The northern regions of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio on the banks of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie were vital communities of settlements in the early western movements of people as they migrated from the eastern states of the U.S. Your road trip itinerary from Chicago to Cleveland is an opportunity to visit many naturally and culturally important sites. While a Chicago to Cleveland RV road trip will be educational, there is plenty of outdoor fun to be had as well for those who love fishing, biking, hiking, and more.
There are two national parks that are close to your road trip from Chicago to Cleveland, and they are both equally worthwhile parks to take some time to explore.
Indiana Sand Dunes National Park
Indiana Sand Dunes National Park is a large and diverse preserve that contains a number of tall sand dunes that reach upward of 200 feet. You will also be able to explore marshes, rivers, beaches, prairies, and woods that are spread out for 22,000 acres along the shores of Lake Michigan and beyond. As the park is adjacent to Lake Michigan, you can enjoy any of the normal boating activities that are available. There are more than 50 miles of nature trails, and you will have the chance to see many species of birds and other wildlife. Besides the plenteous natural recreational opportunities, there are also many historical landmarks you can visit.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a shining example of a successful reclamation of abused land. Cuyahoga Valley is part of the former Ohio and Erie Canal that linked the city of Portsmouth to Cleveland on Lake Erie. The Ohio and Erie Canal afforded access to the Erie Canal via Lake Erie and thus gave access to New York City. The Ohio and Erie Canal fell into disuse in the early 1900s, and the Cuyahoga River became one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S. Much of the surrounding lands were also polluted. The park was created as a National Recreation Area in 1974 and was designated as a national park in 2000. Today, the Cuyahoga River and the other areas of the park have been restored and are beneficial to both wildlife and people.
While in the park, you can travel along the Towpath Trail, which runs along the original towpath of the canal. There are some 100 waterfalls in the park, and the 65-foot Brandywine Falls is a beautiful and popular waterfall that you will want to see. You can take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad or visit the Hale Farm and Village to experience rural farm life as lived in the 1800s and early 1900s. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is next to several large urban areas, and the 32,572-acre park contains several areas and attractions that are privately managed.
Each of these states has some great state parks that offer diverse landscapes and plenty of fun recreational activities to experience.
Maumee Bay State Park
Maumee Bay State Park is just east of Toledo and overlooks Lake Erie. It has miles of tranquil, sandy beaches for swimming and lounging, so it would be a great place to stretch your legs. If you're looking for more active entertainment, Maumee Bay also houses an 18-hole, Scottish-style golf course. Fishing and boating are also very popular at this park. The fun doesn't stop when the weather turns cold, either; if you're traveling in winter, you'll want to check out the cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing at Maumee Bay as well.
Potato Creek State Park
You will enjoy the variety of natural habitats inside Potato Creek State Park near South Bend, IN. The park is home to wetlands, prairies, woods, and fields, and you can access these areas by hiking along the six trails that offer 9 miles of walking paths. There is also a 3-mile biking path and a 6-mile mountain bike path. Lake Worster offers lots of fishing, swimming, and boating fun, and you can rent kayaks, paddleboats, rowboats, and canoes. If you take your own boat out, know that the lake is restricted to trolling motors only.
Mary Jane Thurston State Park
The Maumee River is a designated scenic river and is one of the main attractions of Mary Jane Thurston State Park near McClure, OH. You can explore the river while you fish and hike along paths exploring the old canal waterways to Lake Erie. You can catch white bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, channel catfish, sheepshead, northern pike, bullhead, and crappie for some of the best stream fishing around, and the kids will enjoy fishing in the fishing pond by the marina. You can also hunt for game and waterfowl.
A true road trip is not just about driving from point A to point B. It's about the unique sites to see and explore along the way. Chicago and the other cities in this Great Lakes region offer a multitude of attractions you will want to visit.
The Navy Pier is a top attraction in the city of Chicago. When you visit, you will easily understand why. The pier extends out over the water for more than 3,000 feet, which is the equivalent of six city blocks. The pier today houses attractions like the Funhouse Maze, the Centennial Wheel, and many other rides. There are fireworks in the summer, and any time of the year, you can visit the Chicago Children's Museum and the Crystal Gardens botanical garden.
The Buckingham Fountain in Chicago is one of the largest fountains in the world. It stands 26 feet tall and has a pool that is almost 280 feet across. It was constructed in 1927 and features a rococo design inspired by the Latona Fountain at Versailles in France. The fountain also serves as an allegory for Lake Michigan and has four pairs of sea horses that symbolize the states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. The pool holds 1.5 million gallons of water and shoots sprays of water up to 165 feet in the air. You will probably recognize Buckingham Fountain as soon as you see it; it has been featured in a number of movies and TV shows.
It's an easy side trip to drive along parts of the Heritage Trail in Northern Indiana. The Heritage Trail lies along 90 miles of roads through Elkhart and surrounding communities, and you will have the chance to see and experience Amish farming, crafting, and other down-home traditions on your route. Besides the chance to sample freshly prepared farm products, you will be amazed at the handmade quilts on display and the other unique crafts you will see. There are also interesting nature trails to walk and gardens to appreciate.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the U.S. Today, the zoo serves as a conservatory and contains gorillas, aquatic species, and all sorts of big and small cats. There is even an insectarium on display. Besides the numerous species of wildlife, there is also a beautiful arboretum to enjoy.
The drive during your Chicago to Cleveland road trip is an easy one that travels through several cities that lie along Interstate 90. If you have the time to stop and smell the roses, any of these cities is a good choice for a visit.
South Bend, IN
The city of South Bend is located on the St. Joseph River in Indiana. It's home to the University of Notre Dame, which is an interesting place to visit and view, especially its gold-domed main building. You will also enjoy seeing the Studebaker National Museum with its collection of classic cars, the History Museum with exhibits that highlight regional life, and the 19th-century Oliver Mansion. There are also plenty of dump stations in the area. If you are contemplating staying at a campground while in South Bend, the South Bend/Elkhart KOA is conveniently located close to Interstate 90, and you can buy propane and eat at the on-site snack bar that is open 24 hours a day.
Elkhart is a convenient place to stop as it's midway between Chicago and Cleveland. This area is known for the large Amish influence and the Heritage Trail, which takes you through 90 miles of Amish country and other unique cultural influences. If you are just stopping by the communities around Elkhart, make sure to visit the Old Bag Factory, the Ruthmere Museum, and the Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market. Be sure to not miss seeing the RV/MH Hall of Fame where you will learn some fascinating facts about living the RV life. The Elkhart Campground is a large campground that is spread out over 25 acres. The RV park features a tennis court and basketball courts and has a miniature golf course and an outdoor swimming pool. There are also a few dump stations to be found in the area.
Toledo is a large urban city located at the western end of Lake Erie. You will enjoy taking the time to tour the Toledo Museum of Art, which houses a large collection of both Renaissance and modern works of art. The Glass Pavilion contains thousands of glass objects to marvel at, and the Toledo Zoo is a fun place to visit with your family that has both rides and an aquarium. The Toledo East/Stony Ridge KOA Journey is a fun, family-friendly RV park that has oversized board games outside, like chess and checkers, sports courts, and a pool. Because Toledo is such a big city, you will have no problem finding a dump station around.
Driving from Chicago to Cleveland is an easy trip that will take you about five hours when driven straight through. If you have the time to extend your journey, you will find much to discover in this historically significant region of the U.S. Renting an RV from RVshare is a perfect way to make the most of your road trip.