Plan a Memorable Chicago Trip by Taking the Train to Chicago
Zoos, aquariums, museums, shopping, sporting events, concerts…. Chicago is a wonderful Midwest vacation idea.
And if you take the train from Grand Rapids to Chicago, you can add a train ride to the adventure. (And avoid parking fees, tolls and traffic.)
People love visiting Chicago at Christmas and it’s also a popular spring break destination for Michiganders.
Depending on how far you are willing to travel on a train and how much you want to spend, you have two great options to take the train to Chicago.
1 – Ride the Amtrak Train to Chicago From Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo
One West Michigan family goes on an annual shopping excursion to Chicago using Amtrak’s service from Kalamazoo. It’s a straight shot from Kalamazoo to Union Station on Canal Street in Chicago.
Their tradition is to immediately pop into The Cheesecake Factory, then hail an Uber to take them to their hotel.
With The Magnificent Mile and restaurants galore nearby, they walk about town, never worrying about parking meters or confusing urban traffic patterns.
Amtrak has stations in Grand Rapids, Holland, Bangor, St Joe, New Buffalo, Kalamazoo, Dowagiac, Niles, and Gary, Indiana. You can board anywhere along the route.
The Vernon J. Ehlers Station in Grand Rapids is landmarked with a tall clock tower at 440 Century Avenue SW near the Downtown Market.
Like many of their stations, it has a waiting room, vending machines and parking areas.
The Kalamazoo Station is located at 450 North Burdick Street in downtown. It is an accessible building with features similar to Grand Rapids.
Amtrak does warn that parking fills up quickly, and not all spots are free. Travelers should plan to arrive at the station 30-45 minutes before departure.
Tickets are available for purchase in just about any way you could imagine.
Besides ticket agents in stations, there are app sales, online ordering, Quik-Trak kiosks at larger locations, phone orders, and just buying them as you board.
If all else fails, contact your travel agent for help taking the train to Chicago.
A non-stop ride from Grand Rapids to Union Station starts at around $49 per person. The trip is just over 4 hours.
Taking the Kalamazoo train to Chicago is even faster.
It takes about 2 – 2.5 hours and it’s much easier than driving in Chicago traffic.
One child under 2 years of age, that is not occupying a separate seat, may travel free with each passenger paying an adult fare; passengers under 2 years in excess of this number will be charged the fare for children 2-12 years of age. Strollers are allowed. Some trains even accommodate bikes for a small fee.
There are many hotels near Union Station too.
Many chain hotels, like Holiday Inn, Marriott, and La Quinta are close and allow easy make-ahead reservations. Some unique local flair can be found at The Club Quarters Hotel or the opulent Kimpton Gray Hotel.
2 – Drive to South Bend and Take the South Shore Line Commuter Train to Chicago
You don’t have to be a businessperson to enjoy an easy commute.
Sometimes Mama just wants to spend money on the shoes, not the train to Chicago. Or maybe your little kid won’t enjoy a train ride all the way from Grand Rapids.
One option is to drive a little farther south and hop on the South Shore Line, a local commuter system that operates from South Bend, Indiana to Chi-Town.
The South Shore Line is named for its path – running along the south shore of Lake Michigan. There are nineteen stations along the lake.
Beginning in South Bend, you can tour the Chocolate Factory and Museum or catch a Notre Dame game before taking the line to Millennium Station.
Many families like to hop on board at Dune Park, at the junction of Indiana Route 49 and U.S. Highway 12. The smaller station is a little nicer, more maneuverable, and parking easier to find.
Parking is free, but limited, at most stations for the South Shore Line.
From Dune park, a ticket is only $9. Up to 3 kids, ages 13 and under travel free during daily off-peak hours, holidays, and weekends with a paid parent or guardian.
Additional children are half price. Tickets are available over the phone, on their app, through ticket vending machines and sales agents at select stations, online, or on the train for an additional $1.00 fee.
It takes a little over 1.5 hours to ride from Dune Park to Millennium Station.
Upon arrival at the end of the line, Millennium Station, there are clear signs to the exit from the underground train to the street level.
You can even stop for a bite or some shopping in the subterranean station before hitting daylight again. A quick call to Uber, Lyft, or a local taxi company can get you to a hotel.
Millennium Station is near Millennium Park and the Loop. Within a quick walk you will discover the famous “Bean,” or have a look at what’s along scenic Lake Shore Drive.
This spot basically pops you out in the middle of the Chicago action.
Hotels like Hampton Inn, Hyatt Regency, and Comfort Suites are a walk away. You can also find Staypineapple housed in an 1895 skyscraper and the Radisson Blu Aqua for rooftop swimming.
However, it is easy to stop and explore other parts of the city at any of the South Shore Line stations along the way.
The Museum Campus at 11th Street gives access to the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and Soldier Field. The Art Institute is found near the Van Buren Street Station.
Some South Shore Line trains allow you to bring your bike for free. It is a great way to pedal the coast of dunes and the East Chicago Trail. Their bike travel page gives all the details of where to get on with your bike, where to ride, and how to stay safe.
Try the Train to Chicago from Michigan the Next Time You Head Out
Whether you want to see Bears, Cubs, and Blackhawks or bear cubs and a black rhinoceros, Chicago is completely accessible without even gassing up.
Both operating systems run many trains daily, but be sure to check the schedule. If you’re not ready when the last train leaves, you’ll get to spend another evening in Chicago.
Union Station and Millennium station are a 7-minute city drive apart, so it’s a win-win either way.
6 thoughts on “Looking to Take the Train to Chicago? Here are 2 Easy Ways to Take the Train From Grand Rapids to Chicago”
Are strollers allowed on south shore line?
For years on international trips especially in the winter I drive to Holland to catch the train to Chicago . That cuts the train time down by nearly one hour.
A second thing is that if you plan your return to Chicago to get back by 2 to 3 pm you can do this.
1. Drive to dune Park.
2. Arrive millennium station.
3. Take the L two stops up and then
4. Take the subway to O’Hara.
5. Then to international terminal by the O’Hara people mover train
You can also get on the L
.the orange line and ride it to midway and lots of sw flies
Parking in free lot at dune Park is nice vs 35 to 46 bucks a day at ohare.
Are there taxi options in the city for kids who need a booster seat without needing to bring your own?
Annie, I believe you can order Ubers that offer carseats, for an extra charge. There are probably others as well, as lots of families live in Chicago and need these options as well! 🙂
The ride on South Shore from Michigan City to Chicago is two hours not three. I take it often and it is consistently on time.