Up in Chicago’s northern suburbs, Round Lake Beach is roughly equidistant to Milwaukee and downtown Chicago.
Something striking about this place is the quantity of water, with the immense Chain O’ Lakes waterway a few minutes west and innumerable smaller lakes and ponds strewn across the area.
The town’s eponymous lake has an enticing sandy beach, and there several Lake County Forest Preserves nearby, laced with ponds and wetlands.
There are plenty of things to get up to nearby, from time-honoured family entertainment centers and bowling alleys to a world-class car museum and one of Chicagoland’s top haunted houses.
1. Lakefront Park
A fine place to be, especially in summer, Lakefront Park is on the northwest shore of Round Lake.
In the warmer months the sandy beach here is patrolled by lifeguards, and the park also has a boat launch and extensive open space shaded by mature trees.
The lakefront season runs from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. Complementing the beach is a scenic overlook, a playground for kiddos and picnic shelters.
Lakefront Park is free for all Round Lake Beach residents, while fees apply to non-residents.
2. Chain O’ Lakes
Round Lake Beach is a short way east of a vast waterway system composed of 15 lakes, all linked by the Fox River and man-made waterways.
This network adds up to 7,100 acres of water, almost 500 miles of shoreline and 45 miles of river.
And yet, despite its size, the Chain O’ Lakes is the busiest inland recreational waterway per acre in the country.
It’s easy to see why this area is a paradise for all kinds of water-based fun, as well as birdwatching, horseback riding and hiking.
Three of the lakes, Grass, Marie and Nippersink, are encompassed by the Chain O’ Lakes State Park, with a free public boat launch and four different trail systems on land. Throughout the summer you can find boat and horse rentals here.
3. Realm of Terror Haunted House
Often rated as the best haunted house in Illinois, the innovative Realm of Terror has returned every October for 20 years.
The attention to detail is a cut above, with characters, sets, makeup, props and soundscapes conceived by talented professionals with years of experience.
This only heightens the immersiveness and intensity, as you inch your way through a tight and dark maze designed not just to scare you, but stay inside your head long after you’ve found your way out.
Realm of Terror is also the only haunted house in the state to have its own bar, with drinks served in a souvenir cup that you can take home.
4. Kristof’s Entertainment Center
In the same complex as Realm of Terror is a popular family entertainment center that has been open since 1974.
Inside and outside you’ve got a range of attractions, including a newly updated bowling alley, arcade, pool tables, go karts and batting cages.
Along with bowling, the big draw has to be the outdoor mini golf course, which has 18 holes in scenic gardens that are laced with little waterfalls.
The restaurant here has a big choice of comfort food, from Buffalo wings to handmade pizza, Angus burgers and wraps.
5. Grant Woods Forest Preserve
This 1,226-acre expanse of woods, prairie and wetlands was inhabited by the Potawatomi Native Americans until the 19th century.
Grant Woods also encompasses a piece of the north shore of the enormous Long Lake, and there’s a public boat launch here for kayaks, paddleboards, canoes and cartop boats.
There are more than six miles of gravel trails in this gently undulating landscape, open to hiking, running, bicycling and cross-country skiing in winter.
Snowmobilers can also discover Grant Woods in the cold season, along 4.5 miles of trails that link with trails on adjacent land.
6. Volo Auto Museum
One of the top visitor attractions in the northern suburbs, the Volo Auto Museum has been around since 1960 and is famed for its many vehicles from TV and film.
The collections are wide-ranging and there are more than 30 unique exhibits to dive into here. You can check out vintage scooters, vintage snowmobiles, antique arcade machines, antique outboard motors, horse-drawn carriages, carousels, jets, vintage tractors and a whole fleet of historic cars.
Among the cars from the silver screen are the Aston Martin from Die Another Day (2002), the Bluesmobile from The Blues Brothers (1980) and the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters (1984).
The museum also has cars that have belonged to Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Britney Spears and Elvis Presley.
7. Volo Bog State Natural Area
Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974, the Volo Bog State Natural Area is the only open water quaking bog in Illinois.
This site, close to Lake Beach, also has the distinction of being the southernmost habitat of its kind in the United States. Volo Bog covers 1,150 acres and has a visitor center in a converted barn dating back to the early 1900s.
With an elevator in the former silo, the center is open Wednesday to Sunday and offers plenty of context about the bog, its unique botany and wildlife.
From here you can head off along a boardwalk trail, 0.5 miles long, and there’s also a 2.75-mile ground trail over the wetlands and meadows surrounding the bog.
8. Children’s Neighborhood Museum
The Round Lake Area Park District operates this museum where children up to the age of six can explore, imagine, create, and exercise their body and mind.
True to its name, the Children’s Neighborhood Museum is like a town in miniature, where kids can become police officers, firefighters and daycare workers, and roleplay everyday situations, from filling up at the gas station to shopping at the grocery store.
The littlest children will also love clambering and exploring in the museum’s crawler zone.
9. Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve
There’s more sweeping, water-rich scenery to the east at Rollins Savanna, covering 1,250 acres, much of which is restored farmland on the banks of the south fork of Mill Creek.
Since this land was acquired some 30 years ago, a lot of work has gone into restoring the creekside habitats, ponds and Third Lake, which are a haven for migratory and nonmigrant birds like egrets, great blue herons, blue-winged teals, ruddy ducks and a variety of other waterfowl.
You can ramble across this wonderful landscape of oka savanna, prairie, marshland and open water via a 7.75-mile trail system, with boardwalks and bridges.
There’s also a connection here to the regional Millennium Trail, weaving through central, western and northern Lake County for 33 miles.
10. Renwood Golf Course
This park district course in Round Lake Beach presents a high-level golfing experience at reasonable rates.
No surprise, given the location, but water is abundant at Renwood Golf Course, so accuracy and shot selection are key here, especially on the tricky back nine.
This is an 18-hole par 72, known for its lush greens, and measuring 6228 yards from the tips.
You can get up to speed at the driving range (22 stations) and practice green, and there’s a proshop as well as a bar & grill at the clubhouse for a post-round meal or drinks.
11. Lakes Bowl
A local mainstay for more than 50 years, Lakes Bowl is a family-owned and run alley close to downtown Round Lake.
Under one roof are 24 lanes of bowling, but also six pool tables, a darts board, baggos, two bars, four projection TVs, 11 flatscreens and a brand new room filled with redemption games.
Take a look at the website for specials, like $3 on Wednesdays before 5 pm and a group discount on Saturdays, getting you a lane for two hours, a pizza, beer/soda and shoe rental for $59.
12. Round Lake Beach Aquatic Center
This Round Lake Area Park District facility comes to life in the summer months and hosts numerous programs, from preschool + parent sessions to advanced swimming.
The center is anchored by a large pool, offering a diving area, lap swimming and a beach-entry leisure area.
The pool is surrounded by sun loungers and grassy spaces, and on one side is a large splash pad where Hector the heron is ready to drop water on you from his giant bucket.
13. Regal Round Lake Beach
There’s a location for the nationwide Regal movie theater chain here in Round Lake Beach. Opened in 1998, this is an 18-screen multiplex, and every auditorium has stadium seating, so there’s a great view wherever you sit.
This is a clean, comfortable and not to mention convenient place to watch the latest Hollywood releases, and there are special deals on weekdays, and even more if you sign up for “Crown Club” membership. Free refills are also available for large sodas and popcorn.
14. RLB Farmers’ Market
Right in downtown Round Lake, close to the Metra station there’s a well-attended farmers’ market every summer.
This takes place on Saturday mornings from early July to early September, and is a convenient, not to mention ethical, way to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables as they come into season.
There’s also an array of vendors selling baked goods, specialty foods, flowers or arts and crafts.
A food truck will be here, for something delicious to go, and there’s often live music to entertain you as you shop.
15. Blarney Island
A mile offshore from Antioch in the middle of Grass Lake is a Caribbean-style island, with an action-packed events schedule.
Blarney Island is linked to the shore by a shuttle boat, and has numerous berths for boaters on the Chain O’ Lakers.
The season opens mid-May with a giant party, and the fun does not stop until the curtain comes down at the start of October.
Throughout this time there are music festivals practically every weekend, as well as almost constant gigs and themed parties.
This is combined with high-performance drag boat and PWC racing meets every Thursday.