Posts Tagged ‘Illinois’

Four Midwestern fall getaways within four hours

 

You don’t have to drive across country to find gorgeous tangerine and magenta vistas. Four easy-to-get-to Midwestern areas, Galena, IL, Geneva and Door County, WI and Bloomington/Brown County, IN, put on a color show that attract leaf-peepers as September merges into October. Sure there is good color throughout the region but these areas also have fun shops and good accommodation choices. You do need to make your reservation now, however, because they are not a secret. Best plan is to go during the week to avoid the crowds.

Biking around Eagle Ridge on the outskirts of Galena. (Eagle Ridge photo)

Biking around Eagle Ridge on the outskirts of Galena. (Eagle Ridge photo)

 

Galena, IL

Tucked into the northwest corner of Illinois at the Mississippi River, the town of Galena ripples down hilly streets and scenic roads. About a three hour drive northwest of Chicago, its hilly terrain is vastly different from Illinois’ Lake Michigan and prairie landscape. Leave time to  explore the Galena Territory where every road turn and over every hill there is another photo op and color-filled vista.

Shopping the town’s main street is delicious because there are wine-tasting places and yummy ice cream and candy shops. Check with your accommodations host for restaurants that have your favorite cuisine.

There are lots of good B&Bs in town and even a historic hotel. Or if looking for expansive color vistas consider Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa. Only 6 minutes from the village’s downtown in the Galena Territory, it has lots of room choices so is perfect for a family or girls getaway. Eagle Ridge also has horseback riding, hiking and biking trails and balloon tours.

Nearby, are a stage coach trail, fort and the scenic vistas of Galena’s Jo Davies County. There is usually a balloon, wine or other festival taking place in the area so with all the outdoor recreation and activities around you probably won’t need a book to fill slack time.

 

Play golf or just enjoy fall color at the Grand Geneva Resort on the outskirts of Lake Geneva, WI. (Grand Geneva photo)

Play golf or just enjoy fall color at the Grand Geneva Resort on the outskirts of Lake Geneva, WI. (Grand Geneva photo)

 

Lake Geneva WI

Do like Chicago’s upper crust used to do. Drive up to Lake Geneva across the Illinois border into Wisconsin. The town is still filled with estates but also has B&Bs and resorts. About 1 ½ hours north of Chicago, Lake Geneva has been a vacation destination since the 1800s.

Visitors can hear about the estates that border Geneva Lake. The lake here is called Geneva Lake but the town reverses that by calling itself Lake Geneva. Take a boat ride that also delivers the mail pier-side or an evening sunset cruise to hear about the estates or celebrate fall with a glass of wine.  The boat excursions are a good way to see some of the grand houses and resorts around the lake away from Lake Geneva. Motor boat rentals are also available.

To get away from the crowd after cruising shops and the lake and to see even more good color vistas, check the Grand Geneva for dinner or accommodations. It is just outside of town and the spa is a destination by itself.

A back road drive in Door County.

A back road drive in Door County.

Door County, WI

About four hours north of Chicago, the fun and scenic vacation destination of Door County is on a peninsula that pokes like a finger into the waters east of  the City of Green Bay. One side of The Door edges the watery way called Green Bay. The other side is lapped by the waves of Lake Michigan.

Bring a bike or rent one. Even though there are no traffic lights once past Sturgeon Bay where a canal allows boat traffic to cross, the car and pedestrian traffic of fall-color aficionados make moving from cute town to quaint town and good shops and restaurants to harbors and forest roads a bit slow on the Green Bay side. Driving the forests on the Lake Michigan side or crossing the peninsula between farms and fields is easier and just as colorful.

Bike or hike Peninsula State Park on Green Bay between Fish Creek and Ephraim. Go camera or smart phone ready to snap a ton of photos to download to Facebook or Instagram. To  try whitefish done the Door County way reserve a spot at a restaurant’s fish boil. Tip: check for the annual fall color festival then try to go the week before or after it for better chance at accommodations and restaurant reservations.

Hoosier National Forest in bloomington, IN puts on a fall color show. (Visit Bloomington photo

Hoosier National Forest in bloomington, IN puts on a fall color show. (Visit Bloomington photo

Bloomington/Brown County, IN

About three hours south of Chicago, Brown County’s boutique and arts-filled Nashville (no not TN) and Brown County State Park have arguably been a prime peeper destination long before other regional areas publicized their fall colors.

Possibly, it was because in neighboring Bloomington, which adds golds and oranges to its usual red and white colors, Indiana University students and their parents knew about Brown County’s fall transformation. But you don’t have to go to a football game here or take a class to become immersed in the area’s amazing fall kaleidoscope of color.

A good selection of accommodations can be found in Bloomington and Nashville. Tip: Look up IU’s football schedule so you don’t go that weekend. Better yet, go during the week anyway.

 

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

Following the Mother Road as a summer vacation

The Route 66 sign at Adams Street could be a starting point for a Mother Road trip. It is across Michigan Avenue from the Art Institute of Chicago. (Photos by Jodie Jacobs

The Route 66 sign at Adams Street could be a starting point for a Mother Road trip. It is across Michigan Avenue from the Art Institute of Chicago. (Photos by Jodie Jacobs

The summer of 2018 is a great time to travel the Mother Road, or as songwriter Bobby Troup wrote in 1946, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” The National Trust For Historic Preservation has a motorcade that, as Troup wrote, “winds from Chicago to LA, more than two thousand miles all the way.”

The “Preserve Route 66” motorcade invites travelers to meet up at a variety of good Route 66 sights and destinations. The first segment is Chicago to Springfield that is the first week of July. The Missouri segment is July 6-10.

You can catch up with the group, join them at any date that suits your schedule or use their schedule of stops as a guide for your own trip. Their meetups are free and open to the public.

Since Springfield, IL is on the list, here are some recommendations of places to stay and things to do in the capital city of “The Land of Lincoln.” St.Louis is next with where to stay, eat and go.

But first, if coming from Chicago, go downtown to where it supposedly begins. The route historically starts in Grant Park near Jackson boulevard, east of Michigan Avenue.

However, the sign for it can be found across Michigan Avenue opposite the front entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago. In Illinois I-55 (known in Chicago as the Stevenson Expressway)  basically follows historic Route 66. Illinois has posted Route 66 signs along the popular old road.  Tip: Chicago to Springfield is about 197 miles so plan on it taking about 3 ½ hours. Police do patrol the highway.

 

In Springfield

The city has enough fascinating Lincoln spots from the Lincoln Museum and his home, to the Old State Capitol building and the current Capitol building, to fill two days so look for a place to stay that makes it a fun vacation.

Where to stay – The Springfield Visitors and Convention Bureau is a great resource for places to stay, eat and see. If you like historic inns and B&B’s consider The Inn at 835. An early 1900’s former apartment house, the Inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two places close to the action are The President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and the State House Inn. Tip – Wear comfortable shoes and bring the sunscreen. This is a walking town.

An option for people who like a pool and sauna break after a day of sightseeing is to stay at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, a conference-style facility on the Dirksen Parkway at the edge of town near I-55.

 

Unpacked and ready to go – Springfield is about Lincoln, about state government, about historic homes and about Route 66.

Visitors like to pose with Lincoln's family at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield

Visitors like to pose with Lincoln’s family at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield

Lincoln – Renew your acquaintance with the 16th President at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. You will be in for a remarkable two hours. Plan to spend at least that amount of time to see the movies and the exhibits that peel away the myths from the man and the times.

While downtown Springfield, walk over to the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, where he worked above Seth Tinsley’s dry goods store, and to the Old Capitol across the road where he served as a representative and gave his “house divided” speech. Also visit his and Mary Todd Lincoln’s home.

Then drive north of downtown to the Lincoln Tomb where he, his wife and three of their four children are buried. If time allows, drive north 20 minutes on IL Hwy 97 to New Salem, a wonderful village recreated with the timbered homes and stores that existed when a young Abe Lincoln worked there.

State government – Tour the Old Capitol, Illinois’ fifth statehouse (but first in Springfield) to see where bills were debated and state laws passed from 1839 to 1876. The building was reconstructed in the 1960’s. The impressive dome of the State Capitol, 361 feet above ground can be seen from miles away. But go inside to see where legislation has been argued and passed from 1888 to today in the House and Senate chambers on the third floor.

Historic homes – Unless you are a Frank Lloyd Wright maven you might not know that one of the best examples of his work is the Dana Thomas House in Springfield. It still has all of its original art glass and much of its original furnishings.

Also put the Vachel Lindsay Home on the itinerary. Built in the late 1840’s, the house was home to Mary Todd Lincoln’s sister Ann. Vachel Lindsay’s parents bought the house in 1878. It was the poet’s home until his death in 1931.

Route 66 –  Visitors can go back in time by taking in a double feature at the Route 66 Drive In or stop for a bite at the Cozy Dog Drive In, where the family still makes the famed “hot dog on a stick” that they have been serving up since 1946. Another must stop is the Moterheads Bar, Grill and Museum. Rte 66 places are included in Things To Do/Attractions.

However, car enthusiasts really into what is the Mother Road of historic routes come for the town’s annual International Route 66 Mother Road Festival in September. This year’s festival is Sept. 21-23. That is when hundreds of vintage vehicles from street rods to motorcycles will roll into town and live music fills Springfield’s downtown streets.

For more information Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau. Also visit Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byways.

Have fun!

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five tips for a fun fall color trip

The signs are there, teasing the Northern US and Midwestern states with nippy air and barely tinged maple and aspen leaves. It’s time to plan a fall color getaway.

Fall comes in all colors along the forested back roads of Door County in northern Wisconsin

Fall comes in all colors along the forested back roads of Door County in northern Wisconsin

But before you pencil in your destination there are a few tips to consider so that fall color fever does not have to be treated with two aspirins a day.

1. Even though weekends may be easier on your work schedule, it won’t be easier on your drive or stay at popular fall destinations.

Do try to go during the week or you will find yourself in bumper to bumper traffic along normally scenic roads, staying at less desirable locations and grabbing “to-go” from a drive-in instead of relaxing at a good local restaurant.

2. Once you have determined where you want to go, take a look at that area’s Convention and Visitors Bureau websites for accommodation listings.

An overlook at Peninsula Park in Door County reveals warm tangerines, ambers and shimmering golds

An overlook at Peninsula Park in Door County reveals warm tangerines, ambers and shimmering golds

It is OK to call the CVB for suggestions and recommendations. They want visitors to be happy. They may even have a list of places in your price range and that meet your needs that are booked and those with vacancies.

3. Accommodations in popular color destinations are often filled months, sometimes a year, ahead so book as early as possible. Also, broaden your options to include Bed & Breakfasts, condominium rentals and suite hotels.

Remember that a place that may sound pricey but includes breakfast could end up cheaper than somewhere without breakfast. Also a condominium with kitchen facilities may also save on meal costs.

4. Choose an area that has more to do than drive around looking for the best snapshot to post on Facebook or go into the family album. Areas rich in fall color often have additional attractions such as wineries, harvest festivals and art galleries.

Visitors go to Southern Illinois for its wine trail and find out the Shawnee Forest is in the best kept color secret category except to people who live there

Visitors go to Southern Illinois for its wine trail and find out the Shawnee Forest is in the best kept color secret category except to people who live there

Knowing more about an area than its reputation for color may help deciding when and where to go.

5. Whether you have a destination in mind or not, you will have a better idea on when peak color comes if you check a state’s website. States want you to come so they have color watch and color information.

Knowing ahead that color comes the last week in September in one state or area of a state and mid-October in another state or area, will help you schedule your trip.

Here are some Midwestern scenic and color websites sites to check (other states have similar sites):

Follow the red border roads on the Leelanau Peninsula near Traverse City because they lead to wineries, cute towns, great overlooks and more fall color

Follow the red border roads on the Leelanau Peninsula near Traverse City because they lead to wineries, cute towns, great overlooks and more fall color

Visit Illinois and Color watch. See Indiana and check Color information. Go to Ohio and its  Color information. Also see Michigan and its Color information. Visit  Minnesota and its Color information. In addition go to Wisconsin and Color information

Photos by Jodie Jacobs

Become a fall color connoisseur

It is not too early to plan your fall color excursion.  Indeed, it might even be too late if you expected to snag a weekend B&B or hotel room in such popular “leaf peeper” destinations as Door County in Wisconsin, Brown County in Indiana and Bennington and Addison Counties in Vermont.

The Alto Pass overlook and Shawnee Forest south of Carbondale, IL is worth a fall trip

The Alto Pass overlook and Shawnee Forest south of Carbondale, IL is worth a fall trip

Those are great fall destinations, but they are not the only places to celebrate nature’s coat of many colors.

Here are some guidelines to fit color around your schedule:

Consider your timeline and be flexible.

  1. Expect color seekers to crowd the roads on weekends so try to schedule your trip for during the week to see more than the back bumper of the car ahead. Early in the week is also best to find a choice of accommodations and restaurants.
  2. Based on past years, towns typically hold their fall fests during a top color weekend but nature’s show usually starts a couple of weeks before and continues a couple of weeks after the festival so you might have better reservation luck just before or after the hoopla.
  3. Try a new destination that will best fit your schedule.  To help you, most states have a fall color chart that is updated weekly. Even if the chart does not yet show color the state site usually has suggested color routes and a guide to what shrubs and trees change and when.
  4. The second week of October tends to be prime time almost all across the country from Connecticut to Colorado so to avoid the color jams look north for an early trip or south for a later one.

    Door County, Wisconsin shows its true colors every fall

    Door County, Wisconsin shows its true colors every fall

  • For an early fall color trip check the color charts put out by cold-weather states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Michigan. Spectacular mid-September color comes to the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, the west end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the woods north of Michigan’s Traverse City.
  • Trees on the Leelanau and Mission Peninsulas next to Traverse typically pull out the paint tubes late September to early October due to the still warm waters of Lake Michigan and Traverse Bay. The same is true of Door County, a peninsula that sticks out like a thumb into Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
  • Don’t worry that you missed the show if you can’t get away until the end of October. Look at charts for the southern tips of a state. Leaves tend to change later in the southern parts of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri where scenic cliff, rolling hills and meandering waterways add another component to the getaway. Drive from Brown County, Indiana and the Hocking Hills in Ohio south to the Ohio River for late fall color. Or drive through the national and state forests of Tennessee from east to west from October into November.

    Some of the best fall viewing is from the hills of the Leelanau and Mission Peninsulas

    Some of the best fall viewing is from the hills of the Leelanau and Mission Peninsulas

Do you really just want to see red?

Obvious as it may seem, the hot color spots are related to tree types. Vermont is popular because it is maple country – yeah, maple syrup.  However, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois also have an abundance of maple trees.  But except for evergreens, you can find forest paths among shades of gold, copper and oranges to make your fall trip a photo odyssey.

Here is a sampling of fall color charts and sites. Please add your favorite fall foliage destination in comments.

Check Federal properties of the US Forest Service or call the US fall color hotline at 1-800-354-4595.

Also, look for the state and regional  suggested fall drives for places off the beaten track such as the Traverse City area, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Vermont.

Other fall color drives: Virginia

Coming up: Questions you ought to ask before you book your accommodations

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