Chicago to Toronto!?
Replies: 36 - Last Post: Jun 9, 2009 1:29 PM Last Post By: Willysnout
May 19, 2009 6:00 AM
Im going to Chicago for about a week in mid July. Im want to rent a car and drive to Toronto and then back to Chicago after 3 days. Is this possible? Is there any problems to cross the border to Canada and then come back to the US? Would there be any problems to do this with a rental car? Do I need any specific documents or so to go between USA and Canada and back? (Im a swedish citizen)
How is the drive? Any nice landscapes, lakes, hills or so?
How long will it take? Is it possible to the drive in one day?
Hope to get som help from you.
All the best / Daniel in Sweden
May 19, 2009 7:01 AM
1It's certainly possible. I don't know the exact legalities of crossing the border with the rental car, though it can be done. When I went to Canada with a rented car, I just drove right up there, assuming I wouldn't have problems, and I didn't. But (a) I'm an American citizen (US and Canadian citizens get treated slightly differently at the overland crossings), and (b) I can't exactly say that my approach was the right one.
I"d recommend you ask the rental agency about taking the car to Canada before you agree to the contract.
Know that you're talking about a nine-hour drive each way, so if you have three days for the round trip to Toronto you get two nights and a day in Toronto, and that's it. It's up to you if it's worth it.
The drive itself is unexciting--both lower Michigan and southern Ontario are pancake-flat and covered with farmland. There are certainly things one could see on the way, but you don't have time for that. You could change up the route so that you follow the coastline of Lake Erie or Lake Huron for part of it, but you don't have time for that either. You'll follow I-94 to Battle Creek, then take I-69 to the bridge at Port Huron-Sarnia, and then, in Canada, the 402 to the 401. Nine hours of autoroutes. Again, it's up to you if it's worth it.
May 19, 2009 7:48 AM
May 19, 2009 8:28 AM
See FAQs 252 and 254 respectively, plus the related for Canada over on that branch.
How much time do you have for this trip? The way it's written, it sounds like you will drive to Toronto, spend 3 days, then drive back, for a total of 5 days. Or is #1 correct in their assumption that the whole trip will be 3 days? Please clarify.
May 19, 2009 8:38 AM
4I should add:
Toronto is wonderful, but there are places closer to Chicago that are also worthwhile. If you give us an idea of what you're after, we can maybe suggest things.
My estimate of nine hours took the Google Maps answer and added half an hour at the border. (This is not because the border crossing is difficult but because there will almost always be a long traffic backup at the border--even if they process each car quickly, it's a couple minutes or so per car, so you have to wait in traffic.)
And unless you have a reason to go to Detroit, you do want to cross at Port Huron--the traffic at the Detroit crossing is much worse, usually.
May 19, 2009 10:53 AM
5OP, the logistics will likely allow this, but I'd suggest flying the route instead. I've driven lots and lots and lots of miles in the U.S. and Canada (more than 150,000 of them, in all 50 states and three Canadian provinces), and the route between Chicago and Toronto is 500 long, boring miles. If you have a particular reason to make the drive, fine. But if you're doing so just for the hell of it, I think your time would be better spent on different drives than that one.
May 19, 2009 2:02 PM
6There are interesting things to see in southern Michigan and southwestern Ontario, but with the amount of time the OP has, he isn't going to see them -- especially doing it all in one day. Plus, as others have said, the scenery looks much the same from one end of the trip to the other, except when driving through the major metro areas.
If you are going to do it, take Interstate 69 through Lansing and Flint to cross the border at Sarnia / Port Huron (as already said), to avoid possible delays at the bridge and tunnel between Detroit and Windsor.
If you don't mind adding a bit to your drive, you can go past Toledo, Cleveland and Buffalo, then stop briefly at Niagara Falls for the view.
But if I were doing it, rather than drive, I'd fly.
May 20, 2009 12:51 PM
7Thanks so much everyone. Your information has been a real help for me. As you guys said 3 days might be a bit to short for my trip. I will be in the Chicago area for one week. Thought that i could be out on the road for about 3 of these days. If its 9-10h to Toronto on a boring highway i wont have enough time to see the city i think. :) It might be better to stay in Chicago the whole time. I havent been there before.
Is there something nice to see closer to Chicago? Im really in for a shorter roadtrip. I would love to see some "true" american countryside culture and not just a big city.
Thanks again everybody!!
Edited by: danieldomstedt
May 20, 2009 1:34 PM
8If you want to get out of the city and into the countryside, and have three days, do this:
Day 1: Drive to Spring Green, Wis. (I-90 to Madison, then U.S. 12/18 to U.S. 14 to Spring Green) and see Taliesen, site of a house built and occupied by Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the most famous and influential American architect. Wright also worked in Chicago; there are a dozen or more of his buildings in the suburb of Oak Park. From Spring Green, take U.S. 14 to Wisconsin Hwy. 60 and drive to Prairie du Chien, a nice town on the Mississippi River, and stay there. Others here will advise you to linger in Madison, but time will be an issue so don't stay in Madison past 1 p.m. or so, which means that if you want to do that you'll need to leave Chicago by 8 a.m. Once you get past Madison, the drive will take you through scenic, pastoral countryside. The tour at Taliesen takes a couple hours, and there's a place to have lunch there.
Day 2: You could spend a couple hours wandering around Wyalusing State Park before leaving Prairie du Chien to drive toward Galena, Illinois via a mixture of U.S., state, and county highways along the Mississippi River. Stop at Dubuque, Iowa to see one of the Mississippi River's lock and dam operations, and from there go to Galena, an attractive old Civil War-era town and minor regional tourist destination. Stay the night. You haven't given a budget; if you can afford it, Eagle Ridge Resort is a nice place.
Day 3: Drive back to Chicago by way of Dixon, Illinois, a prototypical small Midwestern town where you can see the house President Ronald Reagan grew up in. To get there from Galena, take U.S. 20 to Freeport, then Illinois Hwy. 26 to Dixon. To get back to Chicago, the fast way is U.S. 52 out of Dixon to I-88, but the more scenic route is Illinois Hwy. 2, which follows the Rock River back northeast to U.S. 20, connecting to I-90.
This three-day drive will be infinitely more satisfying and less punishing than driving to Toronto and back, and you'll definitely get a taste of the countryside and friendly people that you're looking for. Out by Prairie du Chien, if you go into a bar (plenty of them in Wisconsin) and let folks know you're a tourist from Sweden, you could wind up being a minor celebrity of the day and learn about everyone's great-grandparents from Sweden who settled the area 150 years ago. To maximize the appeal, stop somewhere and get highway maps of Wisconsin and Illinois. They will come in handy when looking for those local roads along the Mississippi River. Be sure to use Wisconsin Hwy. 60 from Spring Green to Prairie du Chien. It's a very nice drive along the Wisconsin River. Also: Use MapQuest to help plan your trip.
If you have four days for the trip, then spend your first day in [Milwaukee|Milwaukee, Wisconsin and drive from there to Madison, Spring Green, and Prairie du Chien on what would now be Day 2. Milwaukee's a nice city, about one-fifth the size of Chicago. It's closer to Madison than Chicago is, so leaving Milwaukee and seeing Madison and Taliesen and reaching Prairie du Chien would be pretty easy. In fact, if you don't wind up seeing a baseball game in Milwaukee while you're there, you could easily leave Milwaukee on Day 1 and stay in Madison that night, to give yourself the morning in Madison.
In Madison, the things to see are the state capitol building, which is arguably the nicest of the 50 state capitol buildings, and the University of Wisconsin campus, especially the Student Union, where you can have lunch and a beer on the terrace next to Lake Mendota. Make sure to ask for beer made by Capital Brewing, a local outfit. It's part-owned by an old friend of mine, and they've literally misplaced more beer awards than most other brewers in the world have won.
The key to your enjoyment of this trip, besides seeing the countryside, will be to set aside any characteristic Scandinavian reserve, smile, and say hi to folks. Trust me, I'm sending you to one of the friendliest areas in the United States. I can't promise you that anyone will be throwing a party in your honor, but people in Wisconsin and "downstate" Illinois (anywhere outside of Chicago) are, in general, very cordial. HAVE FUN!
May 20, 2009 2:28 PM
Inarguably the most famous, but only arguably the most influential. Living in Chicago gives you a very good feel for where Wright fits into the development of American architecture. There were those who came both before (most notably Sullivan and Burnham) and after who had perhaps equal influence. Heck, many of Wright's ideas actually originated with Sullivan (author of the dictum "form follows function") with whom Wright apprenticed. Certainly Wright's influence on residential architecture is unparalleled though, and Taliesin is one of his most famous complexes.
The other site in Spring Green should also be mentioned. It's The House on the Rock, which could be described as one of America's strangest tourist traps. Like most good tourist traps, it's worth seeing provided you go into it with the right attitude.
Willy's suggestions are all good ones, and I don't quibble with any of them. Just for a different idea, though: if you want to see some Great Lakes scenery, go up to Door County, the peninsula of Wisconsin that sticks out into Lake Michigan north of Green Bay. It's scenic, although it's also touristy. If you go, stop at a fish boil, which is a Wisconsin tradition, and tastes significantly better than it sounds. Cherries are another local specialty, but I don't need to tell you that, because you'll be practically bombarded with cherries from the time you arrive.
Edited by: mrpenney
May 20, 2009 2:32 PM
10Door County is fine, but it's going to be hectic in mid-July. It's heavily touristed, and the drive to and from there from Chicago is not particularly scenic, even if you get off the Interstate. House on the Rock is okay, but over the years it's morphed into a caricature of what it once was. OP, if you follow my three-day schedule, that one day where you go to Taliesen and Spring Green is going to be on the long side; that's the same day you'd be passing near the House on the Rock, and you're just not going to have time for everything.
May 20, 2009 2:49 PM
11Dude, stop being so crusty--I was just providing other options, which I insist are not bad ones, and I was specifically NOT criticizing your proposed itinerary.
Also, I would be one of the people advising lingering in Madison, if you like that sort of thing. (This is your trip, not Willysnout's.) There are few more attractive (and more fun) small cities in the country. If you're going to spend a day hanging out in a college town, you can do much worse than the Berkeley of the Midwest.
May 20, 2009 3:21 PM
12penney, I'm not saying you're wrong either, but I grew up in that area and know it well. Not just the places, but the routes and the logistics. The OP is brand new, and I think he'd have a better trip if he followed the itinerary I suggested. If it wasn't mid-summer, I might have suggested Door County, and if he had the time, I might have pointed him to House on the Rock. But if he goes up there in mid-July, Door County will be a madhouse. The towns there rapidly lose their charm in heavy traffic. And he really doesn't have the time for House on the Rock. You can't do it all; tourism is about picking and choosing, and he ought to choose from the top.
Anyhow, for the OP, some backstory on Frank Lloyd Wright. He was a gloriously flawed character, both as an architect and as a man. His buildings were infamous for their shoddy construction (not all of them -- the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was built like a rock and was one of a handful of structures to survive a devastating earthquake), their leaky roofs, their dim and severe interiors, and their impossibly, hilariously low ceilings.
His "Prairie" and "Usonian" architecture was an outgrowth of the Arts and Crafts movement. Wright was credibly accused of stealing his early ideas from his first employer, the Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, who was accused of ripping off Charles Rennie Macintosh, the Scottish architect and painter. Wright abandoned his family in Oak Park, and moved to Spring Green, Wis. with his mistress. The first Taliesen was burned to the ground by a deranged servant who had murdered a dozen people with an ax. There were rumors of orgies, if not on that night than on other nights.
Wright was known as a tyrant. He required his clients to use the furniture/torture devices he placed in the houses, and once showed up and berated a client's wife for not matching her wardrobe to his designs. He forbade the use of reinforcement bars in his famous "Fallingwater" house in central Pennsylvania, causing it to nearly fall into the creek it was perched over. To this day, in Spring Green, there are people who curse his name, recalling that Frank Lloyd Wright never met a bill he could pay. And his bastard child, the ranch house, has crushed souls and ruined landscapes all over America.
All of the criticisms are absolutely true (with the possible exception of the orgies), but when you see his greatest stuff -- the second version of Taliesin, his first residence in Oak Park, the Unitarian temple in Oak Park, Fallingwater (since rebuilt with rebar in the concrete), and the Guggenhein museum on 95th St. and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan -- all you can really do is say, "Who am I going to believe, Frank Lloyd Wright's critics, or my lying eyes?"
So, make sure to see Taliesin, and try to get to Oak Park (easy on Chicago mass transit) and see his first residence and the Unitarian temple. And if you should happen to ever hear Frank Sinatra's recording of My Way, think of Frank Lloyd Wright, a true American Original if there ever was one.
May 20, 2009 3:46 PM
13OP, something else just occurred to me. If this were my trip and I had control over the timing, I would try to hit Taliesin on a Friday (make sure to check their website for tour info for the specific day, but I'm pretty sure they run tours on Friday). The reason is that you'd then have Saturday and Sunday for the rest of the trip. Why do it on the weekend? Because on every summer weekend in that part of the world, some little town in Wisconsin or northern Illinois is having a festival of some sort.
These are always low-key, handmade affairs where the locals gather in the local park for barbecued chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, and beer. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel used to run lists of those festivals in the newspaper. I'm not sure if they do anymore, but you can check. You could also ask people in Spring Green, Prairie du Chien, and Galena if they know of any nearby. They're always a lot of down-home fun. Galena, IL might be on the busy side on a Saturday or Sunday, owing to the Chicago tourist traffic, but "busy" is a relative term and it'll be quite bearable.
As for the little argument here, penny and I don't disagree about the various places. Because you are unfamiliar with the area in question and I am very familiar with it, I figured I'd plan a trip for you, taking logistics into account. This goes beyond listing some spots I might enjoy. There are all sorts of places to see, but I'd rather suggest a trip that won't exhaust you in the process of trying to get to all of them. That much said, if you skip Madison altogether (just take the U.S. 12/18 "Beltline" bypass to U.S. 14 and on toward Spring Green), you might have time for both Taliesen and House on the Rock before driving to Prairie du Chien.
If it were my trip, I'd want to leave Spring Green by 5 p.m. or so; the drive to Prairie du Chien takes an hour and a half. If you get to Spring Green by noon (which would mean leaving Chicago by 8 a.m.), you'd have plenty of time for both Taliesin and House on the Rock. So, what's House on the Rock? It's a kitschy house built on top of a 60-foot rock column by an architect who Frank Lloyd Wright had refused to hire. "I wouldn't hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop. You're not capable," Wright told him. The place has been a lower-middlebrow tourist attraction for 50 years. As time has gone by, they've kept adding to it to the degree that it now is a cross between a Disney attraction and a truck stop trinket collection.
It's fun if you're in the mood, but I wouldn't worry too much if time doesn't permit you to get there. Whatever you do, don't let House on the Rock keep you from fully enjoying Talesin. Between the two, there is no comparison.
May 22, 2009 6:32 AM
14OP, not sure if the rental car part of the question has been answered. It is no problem to take a rental car from any of the major US firms into Canada and back again. Check their website anyway for the precise rules, but should be fine. There are rules which prevent a Canadian citizen from taking a US-registered car into Canada from the States, but that does not apply to you or me as foreigners. We had no problem taking US rental cars into Canada for a brief stay when we visited in 2004 and I doubt that has changed.
Under the Visa Waiver Program you are allowed multiple entries into the USA within the 90 days after you arrive, so there is also no problem from that perspective in returning from brief trips to Canada or Mexico.
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