Save my kids and me from 5+ hours in the car
May 16, 2014 11:48 AM   Subscribe

This summer (mid June) I am carting my family off to a wedding in Bloomington, IN. However, due to various issues, we are flying into and out of Chicago and then driving down. So I need suggests for where to stop along the way so that I don't kill my kids (5 and 2 years old), and they don't go crazy from boredom.

My kids are energetic little guys and while we are trying to plan it so that we hit nap time with them in the car, I figure we are going to have to stop a time or two along the road to let them get some running around out. So I turn to you MeFi for suggests of where along the route from Chicago to Bloomington, IN should we stop, what should we see? We will be going down there on a Friday (need to arrive in time for a rehearsal dinner that evening) and returning back to Chicago on a Sunday (after a post wedding brunch that morning).

We may also have a little time in Chicago on Monday morning, if there is anything fun to see, you can hit us with that too!
posted by katers890 to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (16 answers total)
A portable DVD player will be a GODSEND! On the flight, in the car, etc.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:52 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I cannot recommend laptops with DVDs hard enough - we drove our kids most of the way across PA, longitudinally, through total rural wastelands, and that was what prevented us from leaving them in a cornfield and driving away while laughing hysterically and clawing off our faces.

That being said: my go-to sites for "interesting shit to do between Point A and Point B" are Roadside America and Atlas Obscura - with the latter, if you search for a destination along your route, it'll pop up dozen of interesting suggestions.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:55 AM on May 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nth'ing DVD/laptop/tablets -- the best case for roadside stops is that you lengthen your trip and have to fight a war to get them back in the car every time.
posted by Etrigan at 12:10 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

That is a miserably boring drive. Take the DVD/tablets/etc. suggestions seriously.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:17 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

It should be closer to four hours (although I guess you'll be navigating Chicago and Indy traffic during the workday, so maybe five). And definitely, DVD player ... we watched "Thomas King of the Railway" four freaking times during a five-hour drive to my brother's wedding.

If you're taking I-65, there's a nice truck stop near Hebron, which is about halfway between Chicago and Indy. Not being sarcastic; it's big and clean and well-staffed and quiet and not busy and has reasonably decent roadstop food. I have been stuck there during a snowstorm so I had a lot of time to appreciate its charms.

Probably your best bet if you want to actually stop along the way for sightseeing would be in Lafayette (which is also where you'd get off I-65 for state highways if you decided not to take I-65 the whole way to Indy but more direct state highway to Bloomington). Purdue University is there (in West Lafayette), there's a historic battlefield, a lot of city parks, some nice stuff along the river, and a couple of botanic gardens affiliated with Purdue. It's right along I-65 and pretty easy to get on and off.

I love Indiana but I-65 is a driving road, not so much a stopping-to-see-things road. It pretty much takes trucks from Chicago to Indianapolis and Louisville and drives like it. There's more to see if you take state roads, but a lot of it is "little towns with cute diners" which is maybe not so interesting to small children.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:18 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd stop in Indianapolis and research things to do there, but that's only about 50 miles from Bloomington, according to Google Maps. That still gives you a fairly long drive from Chicago.

Is there any way you could change your flights to go to Indianapolis instead, or perhaps get a connecting flight or take Amtrak to Indy? (The train is 5 hours between the two cities and $24 per adult each way, but you still have the 5 hour entertain-the-kiddos issue, and probably no opportunity to get off the train and go explore.)
posted by tckma at 12:44 PM on May 16, 2014

If you do stop in Indianapolis, the Children's Museum is fantastic and has stuff for both your 2 year old and 5 year old to do. Worth spending some time at, if you can.
posted by griseus at 12:55 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, speaking as one who does this drive regularly with kids, the stretch between Chicago and Lafayette is basically just to be endured. It's only a couple of hours, though, and my kids generally do pretty well. That said, there's Fair Oaks Farms, which I'd call dairy tourism. I haven't been there, but it is at a good stopping point and they do have good cheese and ice cream. I would highly suggest the Children's Museum in Indy. I'm unfortunately not familiar enough with Lafayette to offer suggestions.

Amtrak service between Indianapolis and Chicago isn't fantastic. There's basically one train a day that either leaves or arrives very early or very late, depending on which way you're going. You would then have to rent a car in Indy, which I don't believe you can do at Union Station proper.
posted by percolatrix at 1:05 PM on May 16, 2014

IU alum here. I've made that drive several times and can attest to the boringness of the Chicago-to-Lafayette portion. Nthing the recommendation for portable DVDs, books, tablets, whatever you can find to distract them. Also be aware that the traffic on 80/94 near the state line can be hellacious. (I've never taken the Skyway but that may have less traffic, though it has high tolls.) Renselaeer has been my general midtrip stopping point, though there's more choices in Lafayette.

After you pass Lafayette, it seems to go faster and much of the Indy-Bloomington leg on 37 is downright gorgeous.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:25 PM on May 16, 2014

As it happens I have just driven this way again today, and I forgot about Prophetstown State Park, near Lafayette, which is close to the interstate and has picnic areas and playgrounds, as well as hiking and a living history museum.
posted by percolatrix at 4:48 PM on May 16, 2014

"Also be aware that the traffic on 80/94 near the state line can be hellacious. (I've never taken the Skyway but that may have less traffic, though it has high tolls.)"

Here are your routes in order of preference (O'Hare to Lafayette IN):

O'Hare to 90/94 (through the city) to 80 to I-65, no tolls. This option is terrible and you will smack yourself forever and it will take forever and there are SO. MANY. TRUCKS.

O'Hare to 294 to I-80 to I-65 (AROUND the city). There are tolls on 294, which I believe come to about $8. Especially if you are driving during rush hour, 294 is MUCH the preferred route; going through the city takes forever. (If you're going early morning or midday, through the city isn't too bad.) Traffic at the border will take a while, but not as long as with the first option.

O'Hare to 90/94 to the Skyway to I-65 (through the city), $4 toll for the Skyway and maybe $1 or $2 of tolls in Indiana. If you are going through the city, the Skyway is ABSOLUTELY worth your $4. It's way faster through the South Side and it's much faster at the Indiana border as well.

The Skyway is my preferred way from O'Hare, but if you're driving during rush hour it will be too terrible. Like "90 minutes to go 10 miles of road" terrible on the Kennedy. 294 is much, much better during rush hour.

Illinois has open-road tolling, so the rental car will have a transponder in it that will beam the toll amounts to the toll thingie and you don't have to stop. (It's twice as much if you pay cash, which you can also do if you want.) This is why I don't actually know what the tolls on 294 are, the magic transponder pays them for me and e-mails me when I run out of cash, so I don't have to know anymore. A traffic report can help you decide whether to go through or around.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:35 PM on May 16, 2014

So my kids don't really do movies so the DVD player really isn't helpful, though I understand where it is coming from. The older one will watch them, but the younger one gets at most 10 minutes before he's done. That said, we've gone 2+ hours with them in the car before and been fine. Hell, we once drove home in a blizzard from Cape Cod to north of Boston going 10 miles an hour with them, though that was a night/sleeping time. We are old pros at traffic (living in Boston you get used to it), and I grew up in Evansville, IN and spent many a summer up in Culver, IN so I've actually done the across IN drive numerous times. Changing flights/use a train is not going to fly, we had reasons for going to Chicago, but they weren't pertinent so I left them out. We plan to have lots of books for them, which they do better with than movies, and we'll have coloring stuff too. Nicely my oldest can read so he can read to the younger one, which he loves.

Sounds like Lafeyette is the best stop and stretch the legs/get some running out. Any particular parks there? We don't really have much of a time line, so going out of our way isn't too bad, and we expect after lunch that they'll both go down for naps, so it's really just a one stop run around have fun time that we are looking for. Please keep any odd or cool things (giant balls of twine would go over well with my boys) coming, or any alternate stopping suggestions! Thanks!
posted by katers890 at 8:16 PM on May 16, 2014

Also, Fair Oaks Farm looks awesome. That is totally going on the top of the possibilities list.
posted by katers890 at 8:23 PM on May 16, 2014

It's not a stop, but the kids might find driving through the wind farm in Boone County fascinating. You'll hit it between FO Farms and Lafayette. There are also some milk tankers on the side of the highway as you approach the farms and one of them has some cows perched on top.

I never did much in Lafayette, but I did find this to help with Lafayette-proper ideas.

With the expectation that you're going to make your extended stop in Lafayette (or even farther north at FOF), if you need to stop once you hit 465S, I recommend 86th Street/Trader's Point. There is a shopping center with a Marsh Grocery Store, Coldstone Creamery, Yats (oh how I miss their maque choux), Old Navy (kids clothing disasters happen no matter how much you pack), as well as some chain sit down/fast-food options. If I remember correctly, it's the first exit once you're off 65/865.

There's a Marsh and a Target to stop at on 38th Street, but you're better off stopping at Trader's Point.

If you get off on Crawfordsville Road you can stop at the Speedway, but the kids are prolly too young for it. It might be quiet in the lull between the 500 and the Brickyard, but there's always a chance someone's testing tires and you'll get to hear them zoom by.

After that the places for potty stops become fewer and far between.

In the first ten minutes down 37 there are some strip malls and gas stations, but that's about it until you reach Bloomington.
posted by ovenmitt at 7:49 AM on May 17, 2014

You may already have a similar setup planned, but a deep basket that fits between the carseats (and that is somehow secured with the center seatbelt) to contain all the books and coloring supplies could be the difference between many stops (because "Mommy, I dropped it!") and few stops.

On my family's frequent trips through that part of the country when I was growing up, we often stopped at Catholic monasteries. YMMV (especially if you are nonreligious), but many have visitor centers, often with huge lawns that your kids could run around on for a break.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:05 AM on May 17, 2014

If you haven't already tried the "Yes & Know" books, they entertained me for many an hour in the car as a kid.

They might be a little old for your five year old, but they might be worth a try.
posted by overleaf at 1:11 AM on May 18, 2014

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