Recreation & Destinations

Five Must-See Vacation Destinations

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Isn’t it time for a summer getaway, to someplace other than our familiar backdrop? Check out five destinations, not too far from home, that are worthy of a summer vacation.

Galena’s quaint downtown still has many original structures from the 1800s, and its main street is filled with unique shopping and dining destinations.

Summer is a time to let your hair down, hop in the car and explore someplace fun that’s far from home. Hiking, boating, shopping, dining – there’s so much to experience in our region, all of it less than six hours away. Summer is in full swing, and there’s still plenty of time to get out and enjoy the charm and beauty of our Midwestern states. Here’s a sampling of five regional destinations that are worthy of a summer escape.

Galena

This city in northwest Illinois’ Driftless Area is a favorite getaway any time of the year, with many resorts, vacation rental homes and bed-and-breakfasts, but summer is an especially exciting time to soak in its charm.

“What’s truly unique is that this area is so well preserved since the 1800s,” says Celestino Ruffini, director of sales and marketing for the Galena/Jo Daviess County CVB. “There’s a huge emphasis on being outdoors this time of year, with shopping in the historic buildings along Main Street. You see a lot of people spending the day shopping, dining, visiting attractions or looking at the different architectural styles. Then, you can spend the second and third day hiking, biking, golfing some of the area’s 189 holes of golf, or taking a hot-air balloon ride. People are drawn to the scenic beauty and the chance to engage all senses, here in Galena.”

Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy two new land preserves located just outside city limits. Horseshoe Mound Preserve, 1679 N. Blackjack Road, and Galena Gateway Park, 9300 Powder House Road, offer spectacular views, restored prairie and hiking trails.

“From the highest point, the preserves provide spectacular views looking into the city of Galena, as well as hiking trails, restored prairies and wild flowers,” says Ruffini.

Looking for something different? Check out Fever River Outfitters, 525 S. Main St., a retail outlet that rents canoes, bicycles, stand-up paddle boards and kayaks. Visitors can even take a scooter ride along remote country roads to the Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery. Tour the vineyard and taste some wine before getting an escort ride back to town.

“We all need a break from our hectic lifestyles,” says Ruffini. “Galena is a place to escape from reality.”

For more information, visit galena.org.

New Glarus, Wis.

The next best thing to visiting Switzerland is taking a short trip to New Glarus, Wis., a community in southwest Wisconsin that’s best known for its Swiss heritage, Old World architecture, ethnic dining, independent shops and outdoor festivals.

“New Glarus is a friendly and diverse tourist town,” says Barb Kummerfeldt, who, along with husband Steve Wisdom, owns Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus in downtown New Glarus. “So many of our businesses and events continue Swiss customs and help to tell the story of why the Swiss settled here.”

The Swiss Historical Village Museum, 612 Seventh Ave., has 14 buildings that tell the story of New Glarus and its rich history. There’s an authentic 1850s log cabin, an 1890s cheese factory, a one-room schoolhouse, a firehouse, a print shop, a blacksmith shop, a general store and a replica of the town’s first log church. The museum is open May through October, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Walk-ins and group tours are welcome.

The Chalet of the Golden Fleece Museum, 618 Second St., is home to the collection of Edwin Barlow, who was a resident of New Glarus and the founder of the Wilhelm Tell Drama—one of New Glarus’ most popular festivals. The museum includes three floors of painted furniture, original artwork, paintings, coins, stamps, Swiss woodcarvings and a jeweled watch once owned by King Louis XVI.

New Glarus is also the starting point for the 23-mile-long Sugar River Bike Trail, and New Glarus Woods State Park is less than a mile from the edge of the village.

Don’t leave town without first stopping at New Glarus Brewing Co., founded in 1993, which offers self-guided tours of the brewery at 2400 Hwy. 69, just south of New Glarus. Tours run daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and are held year-round, except on some holidays. The brewery has been recognized as Best Brewery three times at the Great American Beer Festival.

For more information, visit swisstown.com.

Lake Geneva

From biking to golfing, swimming to parasailing, snowmobiling to skiing there’s never a dull moment in Lake Geneva.

One activity that’s quickly taking hold is zip lining. Lake Geneva Canopy Tours (LGCT) provides year-round, sky-high adventure with a 2.5-hour canopy tour for both vacationers and residents alike. Built on the site of a fully reclaimed gravel pit, the 100-acre adventure park has eight thrilling zip lines in the canopy of the forest, five sky bridges, three circular stairways in the trees, and a double-helix stairway that wraps around an ash tree.

“Zip lining is the No. 1-rated activity in Lake Geneva,” says Darien Schaefer, president and CEO of the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

Another must-see destination is the 21-mile Geneva Lake shore path that allows hikers to literally walk through the backyards of spectacular century-old mansions. The path, which was created by early settlers, is a public walkway that hugs the lake’s entire shoreline.

“It’s a great way to see the lake,” says Schaefer. “One reason people visit Lake Geneva is the shore path. It’s free and available year-round. You can actually hike to Williams Bay and take a boat back.”

If spectator sports are more your speed, check out the 2015 Inland Lake Yachting Association Annual Championship, held in Lake Geneva from August 19 to 23. More than 875 sailors and 250 boats from around the country are expected to participate, including some of the top national and international champion sailors.

“Lake Geneva is one of the closest resort areas for the Chicago market,” says Schaefer. “Whether you come for a long weekend or for multiple visits throughout the summer, there’s something for everyone.”

For more information, visit lakegenevawi.com.

Door County, Wis.

With 300 miles of freshwater shoreline on both Lake Michigan and Green Bay, the peninsula of Door County, Wis., is paradise for any water enthusiast.

“It’s hard to get away from the water here,” says Jon Jarosh, director of communications and public relations for Door County Visitors Bureau. “That’s why people love to come here – to be in the water or near it. From kayak and boat tours to parasailing, the list goes on and on.”

If anything can rival Door County’s waterfront, it’s an abundance of cherry trees. Visitors flock to the area’s 2,500 acres of orchards so they can witness the spring blossoms and pick the summer harvest. The best time to pick cherries is late July.

“There are plenty of pick-your-own opportunities at orchards scattered around the county,” says Jarosh. “Door County has cherry products galore; jam, pie, salsa, pancake mix, cookies. You name it, we have it.”

That goes for fish boils, too. “When you think of fish boils, most people think of Door County,” says Jarosh. “We do them unlike anyone else. It’s not just a meal. It’s an experience.”

During a fish boil, locally caught whitefish is boiled outdoors in a large kettle over an open fire. Fish, potatoes and onions are cooked to perfection and served with melted butter, lemon wedges, coleslaw or salad, bread and a slice of fresh-baked Door County cherry pie. Fish boils, complete with story-sharing Boil Masters and cold beverages, are so popular that many restaurants encourage reservations.

The county hosts a number of festivals and special events throughout the summer, including walking tours, farmers markets and lighthouse tours.

“We have a treasure trove of activities for people who want to get away and relax,” says Jarosh. “And we’re close by, just a gas tank away from northern Illinois.”

For more information, visit doorcounty.com.

Traverse City, Mich.

On the other side of Lake Michigan, Traverse City, Mich., is bustling with activities this time of year.

“We’re a boating, canoeing, hiking kind of place,” says Mike Norton, media relations manager for Traverse City Tourism. “Michigan has more coastline than California. Water sports and beaches are a big part of our summer. It’s a magical place.”

One reason is Sleeping Bear Dunes, a United States National Lakeshore located along the northwest coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The park covers a 35-mile-long stretch of Lake Michigan coastline, and encompasses North and South Manitou islands.

Sleeping Bear Dunes is known for its forests, beaches, dune formations and ancient glacial phenomena. The lakeshore boasts many cultural features including the 1871 South Manitou Island Lighthouse, three former stations of the Coast Guard and an extensive historic farm district.

“There’s no way to visit Traverse City without going to Sleeping Bear Dune,” says Norton. “It’s astonishing, quite beautiful and unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”

But that’s not all. Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state in the country, and Traverse City is a big reason why. Traverse City is home to five historic lighthouses: Mission Point, Grand Traverse, South Manitou, North Manitou and Point Betsie.

“Most of these lighthouses were built in the 19th century and remain in excellent shape,” says Norton.

Traverse City is also a popular food and wine destination, known for its cherries, excellent vineyards, 30 wineries and tasting rooms, and 17 breweries. “We’re one of America’s foodiest towns,” says Norton.

And if festivals are your thing, you’ve come to the right place. Traverse City has something happening every weekend of the summer, from film to microbrew festivals. A big hit for both residents and visitors is Friday Night Live, a summer series filled with sidewalk sales, music and plenty of food.

“There’s always something going on in Traverse City,” says Norton.

For more information, visit traversecity.com.

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