Chicago to Durango Road Trip Guide

Introduction

Chicago in Illinois is a city where it's all happening pretty much non-stop. Located on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, it's a city with stunning waterfront views, fantastic beaches, and an even more amazing skyline. Walk the Magnificent Mile and there will be iconic skyscrapers wherever you look. A short distance away from the Mag Mile, and the Chicago landscape doesn't change. In the Willis Tower you can ride up to the one-hundred and third floor Skydeck and not only will you see all of Chicago and be in a building that held the record for being the tallest in the world for twenty-five years, you'll also feel the tower move beneath your feet as it sways in the wind.

Whether you're into snapping photos of iconic monuments such as Cloud Gate, attending food festivals like the fantastic five-day long Taste of Chicago or dining in sophisticated restaurants on Navy Pier, as an adult you'll find more than enough to occupy your time.

If you're living in or visiting Chicago with young children, however, finding something to do might not be that easy. Once they've been to the Shedd Aquarium, explored the Chicago's Children's Museum, watched the kitesurfers on Montrose Beach and have gorged themselves on Chicago-style stuffed pizza, they'll probably have had enough of skyscrapers and Chicago's humid climate.

One of the hardest things to do is to keep kids interested for any length of time. On a seven-day RV road trip from Chicago to Durango in Colorado, you'll have their wide-eyed attention all the way. Show them something of European culture without leaving the country in the Amana Colonies, go lake fishing then grill catfish for dinner, stand in two states at the same time and hike nature trails through a forest. As you motor on towards Durango, introduce them to the history of the Wild West, go tubing on the North Platte River, discover dinosaur footprints or go sand surfing down gigantic dunes.

They're bound to agree that all the experiences they have on an RV road trip from Chicago to Durango definitely beats strolling around a city full of skyscrapers.

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Details

60'
Max RV length
60'
Max trailer Length
Road trip length: 7+ days
Recommend rig: motorhome
audience: family

Point of Interest

Grand Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

While the young ones may have social study classes included with their education curriculum, geography isn't always one of the course's main themes. They may have heard and seen pictures of deserts like the Sahara, but find it hard to comprehend what that sort of sand-only environment is really like. Pitch camp at the Pinon Flats Campground in the Grand Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and they can see it for themselves at the same time as enjoying some fantastic outdoor activities.

The preserve contains some of the most dramatic dune-scapes in North America, but they're not there only to be looked at. The kids can get a first-hand experience of a desert in a fun way by going sandboarding or sledding down the massive mounds. That said, the Grand Sand Dunes are not a typical desert, and during the summer months, after the snow on the surrounding mountain has melted, they can let rip on the shallow surge flow of Medano Creek in an inflatable.

The Grand Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is an incomparable way to end your family RV road trip from Chicago to Durango and even though the kids might not fully appreciate it, you'll love the stunning scenery there too.


Dinosaur Ridge

While the kids may have been enraptured by films such as Jurassic Park and the Land That Time Forgot, it's hard for young imaginations to accept that dinosaurs really did once walk the earth. Even seeing fossilized remains or gigantic skeletons in natural science museums isn't always convincing. Stop off at Dinosaur Ridge on your RV road trip from Chicago to Durango to show them solid evidence that those big beasts existed and left their footprints behind to prove it.

Dinosaur Ridge is to the south-west of the city of Denver in Colorado and there's a whole lot more to do there than follow a trail of fossilized footprints along the Dinosaur Ridge Trail or the Triceratops Trail. The kids will be enthralled exploring the Discovery Center and the Trek Through Time exhibition in the visitor center. They can even learn how to be a paleontologist and search for shark's teeth in a fossil box.


North Platte River

If you stayed over at the Buffalo Bill Ranch, give the kids a treat by letting them spend some time on the nearby North Platte River. The river runs along the southern border of the park and is easily accessed from the park campground. It's slow flowing, so don't think it'll be a whitewater experience because it won't be. What it will be is pure fun.

There are lots of ways to have a good time on the North Platte River. For an all-together family outing, try a two-hour tubing tour where you float in individual inflatables. There's no paddling involved as you get pulled along in a chain by a boat.

For a hilarious activity the kids will remember forever, try tanking. Climb aboard the stock tank together - they hold up to eight people - give the designated paddler the oar and float away. If that sounds a little too unconventional, you can always hit the water in kayaks or canoes.


Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park

Fascination with the Wild West and iconic names like Buffalo Bill is timeless. It doesn't matter what age you or the kids are, it's always amazing to visit a place where a true legend of history actually lived. Now a state historical park covering twenty-five acres of terrains, the Buffalo Bill Ranch or Scout's Rest Ranch, it's where the youngsters can get in touch with the past and guaranteed, they'll find it much more interesting than reading about him in books.

To get to the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, turn off the I 80 when you see the signs for North Platte and follow the North Buffalo Bill Avenue. The park is like a living museum with several original buildings, including the elaborate Cody House full of Buffalo Bill's personal possessions, an ice house and a barn with authentic wagons and carriages. There is a small RV campground at the park if you want to stay over night.


Fontanelle Forest

The Fontanelle Forest is located just south of Omaha and a great place to take the kids exploring while letting them enjoy an adventure thrill at the same time. If you want to pitch camp close by, you'll find a large campground in the Lake Manawa State Park a few miles to the east. The campground is open all year and operates on a first-come-first-served basis, so no need to plan in advance.

The Fontanelle Forest is very child-friendly and has special areas designed just for kids. Let them loose to scramble around in the Acorn Acres or learn about how animals live in the Habitat Hollow before going hiking together along some of the forest's nature trails or boardwalks. When they've had enough of the forest at ground level, send them soaring through the trees on a zipline in the Treerush Adventure Park. The forest is day-use only and opens from sunrise to sunset. There's also a Nature Center and a Raptor Refuge to visit during opening hours.


Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

It's not often in life you can be in two places at once, but on this RV vacation, you can be. On your family road trip from Chicago to Durango, you'll be passing through the city of Omaha in Nebraska where there's a famous bridge called Bob. Bob, or the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, is a three-thousand-foot long cable bridge that spans the Missouri River between Omaha on one side and Council Bluffs, Nebraska on the other.

Day or night, the views from the bridge are amazing and the kids will love looking down into the river from over fifty feet above. They'll also want a souvenir photo when they get halfway over and have one foot in Iowa and the other in Nebraska. If you're there when the weather is warm, and have hiked some of the trails around the bridge, they'll enjoy cooling off in the interactive fountain in the Omaha Plaza too.


Rock Creek State Park

The Rock Creek State Park is the perfect location to pitch camp for a couple of days on your RV road trip from Chicago to Durango to enjoy some outdoor time with the family. The park is only a few miles off the I 80 near Oakland Acres, so getting there won't take you too far away from your main route. The park has a modern campground alongside Rock Creek Lake and while you can reserve your campsite in advance, they do keep some free for walk-ups.

Rock Creek Lake is a great spot to launch a boat and take the young ones fishing. If you don't have one, no worries; the fishing is just as good from the shore. Let them hook their dinner, prepare it at the fish cleaning station then grill it on the barbecue. They'll never want to eat fast food again.

There are excellent hiking trails around the campground and some superb bird-watching opportunities too. It'll be just you, the kids and nature with not a skyscraper in sight.


Amana Colonies

It requires a hefty vacation budget to take a family on a trip to Europe. Stop off at the Amana Colonies in Iowa on your way to Durango and you'll be able to introduce the kids to a German lifestyle without leaving the US. Motor out of Chicago on the I 88 westbound in the direction of Iowa City and in three and a half hours you'll be in a different state, visiting somewhere that feels like another country. The Amana Colonies are around twenty-five miles from Iowa City along the US 6 and a world away culturally.

The Amana Colonies are a group of villages that have been a National Historic Landmark since the mid-1960s. The villages were founded by German migrants in the 19th century who lived and practiced a communal lifestyle. The architecture of the villages is a complete contrast to Chicago's skyscrapers and so is the atmosphere.

The kids will love wandering around and discovering the shops where they hand-make chocolates and weave blankets. After watching a play in the community theater, treat them to a lunch of traditional German food. If you're making your road trip in June check to see if it coincides with the Amana Colonies Wurst Festival. There's nothing better than German sausage. The kids will love it.


Summary

As you finish up your family road trip from Chicago to Durango, double-check you have the right Durango programmed into your navigational app or you could end up taking the kids on an educational trip to northwest Mexico. After arriving in Durango – Colorado - you can still give the young ones some new and exciting experiences that will keep them completely fascinated.

Take them for a steam train ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway, visit the Powerhouse Science Center or introduce them to another totally different culture by showing them the cliff dwellings in the Mesa Verde National Park. It's a sure fact, they won't take much encouraging to jump in the rig next time you're ready to roll it out for your next family road trip.

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