If you’re looking for an easy road trip that will engage kids of any age, St. Louis is unbeatable. The journey from Chicago to St. Louis is only 5-5.5 hours and there are numerous kid friendly attractions to break up your day on the road.
These suggestions also fit just as well for a drive down from Madison to St. Louis or Milwaukee to St. Louis.
Divide these stops between your travel north and south considering the ideal stops based on the weather for that day, opening hours, and the time of day you’ll pass through.
Starved Rock State Park
This State Park has been on my list for years after seeing a photo on Instagram of the scenic LaSalle Canyon. The reward at the end of the hike was just stunning and an excellent way to work physical activity into our day of driving.
I wrote a whole post on what to know about hiking to LaSalle Canyon, but you should give yourself between 1-2 hours to enjoy it, depending on how avid of hikers you (and your kids) are and how long you want to spend admiring the waterfall or splashing in the pool below. Have a change of clothes ready in the car.
If you want to do the same hike, be sure to park at Parkman’s Plain, not the visitor center.
Caterpillar Visitor Center – Peoria
Do you have any construction machine fanatics in your family? This place was a dream for my two little boys. They got to crawl up into REAL Caterpillar trucks and play with the buttons, switches, wheel, and joysticks. A simulator allowed them to operate an excavator or bulldozer. To start our visit, we stepped into the dump truck bed of a mining truck converted into a movie theater for a 7 minute introductory video! The seats shook as if we were actually driving.
Gain insights into how Caterpillar partners with their customers around the world to solve challenging infrastructure problems. As a special surprise for the kids, stop by the merchandise store and buy them a miniature truck.
If you’re starting in Chicago, Springfield or Peoria both make great stops at about the half way point.
$7 per adult, Kids 12 and under are free! Plan to stay for about 60-90 minutes if you’re visiting with young children.
Kidzeum – Springfield
Kidzeum is a three-floor museum packed with health and science exhibits teaching young children about food sources, nutrition, how our body works, exercise, and healthcare professions. Pick vegetables and fruits from the ‘fields’ and take them to the Farmer’s market for sale. Drive an ambulance, care for a patient at the dentist’s office, and give a pet a check up at the veterinary clinic.
They had pneumatic tubes that shoot pieces of tissue through them to simulate our blood circulation and a large water table which our kids’ seemed to enjoy most.
This museum had reciprocity with our Milwaukee Public Museum as part of the ASTC network. Find out if your museum pass will get you a discount, here.
The museum seemed very quiet on our Thursday afternoon visit, as a result, we were able to explore much of the museum in just 2 hours. We appreciated the convenience of bathrooms on each floor, lots of hand sanitizer, and water fountains.
Parking on the street is $0.75 per hour.
Buzz Bomb Brewery
This Brewery, as if by fate, was next door to the Kidzeum and opened at 4pm when the museum closed. We enjoyed a flight of beer while the kids played with Legos on the patio.
Abraham Lincoln’s Home – Springfield (Free)
Abraham Lincoln’s Home in Springfield appears online to have daily opening and closing times, but the streets in the historically preserved Lincoln Neighborhood are all open to the public 24/7. Going during opening hours of the Visitor Center will allow for a more immersive visit, the Junior Ranger program, and indoor tours of Lincoln’s Home.
If this is your first visit to Springfield, IL, be sure to soak in some Presidential History on your Chicago to St. Louis road trip.
We visited outside of normal hours, but still enjoyed strolling the streets on the “self-guided tour” to learn the significance of each home or exhibit from the placards. Since we missed the indoor tour, we explored it virtually.
There is no cost to visit, but a free ticket (first come, first served) is required to tour Lincoln’s home. To park in the adjacent lot, it is $2 per hour, or you can find street parking.
Presidential Library – Springfield
Did you ever think you’d stand next to Abraham Lincoln’s top hat? You’ll find it at the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield and can even see the finger prints where he’d hold to tip his hat upon greeting people. See Lincoln’s handwriting on an original copy of the Gettysburg Address. They do an incredible job of bringing history to life and connecting us to the past.
Springfield is packed with architecturally interesting and historically significant buildings. We spent 30 minutes just drive around and then looking up the stories of the most awe-striking buildings.
Shown below in the image with the Presidential Library are the current and the old State Capital Buildings.
Unique Food Stops in Springfield
Whenever I read about Springfield, writers were talking about Charlie Parker’s Diner. It was a breakfast, bunch type old schooler diner built inside an old airplane hangar. The walls are decked out in vinyl records and 1950’s décor.
The waitstaff and neighboring patron insisted I try a horseshoe which was invented in Springfield. It was basically a piece of bread and hamburger patty buried under poutine. It felt very Route 66.
Charlie Parker’s seemed like a place the locals came to hang out and strike up conversation. A table of police officers heard me chatting with the waitress and came to offer their suggestions on local ice cream places the kids would like. They went to their car and brought back two Springfield Police badges for my boys as well. I love America’s small cities.
We stopped for dessert at Oh-Icee for Thai Rolled Ice Cream. (They have bubble tea too) This held the kids over for the remaining drive on our Chicago to St. Louis journey.
There’s much to see between Chicago and St. Louis!
There you have it! Eight kid-approved road trip stops for your journey from Chicago to St. Louis and back, St. Louis to Chicago.
Do you plan to visit the Gateway Arch National Park while in St. Louis? Check out my post on visiting the Arch with kids.