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Just outside the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago lays an oasis of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. The Chicago Southland is a quick train ride that will take you from hectic to calm. You’ll find cheaper accommodations, free parking, great food and wonderful attractions.
When visiting Chicago we usually stay and visit downtown. We have never ventured outside the city limits. In all honesty, I didn’t think there would be much to do when downtown Chicago is so full of culture and attractions. I wasn’t really sure that there would be any reason to explore outside the city. Boy, was I wrong.
The Chicago Southland has attractions for nature loves, foodies, cultural fanatics, fashionistas, and families. The problem won’t be finding something to do the problem will be trying to do it all during your visit.
Here are 5 of my favorite hidden gems in the Chicago Southland.
Balmoral Park Race Track: I never thought I would have so much fun at a race track. Horses have been racing at Balmoral since the 1930’s. Balmoral Park offer year round live racing three days a week with the first race starting at 7:10 p.m. Balmoral Park is happy to host your group event or outing. Additionally, they offer a variety of suites, seating and beverage and food options. If you host an event you’ll have the opportunity to ride in the start car during a race, which, I’ll tell you from personal experience is so much fun!!!
Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park located on the ground of Governor’s State University. 28 sculptures are placed around the campus grounds with hiking trails connecting each of them. There are so many great sculptures but my favorites were the UFO, the arch, and the lumberjack. Seriously…the lumber jack, Paul, is HUGE. He was installed in 2005 and stand 30 feet tall. His shoe size is a whopping 203.
This park is a great place to spend a couple hours hiking and enjoying some great works of art. To make visiting even better pets are welcome, parking is free and it’s open 365 days a year from dawn to dusk.
Waterfalls. These waterfalls may be man made but that doesn’t make them any less pretty. Located a short walk from the parking area the falls are part of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s SEPA station. These falls are part of the Worth Water Reclamation and are a gorgeous place to visit. Pack a picnic and stay a while. During weekends the area is packed with photographers and their subjects, but stop during the week day and the falls will be all yours. The falls are located at 115th & Harlem in Worth, IL.
Hiking Trails: I was surprised at the number of hiking trails available in the Chicago Southland. There is 68000 acres of public land in Cook County , which is a lot of space for cross-country skiing, hiking, cycling, horse back riding and more. Tired of the chaos of the city? Take a train to the Chicago Southland and spend some time hiking the great trails.
Haunted Trails Family Amusement Park: Ready for some fun family competition? Haunted Trails is NOT just for Halloween. Locals have grown up visiting this amusement park year round. There is batting cages, putt-putt golf, go-carts, arcade games, a haunted house during October, amusement park rides, and junior go-carts. I know for a fact that the go-carts are a lot of fun!
I was dragged through the haunted house, much to my demise, which ended up being a hilarious post story since I’m such a pansy. Some day I’ll write out the experience. Em & I usually act it out for people which is pathetic and funny at the same time. Let’s just say there was much yelling and that was AFTER the actors were told to be kind to the pansy travel writers about to make their way through the house. Yes, that was my first and last haunted house experience. Haunted Trails Family Amusement Park is located at 7759 S. Harlem Ave. Burbank, IL 60459.
When you visit the Chicago Southland be sure to stay at the Hilton in Oak Lawn. They offer free transportation to and from the nearby train station and have a beautiful location. The hotel is gorgeous and offers beautiful rooms with lovely views of the Chicago skyline.