Taking a Des Moines to Chicago road trip has the potential to be a fun excursion, especially if you can stop and do some sightseeing along the way. There are several state parks and fun attractions on your route that really showcase the charm of the Midwest. Most of your traveling will be along Interstate 80, which conveniently passes through Iowa City and Davenport in Iowa, and Interstate 88, which leads straight into the Windy City. Whether your tastes run to historical, natural or entertaining activities, you are sure to discover an outing to add to your road trip itinerary from Des Moines to Chicago.
Your road trip from Des Moines to Chicago will be relatively short; however, you can add a national park to your itinerary if you don't mind going a little out of your way into Indiana.
Indiana Sand Dunes National Park
You will never run out of things to do and see at Indiana Sand Dunes National Park. This 22,000-acre park, which has 15 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan, is home to a diverse landscape of tall dunes, beaches, woods, marshes and bogs. There are more than 50 miles of trails, which are a mix of boardwalks and nature trails. The park is a favorite destination for bird-watching, and visitors have access to all the boating and swimming activities available on Lake Michigan. This protected area in northwestern Indiana gets its name from the towering dunes, which can reach over 200 feet in height. While in the park, you can visit several national landmarks and historical sites to round out your visit.
Your Des Moines to Chicago RV road trip will take you through the states of Iowa and Illinois, each of which has a large number of state parks.
Lake Macbride State Park
Lake Macbride State Park in Solon, IA, is a fun place to visit any time of the year. You can fish for Kentucky spotted bass, channel catfish, walleye and muskie from the fishing pier or the jetty, and there are 7 miles of nature trails that will take you around the lake. Visitors can also swim in the lake, and there are plenty of boating options. Motorized and non-motorized boats can be rented at the park or driven in, but there are limits on speed and horsepower for motorized boating. Winter visitors can ski cross-country and ride snowmobiles.
Rock Creek State Park
Rock Creek State Park is located on Rock Creek Lake near Kellogg, IA. Spread out over a whopping 1,697 acres, the park includes boat launches and docks on the lake. You can bring your own boats and equipment or rent items at the park store. Besides the usual lakeside activities, visitors can also hike and ride horses on the many nature trails. Fishing in the lake is a favorite pastime all year, and ice fishing is possible in the winter. There are plenty of picnic shelters, and the kids will enjoy the playground.
Matthiessen State Park
Matthiessen State Park is just a short distance from your destination city of Chicago. This park in Oglesby, IL, offers a diverse environment of woods and prairies that are bisected by canyons and running streams, and there are several areas with unique rock formations. It is always fun to walk through a cool stream while hiking, but be careful to stay on the designated paths. There are some challenging stairs on some of the trails that offer a great workout.
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, IA, serves to highlight the contributions of Czech and Slovak immigrants in the U.S. Founded by descendants of Czech and Slovak immigrants, this museum contains informational displays and both permanent and traveling exhibits. These traveling exhibits often cover life before immigration as detailed with "In Her Father's Eyes," a documentary of Kitty Weichherz, a young Czechoslovakian girl. Kitty was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 and did not survive, but her father managed to preserve his detailed diary that chronicled her life in real time. The museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate.
Starved Rock State Park
If you love waterfalls and walking along canyon rims, then you will appreciate the scenery at Starved Rock State Park. Located on the Illinois River just southwest of Chicago, this park has several canyons with waterfalls, like the French, St. Louis and Wildcat canyons. A popular trail that leads up to Lover's Leap Overlook affords a clear view of the river and Starved Rock Dam. Besides the walking trails, there are also equestrian trails.
Crystal Lake Cave
Crystal Lake Cave in Dubuque, IA, has an extensive cave system that features stalagmites, helictites and rare anthodites, which resemble feathery crystal needles. Besides offering tours of the caves, the site has open mining for the kids and picnic areas for eating and relaxing.
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, came from a humble beginning in a two-bedroom house in Iowa. This national historic site highlights the history of this politician, who was inaugurated as president in 1929, seven months before the stock market crash in October of 1929. He graduated from Stanford University and became a mining engineer and had a successful and lucrative career before becoming president. After his presidency, Herbert Hoover restored his childhood home and created a space that models simplicity and thrift as American ideals. Today, the park contains his original home, a museum, a library and the graves of Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Hoover. There are also 2 miles of trails that run alongside Hoover Creek.
Your route lies along main roads and interstate highways. There are several cities and towns that are convenient places to stop and visit during your journey. When you need to empty your RV's wastewater, you'll find plenty of dump stations on your route in Iowa and Illinois.
As the former capital of the Hawkeye State, Iowa City has a lot of historical sites and museums. The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History is a fun and informative place to visit, and there are many options for shopping and dining. Sleepy Hollow RV Park & Campground offers a peaceful time away from the road, and there are plenty of amenities for your family. You can also find several dump stations nearby if you need to use one.
Davenport is a fairly large city in Iowa that lies on the state border with Illinois. It is next to the Mississippi River and has parks, museums, markets and much more to see and do. A fun place to visit while in the city is the Chocolate Manor, a unique store dedicated to chocolate. The Wildcat Den State Park has an interesting campground in the area, and you can definitely stretch your legs here while hiking along "Fat Man's Squeeze" and "Devil's Punch Bowl." There is also a 19th-century grist mill in the park. There are several options for dump stations around Davenport if needed.
While Sterling may be a small, rural town in northwestern Illinois, there is still plenty to see and experience here. Formerly known as the "Hardware Capital of the World," this town is home to parks, stores and dining options. You can also visit the Dillon House Museum historic site and Midway Drive-In theater. If you have time, you can also visit the Sinnissippi Mounds, which are centuries-old Native American burial mounds. If you would like to stop at a campground before you hit Chicago, then Shabbona Lake State Park Campground is a peaceful option with a lake that has comfortable amenities. If you need to utilize a dump station, the area around Sterling has many options for you.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from Des Moines to Chicago, you will enjoy historic locations and beautiful scenery along the way. If you want to travel in comfort and style, consider an RV rental from RVshare. From large motorhomes to compact campervans, there is a rig that will meet your travel and budget needs. Once you hit the road, you are protected by our renter guarantee and 24/7 roadside assistance. Find the perfect vehicle for your travel needs in Des Moines or Chicago.