The tropics have migrated to Chicago! Well, kinda. If you’re looking for palm trees, beach trees and water play in a temp-controlled climate, head to one of the region’s indoor waterparks. There are great options located a short drive from the city and many offer day passes. Read on to see which ones you should visit when you need an escape.
Great Wolf Lodge - Gurnee
Main Attraction: Let’s be honest, the real thrill for kids when it comes to Great Wolf Lodge is the pools . . . and the 80,000-square-foot indoor pool and outdoor pool with cabana area has no chance of disappointing. This signature attraction at every Great Wolf Lodge includes Fort Mackenzie, a multi-level interactive water fort treehouse with a massive tipping water bucket, Crooked Creek winding lazy river, Slap Tail Pond wave pool, toddler water features, and the River Canyon Run, which is a 476-foot-long family raft ride with a raft elevator that does all the heavy lifting for you.
The Thrill Factor: This park is perfect for families who have kids that vary greatly in age, because there is absolutely no way you'll hear complaints of boredom. The slides offer high-speed water fun that will entertain older kids for hours.
Family Appeal: In addition to the water play, they feature a variety of entertainment options including Great Wolf Adventure Park, a full-service family entertainment center featuring the Howlers Peak Ropes Course, Ten Paw Alley family bowling, Howl in One mini golf, 24-hour Northern Lights Arcade, and Rustic Ridge, a multi-story rock wall. For those that like their fun to include a bit of thinking and intrigue, they’ll dig MaqiQuest, the brand’s exclusive live-action adventure game where guests scour the resort using magic wands to uncover relics and runes needed to defeat dragons and goblins.
1700 Nations Dr., Gurnee
Admission: You must book at least one night at the hotel to utilize the facilities, and then water play is free.
Pelican Harbor Aquatic Park - Bolingbrook
Main Attraction: Parkie the Pelican is a toddler slide to remember (tots glide right out of his mouth!). But that's not the only thing that makes this waterpark cool. Ideal for all ages—and great for day trips—it has two water slides, a zero-depth entry pool and tumble buckets. The indoor park is half the fun; in summer, the outdoor park opens up and has a beach-like vibe.
Thrill Factor: You can enjoy mellow adventures in the shallow pool, or go zipping down the curvy tube slide, so this thrill is yours for the taking.
Family Appeal: Big without being overwhelming, this is a great waterpark for grade-schoolers. And if you enjoy Parkie, the pelican-shaped water slide, you'll flip out when the real Parkie character walks around the park (he's known to make impromptu appearances).
200 S. Lindsey Ln., Bolingbrook
Admission: $6-$9/non-resident, $4-$6 with Bolingbrook resident ID, free for ages 2 & under
Grizzly Jack's Resort Grand Bear Falls Waterpark - Utica
We're keeping Grizzly Jack's on our list, but the park is currently closed for repairs. Check their website to hear news of their reopen date.
Main Attraction: This Yukon-themed waterpark is a bit smaller in scale but still big on fun. The Ranger Station is just right for kids who can’t yet swim but still love to splash and play in the water and the wave pool is always a blast for swimming kids. The not-so-fast family slide means your whole crew can hop on a giant tube and enjoy the ride together.
Thrill Factor: The water attractions here are just thrilling enough for the kiddie set, but across from the waterpark you’ll find the Enchanted Forest, an exciting indoor amusement park with nine full-sized rides that will appeal to bigger kids.
Family Appeal: If you plan on staying the night, opt for one of the resort’s vacation villas, which have all the conveniences of home, including sleeping accommodations for up to nine, kitchen and dining areas, and even a cozy fireplace and whirlpool tub.
2643 Illinois 17, Utica
Admission: Day passes are available for Thursday and Sunday only (excluding holidays and black out days) for $24.95 for each person over 48" and $17.95 for each person under 48".
The Water Works - Schaumburg
Main Attraction: An aquatic playground in every sense of the word, Water Works is a great pit stop for families that don't want to trek out further for the big waterpark resorts. You can get a piece of everything here, from a kiddie area with tube slides and water chutes, to a diving pool and a rapid water channel.
Thrill Factor: Climb to the top of a castle, where a red slide sends you on a plunge-tastic drop into the blue. It's steep -- but nothing a strong swimmer can't handle.
Family Appeal: The water playground is shallow, bubbly fun. Little ones won't be able to tear themselves away from the fountains that form a gurgling ridge on one side. Parents especially love the beach-like gradual entry to the pool.
505 N. Springinsguth Rd., Schaumburg
Admission: $6/resident youth, $8/non-resident youth, $8/resident adult, $10/non-resident adult
Community Recreation Center at Heritage Park - Wheeling
Main Attraction: What's that lounging aside the pool? It's Petie the Polar Bear, the mascot of this Wheeling Park District oasis. Toddlers can slide down Petie and land in a zero-depth leisure pool. The four-lane lap pool is great for impromptu swimming lessons or burning off energy.
Thrill Factor: This is a smaller waterpark, meant for an afternoon of relaxed family play. Along with the toddler slide, there is a lazy river. The absence of big slides, water jets and dump buckets means activity here is always at a reasonable level of calm.
Family Appeal: As a quickie escape, this spot is a hit. The five-and-under crowd loves padding around the walking pool, from which a rainbow structure rises. There is also a deck observation area for parents that prefer to look on rather than dive in. Oh, and they have a family locker room, which is always a bonus when moving with tots in tow.
333 W. Dundee Rd., Wheeling
Admission: $6.50/adults; $5.50/ages 3-9; free for ages 2 & under
Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark - Lake Geneva
Main Attraction Climb, swim or slide down Moose Mountain Falls, the main attraction at this spot, located just across the border in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, less than two hours from Chicago. Perhaps the biggest draw here is the Tiny Timbers area, which is ideal for kids ages 3-6 due to its swings, slides, spouts and mushroom waterfall. The main activity pool has a rope climb and a water basketball court. A lazy river snakes around the entire waterpark.
Thrill Factor: This park is designed with kids ages 10 and under in mind, so the thrill is usually pretty chill. There are two single and double tube slides, which are just right for kids of any age with swim skills.
Family Appeal: The adjacent Timber Ridge Lodge is designed for families: One- and two-bedroom suites are available, so parents can relax and watch a movie in the living room area while the kids are nestled in bed. Plus the waterpark and lodge are located within the Grand Geneva resort complex, and you can not only enjoy splashing around the waterpark but also skiing, skating, sledding and horseback riding in the winter, golf in the summer, and spa time year 'round.
7020 Grand Geneva Way
Admission: Book at least a one-night stay and waterpark admission is included. On weekends and holidays, the waterpark is reserved for resort guests only. All other days, groups may purchase admission by contacting 262-249-3499.
— Maria Chambers and Amy Bizzari
Featured photo: Nelly Aran via Pexels