A great weekend’s journey is hours away. Here are some excellent places to visit.
Fly RFD: Loveland, Colorado: ‘Gateway to the Rockies’
By Janine Pumilia, managing editor
If you’ve been thinking about jetting off to the Rocky Mountains, this is a great time to do it. Elite Airways offers twice-weekly flights between Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport (FNL) and Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD). You can park the car (for free) at RFD, hop on your plane and land in the Rocky Mountain foothills 2 hours and 15 minutes later.
Loveland, Colo., is an ideally located “base camp” for excursions north, south, east and west, and it also has a lot to offer visitors from within its own borders.
“For a town our size, we have a lot going on,” says Nicole Yost, of VisitLovelandCO.com. The city of 72,000 people offers ample lodging, dining and shopping amenities plus a charming downtown and lively arts scene.
“Loveland hotels don’t require minimum-night stays, as the mountain resorts often do, especially during busy seasons,” Yost explains. Bum around Loveland for a day or two as you adjust to the elevation of just under 5,000 feet. Then head west on U.S. 34 and arrive in gorgeous Estes Park, Colo., in less than an hour; glorious Rocky Mountain National Park will be at your disposal, as will quaint mountain towns with elevations of 7,000 to 8,000 feet.
Don’t like mountain driving? Shuttle services can whisk you between Loveland and your mountain destination.
Or, head south on I-25 from Loveland and find yourself in Denver (pop. 650,000) an hour later. This state capital offers all the metropolitan sophistication, pro sports team action and jazzed-up nightlife you would expect. Top attractions include the Denver Zoo, Denver Botanic Gardens and Denver Art Museum. Take in a Rockies ballgame at Coors Stadium or get tickets for a Broncos football game.
Or, head north from Loveland, on I-25, and roll into another state capital. The pace is a bit slower in Cheyenne, Wyo., which is 10 times smaller than Denver, but its Old West roots are on full display. Cheyenne is situated on a rolling landscape between the North and South Platte rivers. Rodeos, trains, outdoor adventure and Native American traditions are all part of the culture.
Head east from Loveland toward Greeley, Colo., and you’ll notice an agri-tourism trail along the way. Visitors to Greeley’s Colorado Model Railroad Museum give it an “Excellent” rating on TripAdvisor.com and the Antique Washing Machine Museum offers good, clean fun to those who enjoy quirky attractions.
If you hanker to ride a horse in wide-open spaces, plenty of reputable dude ranches surround Loveland. One is Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, less than 10 miles away, nestled near the Roosevelt National Forest. Saddle up your horse, gather around an open fire or do some trout fly-fishing in the Big Thompson River Valley.
The number of breweries, distilleries, wineries and “cideries” in the Loveland area may surprise you. Many offer tours. Along with a pretty downtown shopping district, Loveland offers The Promenade Shops, with more than 75 brand favorites like Banana Republic, White House Black Market and Build-a-Bear Workshop. Nearby there’s a MetroLux 14 Theatre, a seasonal skating rink and walking paths to the one-of-a-kind Chapungu Sculpture Park, featuring Zimbabwe stone sculptures. Loveland’s 10-acre Benson Sculpture Garden showcases 148 sculptures and is considered a “must-see” in the world of contemporary U.S. art sites.
Outdoor movies and plenty of special events play out in Loveland beneath skies that are clear 300 days per year.
Wintertime is just as lively in Colorado, of course, with world-class ski resorts dotting the state map. Be sure to book flights and ski resorts well in advance.
Flights to FNL depart Rockford at 8 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays; FNL flights to Rockford depart at 4 p.m. Mondays and Fridays. Tickets are on sale now. Learn more at flyrfd.com.
Visit McHenry County: A Weekend Getaway That’s Close to Home
By Chris Linden, executive editor
Who says you have to drive for hours to get away? Perched between Chicago and Rockford, McHenry County and its many communities provide an idyllic backdrop for a brief retreat. Whether you’re eager to spend time by the water or breathe in some fresh country air, you’ll find it.
Your weekend getaway begins on Friday evenings at Wonder Lake, along the shores of its namesake body of water. Beginning at 7 p.m., the Wonder Lake Water Show Ski Team takes to the lake as its nearly 120 teammates show off their water ski stunts.
Far from an ordinary ski team, this group boasts four national championships. Its performers have skied around the world and represented the U.S. as members of the USA Water Ski Show Team.
“Multiple people from our team have skied at Sea World, Disney World, and in places like Australia, New Zealand and China,” says publicity ski director Jarret Graff, who’s been skiing Wonder Lake since he was 9. “I’ve been to China, myself. I actually just got back a month ago. I went there with a different team.”
Graff’s 18- and 8-year old daughters are also part of the family-friendly team.
Catch the action for yourself at Center Beach, on Hancock Drive and East Lake Shore Drive. More details are online at wonderlakeskiteam.org.
“Bring a blanket, a chair and a cooler, and sit on the beach,” says Graff.
Your Saturday adventures begin on the Woodstock Square, where the Woodstock Farmers Market sets up every week. Vendors hail from all corners of the county and its surrounding area, as they serve up fresh treats including produce and honey, cheese, meats and flowers. Because every product is raised or made locally by the vendor, availability depends upon what’s in season.
Not far from the square, McCann Berry Farm is now welcoming its strawberry and sugar snap pea season, and preparing for a bounteous blueberry harvest come July. All produce is U-Pick, and although the farm isn’t certified organic, it uses alternate pest control methods with a minimum of pesticide.
A little east, at Stade’s Farm and Market, varieties of non-GMO strawberries and raspberries are in season. You’ll also find things like broccoli, sweet corn, potatoes, peppers and tomatoes.
Once you’re scorched by the afternoon sun, head to Crystal Lake and The Quarry Cable Park & Grille, a much-anticipated new attraction at Three Oaks Recreation Area, off U.S. Route 14.
This unique attraction on Three Oaks’ North Lake provides an easy way for experienced wakeboarders and beginners to enjoy the sport without a boat.
The full-size cable system pulls riders along a cable suspended by a series of six towers.
Up to 10 people at a time can zoom along the advanced-rider course, which runs nearly 18 to 21 mph and passes a number of jumps, rails and kickers. The beginner courses offer a more simple back-and-forth ride with assistance from a skilled operator.
“The whole concept is new to the area,” says Angie Rinn, from The Quarry’s operations team. “There are several parks in the south, but in the Midwest we don’t have many facilities like this.”
Riders can buy passes in two-hour, four-hour or all-day increments. Helmets and Coast Guard-approved life jackets are required; equipment rentals are available at the pro shop.
Landlubbers have plenty to enjoy at The Quarry’s clubhouse, where they’ll find a fast-casual grill serving comfort food and draft beer, an events room that accommodates up to 50, an outdoor patio with fire pit and two full-sized sand volleyball courts.
Because it’s within Three Oaks, The Quarry is accessible to the park’s family-friendly beach, boat rentals and walking trails.
“It’s going to be a great summer destination,” says Rinn.
For more information on these and other attractions around McHenry County, go to visitmchenrycounty.com.
Potawatomi Hotel & Casino: Abundant Entertainment Under One Roof
By Lindsey Gapen, assistant managing editor
With so much to do, it’s no wonder Potawatomi Hotel & Casino is one of Wisconsin’s most visited attractions. The Milwaukee destination features world-class gaming with thousands of the latest slot machines, nearly 100 table games, a 1,300-seat bingo hall, off-track betting and a 24-hour poker room.
“Potawatomi stands out, especially on a regional level, for the sheer amount of amenities,” says Ryan Amundson, Potawatomi’s external communications manager. “Additionally, we thrive on offering our guests the best in guest service.”
Potawatomi’s seven restaurants offer something for all palates, from top-notch steaks and seafood at Dream Dance Steak to fresh sushi and cuisine from the Pacific Rim at RuYi. There’s also Italian dining at Wild Earth Cucina Italiana; tons of sports action accompanied by pub food at the Fire Pit Sports Bar & Grill; food as far as the eye can see at The Buffet; and choices galore in the Menomonee Valley Food Court.
Guests can also try the newest restaurant, Canal Street Cafe, featuring classic comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For entertainment outside the casino, the 500-seat Northern Lights Theater offers an intimate concert experience. Memorable performers on this stage have included Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and Jay Leno. Upcoming entertainers include Don Rickles on Aug. 16-17, Freddie Jackson on Aug. 26 and Boney James on Aug. 28.
“The Theater has been lauded for its intimacy, great sound and atmosphere, and the sheer level of talent that graces the stage,” Amundson says. “But entertainment isn’t limited to the theater. Potawatomi additionally offers free shows throughout the casino.”
In particular, Bar 360, a massive bar in the center of the gaming floor, hosts a plethora of free entertainment.
Frequent casino visitors may be interested in joining Potawatomi’s Fire Keeper’s Club, a group of elite players. Through regular play on slots, table games, poker or bingo, competitive players can rack up points and earn exciting rewards.
“We always have something going on at Potawatomi,” Amundson says. “On Mondays starting on Aug. 8, our Fire Keeper’s Club members can earn entries into our dream vacation getaways. Guests can earn multiple entries by playing with a chance to win one of seven fantastic vacations to such locales as Maui, Punta Cana, Napa Valley and Ireland, just to name a few.”
Potawatomi’s 381-room hotel is the newest amenity, having opened in 2014. The luxury accommodations are only steps away from the game floor. Each room, furnished in modern decor, contains a flat-screen TV, safe, refrigerator, coffeemaker and smart thermostat. Staff is available at all hours of the day to assist with any guest needs.
“Quite simply, Potawatomi stands out because there’s so much to do under one roof,” Amundson says. “When our guests walk into our property, it’s our hope that they will tell others about the great experience they had.”