
Although only open a few weeks a year, the Sunflower Maze is a must-do with the family. There are other fun things to do in Paris to round out the trip, including an accessible playground.
There’s so much to love about Amish Country. See horses and buggies, go shopping, and eat some great food. If you plan ahead, you can also arrange a formal tour or eat dinner in an Amish home. Drive through and see the animals at Aikman Wildlife Adventure.
There’s no predominant reason to go to Effingham, but there are a surprising number of things to do (car museum? a mill? and more). And great places to eat, too.
Lincoln Log Cabin, Charleston
If you don’t get enough Lincoln in Springfield, or would rather skip the Springfield crowds, a lesser known — but no lesser experience — is to take the family to the Lincoln Log Cabin. Visit in the summer to get the full effect of interpreters.
Wildlife Prairie State Park, near Peoria
You’ll see things here that you’ll likely not see anywhere else in central Illinois. While not a zoo, there’s a lot of wildlife here. Get info on visiting on their site.
A medium-size zoo, there are several highlights and reasons to make a stop here; but we’ll just pick out one highlight – the giraffes.
This shares a parking lot with the zoo in Glen Oak Park, also near the (free) Luthy Botanical Garden.
It has a five-story screen theater that plays a variety of 2D, 3D and educational movies. Yeah, we thought that might get your attention.
Near Bloomington-Normal, this is a creek stomping, mud-pie-making paradise for kids. Enjoy this nature playscape, complete with ladders to climb trees and treehouses and see what critters you can find in the creek. Lots of wildflowers and nice trails to hike, too.
Children’s Discovery Museum, Normal
This is everything a children’s museum should be — and while it’s great for the littles, even the big kids will have a good time here.
Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington
A great option for younger kids; don’t miss the otter feeding!
This zoo has a train and is located next to the museum listed below. Looking for a budget-friendly outing? Visit Scovill Zoo on Thursdays all summer, when admission is FREE.
Toddlers, in particular, will love this place.
Various Lincoln sites, Springfield
We’ve curated a list of Springfield sites to see, which are mostly better for school-age kids.
Our fair expert gives you the low-down on the Illinois State Fair, which happens annually in early-to-mid August. The fair is planned to be ON this year, so fingers crossed!
Where else can you find go-karts, batting cages, a wave pool, lazy river, several large water play areas for the smaller set, miniature golf and a driving range, a Ferris wheel and some very serious waterslides? And where else can you find this all close enough that you can drive there, spend the day AND drive back all in one day? (NOTE: Only the driving range is open all winter. Availability of other features varies in spring and fall.)
This “store” is up the street from Knights Action Park. Just trust us. There’s more than enough to do here.
Admission for children, seniors, veterans, and members is always free. The Illinois State Museum includes a children’s Play Museum as well as natural history and cultural history exhibits, both permanent and rotating.
Another museum and it is another favorite of ours. It is reopening July 3.
Terre Haute, IN
This manageably-sized museum has a focus on science and technology, with an entertaining Pollination Station. Be sure to buy some Square Donuts (yes really! “where it all began”) for the drive home.
You might hear a lot of Champaign-Urbana families buzzing about a day trip over to Turkey Run. This outdoor escape isn’t all that far away and if you’re going to make one nature getaway this year, Turkey Run might be the leading contender.
If you love sports
Real college baseball players competing in the Prospect League, with wooden bats in a classic baseball environment that’s easy on the budget. Just 30 minutes away. Games from late May to early August.
Have a day trip destination to add? We will keep going! Email us – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some ideas on trips you can take with your family:
- Visiting the Indoor Waterpark at Grand Bear Resort Near Starved Rock
- Midwest Indoor Waterparks Within a Few Hours of Champaign-Urbana
- Winter Road Trip: Visiting Ice Castles at Lake Geneva, Wis.
- 20+ Unique Summer Day Trips from Champaign-Urbana
- How to Rent a Boat on Lake Shelbyville with your Family
- Road Trip: Visit St. Louis as a Family
- Visiting Imagination Grove Near Bloomington-Normal
- Best Midwest Summer Road Trips for Champaign-Urbana Families
- Road Trip: Visiting Wisconsin Dells
- Day Trip from Champaign-Urbana: Living Large in Casey
- Head North for Family Fun: What To Do On Your Chicago Trip
- An Insider’s Guide to a Springfield Getaway
- A Whole New (Old) World: Exploring the Arthur Amish Area with Kids
- Effingham, a Trip to the Crossroads
- Winter Break Day Trip: Family Fun in Peoria
- Travel Back in Time at Lincoln Log Cabin
More on all your favorite outdoor activities:
- Where to Go Boating with Your Family Near Champaign-Urbana
- Hiking Trails For Families in the Champaign-Urbana Area
- Visiting Champaign-Urbana Area Parks and Playgrounds with your Family
- Fishing Fun for Families in the Champaign-Urbana Area
- Walk Your Way Through Champaign-Urbana
- Gardens and Flower Farms in Champaign-Urbana and Beyond
- Avoid the Mud and Muck with Mulch-Free Playgrounds in Champaign-Urbana
- Great Places for a Picnic in the Champaign-Urbana Area
- Family-Friendly Bike Trails in the Champaign-Urbana Area
- Creek Stomping Your Way Around Champaign-Urbana
- Camping with Your Family Near Champaign-Urbana
- Parks Minus Playgrounds We Love Around Champaign-Urbana
- 6 Places to Experience Nature with Kids Near Champaign-Urbana