Avoid the heavy road traffic of Labor Day Weekend by taking your well-deserved escape mid-September to mid-October.
The scenery, shops hiking paths and wine trails of the northwestern edge of Michigan from Frankfort and Sleeping Bear Dunes to Leland and Traverse City are snapshot perfect. And they follow state and local Covid protection protocols.
A vacation in Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin combines Victorian atmosphere with country and contemporary comfort.
A little over two hours from Chicago’s northern suburbs, the village is a throwback to an earlier time when it was a summer vacation destination before the turn of the 20th century.
It is a sleepy town of resorts, family-owned restaurants, small stores and a century-old railroad depot museum and Saturday Farmers Market.
However, it is also home to a popular race car track that was known as Road America. Think of it as an advantage to keep good restaurants such as Lake Street Café and the Paddock Club, in business.
An eatery with a duel personality, Lake Street Café specializes in fun atmosphere and pub food in its bar and upscale bistro in its dining room. Its wine cellar has repeatedly been recognized by Spectator Magazine.
Next door is the Paddock Club which features local seasonal ingredients served in a contemporary, casual atmosphere. Look for familiar dishes with a twist of the unusual.
Among the resorts is Osthoff. It fits in with local Victorian architecture and neighboring old-time resorts but Osthoff was built in 1995. A historic-looking charmer, the resort was updated in 2007 with 21st century fixtures from Kohler, its upscale plumbing neighbor to the south.
Aside from the races, this is a town to come to feel the muscles relax, boat on the lake or play a round of golf. Bring the tennis racquets or read while the youngsters splash in a pool or the lake.
Don’t wait for the first robin or crocus to pop up to plan what to do or where to go for a spring vacation. Hotels and good B and B’s may already be booked and airlines will have few seats at the price you want. Make plans now
Good as Washington DC is, student groups may already have plane seats and hotel rooms so consider that destination for another time. Instead, Spring Break is a good chance to splash in a pool, visit and cross off a presidential museum or find an unusual children’s museum in a town not yet visited.
The suggestions listed here are Midwest destinations within a day’s drive of Chicago. The city’s schools are out April 6-10 and most suburban districts are out March 23-27 in 2020.
Arguably among the best indoor water parks are the ones at the Kalahari Resorts. If living in the Midwest, consider the African-themed one at the Wisconsin Dells. The resort really is a combination amusement park, movie and dining destination and games emporium.
I like the Dells as a summer or fall escape when the weather is predictable but spring is a good time to enjoy a resort that has so much to offer, guests might not feel the need to leave. Also check out other Wisconsin Waterparks for a spring Break.
Across the road is the Grand Rapids Public Museum which has fun explorations and a merry go round ride. From American Indian displays to inventions, an old-time streetscape and a giant clock, there is enough here to spend the day.
Where a dinosaur and orangutans hang out
People outside of Indianapolis may not know the city has a remarkable Children’s Museum charmingly guarded by a huge dinosaur and that the Indianapolis Zoo is one of the few places in the country that boasts a specialized orangutan center where visitors can watch these intelligent animals play and practice their cognitive game skills.
I love the Childeren’s Museum’s Take Me There exhibits. When I visited it was to China. Currently it is to Greece. And there really is a simulated flight there. And I was fascinated by everything the orangutans could do.
Maybe it’s the talk of the Chicago Bears’ training camp. Or maybe it’s the ads for back-to-school supplies and end-of-summer sales. All of a sudden I’m thinking about where to go for a fall getaway that is withing six hours of Chicago. Planning the trip now helps get through the “dog days” of summer.
Just around Lake Michigan, a little more than half an hour from Chicago next to Porter IN, the fomer Indiana Dunes State Park was recently given National Park status.
Extending 15 miles around the southern part of Lake Michigan, the park is a birders destination, but with 50 miles of trails, this is also a great place to hike if you like dunes, water views, forests, prairies and even rivers.
You know about traffic jams but if you drive through this national park you will likely encounter “bear jams,” the phrase the locals use to characterize the stopping of cars to take photos when bears cross the road.
A second item to know if you go is that Gatlinburg, where you may start your park tour, is home to a large artists community. So save time to do “The Loop,” the eight-mile Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail.
The Park Headquarters is at 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. For more information call (865) 436-1200 and see NPS Plan Your Visit. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is about 585 miles (about a 9.5 hour drive) from Chicago.
If looking for a breath-taking, backpacking, boating or fishing experience check out Isle Royale, MI , a National Park island in Lake Superior. Wheeled vehicles not allowed. Camp out or snag a room at Rock Harbor Lodge.
Drive to a departure town such as Houghton, Michigan about 400 miles from Chicago and 200 miles north of Green Bay WI. Visitors then take the NPS’ Ranger III boat over to the Isle. Different boats go from other towns.
Transportation services go there from Houghton and Copper Harbor, Michigan and Grand Portage, Minnesota.
Houghton is off of US-41 at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula. For more information and tips visit NPS Plan. For Houghton and Isle Royale info call (906) 482-0984.
The park is beautiful any time of year. Visit in the fall to do its Pierce stocking Scenic Drive or in the winter if you like to snow shoe. Or visit in the spring when birds and wild flowers fill the woods. Come back in the summer to hike or bike the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The park’s Port Oneida Rural Historic District features late 1980s farm life and crafts.
Do climb the immense sand dunes. The dunes at Sleeping Bear, town of Empire and at Pyramid Point are on bluffs about 400 feet above Lake Michigan.
The clue about what to see and do is the word Lakeshore. There are 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline plus inland lakes and streams. Park Headquarters are at 9922 Front St., Empire, MI 49630 Park Headquarters call (231) 326-4700 or try the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center (231) 326-4700, ext. 5010. See NPS Visit to plan the trip.
Adjacent towns such as Glen Haven, and Leland further north on the Leelanau Peninsula, are fun to visit. So is boating out to South Manitou Island for its lighthouse. The park has campgrounds. Click here for accommodations and attractions and to plan your visit. Add a couple of days to visit the wineries and towns on the Leelanau Peninsula.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is about 331 miles, about 5 1/2 hours, from Chicago.
After a bruising winter it’s time to go to a town that celebrates brightly colored flowers with dancing, art, music and windmill-ground flour. No passport needed.
It’s Holland, MI where everything Dutch is celebrated year ’round but where when May comes tulips line the streets and the town is in festival mode.
Plan now to visit because accommodations fill fast. Tulip Time is May 4 through May 12, 2019. Week days are less crowded but to catch the events you want, check the schedule. To see the schedule visit Tulip Time events.
Dutch dances begin May 2, Tulip Town Tours, the artisan market and Art in Bloom, Tall ships, Tulip Time Quilt show are May 4. But many of these events continue through the festival.
Tip: Don’t limit your time to just the main festival site.
My favorite stop is Windmill Island Gardens on the edge of the downtown. It has a real, from-Holland, working Dutch windmill. There is also an antique children’s carousel and replica Dutch buildings. For Tulip time there is a Dutch Trade Fair and Dutch food.
Dining. I haven’t had a bad meal there. Among my faves are Alpenrose Restaurant and Curragh Irish Pub.But walkthe main street, 8th Street, and explore. There are lots of boutiques and good restaurants plus good sculptures to see and photograph.
Picture a Midwestern river town that celebrates a favorite son with a presidential museum, its furniture history with a public museum, its appreciation of sculpture with an amazing garden and appreciation of art with a mega fall fair that awards half a million dollars in prizes.
Grand Rapids, Mi., a former U.S. furniture hub on the Grand River and childhood home of Gerald R. Ford is fun to visit year round. But come in the fall when the colors paint the scenery and ArtPrize paints the town. An art fair where the public gets to votes and thus, choose where some of the prize money goes, ArtPrize attracts artists from across the globe and visitors from across North America.
Unlike fine art exhibits that are confined indoors to one museum or outside to a single city plaza or street, ArtPrize blankets Grand Rapids from banks to bistros and breweries to bridges.
Because works are displayed throughout the city visitors walk through buildings and neighborhoods they may not normally get to on a brief vacation.
For ArtPrize 2018, the numbers as of mid-August were 1,417 artists working on 1,271 entries at 166 venues. The event runs from Sept. 19 through Oct. 7.
Among the places that have been venues in past years but are destinations anyway to put on the must visit list are the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, the Public Museum across the road from it downtown on the river and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park on the eastern outskirts of town.
At the Ford Presidential Museum learn more about Watergate and Ford’s time in Congress, in the White House and at the University of Michigan. The museum is at 303 Pearl St. NW. Gerald Ford and wife Betty are buried on the grounds.
Cross the road to the Public Museum, 272 Pearl St., NW to browse through rooms of native American artifacts, treasured examples from when the town was the US furniture hub, stroll through some old Grand Rapids streets, sit at consoles as an astronaut and ride a 1928 Spillman Carousel.
Amble through the Sculpture Park and inside the main building to discover more than 200 pieces by well-known artists. Around every curve in the path come across works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Richard Hunt Anish Kapoor, Claes Oldenburg, Jaume Plensa and other pieces to photograph and put on Facebook or Instagram.
There is also a terrific children’s garden that adults would love and a peaceful Japanese Garden. The Meijer Gardens are at 1000 East Beltline Ave NE.
BTW Grand Rapids is a good stop on the way up to Traverse City or when doing a triangle that includes Holland and Grand Haven, MI.
Less than three hours north of Chicago there is an authentic windmill that grinds out flour. Surrounded by gardens, small waterways and bridges, it is on Windmill Island and open spring, summer and fall. But a great time to visit is the second week in May when tulips are blooming across the island and its town, Holland, MI.
In 2018, it is May 5-13 but don’t worry if you can’t make it or find accommodations during the festival. According to the Veldheer Tulip Farm and Gardens, a company that grows and ships bulbs globally, the tulips should peak the third week of May.
No matter when going, Windmill Island is a must see. The windmill really is from the Netherlands. Dismantled and put back together there, it is run by a licensed operator who grinds flour that can be purchased and used at home. The island also features, a Children’s Carousel, a street organ, a couple of delightful buildings with Dutch figures and gifts and there are good walking paths.
But also visit the downtown for its good food, beer and boutiques. Stop in at Austrian Alpen Rose for breakfast, lunch or a coffee and pastry break.
Save time to see wooden shoes made and delftware painted on the outskirts of town at the DeKlomp Delftware and Wooden Shoe Factory on Quincy Street. Entry is free but you’ll want to take home well-made gifts for yourself, family and friends. BTW De Klomp is Dutch for wooden shoes.
Another place is Nelis’ Dutch Village that features dancing, shoes, Delftware and playground activities. Entry has a fee because it is an entertainment area.
Room availability is scarce during the Tulip Festival so make plans ahead of time, then go enjoy the Dutch culture of a Holland that is here in the States.
Now that leaves on a few trees are changing is the time to figure out where to go to see spectacular color in a few weeks and next month.
But if you don’t want to merely drive some place for fall color and then head back home then consider a vacation destination with great views, hiking, biking, fun shops and lots of lodging and dining choices.
But before packing the car and heading out check the following five tips to make the trip fun, not frustrating.
Deep reds are already tipping the tops of some trees. Drops of crimson sprinkle others. Gold leaves are beginning to line parks and parkways. Enjoy the local scenery, however, to feed that inner urge for a vista of color look for state and national forests nearby and in neighboring states. But before packing the car and heading out check the following five tips to make the trip fun, not frustrating.
1.Don’t use your neighborhood color changes as the definitive guide. Colors in states or area of your state to the north and west may be in full fall color palette or just beginning to change south or east. In the Midwest visit these state information sites: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
2. Take advantage of local Visitors Bureaus to find accommodations. As an example, Door County in northeastern Wisconsin, and Traverse City in northern Michigan (below the Upper Peninsula) and Brown County (Bloomington and Nashville) in central Indiana keep tabs on what is available and know price points and type.
3. A GPS works some places but not all so stop at the area’s Information Center for maps, brochures and suggestions.
4. Because you are driving, not flying, throw those extra boots, hiking shoes, jackets, sun protector hats and sprays, water bottles, first-aid kits and backpacks into the car.
5. Don’t forget chargers for phones, ipads, cameras or whatever other electronics you take everywhere. Also check your accommodations before you leave, they already have enough chargers from previous visitors.
From crimson and copper to delicate pinks and sherbert oranges, colorful leaves surprise drivers around every corner in the upper Midwest. Just get in the car and go.