Set in the lands that border the eastern banks of Lake Michigan, the village of Gurnee, Illinois, is a quaint little community known for its theme parks.
It’s part of the Chicago Metropolitan area but has maintained a laid-back charm and an inviting atmosphere.
For a lot of people, they might have heard or know Gurnee as the town where Six Flags Great America is located.
But the village offers so much more than that.
From breweries to trampoline parks, from expansive shopping malls to forest preserves, there’s a lot of other destinations to see.
So make this charming town your top choice for your next vacation!
Here are the 20 best things to do in Gurnee, IL:
Enjoy the Thrilling Rides of Six Flags Great America
Let’s begin with the attraction that brings people to Gurnee in the first place: Six Flags Great America.
As one of the most visited amusement parks in the whole country, this destination has earned a reputation as the place for extreme family fun.
It has been around since the 1970s and currently has a 304-acre area with nine themed zones for families, kids, and thrill-seeking adults.
From looping roller coasters to sky towers, from bumper cars to Ferris wheels, there are so many exhilarating attractions to try—a weekend may not be enough.
During certain holidays like Christmas and Halloween, the park amps up its decor and introduces new rides or events that will elevate your whole experience.
So make sure that this place is at the top of your itinerary so you’ll have plenty of time to explore everything in store.
Make a Splash at Hurricane Harbor Chicago
Hurricane Harbor Chicago was once a part of Six Flags Great America but has since become an attraction by itself.
It’s a grand water park that is open seasonally, and it’s located right next to the aforementioned destination.
While it’s considerably smaller, with only 20 acres of space, Hurricane Harbor Chicago is still a fun and exciting destination during the hot summer days.
In fact, it’s home to the world’s tallest water coaster, the magnificent Tsunami Surge.
Aside from this thrilling ride, there are large wave pools, lazy rivers, and towering slides for the whole family.
Hurricane Harbor Chicago is open from late spring and all through summer, so make sure your Gurnee trip is scheduled around this time if you plan to visit.
Have a Fun Family Time at Great Wolf Lodge
Great Wolf Lodge is, first and foremost, a resort facility that you can book as your accommodations during your stay in Gurnee.
But most people know it as a large-scale indoor water park that rivals Hurricane Harbor Chicago.
Within more than 80,000 square feet of space, this facility contains an array of structures and attractions for the whole family.
And it’s all in an enclosed space, so you won’t have to wear sunscreen or worry about sunburn.
This also means that the park is open during the cold winter months, with the temperature kept at a balmy 84°F.
Enjoy the zero-depth area for children, thrilling slides, and interactive play fort that drops right into the waters.
The kids and the kids-at-heart will surely have a memorable experience in this exceptional water park.
Brush Up Your Fishing Skills at Lake Carina Forest Preserve
Take a break from all the modern amusement facilities and relax with nature at Lake Carina Forest Preserve.
Situated on the southern end of Gurnee, this outdoor destination spans 22.7 acres and was once a gravel pit.
But after rehabilitation efforts, the area has been turned into a scenic destination, with Lake Carina as the main attraction.
The body of water sits right next to Des Plaines River, and it’s a popular fishing spot for families.
You’re welcome to cruise towards the best spots in the lake using canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and other nonmotorized boats to catch freshwater games.
But if fishing is not your thing, you can simply explore the trails that bring you to wooded areas, open fields, and the banks of Des Plaines River.
Bounce All Day at Launch Trampoline Park Gurnee
Among the modern amusement parks of the village, Launch Trampoline Park Gurnee is where you’re going to exert more effort and energy—their trampolines aren’t going to bounce by themselves, after all.
For some people, it’s more fun to play an active role when in a recreational facility, and this attraction offers just that.
The power trampoline courts themselves are fitted with modifications and attachments, allowing you to dodge or dunk balls while on a bouncy surface.
There are also obstacle courses, arcade games, laser tag arenas, and foam pits that you can try after bouncing for hours.
If you need to refuel, the park also has concession corners offering snacks and drinks for the whole family!
Explore the Wonders of Gurnee Woods Forest Preserve
On the northern end of Gurnee lies another natural attraction, the Gurnee Woods Forest Preserve.
It’s under the care of the Lake County Forest Preserves organization, which aims to serve as the principal guardian of the Lake County’s natural areas.
Under their management, Gurnee woods has remained a pristine attraction—one of the higher-elevation destinations in the area at 203 meters above sea level.
But even though it’s in a relatively high place, the preserve still has lots of swampland and riparian habitats thanks to the Des Plaines River snaking its way through it.
During your visit, you’d see lots of species that call this particular habitat home, such as waterfowl, insects, and small mammals.
So bring binoculars or cameras if you want to document the flora and fauna living in this scenic and quiet attraction.
Shop ‘Til Your Drop at Gurnee Mills
As the third-largest shopping mall in Illinois, Gurnee Mills will make you wonder why Gurnee is still considered a village and not a city.
Whatever the case, this retail establishment is still is shopper’s haven, with almost 200 outlets offering clothing and apparel, jewelry, household appliances, luxury items, and many other products.
In fact, there are factory stores here of famous brands, which offer items at reduced prices.
Aside from that, you’ll find theaters, activity centers, and two food courts offering a wide range of cuisines.
You can even try your hand at ice skating by visiting the newly opened Top Shelf Ice Arena, which holds informative ice skating lessons aside from the occasional hockey games.
Play a Few Games at Betty Russell Community Park
Another exciting family destination in town is Betty Russell Community Park, a large outdoor destination with lots of grassy grounds.
The wide, open spaces contain shaded areas, picnic spots, and other places where you can spend time with your loved ones.
But most people come here to play in one of the many sports facilities around.
There are tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts, biking trails, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and a skate park.
On occasion, an ice rink opens where hockey games are played.
All these features make Betty Russell Community Park a haven for sporty and active visitors.
So if you’re one, make sure to stop over here during your visit.
Cruise the Waters of Des Plaines River
Des Plaines River is a tributary of the Mississippi River, but its headwaters start all the way from Wisconsin and spans 133 miles.
Segments of this body of water pass through the eastern side of Gurnee, irrigating the surrounding lands and fertilizing the soil.
Aside from its economic importance, the river serves as an attraction for those who like water-related adventures.
Some businesses in Gurnee offer kayak rentals, allowing you to cruise the gentle currents of the river and see all the beautiful hidden wonders.
Just beware of the beaver dams and occasional logs blocking the way in the more isolated bends of the river.
There are also fishing charters that you can join if you want to improve your angling skills.
You can catch freshwater games such as bluegill, rock bass, northern pikes, and largemouth bass.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at The Chocolate Sanctuary
The Chocolate Sanctuary is one of the beloved food establishments in Gurnee.
Their offerings are exactly what their name implies: luscious dishes and drinks all flavored by rich and high-quality chocolate.
Celebrating the cocoa bean in its many forms, the restaurant focuses on creating appetizers, entrees, desserts, cocktails, and other gastronomic delights with the ingredient as the highlight.
These are paired with other non-chocolate dishes and a selection of wines that perfectly complement every flavor.
Every foodie will have a memorable experience tasting these artisanal products.
The Chocolate Sanctuary also offers packaged craft chocolates that you can bring home as gifts or as a treat for yourself.
Test Your Cognitive Skills at 60 to Escape
Brush up on your strategy and problem-solving skills by visiting 60 to Escape, an escape room attraction with themed adventures.
It’s a great destination for those who want to tickle their brains and see if they have what it takes to find hidden clues and solve puzzles.
This immersive experience is best done with friends or family, as the rooms also test your communication and coordination skills.
Within sixty minutes, you need to discover all the clues or complete a mission to escape.
But don’t let the time pressure distract you—it’s all about remaining calm and level-headed in order to see clues that are hiding in plain sight.
Once you’re free, the feeling of accomplishment is something you won’t forget!
Sample Tasty Drinks at Only Child Brewing
Once you’re done with your adventures in Gurnee, the best way to cap it off is a visit to Only Child Brewing.
Nothing beats a cold and refreshing mug of beer after a day’s worth of touring, after all.
And here, you have many options to try, whether you are looking for some tasty ales, specialty drinks, or craft beer.
Every day, their taproom is open if you want to see how they manufacture their signature beverages from quality ingredients.
Before you leave, don’t forget to bring home a pack or two to open during lazy days or special occasions!
Other Things to Do Nearby
After your tour of Gurnee, why not visit these other places near the village?
Charter a Fishing Trip to Lake Michigan
Since Gurnee is just a few miles away from the shores of the magnificent Lake Michigan, you might as well reserve some of your vacation time to visit the body of water.
You can try various activities in this iconic lake, such as swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and boating.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, rent a boat or join a charter into the deeper parts to try your angling skills.
Some of the aquatic creatures you can catch include salmon, rainbow trout, perch, and walleye.
Just be patient, and you might even catch a big game that you’d be proud to bring home!
Trek the Trials of Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve
Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve sits east of Gurnee in Grayslake, and it’s only a few minutes’ drive away.
This expansive prairie habitat spans more than 1200 acres, making it one of Lake County’s largest natural attractions.
It’s the home to hundreds of native flora and fauna, owing to the diverse terrestrial and aquatic habitats within the preserve.
Chief of this is the prairie land, but there are also vast wetlands, undisturbed forests, and beautiful meadows.
You can access all these by following the trails that crisscross the park.
To see plants species that you might not find during your adventure into the forests, make a stopover at the Native Seed Nursery.
It contains rare plants cared for by ecologists in order to preserve them for future generations.
Play Beside the Water at Illinois Beach State Park
If muddy swamps are not your thing, then Illinois Beach State Park is less than 20 minutes away from Gurnee.
Sitting right next to Lake Michigan, this attraction is one of the last places where you can witness how the lakeshore looked like before humans started developing most of it.
The whole park spans more than 4,160 acres, with sand dunes, woodlands, and the occasional marsh as the chief land features to see here.
Many people come here to enjoy some quiet time on the beaches, with some areas extending for miles along the edge of Lake Michigan.
But there are also trails for nature lovers that bring you into the more secluded and forested segments of the park.
Sit Tight, Relax, and Watch a Film at Marcus Gurnee Mills Cinema
The Marcus Gurnee Mills Cinema's multiplex theater features approximately 20 screens when it first opened in 1993 and was upgraded a few years later.
Most upgrades provide improved picture and sound along with extended food choices.
Luxurious recliners have recently been outfitted for visitors to watch the newest blockbuster with maximum enjoyment.
Another innovation includes the pioneering 4DX screen in the area.
Motion chairs and advanced lighting create an immersive experience and produce various special background effects, including vibrations, breeze, splash, and scents.
Watch the newest Hollywood movies while unwinding in one of their DreamLoungers and savoring some warm popcorn!
Try Various Games and Activities with Extreme Flight Simulation
At Extreme Flight Simulation, blast off across the clear sky.
They are the only Midwest location with this kind of popular entertainment.
Come experience flying a Boeing 737, an FA-18 fighter jet, or interactive virtual gaming.
Visit their brand-new Virtual Reality Gaming Lounge with over 40 Games and endless entertainment for the whole family!
All levels of amateur pilots, gamers, and those just curious about what it's like in an airline cockpit will be interested in this experience.
Flights last between half an hour and two hours.
Furthermore, they operate an escape game, plus you can enjoy playing the traditional game of Fruit Ninja against your pals or play Beat Saber while chopping up some cubes to your favorite tracks.
Discover the Wonders of Art at Ceramics for You
All ages and creative levels are welcome at Ceramics for You, a paint-your-own-pottery and glass fusing studio.
Anyone can book painting or crystal blending parties sign up for painting classes, or just stroll in and start painting.
With a huge selection of paint colors, dozens of bisque pieces, and countless tools and techniques.
At Ceramics for You, everyone can be sure to produce a unique work of art that you'll love and treasure.
Numerous creative opportunities are available such as ceramic painting, canvas courses, and glass fusing.
In addition, they provide a private event room and a semi-private section that are ideal for birthday parties, bridal showers, women's nights, or business events, among other occasions.
Enjoy Skating at Top Shelf Ice Arena
Top Shelf provides everything you need to start skating, from taking your first steps on the ice to competing at the highest level!
They provide hockey and ice skating for individuals of all ages and skill levels.
The local Warren Township High School team and Vipers Hockey, a Lake County group, call the facility their home ice.
Top Shelf Ice Arena offers frequent public skate, freestyle, and stick and puck sessions all year long, making it accessible to recreational skaters.
Nevertheless, there are a variety of courses and private lessons available for all ages if you wish to advance your abilities, whether you want to enhance your puck handling abilities or simply increase your self-assurance on the ice.
Attend the Famous Event, Gurnee Days
The Village and the Park District host the major summer festival in Gurnee, typically in late July or early August.
All ages can participate in the Gurnee Days agenda's enjoyable and frequently competitive events.
Amusement rides, a wide variety of street foods, an animal zoo, a bike rodeo, a 5k run, a beer garden, musical and dance acts, a softball game, and professional demonstrations like the police K9 team are typically on the schedule.
A parade, fireworks, music, auto displays, and other exciting events are all part of Gurnee Days.
Additionally, there are food vendors with a great selection of your favorite nearby restaurants, and some newcomers are prepared to serve food for energy during the event.
Gurnee’s designation as a village may make it seem like a small, laid-back town, but make no mistake.
This community is home to the wildest rides, most beautiful natural attractions, and many other destinations.
So reference this list to make sure that you won’t miss the top spots!