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 two 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 offerings, 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 water park (open 9 a.m.–10 p.m.) 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 (open 4 p.m.–10 p.m. currently and 11 a.m.–10 p.m. starting June 30), you'll find nine thrilling rides, including a tilt-a-whirl and a freefall plunge. Outside, giant inflatable cartoon characters and castles provide plenty of bouncing territory.
After working up an appetite, head to Jack's Place for custom-made pizzas, or carry your meal to the outdoor patio overlooking the mini-golf course, which is landscaped to look like a creekside forest. Nearby, family suites are outfitted with rough-hewn wood furnishings as well as mini fridges and microwaves.
North Utica, IL: Scenic State Parks with Waterfalls and Summer Flowers
For smaller crowds, try hiking through the lesser known Matthiessen State Park, where deer congregate around salt-laden mineral springs. In summer, the park's meadows are blanketed with wildflowers including black-eyed susans, partridge-pea blossoms, and purple mint buds.