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 that pairs an outdoorsy atmosphere with a slew of family-friendly activities, including a water park, theme park, 18-hole mini-golf course, and 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 at a playground for youngsters, 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.
After working up an appetite, head to Jack's Place for custom-made pizzas. Nearby, family suites are outfitted with rough-hewn wood furnishings as well as mini fridges and microwaves, and each two-story vacation villa has a full kitchen, fireplace, and full-size washer and dryer.
North Utica, Illinois: Scenic State Parks with Waterfalls and Cross-Country Skiing Trails
For smaller crowds, try hiking through the lesser-known Matthiessen State Park, where deer congregate around salt-laden mineral springs. In December and January, you can rent skis at the park and explore 6 miles of cross-country skiing trails.