Just west of Waukegan on the North Shore, Gurnee is well known across Chicagoland for its outstanding visitor attractions.
The biggest of these is Six Flags Great America, one of the most visited amusement parks in the country, full of record-breaking roller coasters and sitting right beside Hurricane Harbor water park.
Also vast, Gurnee Mills is a combined shopping mall and outlet mall, close to 200 stores, as well as two food courts and slew of attractions, from a cinema to an ice arena.
There’s plenty of nature too, at the various Lake County forest preserves all around, as well as Illinois Beach State Park, just 15 minutes away.
1. Six Flags Great America
One of the country’s top 20 most-visited amusement parks is here in Gurnee. Six Flags Great America was built by Marriott in the mid-1970s and was taken over by the Six Flags brand in 1984.
There are nine themed zones at the park, packing rides, carnival-style games and exciting shows.
For those who need an adrenaline rush, most of the roller coasters can be found in Yankee Harbor, County Fair and Southwest Territory.
Check out Goliath, formerly the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster (72 mph) and The Joker, an innovative 4D free-spin coaster.
But if there’s one ride that needs to be experienced it’s Maxx Force, which fires you from 0-78 mph in just two seconds and breaks the world record for tallest double inversion and fastest inversion.
2. Hurricane Harbor Chicago
For the 2021 season, the water park at Six Flags Great America became a separate admission attraction. In 20 acres, Hurricane Harbor has two large pools, a long lazy river, a surf simulator and an amazing 25 water slides.
Families are well catered to, as there are two dedicated children’s areas with sprays and fun things to clamber over.
For bigger kids the park has plenty of excitement, offered by the funnel-shaped Tornado, the twin Superloops at Five Bomber (max speed 40 mph) and the brand new Tsunami Surge, officially the tallest water coaster in the world at 86 feet.
3. Great Wolf Lodge
This giant, self-contained resort opened in Gurnee in 2018 and contains a massive water park that can be visited with day passes.
At more than 80,000 square feet it’s hard to exaggerate the amazing scale of this facility, featuring several slides, a zero-depth play area for toddlers and the spectacular Fort McKenzie, a multilevel, interactive play fort with a huge tipping bucket.
The ambient temperature is kept at 84°F, and will feel like a tropical escape in winter, while outdoor pools are available in summer.
Another attraction at Great Wolf Lodge is the entertainment park, containing a ropes course, arcade, climbing wall and much more.
4. Gurnee Mills
Appealing to shoppers from both Chicago and Milwaukee, Gurnee Mills is the third-largest mall in the state, and combines an outlet mall with a full-price shopping mall.
There are close to 200 stores here, with outlets offering up to 70% off. A few of the chains represented here are Kohl’s, Macy’s, Forever 21, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dick’s Sporting Goods, H&M, and Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World.
You’ll find factory stores for the likes of Guess, Gap, Nike, Adidas, Vans, Polo Ralph Lauren, Disney Store and Abercrombie & Fitch. Gurnee Mills has two food courts, as well as a lineup of other attractions, like a movie theater, escape room and newly opened ice arena.
5. Illinois Beach State Park
With so many big attractions in Gurnee’s backyard, it can be easy to forget that the lake Michigan shore is a few miles east.
Even better, 4,160-acre Illinois Beach State Park shows what the lakeshore looked like 200 years ago. The park is the only site in Illinois preserving the beach ridge shoreline, with its dunes and swales, marshes and woodland.
The dunes are particularly important, containing more than 650 plant species, among them dozens of wildflowers that put on a wonderful show in spring and summer.
In summer the park is a popular beach destination, and there are many miles of trails for hikes and bike rides. To extend your stay, there’s a campground in the southern unit with 244 Class A sites, as well as the 96-room Illinois Beach Resort.
6. Betty Russell Community Park
Arguably the standout public park in Gurnee can be found just off N Dilleys Rd near Great Wolf Lodge.
This is a good place to bring kids, as there’s a great playground with a slide that winds down a slope. This is paired with picnic areas and a skate park for bigger kids.
Other amenities include baseball/softball fields, basketball courts, pickleball, soccer fields, tennis courts and a trail system that links this park with several others in the area.
In the winter there’s an outdoor ice skating rink at the park, while in summer you can bring children to community activities hosted by Warren-Newport Public Library.
7. Only Child Brewing Company
This family-run craft brewery was founded in 2013 and moved into its current, 4,000-square-foot warehouse two years later.
At the taproom, open seven days a week, you can witness firsthand the passion that goes into Only Child’s beers. This space is both child and dog friendly, and has a long list of small-batch beers on tap.
Some of the 12 available at the time of writing were a Mexican lager (Uno Más), German Pils (Rasenmäherbier), Sour Red Ale fermented in Pinot Noir barrels (Rouge), a Hazy IPA (Dad Jokes), a DIPA (The F-Word) and a citrusy Berliner Weisse (Hullabaloo). If you’re not sure what to go for, you can always order a flight.
8. Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve
One of the largest forest preserves in Lake County is on Gurnee’s west flank, opening out across more than 1,250 acres. Uninterrupted by roads or heavy development, Rollins Savanna consists of open prairie, wetlands and stands of large oaks.
The prairie is particularly valuable, rich with native grasses and wildflowers. A multi-use trail, almost eight miles long, weaves through the preserve, over bridges and boardwalks and through peaceful groves.
In the wetland areas keep an eye out for yellow-headed blackbirds, which can be seen in unusually large numbers here. There’s a special bird observation area with a raised stone platform a short walk from the Drury Lane parking area.
9. Top Shelf Ice Arena
When we wrote this article, this skating and hockey facility had just opened at Gurnee Mills. Year round, Top Shelf Ice Arena is available to casual skaters, with regular public skate, freestyle and stick & puck sessions.
But if you want to take your skills to the next level there’s a menu of classes and private lessons for all ages, whether you want to improve your puck handling skills or just gain more confidence on the ice.
The facility is also the home ice for the local Warren Township High School team, as well as Vipers Hockey, a Lake County organization. Skate rental for public skate sessions is $5.
10. Launch Trampoline Park
The Launch brand, which has locations all over the country, has turned a warehouse in Gurnee into a gigantic activity center, loaded with things to do. As the name tells you, the main draw are the trampoline courts, which even have bouncy surfaces on the walls.
These are accompanied by areas for dodgeball and knockout, as well as a foam pit. The Krave restaurant bakes handmade pizza to order, and there’s also an arcade with redemption machines.
At the time of writing this list the park was adding new attractions, like a basketball area, slackline for tight-rope balancing, battle beam, tumble tracks for acrobatics and even a bowling alley.
11. Marcus Gurnee Mills Cinema
Opened in 1993, this multiplex theater at Gurnee Mills was updated a few years later and now has 20 screens.
Recently, all of these have been fitted with luxury recliners, so you can watch the latest blockbuster in maximum comfort.
Another innovation is one of the first 4DX screens in the country. This immersive experience features motion seats and high-tech lighting, creating all kinds of ambient special effects, like vibrations, wind, mist/rain and scents.
Check the theater’s website for specials, like $5 Tuesdays and $6 admission for students on Thursdays.
12. 60 to Escape
Also at Gurnee Mill is one of the area’s most popular escape room attractions. All with a time limit of 60 minutes and requiring two to eight players, 60 to Escape has six rooms to choose from.
Each one is an immersive adventure, requiring brain power but also teamwork to tackle an imaginative array of codes, puzzles and clues.
The themed challenges entail disarming a bomb, becoming a jewel thief, restoring power to a secret government facility, lifting a curse at a haunted manor, exploring ancient ruins and solving a mystery at a retro arcade.
60 to Escape is praised for its well planned challenges, high production values and helpful, friendly staff.
13. Extreme Flight Simulation
In the same development as Only Child Brewing, there’s a unique, high-tech attraction a few doors down.
Extreme Flight Simulation is the only company in Chicagoland to offer state-of-the-art flight simulation experiences to the public. In the 737NG flight-deck you can fly anywhere in the world, visiting any of 25,000 airports around the globe.
This is an experience that will interest gamers, amateur pilots of all levels, and anyone curious to know what it’s like in the cockpit of an airline.
Flights range from 30 minutes to two hours, and the company also runs a virtual reality room and a virtual escape room.
14. Lambs Farm
A little further away, this remarkable attraction can still be reached within 15 minutes from Gurnee.
Lambs Farm is a non-profit offering employment opportunities, as well as residential services, to people with developmental disabilities.
The organization goes back to the early 1960s, opening a pet shop, and soon switched to this bucolic 70-acre site.
Lambs Farm still has a pet shop and animal shelter, as well as a petting zoo, various amusement rides, a miniature train, a bakery, restaurant, miniature golf course, thrift store, country stand, bakery and restaurant.
15. Gurnee Days
The big summer event in Gurnee is organized by the Village and the Park District, normally taking place in late July or early August.
Normally centered on Viking Park, Gurnee Days has a schedule filled with fun and often competitive activities for all ages.
Normally on the agenda are amusement rides, lots of food vendors, a petting zoo, face painting, a bike rodeo, 5k run, beer garden, music and dance performances, a police vs fire dept softball game and demonstrations by professionals like the police K9 team.
Perhaps the signature event is the Gurnee Days Parade, setting off at noon along Old Grand Avenue.