3 kid-friendly spring break getaways close to Chicago

Chicago Tribune

Just because you didn’t book airline tickets and hotel rooms for a faraway vacation doesn’t mean the family has to be under house arrest during spring break.

Plenty of places near Chicago beckon for a daycation or a quick-and-easy getaway within a few hours’ drive of the city.

Here are some suggestions for last-minute spring break sojourns with the brood, whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure, indoor entertainment or some extracurricular education while school’s out.



Play with the farm team

Show the kids that food doesn’t just magically appear on grocery store shelves with a visit to Fair Oaks Farms in Northwest Indiana.

Make no mistake: This agritourism attraction 75 miles from Chicago is no petting zoo. Fair Oaks is a massive farming operation with a dash of Disney. It’s home to more than 35,000 cows — and at least as many puns, starting with the sign at the entrance that promises “A Dairy Good Time for the Family.”

Spend a full day exploring the well-executed, interactive exhibits and other features, like the birthing barn, where folks file in to take a seat in the bleachers and watch a cow deliver a calf. About eight to 10 births a day take place behind a transparent wall on the hay-covered barn stage. A convenient traffic light signal outside the barn’s front door helps you time your visit: Red means no rush, the cow still has more laboring to do; yellow means she’s getting close, and green means it’s showtime.


Buses take visitors on a tour through the cows’ quarter-mile-long free-stall barns and to the so-called dairy-go-round, where 72 Holstein cattle chew cud as they take a slow spin on a rotating carousel while hooked up to automatic milking machines.

The Dairy Adventure at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana includes a stop at the dairy-go-round milking wheel and a birthing barn, where visitors can watch cows deliver calves throughout the day. (Lori Rackl and Randi Stevenson / Chicago Tribune)

Go from bovine to porcine with a somewhat similar experience at Fair Oaks’ Pig Adventure. You’re able to spy on thousands of swine at various stages of development from an elevated, enclosed observation area. Be prepared to hear kids squeal when workers display a newly born piglet.

Fair Oaks added to its ever-growing lineup of offerings last year with a Crop Adventure focused on farming.

When the kids get antsy, they can unleash their energy on an indoor ropes course at the Pork Education Center, go rock climbing on a giant milk bottle and more.

Fuel up at the Farmhouse Restaurant, serving food grown on-site or by nearby purveyors, or head over to the Cowfe (I told you there were a lot of puns) for sandwiches, salads, cheese curds and ice cream made on the premises with milk from Fair Oaks’ cows. The cold, creamy treat is free if you tell them you’re on spring break.

Fair Oaks Farms, 856 N. 600 E (right off Interstate 65, exit 220), Fair Oaks, Ind. 877-536-1194, The all-inclusive pass covers the Dairy, Pig and Crop adventures ($25 for kids, $29.95 for adults).

Get an adrenaline rush


Thrill-seekers can get their fix — and an ecology lesson — at Lake Geneva Canopy Tours & Outdoor Adventure Center, about 80 miles northwest of Chicago.

The canopy tour traverses a series of eight zip lines and five sky bridges that connect a network of platforms built high into the trees of this 100-acre forest. Reach speeds up to 40 mph as you whisk past towering red and white oaks and get a bird’s-eye view of flora and fauna below.

After a thorough safety briefing and gear check, you start your adventure on shorter, slower zip lines before building up to big ones like the 841-foot-long expanse dubbed The Beast. It sounds scary, but by the time you work up to this one, most people are pretty comfortable with the concept and nerves give way to big smiles. Two parallel zip lines at the end let you race to the finish, weather permitting.

Tours typically last a little over two hours, and the guides drop some eco-knowledge about the area in between the high-flying fun. (If you’re still not ready to come back down to earth, book the guided high-ropes excursion made up of 16 obstacles hovering 18 to 32 feet above ground.)

No experience is necessary to do the zip line canopy tour, but you have to be at least 7 years old and weigh between 65 and 250 pounds.

The tour costs $100 for adults and $90 for kids ages 7-15. A $500 spring break special is being offered for groups of eight until April 23.

While you’re in Lake Geneva, catch illusionist Tristan Crist’s live show at the intimate theater bearing his name. The Wisconsin native’s hourlong prestidigitation shtick gets rave reviews from all ages. Spring tickets cost $29-$35, and April shows take place each Saturday as well as some Wednesdays and Sundays;

Lake Geneva Canopy Tours, N3219 County Road H, about 1.5 miles north of downtown Lake Geneva, Wis. 262-248-9271,


Dive into the Dells

Nearly 200 miles away, Wisconsin Dells takes a bit longer to get to than the other destinations. But odds are the kids won’t complain about the extra drive time if it means spending a few days in the self-proclaimed Waterpark Capital of the World.

The sprawling Wilderness Resort with its wide range of offerings makes it an especially good bet for tweens and teens. If you also have younger kids in tow, check out the new “room escape” attraction for families with children ages 4-10. Located at Wilderness on the Lake, the circus-themed room escape debuted in March. Groups up to six people have 30 minutes to look for clues, solve puzzles and make their escape. (Wilderness already has two other room escapes geared toward older kids.) Pricing for the new room is $18.95, or $13.95 if you’re staying at Wilderness.

As of press time, the resort had rooms for four guests (including water park admission) listed as low as $110 for select days in April.

Another Dells water park resort, Great Wolf Lodge, is celebrating Spring-a-Palooza through April 16 with a whole bunch of complimentary programs and activities, like scavenger hunts, afternoon picnics and educational “wolf walks” all taking place in the main lobby. Save up to 30 percent off room rates with the code MOREFUN when booking online for two or more nights.

Wilderness Resort, 511 E. Adams St., Wisconsin Dells, Wis. 800-867-9453,

Great Wolf Lodge, 1400 Great Wolf Drive, Wisconsin Dells, Wis. 800-559-9653,

Twitter @lorirackl


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