Have car, will travel
Hit the open road with your kids
this spring break
Worried about being cooped up with the kids during spring break while all those plan-ahead types fly to the shores and the slopes? Although getting a tan may be out of the question at this point, there are still options for out-of-town escapes—from day trips to overnight excursions—that are just a car ride away.
Jelly Belly Warehouse Tour (10100 Jelly Belly Ln, Pleasant Prairie, WI, 866-868-7522, www.jellybelly.com, 90 miles from Chicago) Just across the Wisconsin state line lies a Wonka-esque fan-tasy for kids in the form of a 30-minute electric-train tour of the candy company’s Midwest facility. The tour stops along the way in front of jumbo video monitors for short films on company history and how the candy is made. Enormous jelly beans loom overhead when passing though “Candy Alley,” where jelly-bean mosaic portraits of U.S. Presidents are displayed. The ride ends at a sample bar, where everyone can get hopped up on free sweets just in time for the ride home. The free tours are offered daily from 9am to 4pm (the warehouse is closed on Easter Sunday). No reservations are needed.
Mammoth Cave (Mammoth Cave, KY, 270-758-2180, www.nps.gov/maca, 390 miles) Depending on the whims of the weather over the next few weeks in Chicago, there’s a good chance it’ll be warmer in the depths of Mammoth Cave, where the temperature hovers around 54 degrees. The 350-mile subterranean wonder is the longest cave in the world, and is filled with sparkling rock formations, underground rivers and its own community of unusual wildlife. Above ground is a 52,000-acre national park to hike, fish and kayak. The park service offers an underground, kids-only “Trog Tour” for 8- to 12-year-olds and a family-friendly “Introduction to Caving” for all, as well as a junior-ranger program for kids as young as six. Check the website for tour times and price information.
Henry Ford Museum (20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI, 313-982-6100, www.hfmgv.org, 275 miles) Part of a collection of tourist attractions in Dearborn, the museum was originally a showcase for the automobile inventor’s collection of historic Americana. Today it houses an eclectic array of pop-culture items and antique machinery, including the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a nuclear-powered car and a sealed tube supposedly containing Thomas Edison’s last breath. From the museum, you can board buses for a tour of the Ford Rouge Factory, a working automobile plant. The adjacent Greenfield Village, an outdoor museum made up of historic buildings representing America from the 17th century to the present and run by costumed interpreters, reopens for the season on April 15.
Amish Acres (Reservation Center, 1600 W Market St, Nappanee, IN, 574-773-4188, www.amishacres.com, 120 miles) The Amish and Mennonite community in Nappanee has built a thriving tourism industry that draws international visitors who want a taste of the area’s famous shoofly pie and distinct culture. Families visiting the farmstead in the spring can tour the grounds in a covered wagon, sample freshly tapped maple syrup and bond with barnyard animals. Overnight lodging packages at the Inn at Amish Acres are available, and your kids will be psyched to know that, contrary to traditional Amish custom, the rooms are outfitted with cable TV.
Starved Rock State Park (Rte 178, Utica, IL, 815-667-4211, dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/i&m/east/starve/park.htm, 90 miles) The state park is best known to Chicagoans as a warm-weather hiking and camping spot where you can get an up-close look at massive rock formations thought to be more than 400 million years old. But in the early spring, the winter thaw coupled with frequent rains create spectacular waterfalls throughout the canyons. If there’s a late-season snow, rental skis are available for cross-country use through March. Starved Rock Lodge (800-868-7625, www.starvedrocklodge.com) is inside the park and has a kid-friendly indoor-pool complex.