If you’re like us, these months of quarantine have put you in an antsy state – looking to get out and do something while still protecting yourself and others around you.  Maybe you finally started taking advantage of the hundreds of nature preserves in or around the city.  Or maybe you’ve revived the “Sunday Drive” and explored back roads and small towns.  Regardless, we could all use a little time away.

That’s why we at Chicago Home Partner have pulled together another Top 10 list highlighting some of the best small towns, hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path places that you should consider checking out this summer. 

Many, (if not all), of these selections have three things in common:

  1. They are within a half-day drive of the city.
  2. They are great for those with or without kids.
  3. They provide some great outdoor activities with lots of room to roam.

We’ve tried to select less popular destinations which should avoid major crowds, but as with everything, we’re in uncharted territory right now.  You should be able to practice social distancing if planned ahead of time.

So, take and look, see if anything grabs your interest, and feel free to reach out to me for insight. 

** Remember, wear your masks in public areas, wash your hands often and practice safe social distancing. You’re not only protecting yourself but also being respectful to locals who live and work in these charming spots **

ILLINOIS

Shawnee National Forest – 6 hr. drive (Southern IL)

Garden of the Gods, Cave in the Rock and the only land bridge in Illinois await you in the Shawnee forest. This 280,000 acre reserve is home to waterfalls, unusual sandstone rock formations, swimming holes and trees lush with leaves that will help everyone keep their cool on a hot summer day or will dazzle with bursts of color in autumn – they’ve got you covered. Cabins and campgrounds are all nearby with a great list on their website.

Apple River Canyon – 2.5 hr. drive (Outside of Galena)

Apple River Canyon State Park is in the hilly northwest corner of Illinois in near the Wisconsin border. Limestone bluffs, deep ravines, springs, streams and wildlife characterize this area and make for a great natural amusement park. Lodging can be found in nearby Galena, Elizabeth and Stockton with campgrounds, B&Bs and VRBO listings plentiful.

INDIANA

Chesterton / Indiana Dunes – 1 hr drive (Southeast of Chicago)

Sand, shore, and the space to breathe—over 2,000 acres of it! This is a place shaped by thousands of years of shifting landscapes. Splash around in Lake Michigan, bound up towering sand dunes, or explore beautiful trails on foot or on your bike. Escape the mundane on these storied shores. This can easily be a day-trip or longer with easy lodging at many nearby towns.

IOWA

Decorah – 5 hr drive (Northwest of Dubuque)

“Is this heaven? No, it’s Decorah.” This is the town slogan and may be true as anyone who’s visited there in the past will attest. Be wowed by the limestone bluff surrounding the town and crystal-clear waters of the Upper Iowa river. Miles and miles of mountain bike trails are all accessible from town. Float the river in a canoe, kayak or inner tube. This quaint town has everything you could want in a place you’ve probably never heard of.

WISCONSIN

Mineral Point – 3 hr drive (Southwest Wisconsin)

Looking for more of a town that’s in the center of things to do? Welcome to Mineral Point, located in the breathtaking driftless area of SouthWest Wisconsin. Filled with sweet, tiny art galleries and pottery studios this quaint town is located just miles away from 3 amazing parks which bring a little something for everyone.

Fish Creek – 4.5 hr drive (Northern Door County)

Possibly the cutest part of Door County, Fish Creek has been entertaining families from Chicago for years – and not even Covid can slow that down. Hundreds of miles of scenic trails and Niagara Escarpment shoreline reveal new adventures at every turn. Rent a kayak, boat or bicycle, take a tour or simply stroll by the lakeside or through our beautiful back yard, Peninsula State Park.

Baraboo / Devils Lake State Park – 3 hr drive (Southeast Wisconsin)

Although Devil’s Lake is Wisconsin’s most popular state park, there are over 27,000 acres to get lost and explore. Fish Devils Lake. Hike till you can hike no more. Kayak and swim in the refreshing waters. Baraboo offers close proximity to Devil’s Lake, Lake Wisconsin and more – all within a 3 hour drive of Chicago.

Sheboygan/Kohler – 2.5 hr (North of Milwaukee)

Dubbed by the surf crowd as the “Malibu of the Midwest,” Sheboygan is a freshwater haven, an outdoor lover’s playground, and a fisherman’s sunrise glory.  Steeped in history, local art and some of the best golf in the nation – this area is not to be missed if you’re looking for a more populated get away this summer.

MICHIGAN

Saugatuck / Douglas – 2.5 hr drive (North of New Buffalo)

Looking for some lakefront but want to avoid the crowds of New Buffalo? Keep heading North until you come to the towns of Saugatuck and Douglas plant your flag. This area is a natural playground for outdoor adventure and things to do with family and friends. Our rolling dunes, Lake Michigan beaches, winding waterways, and network of trails reward you with Instagram-worthy views and bragging rights around every corner.

Petosky / Charlevoix / Harbor Springs – 6hr drive (North of Traverse City)

North of Traverse City, neighboring the U.P. of Michigan are the beach towns of Petoskey, Charlevoix and Harbor Springs. Extensive biking and hiking trails, world-class golf courses, and outdoor recreational opportunities are just waiting for you.

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#STAYHOME #CHICAGOSTRONG

Nowadays, we hear the word “quarantine” and automatically picture a long list of things we’re not allowed to do.  No lake. No coffee with friends. No 606. No restaurant date nights. The restrictions seem overwhelming.   But perhaps we need to shift our mindset and think of all the opportunities this slower lifestyle offers? Instead of sitting around worrying about what we cannot control, why not use downtime to learn new skills, embrace this rare family time, and reconnect with what makes you happy?

It’s called downtime for a reason and we’d like to help you enjoy, escape or experience something awesome.  From free online fitness and foreign language classes – to virtual museum tours and Michelin-rated take out – there are literally hundreds of online experiences available at your fingertips, and most of them are free.

We’ve compiled the list below of our favorites, categorized with links and information so you can enjoy them immediately.  Every one of us at Chicago Home Partner are facing similar challenges in this current environment.  With that in mind, we know that taking care of yourself, both mentally and physically, should be your top priority right now. 

LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE:

  • Duolingo: Not only is Duolingo useful when learning a new language, it’s fun and addictive. This service takes a game-like approach to learning and offers apps for iOS, Windows Phone and Android.

TAKE A COLLEGE COURSE FROM HARVARD OR YALE

  • “Psychology and the Good Life,” the most popular class in the history of Yale is now available online, along with over 20 other classes taught by Yale faculty.

ZOOS, AQUARIUMS AND MUSEUMS AROUND THE WORLD

  • First we have to keep it close to home and recommend our Mayor’s series at #STAYHOMEHITPLAY where last week she toured the Shedd Aquarium escorted by penguins. In upcoming weeks she plans to visit the MSI, Field and the Art Institute.
  • Or if you’re looking for something that’s kiddo-approved and NOT Tiger King – CBS compiled a great list of zoos and aquariums across the country that are streaming virtual visits.

VIRTUAL VACATIONS (TRAVEL)

  • Just because we have to stay home, doesn’t mean we can’t experience the world. Kayak has created virtual city guides and travel content to celebrate some of the cities they love. Spend a day in these incredible destinations without leaving the house.

FITNESS

  • Working up a sweat and staying healthy while stuck at home can be difficult — but not impossible. Fitness including Orangetheory, Peloton, Gold’s Gym and CorePower Yoga have come up with a creative solution to keep you moving: live-streamed and recorded digital classes you can join from anywhere for FREE.

HOMESCHOOL LIKE A PRO

  •  Khan Academy has self-paced, interactive content–exercises, videos and articles–for students in every grade and in most major subject areas. It is all free and non-commercial and is made possible by philanthropic support from people like you.
  • Hundreds of homeschool sites have opened their doors to the parents of elementary school age kids. Their content range from worksheets and lesson plans to arts and crafts and even science experiments.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL RESTAURANTS

  • More and more restaurants across Chicago are offering takeout and delivery options as of way of keeping their staff employed and their neighborhood fed. Thrillist has an amazing list of MUST TRY takeout restaurants here that should definitely be viewed.
  • Local staples like Gene and Georgetti are offering up their menu for take out and are even offering family-style as one of their ordering options.
  • Even 3-star Michelin restaurant Alinea has adapted to the closure of dining rooms. A dinner there typically costs around $300 per person, but recently the restaurant announced that it would offer to-go meals for $35 a piece. The first batch of dinners, featuring beef Wellington, sold out within five hours, so put in your order or get on the waitlist here.

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2020 Chicago Home Partner March Madness

March 11, 2020

What does March mean to you? March is always a great month for me.  It means longer days, the heat of the Spring Real Estate Market, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and for many of us… the anticipation of March Madness! This year, we are proud to announce the 12th Annual Chicago Home Partner March Madness […]

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The Chicago Home Partner 2019/20 Real Estate Forecast

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As Chicago real estate market experts, we take immense pride in releasing our annual “Chicago Real Estate Roundup” each year.  Our 2019 predictions proved accurate, with home pricing relatively “flat” overall, an uptick in inventory and low interest rates throughout the year. However, near the end of 2019 we noticed some anomalies that gave us […]

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16th Annual Lurie Children’s Hospital Toy Drive – Chicago Home Partner

December 9, 2019

It’s that time of year again… people are full of cheer, the streets are glistening with festive lights and we are – for a short time – eager for the arrival of snow!  Yes, the holidays are officially among us. For the past 16 years, we at Chicago Home Partner have celebrated the holidays through […]

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Home Partner’s Top 5 Chicago Holiday Light Displays 2019

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As temperatures and leaves continue to drop, it’s a tell-tale sign that the season is upon us!  That’s right ladies and gentlemen… ‘Tis the season for LIGHTS!!! Whether Griswold or Scrooge, there’s something magical about seeing thousands, (and sometimes hundreds of thousands!), of lights glowing, blinking and twinkling in the crisp Chicago air.  The way […]

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The 13th Annual Chicago Home Partner Pumpkin Carving Contest

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As the temperatures begin to tumble like the leaves outside, it’s time to begin thinking about winter, the holidays and most importantly HALLOWEEN! This is one of our favorite holidays here at Chicago Home Partner, and we are pleased to announce that this month will mark the 13th Annual Chicago Home Partner Pumpkin Carving Contest.  This is […]

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Introducing the Chicago Home Partner Concierge Program

October 2, 2019

The Chicago Home Partner Concierge Program is a complimentary approach to providing you with service providers and insight surrounding the world of real estate and homes in general.

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Get What’s Yours With the Illinois iCash Program

July 29, 2019

Remember playing the game Monopoly?  Of the two cards offered in the game, Community Chest was almost always the better.  With rewards such as “Advance to Go – Collect $200.”, “Income tax refund. Collect $20”, and my personal favorite, “You have won second prize in a beauty contest. Collect $10.”  Unfortunately not many of us […]

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2019 Chicago Neighborhood Festivals Schedule

June 25, 2019

The summer months in Chicago are some of the greatest anywhere.  Our city bustles with activity as urban dwellers and tourists alike take to the lakefront, sidewalk cafes and parks.  South Side, North Side and every neighborhood in between, come alive with people, activities, and celebration. That’s why we’re excited to provide you with this […]

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