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With five powerhouse lakes dominating the landscape, the Great Lakes region owes as much to its waters as any coastal setting. Water, water is indeed everywhere, and with it comes not only scenic views dotting every shoreline, but numerous opportunities for fun and adventure.
Still, the states comprising the region can’t simply be defined by their shorelines; but rather by the people, undaunted by the weather and terrain, embracing the land and carving out spirited lives.
The “Land of Lincoln” provides a unique mix of big-city culture, lake-inspired fun and rural delights. Here, one of the world’s great metropolises manages to compliment a “downstate” atmosphere where the attractions come in smaller, but no less enjoyable, packages.
Illinois, particularly within Chicago’s city limits, offers the best opportunities for sports just about anywhere. More than able to hold its own with New York and Boston in terms of fan enthusiasm and terrific venues, the Chicago sports scene should not be missed. Obviously, it all starts with Wrigley Field, a shrine for die-hard Cubs fans as well as anyone interested in experiencing a little nostalgia on a warm summer’s day. As the oldest ballpark in the National League, Wrigley Field isn’t about today’s non-stop need for visuals. Rather, a visit here is more about what used to be, namely manually operated scoreboards, natural grass, spirited organists and day baseball. Soldier Field still boasts the imposing columns and old-world architecture characteristic of the region, along the city’s lakefront. As home to the Bears, the park obviously won’t pander to those in need of a dome or Astroturf.
From the flat plains of Illinois have emerged some of the most iconic names in literature and entertainment. Numerous museums pay homage to some of the best storytellers in American culture.
Chester Gould drew super crime fighter Dick Tracy for five decades from his Woodstock studio. As a result, the Dick Tracy Museum was unveiled, a shrine to the yellow-coated hero complete with original artwork, memorabilia and a hands-on exhibits for kids in the Crimestopper Club Room.
Naturally, one might think an ocean view would have been necessary to create a sea-faring sort like Popeye. However, the spinach-loving sailor was first drawn in the tiny, landlocked town of Chester. An annual Popeye Picnic and town statues of both Popeye and his hamburger-hogging pal, Wimpy, commemorate the achievement.
Without even a hint of jungle, Oak Park resident Edgar Rice Burroughs invented the world’s best known vine-swinger in 1912’s epic Tarzan of the Apes. Today, the local historical society oversees the permanent exhibit honoring the author and his inspired creation. Burroughs lived just blocks from another fella who knew how to spin a tale: Ernest Hemingway.
Illini like to eat. As such, the state appeals to the overeater in all of us with an entertaining (and belt-widening) assemblage of year-round food festivals.
The big daddy eating event of all, the city’s Taste of Chicago spectacle scheduled each July attracts more than three million visitors who, over 10 days, gorge on the area’s most beloved food. More than 60 restaurants contribute meals, serenaded by some of the top acts in music.
Burgoo, the much-misunderstood dish, receives top billing at the annual Burgoo and Fish Fry. Food preparation is truly a village effort, with locals taking turns preparing and standing watch over the heavy kettles that simmer the stew-like substance throughout the night.
For more information, contact (800)2-CONNECT; www.enjoyillinois.com.
The outdoors is serious business in Indiana, a state that earnestly celebrates outdoor lifestyles and whose citizens seem to take full advantage of all the natural advantages the “Hoosier State” has to offer.
Overwhelmingly rural but with plenty to show, Indiana prides itself on the numerous opportunities for active lifestyles that entice both sightseers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Long driving days need interruption. That’s why we recommend parking the rig and hitting the 24-mile Adventure Hiking Trail near Corydon. Those with horses or canoes will find riding trails and the Blue River respectively to launch their adventures. Take a tour of Wyandotte Cave Complex, have a picnic or fish.
Containing one of the largest protected sites in the state, its more than 5,000 acres are best known as a haven for bird-watching. (Wild turkeys, anyone?). If that’s not your thing, prepare for scenic hikes, with trails that actually lead travelers up hills, a rarity for the state, it seems).
Where there are small towns, there are noteworthy eateries. Chances are good that those dishing up good food and fair prices will endure. Indiana just happens to host a number of such places, with many earning distinction for more than just what’s on the menu.
Despite its rather dubious-sounding name, the Triple XXX Family restaurant (Lafayette) serves breakfast 24/6 (they close on Sunday evenings) at the site of Indiana’s first drive-in restaurant. Food is eaten inside now, but that doesn’t stop the place, first opened in 1929, from packing them in with their kid-friendly menu, including the restaurants prized Triple XXX root beer. The state’s oldest bar, the Slippery Noodle Inn (Indianapolis), began in 1850 and now makes it name with live blues every night of the week. Family-style food is the specialty at Das Dutchman Essenhaus (Middlebury), Indiana’s largest eatery. The home-made pies are the stuff of legends. Fresh-caught perch is the meal at venerable dinner spots Teibel’s Restaurant (Schereville) and Phil Schmidt’s (Hammond). Go against the grain by partaking in the square donuts served at, where else, Square Donuts (Terre Haute). The assortment of dining rooms, wonderful views and impressive architecture make the Red Geranium (New Harmony) a worthwhile stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
For more information, contact (800) 677-9800; www.enjoyindiana.com.
Rich in history, Iowa retains a rich farmland work ethic and small-town hospitality which serves as the core of the state’s appeal. The mix of a central location, panoramic views, ‘brake-for-buggies” charming country roads and historic river towns steeped in Mississippi River lore, differentiates Iowa from other Midwestern states.
A bevy of historic sites keep Iowa tourists plenty busy.
Founded more than 150 years ago, the authentic German villages that make up the Amana Colonies continue to tempt travelers off the interstate in droves. Started by German settlers in 1855 after their purchase of some 26,000 acres to support their communal living, their collection of homesteads and shops stands preserved to this day. Numerous museums and storefronts provide terrific insights into how this community once lived.
Who’s Sergeant Charles Floyd, you ask? For those sick that day in school, the officer earned the distinction as the only death in the Lewis & Clark Expedition. As such, Charles Floyd was recognized with a namesake memorial, a striking, 100 foot monument stationed along the shore of the Missouri River. The burial site was declared America’s very first registered national historic landmark.
Explore the past and present of American farm life within a 37-county region in Northeast Iowa and experience a taste of Midwestern hospitality. The aptly named Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area is within a picturesque greenbelt where the story of America’s agricultural Industry is told thorough exhibits on the farms surrounding Dyersville, Waterloo, Charles City, Dubuque and Maquoketa.
Although still no threat to Hollywood, the state has served as the star of several well-known movies. Visitors can re-create the silver screen magic with a tour of these locales.
No Iowan was ever prouder and no man ever cried harder than after watching Field of Dreams the precious 1989 classic about baseball, families and the charm of the state. “Is this heaven?” one ballplayer asks after surveying the field Kevin Costner carved out of his backyard cornfield.
Serving as both the birthplace of the “Duke” and the setting for James Waller’s page-turner, The Bridges of Madison County, the namesake county has a place in movie history. Not only can visitors tour John Wayne’s home and spy key memorabilia in the town of Winterset, but a motor trip through the county’s wonderful assemblage of book- and movie-worthy bridges is a must-do.
While far from iconic, those screen buffs smitten with the chance to see the farmhouse totaled in the climactic scene from 1996’s Twister should detour to Eldora. The “Twister House,” as it’s called, also features a small RV park.
For more information, contact (515) 242-4705; www.traveliowa.com.
The Maine of the Midwest, Michigan dazzles with thousands (yes, thousands!) of miles of wonderful beaches along four of the Great Lakes, millions of acres of safeguarded woods and tons of things to do in any season.
One of the many advantages of being surrounded by lakefront is the luxury of the number of beaches. Michigan boasts the most extensive freshwater shoreline (3,200 miles of it) and some of the best collections of sandy paradises in the entire U.S.
This terrifically artsy town is not only a great place to pick up novel wares, but it also sports two fantastic public beaches. Condé Nast Traveler named Oval Beach one of the best shorelines in the world. Punctuated by Mount Baldhead, the resident 282 foot sand dune, Oval Beach is a fantastic place to rest for both you and your overworked credit card. In addition to some 880 acres of hiking and picnicking, the shoreline found along Saugatuck Dunes State Park is simply world class.
Another quaint town, another fantastic beach. Its days as an amusement park mecca long behind, Silver Beach now packs ‘em in with the lure of a wide open beach and warm waters.
With nearly 181 miles of Lake Michigan beachfront and 149 sizable lakes, Traverse City delivers no shortage of places to lollygag during a warm front.
What, only oceans get lighthouses? Perish the thought. The Great Lakes, and Michigan especially, offer some 115 such sentries that have protected vessels from running afoul in four of the five surrounding lakes for more than a century.
As much a barn as it is a lighthouse, Point Betsie earned status as one of the most photographed lighthouses in the state – if not in the country! Built in 1858, Point Betsie was the last manned station on Lake Michigan’s east shore.
In northern Lake Huron stands DeTour Reef Light, a lighthouse stationed more than a mile offshore to guide ships past the treacherous reef complicating the perilous DeTour Passage.
At 128 feet, the steel tower of the Copper Harbor Lighthouse stands as the state’s tallest. The 1848 structure overlooking sometimes-treacherous Lake Superior is also one of the state’s oldest, with tours of the site (along with a Maritime Museum) offered during the summer and fall.
Michigan earns its stripes as one of the nation’s top fruit growers with a bounty of blueberries, cherries, and apple orchards, among others. Best of all, many of the more than 200 farm markets allow visitors a chance to pick, bag and sample crops. Alber Orchard & Cider Mill (Manchester) has earned smiles for more than 100 years as one of the state’s premier destinations for apple- and pumpkin picking. Get your fill of apples, peaches, plums and pears at AW Overhiser Orchards (South Haven). In addition to loads of apple picking at Knaebe's Mmmunchy Krunchy Apple Farm and Cider Mill (Rogers City), visitors enjoy wagon rides, pumpkin-picking and a mini zoo. Those looking for more variety should visit Post Family Farm (Hudsonville) for a fall’s worth of pumpkins, gourds and squash, Christmas trees in winter, and pots and hanging baskets from the greenhouse come spring. Apple Charlies (New Boston) is the spot for grapes, along with numerous other fruit.
For more information, contact (888) 784-7328; www.michigan.org/travel.
Whoever called Minnesota the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” might actually have missed a few, as it appears that you can drop a line anywhere, launch a canoe, or embrace the plentiful water and sunshine with a hearty swim. Once winter sets in, numerous settings for winter fun draw hardy souls eager to experience nature’s bounty in a region where opportunities for winter fun abound.
When there’s talk of the country’s best canoe spots, the conversation inevitably seems to end with that of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. There simply is no better place to drop your craft in the water and go. Winding some 150 miles along the northeast border of the state, the region is home to countless lakes linking canoers with nature at its very finest. Outfitters and tour guides can lead or design a trip ranging from a day to two weeks worth and supply you and your crew from head to toe. Voyageurs National Park, with its 30 lakes, is a motorboat and houseboat paradise. With numerous campgrounds ringing the park, the area is a haven for the modern-day explorer, avid fishermen and curious sightseers.
The mixture of lots of snow, cold days and wonderful scenery make Minnesota the state to beat in terms of winter fun. However, those looking to replace the snowshoes and snowmobiles for a team of huskies won’t be disappointed by this novel way to get around.
This part of the state is a true hotbed of this unique winter pastime, with more than a dozen sled tours originating from town.
Another prime spot for mushing, Grand Marais is home to four tour outfitters with pooches to match. The area is well-known for winter jaunts into the famed Boundary Waters area, whether it be for an hour or overnight.
Day and overnight trips launching from the Twin Cities (St. Paul being the other one) are hardly unusual despite the cosmopolitan nature of the area.
One doesn’t ordinarily associate Minnesota, with waterfalls, but the state truly delivers some amazing ones. Some of our favorites include Devil’s Kettle on the Brule River, the 120 foot monster High Falls on the Pigeon River and 45 foot Cascade Falls located in Cascade River State Park. Among others are the 70-foot High Falls on the Baptism River and the famed Minnehaha Falls mentioned in Longfellow’s Hiawatha poem from 1855, found in Minneopa State Park. The state’s best such waterfall is actually found underground, a 60-footer within in the aptly named Niagara Cave.
For more information, contact (888)TOURISM; www.exploreminnesota.com.
As the true gateway between the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, Ohio manages to provide more than just drive-through interstates for those in hurry to get to one or the other. The state’s storied Native American roots are on full display to those willing to investigate them, while one of the nation’s best collections of amusement parks does its part to entice travelers for a closer look.
One needn’t travel to Florida to find a novel theme park. No, not when Ohio boasts as many classic amusement parks as it does.
Although rarely compared with the likes of Disney World or Busch Gardens, old-timer Cedar Point Amusement Park has been voted “Best Amusement Park in the World” for the last eight years by Amusement Today magazine. Obviously, it’s doing something right, with more than 125 years of entertaining attractions, including 2006’s debut of the 420 foot tall Top Thrill Dragster roller coaster, capable of speeds of up to 120 mph.
Paramount’s Kings Island is another major fun complex, ranking as one of the Midwest’s largest with an assortment of 80 rides and attractions. One of the park’s latest debuts, Nickelodeon Universe, merges visitors to the wacky world of the beloved kids channel with 18 specially-themed rides.
Ok, so it’s not the most original name for an amusement park we’ve ever heard, but Cincinnati’s Coney Island separates itself from the New York version by taking the fun to the water. Stocked with the world’s largest recirculation pool, the three million or so gallons of water should keep you cool when the temperatures flare. More than 20 rides are on hand, as well as live shows and events.
Native American History
Ohio’s Native American history is a source of both study and celebration, with numerous intact sites around the state honoring the region’s Indian cultures.
Area history comes to life at the Dayton’s SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park, where artifacts from as early as the 13th Century have been unearthed. The site features a reconstructed Indian Village, a museum and reconstructed homes. There are plenty of opportunities for shopping for assorted Native Indian arts, crafts and jewelry.
Lying in a plateau in the valley of Brush Creek, Serpent Mound earned distinction as one of the country’s best preserved effigy mounds. And at a quarter-mile in length, it’s also the biggest. Believed built by the Fort Ancient people more than 1000 years ago, the site provides a unique look at the “uncoiled serpent” and nearby burial mounds.
Believed the largest conical burial mound in the eastern part of the United States, Miamisburg Mound is an important link to Ohio’s Native American past. It was the Adena Indians who archeologist believe constructed the structure, which originally may have stood at more than 70 feet. It’s still sizable, however, today measuring nearly 900 feet in circumference. Visitors may climb to the summit.
For more information, contact (800) BUCKEYE; www.discoverohio.com.
Despite what you may have heard, the nation’s dairy capital offers more than just cows and cheese curds. There’s no shortage of places for anglers to shine, gamblers to tempt their fates, and the legions of snowmobiles to transform winters into a merry wonderland full of backwoods adventures.
It won’t take those heading in any direction within the state long before they are bombarded with opportunities for poker, slots, bingo and gaming of all designs at one of Wisconsin’s 15 Native-American run casinos.
As the biggest of the bunch, Potawatomi Bingo Casino deserves special mention. More than 1,500 slots, blackjack tables, craps, roulette and the obligatory bingo are on hand, meaning there’s a game for everybody. A 500+-seat theatre welcomes big-name acts.
Slot-lovers, rejoice. Ho-Chunk Casino welcomes you with the state’s largest assortment of one-armed bandits (approximately 2,500). The casino also features five restaurants in addition to a full compliment of games.
With a couple other states in the region, Wisconsin lays claim to the title of snowmobile capital of the world. After a closer examination of the state’s winter resources, we think the name fits. The state boasts endless miles of scenic winter routes and specially designed tours. A few standout jaunts include those found in Kettle Moraine State Forest (Hartford), home of 1350 foot Powder Hill among its collection of glacial hills; the Lake Pepin Snowmobile Tour (Plum City); Mississippi Bluff Snowmobile Tour (Alma), Northern Lakes Snowmobile Tour (Land O’ Lakes); and Trail of Two Cities Tour (Mosinee).
Anglers in Wisconsin are a fanatical bunch. I’ts also a complement to the state that visitors from around the Midwest make Wisconsin their spot to launch all their fish adventures, whether it be on the Great Lakes, one of thousands of serene lakes, or any number of rivers winding through the landscape. However, we can reveal some of the favorite haunts of both the locals and visitors, and what you, (the newcomer), might
The 69-pound musky taken from “Big Chip” (Sawyer County’s Chippewa Flowage) earned the area’s distinction as a major fishing spot. The waters around Lake Geneva have long been considered a terrific spot for both small- and large mouth bass; Charter captains rave about the salmon fishing in and around the Kewaunee region of Lake Michigan, while the Lacrosse section of the Lacrosse River has, in the past, delivered plenty of big bluegills. Walleyes, croppies and perch seem to love the sunken foliage throughout the Castle Rock and Petenwell flowages in the Wisconsin River. The musky and bass do, too.
For more information, contact (800) 432-TRIP; www.travelwisconsin.com.