Rustic Lodge with Kid-Friendly Indoor Water Park and Playgrounds
Starved Rock State Park hugs the south bank of the Illinois River, less than two hours from Chicago. Waterfalls plunge into canyons and white-pine and cedar trees cling to sandstone bluffs at this woodsy retreat that attracts more than 2 million visitors each year. Just across the street from the park stands Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Resort, a rustic lodge with a slew of family-friendly activities, including a water park, a theme park, an 18-hole mini-golf course, and a 60-game arcade.
Located near the main lodge, the 24,000-square-foot Grand Bear Falls indoor water park features a lagoon-style wave pool, a water slide, and a lazy river for tubing. Fountains spray youngsters in the playground area, and an oversize jacuzzi offers a quiet oasis for grownups. At the Enchanted Forest indoor amusement park next door, you'll find nine thrilling rides, including a tilt-a-whirl and a free-fall plunge; it just added laser tag and a zipline course.
After working up an appetite, head to Jack's Place Restaurant & Sports Bar for custom-made pizzas. The nearby family suites are outfitted with rough-hewn wood furnishings as well as mini fridges and microwaves; some units have balconies overlooking the grounds. The vacation villas, which sleep up to nine people, are two-story units decked out with full kitchens and fireplaces.
North Utica, Illinois: Scenic State Parks with Waterfalls and Hiking Trails
North Utica's star attraction is Starved Rock State Park, named one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois in a 2007 poll. Among the park's 13 miles of hiking trails, the LaSalle Canyon path stands out, thanks to several delicate, veil-like waterfalls along the way. For smaller crowds, try hiking through the lesser-known Matthiessen State Park, where deer congregate around salt-laden mineral springs.