4th of July Fireworks Extravaganzas That Are Worth the Drive

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Fourth of July falls on a Monday this year so use the three-day weekend as your excuse to head outside the city (and far beyond!) to take in fun-filled family days with legendary fireworks shows. We put our eyes to the skies in search of the most amazing displays and found spots well worth the drive. With kids’ activities, parades and more, the fireworks are only part of the fun! Read on for the bang-up scoop.

geneva-mattphoto: Grand Geneva / Matt Mason Photography

Lake Geneva
Just over 90 minutes from the city, Lake Geneva is a popular getaway spot for many Chicago families. The area’s largest resort, Grand Geneva, opens its doors to everyone — even those not staying onsite — to enjoy face painters, inflatables and carnival games (pools and other facilities are for guests only). In the evening hours, camp out along the water to watch the American Legion Color Guard, UW Marching Band and Bucky Badger before a giant fireworks show explodes.

When: July 2 & 3, games begin at 3 p.m.; fireworks show begins at dusk July 3
Where: Grand Geneva Resort, 7036 Grand Geneva Way, Lake Geneva
Cost: Fireworks attendees are asked to bring two non-perishable food items for Lake Geneva Area Food Pantry
Online: grandgeneva.com

Peoria/East Peoria
Looking for a giant Independence Day celebration? Then pack up the car and head down to the Peoria and East Peoria riverfront for Red, White, & Boom! which claims to be the largest in Illinois (and one of the top in the country) with over 175,000 attendees. Billing itself as a “Pyromusical,” this spectacular shoots over $3,500 worth of fireworks per minute and synchronizes them with six local radio stations. Prior to the fireworks and evening concerts, head over to the Kid Zone for inflatables, a mini zoo, and karate demonstrations. New for this year, your little super heroes can visit with Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Cat Woman, Green Arrow, Bat Girl and Harley Quinn

When: July 4, vendors, live entertainment, and the Kid Zone begin at 4 p.m.; fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m.
Where: Fireworks all along the riverfront. Kid Zone located in the parking lot south of the River Station.
Cost: Fireworks are free. Some concerts and Kid Zone activities have fees.
Online: redwhiteandboom.us

Fireworksphoto: maf04 via flickr

Rockford has a magic number: 5,000. That’s how many shells the city will fire in its magnificent fireworks over downtown. Prior to the fireworks spectacle, listen to live music or spend the day at Magic Waters Waterpark where military personnel receive free admission.

When: July 4; fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
Where: Fireworks over downtown Rockford. Premium viewing at Davis Park.
Cost: Free but there is a premium viewing area available at Davis Park. $6 per person, children 4 & under free with paid adult.
Online: rockfordfireandice.com

A little closer to home, the Skokie Fourth of July Fireworks is a 3-D extravaganza with the first 10,000 patrons receiving a free pair of 3-D glasses. The day begins with a parade through downtown Skokie with an evening concert and then the big show. Break out those 3-D glasses and get ready for a fireworks show that will appear to pop out at you!

When: July 4, parade at noon; live music at 5 p.m.; fireworks at dusk
Where: Parade is in downtown Skokie. Live music and fireworks happen at Niles West High School, 5701 Oakton St., Skokie
Cost: Free
Online: skokieparks.org

arlington-parkphoto: Arlington Park

Arlington Park
Spend July 4 at the track when Arlington Park gets super family-friendly a Junior Jockey Zone with pony rides, petting zoo, face painting and more. After the third race, begin getting patriotic with the live national anthem followed by the presentation of colors. Between the last race and the fireworks over the track at dusk, Arlington keeps everyone entertained with music, contests and giveaways.

When: July 4, gates open at 1 p.m.; first race at 3 p.m.; fireworks at dusk
Where: Arlington Racecourse, 2200 W. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights
Cost: $18 adults, $4 kids 4-17, under 4 free
Online: arlingtonpark.com

With the largest fireworks display in the Chicago area, the tiny town of Itasca swells from 9,000 people to over 50,000 people on July 4. That’s because the Itasca fireworks are so huge that they feel like they are going off right above you, and the finale is one for the record books. Because this is a popular choice for many families, pack a picnic and get there early.

When: July 4, music begins at 5:30 p.m.; fireworks begin at 9:45 p.m.
Where: Hamilton Lakes Office Campus, I-290 & Thorndale, Itasca
Cost: Free but parking is $25 per car
Online: itasca.com

Glen Ellyn
For a small-town celebration with a big bang, head west for Glen Ellyn’s Independence Day festivities. After catching the parade through downtown, make you’re way to Lake Ellyn Park and claim your spot for the fireworks. While waiting for them to explode, purchase a wristband and play on the moonwalk, conquer the obstacle course, win prizes at the carnival games or rock out to the live music. Then head back to your blanket at dusk for the fantastic fireworks event over the lake.

When: July 4, parade starts at noon, Lake Ellyn games 1-4 p.m., fireworks at dusk
Where: Parade is in downtown Glen Ellyn. Games and fireworks happen in Lake Ellyn Park, 645 Lenox Rd., Glen Ellyn
Cost: Free for fireworks, $3 for wristband to play games
Online: glenellyn4thofjuly.org

Indiana Dunes
For an old-fashioned family Fourth of July with a little beach fun thrown in, too, pack up the car and head to the Indiana Dunes for the Family Fourth Fest. The day starts with a pancake breakfast and a parade followed by free games and activities including bounce houses and a Turtle Derby – yes, turtles racing for gold medals.

When: July 4 9 a.m.–11 p.m. (fireworks at dusk)
Where:  Hawthrone Park, 500 Ackerman Dr., Porter, IN
Cost: Free
Online: indianadunes.com

St. Charles
Waiting for the fireworks is tough for both kids and grown ups, but St. Charles’ fireworks take place in Pottawatomie Park home to 90 acres of fun. Enjoy nature walks, bike riding on beautiful trails, volleyball games on sand lots, a game of tennis or a game of mini golf right on the banks of the Fox River. Little ones can burn energy in the play area with its tree house, climbing walls and multiple slides. If it’s a hot day, pack a swimsuit and jump into the Swanson Pool! Or, putt around playing an elaborate 18 holes featuring sand traps, babbling brooks, windmills and more at River View Miniature Golf.

When: July 4; fireworks at dusk
Where: Pottawatomie Park, 8 North Ave., St. Charles
Cost: Free (additional fee for mini golf and swimming)
Online: st-charlesparks.org

Where will you watch the Fourth of July fireworks this year? Let us know in the Comments!

— Jen Peterson