You can’t please everybody. This is a truism that is familiar to many reunion travel planners. No matter how small your group is, no matter how close of friends they are, no matter if they are related or not – almost everyone in the group is going to have an opinion about the pros and cons of any destination. Can you balance the needs of wilderness lovers and shopaholics? Can museum mavens and beachcombers be happy in the same place? And, in the case of a family reunion, does anyone really want to drive a van full of screaming children in heavy Chicago traffic?
For people who want access to Chicago without having to stay in the city itself, Illinois’ Lake County offers just the right blend of location, reunion-ready spaces and attractions for all ages.
For The Outdoorsy: Lake County’s Natural Appeal
The name says it all: along its entire length, Lake County hugs the shore of Lake Michigan. Inland, it also has 75 smaller lakes – the largest concentration of natural lakes in the state. The waterways share space with thousands of acres of forests. Two state parks make the most of this natural setting: Chain O’Lakes in Spring Grove and Illinois State Beach in Zion. Illinois State Beach has over six miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan and covers over 41,000 spacious acres. Evening fires are allowed, and there’s room for more than one picnic. (Illinois State Beach Resort and Conference Center offers indoor meeting space for up to 500 guests.) Chain O’Lakes borders three lakes and is connected to seven more via the Fox River, making it a wonderful place for fishing, boating, and hiking. And Lake County’s widespread Forest Preserve District blends picnic facilities and 154 miles of trails for active groups.
You can find a more refined approach to the great outdoors at Chicago Botanic Garden. There are actually 23 distinct gardens, plus informative discourses, flower shows, exhibitions and kid-oriented activities. A group could easily spend the entire day there, but if that’s not an option, tram tours can ensure visitors see all the highlights of the park in comfort.
And Lake County’s widespread Forest Preserve District blends picnic facilities and 154 miles of trails for active groups. Swim, boat or fish at the 115 acre Independence Grove one of the most a popular forest preserves for family reunions.
Clearly, anyone with a passion for the outdoors will find Lake County to his or her liking. But what will make those who cherish the great indoors happy?
For The Citygoer: From Here to the Best of Chicago
A visit to Lake County won’t leave the citygoer dissatisfied. We could start with the Ravinia Festival, which is known equally for its lush landscaped setting, live musical performances and gourmet food. The Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre and Resort hosts the Lincolnshire Marriott Theatre, where groups can also enjoy Broadway-style musicals and live entertainment. (The Marriott Resort also features Cranes Landing Golf Course, one of 30 public golf courses in Lake County.)
About 20 minutes from Lincolnshire is the town of Gurnee, home of Gurnee Mills Shopping Mall. Shoppers can choose from over 200 stores that range from bargain-friendly outlets to high-end designer boutiques. For a true shopping day, folks can travel to several of Lake County’s unique downtown shopping districts in Libertyville, Lake Forest, Long Grove and Antioch.
Suppose, though, this is a family affair. Is there anything for the kids to do?
For the Kids: Space to Play
For kids, let’s start out with four words: Waterpark, Rollercoasters, Six Flags. Lake County is home to both of these kid-approved destinations. Six Flags Great America theme park includes Hurricane Harbor waterpark, and the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster. However, the park is only open seasonally. Fortunately, there’s the tropics-inspired version at KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark and Resort, where 65,000 feet of climate-controlled fun is available year-round. (For the adults, there’s also meeting space, a spa and a variety of restaurants.) Finally, kids young and old will enjoy stopping by the Jelly Belly Visitors Center in nearby Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. Guests are treated to a free tour on the Jelly Belly Train; the center hosts various events throughout the year.
For Convenience: Travel and Transportation
Finally, let’s talk about one of the biggest advantages of Lake County’s setting: location. Not only does it provide access to Lake Michigan, an assortments of smaller lakes and rivers, forests, gardens and fun things to do, it’s also very convenient to Chicago: depending on traffic, you can get to the Windy City in under an hour. The I-94 Tollway provides easy access to the south and north as it runs through the center of the county. (For a change of pace, Milwaukee is about an hour to the north.)
If you’re flying in to the Chicagoland area, you can choose to make use of one of the nation’s busiest travel hubs, Chicago O’Hare International Airport. It’s 14 miles from the southern end of Lake County to O’Hare. Chicago’s Midway Airport is approximately 50 miles away. To the north, Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport is about 50 miles from central Lake County.
If you’d prefer not to battle heavy traffic during your trip, you don’t have to. There are three Metra train lines that connect various points in Lake County directly to downtown Chicago, with plenty of stops in between.
Whether you’re looking for a forested hideaway for your group, a place to host a large-scale family picnic on the beach or a way to sample the attractions of Chicago while staying just a bit removed from the bustle of the city, Lake County has a place for your next group gathering.
Ever been to Lake County? Leave a comment below and tell us about your experience.