A great weekend’s journey isn’t so far away. Here are some excellent places to visit.
Pick a Pumpkin (and More) in DeKalb County
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
It’s one of our cherished fall traditions here in the Midwest: drinking apple cider and picking out a pumpkin with the family. In DeKalb County, there are many opportunities to do just that and enjoy all that this season has to offer.
“The big fall push we have is our apple orchards and pumpkin stands. They have a variety of children’s activities, such as tractor rides, petting zoos, and slides,” says Katherine McLaughlin, sales and marketing coordinator at DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There is also plenty of fall décor and fresh honey and jams.”
At Jonamac Orchard, near Malta, visitors adore the corn maze, designed this year to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. By day, it’s a family-friendly activity for all ages.
After sunset, though, it becomes a haunted corn maze that’s open on Friday and Saturday nights until Halloween. Jonamac’s Cider House is filled with goodies, including apple wines, ciders and beer from local breweries.
Kuipers Family Farm, in Maple Park, has apple, raspberry and pumpkin picking, in addition to many family-friendly activities. Honey Hill Orchard, in Waterman, offers up a quieter experience with all of those fall staples – apples, doughnuts, cider, gifts and kids activities included.
The city of Sycamore adores its pumpkins, and for the past 58 years it’s made a fall festival out of this simple squash. This year, the tradition takes on a new spin as the Sycamore Lions Club hosts a pumpkin decorating contest at Sycamore Park, off Airport Road. This year’s event is limited to drive-by viewing only, during park hours from dawn to dusk.
Another part of the Pumpkin Fest weekend traditions, the Sycamore Pumpkin Run, becomes a “virtual” event this year.
“Typically the 10K draws in over 1,600 runners and spectators, which isn’t realistic this year,” explains McLaughlin. “The virtual 10K or 1-mile family fun run encourage everyone who registers to ‘Run Your Own Race’ when and where they want.”
To register, head to pumpkinrunsycamore.com. Participants receive a bib and T-shirt.
The small town of Sandwich enjoys some old-fashioned, small-town Halloween fun with a “drive-thru” trick-or-treat event starting at the Sandwich Chamber of Commerce. Families are encouraged to dress up, decorate their car and cruise around town. A map from the Chamber of Commerce will lead you to each stop on the tour.
Pet parents can enjoy their own fun with the DeKalb Park District’s “HOWL-o-ween Costume Contest” at Katz Dog Park. The five categories are: Most “Spook-tacular,” “Howling” with laughter, Presidential Pooches, Most “Fly” Superhero and Best Owner/Pet Costume Combo.
“It’s really cute and Halloween-related,” says McLaughlin.
DeKalb County’s wide-open spaces are always enjoyable, but they’re especially helpful this year, as the area slowly brings back its special events. Warehouse on Park, in Genoa, has been hosting gatherings at its large patio space, welcoming artists and food on the weekends.
Whiskey Acres, in DeKalb, and Prairie State Winery, in Genoa, have been hosting live music on their spacious outdoor patios, as well. While Prairie State Winery has its own food menu, Whiskey Acres is bringing in food trucks.
“It’s great because, in DeKalb County, we have so much space,” says McLaughlin. “A lot of places have a lot of land, so they can host bigger groups and different types of events. It’s so nice to get people outside again and give them space to enjoy a night out.”
Explore even more of the area’s fall fun online at dekalbcountycvb.com.
Try a True Taste of What’s in Swiss Town
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
There’s nothing like hiking or biking the trails in autumn, and New Glarus, Wis., has both trails and scenery aplenty. But that’s just part of the allure of this destination.
A return to community and social activities is driving demand for small-scale events around New Glarus. Bailey’s Run Winery is one place that’s been welcoming those who want to connect. Located just outside of New Glarus, this winery has been holding “mini festivals” in the warm months.
“Whether it’s bingo or a festival, they always have live music and they have a huge outdoor space,” says Bekah Stauffacher, executive director of the New Glarus Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a good place for people to congregate and get together.”
New Glarus has a reputation as “America’s Little Switzerland,” in part because of the charming, Swiss-inspired architecture that’s on full display downtown. One of the best ways to experience that Swiss flair is through your stomach. Swiss restaurants such as the New Glarus Hotel Restaurant, Glarner Stube and Chalet Landhaus offer classic dishes including Rösti, which are shredded potatoes and cheese mixed together and then fried into a pancake.
“The New Glarus Hotel Restaurant has schnitzels, which are like meat pounded flat and then breaded and fried,” says Stauffacher. “They also have Kalberwurst, which is like a really mild sausage covered in gravy. It’s definitely a good place to come get your fall and winter comfort food.”
Downtown is filled with unique, homegrown shops selling all sorts of interesting items. It’s a natural place to get a head start on holiday shopping – and to support local retailers in the process. Find unique gifts at places like The Bramble Patch, Brenda’s Blumenladen, Lollygag Antiques and New Rose.
If you’re walking around town with friends and just want a snack, the New Glarus Bakery and Fat Cat Coffee Works are both recommended by locals.
There are many ways to make the most of this wonderful season. The Sugar River State Trail follows an abandoned railroad line in south-central Wisconsin, covering 24 miles from New Glarus to Brodhead. The crushed-limestone surface is suitable for walkers and bicyclists alike. With 14 trestle bridges over the Sugar River, the trail also meanders past farmland, woods, rolling hills and prairies.
The year-round trail connects to New Glarus Woods State Park, where there’s year-round camping. The designated National Recreational Trail connects to another popular path: Badger State Trail, located south of the Monticello trailhead. This one runs 40 miles from the Illinois state line north to Madison.
Of course, fall just isn’t complete without a visit to the apple orchard or a farm. Munchkey Apples, located north in Mount Horeb, is a prime apple picking spot. The family-run orchard has close to 9,000 trees on its property, and the orchard store sells a variety of produce including honey, sweet cider, brix hard cider, French farm-to-table wine and Angus beef.
At Linstroth’s Valley View Farm, also in Mount Horeb, fall produce is a specialty. Starting each May, the farm plants vegetables, pumpkins and squash by hand and nurtures them until the plants are harvested and sold. Visit to find pumpkins, squash, potatoes, carrots, fall mums and decor.
That’s just the start. Head to swisstown.com for more information on fall and early winter happenings in New Glarus.
Watch the Leaves Change in Ottawa
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
When the colors on the trees start changing to beautiful shades of orange and red, the fall season is truly underway. In Ottawa, this is a time full of adventure, color and cuisine.
There’s no better place to take in the area’s full color and promise of adventure than at Starved Rock State Park, located a short drive from downtown Ottawa. The park’s sloping hills and colorful canopy come alive in October. It’s a great choice for a drive-through experience or a fall hike with the family while celebrating the start of a new season. Dayton Bluffs is also a great place to watch the beautiful colors change this fall.
“We have the scenic drive between us and Starved Rock that runs along the river,” says Curt Bedei, executive director of the Ottawa Visitors Center. “They can take that route and take in all of the fall colors there. We have Buffalo Rock, which is a great place to be outdoors and see lots of trees and live buffalo there. When that area starts turning color, you can definitely see a lot of fall colors there.”
The Ottawa area enjoys a long and rich history dating far beyond the arrival of European settlers, and that history is on proud display throughout the month of October. Join Awesome Ottawa Tours for a spooky look at the area’s past, and enjoy it in your own way this year.
“Awesome Ottawa Tours is doing haunted tours that can be private,” says Bedei. “If people don’t feel comfortable with a group of people they don’t know, the team can adjust it.”
This fall’s special walking tour highlights Brickton, an abandoned settlement on Ottawa’s east side. In this area just east of the Fox River, near the convergence with the Illinois River, ghost stories prevail from the days of the I&M Canal and the Rock Island Railroad. Join the tour and hear haunting tales of death by accident, suicide and murder – not to mention paranormal activity dating back to the mid-1800s. This walking tour is not appropriate for children under 13.
On the lighter side, Old Town Farmers Market is open every Saturday in October from 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Vendors bring plenty of fresh, home-grown vegetables and fruits as well as home-baked goods, jams, dog treats, handmade soap and fresh-roasted coffee. From 8 a.m.-9 a.m., the market is open only to seniors and “at-risk” shoppers.
Ottawa’s many restaurants bring out the best of the fall season in many ways. Downtown, the flavors of fall come alive at Lone Buffalo BrewPub & Tap Room. The fall menu includes Oktober Fondue, made with aged cheddar and gruyere, seared cider-brined knackwurst with Bavarian pretzel pieces, mustard-roasted potatoes, green apple slices and mini gherkins for dipping. Match it up with a cold beer, custom-brewed on site.
The menu also includes a pesto, apple and gorgonzola flatbread as well as the chicken schnitzel. The flatbread includes house-made pesto and Granny Smith apples. The schnitzel includes sautéed chicken breast and mustard cream sauce. And for sweets, Lone Buffalo has the new Pumpkin Crème Baklava. This take on the Mediterranean classic includes phyllo dough layered with cinnamon sugar, pumpkin puree, pistachios and a topping of caramel and toasted marshmallow crème.
For more about a visit to Ottawa, head to pickusottawail.com.
Autumn Happens, Pandemic or Not
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
The beauty of fall is in the air at Starved Rock State Park and Lodge, near Utica. Mother Nature is overseeing an explosion of burnt orange and golden hues as the leaves change color this October.
Hiking to see the sandstone canyons and bluff views is the perfect escape from working at home. Hosting your retreat from home is Starved Rock Lodge, a destination that makes a perfect overnight adventure.
You’ll be required to wear a mask if you enter (except when dining), but you can enjoy the majestic beauty of the Great Hall, sip an apple cider margarita at the Back Door Lounge, or enjoy a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner in the ambiance of the historic Main Dining Room.
There’s no better way to experience the rich array of fall color than on a guided hike to Wildcat Canyon, a Fall Colors Trolley Tour or an Autumn on the River Cruise. Each of these activities shows you a different part of Starved Rock. From the stunning view at Council Overhang to the splendid fall foliage along the Illinois River, Starved Rock is worth much more than a day trip. Check out the Fall Splendor or Leaf Peepers overnight packages on the Lodge’s website for the best value. Visit starvedrocklodge.com for information, and call (815) 220-7386 for tour reservations.
New this fall is the “Remote Learning Field Trip,” where parents or grandparents can bring their school-aged children to the Lodge for an adventure. A study guide is included with the overnight stay, along with a boxed lunch and Certificate of Achievement. Your student will get to try “Pool School,” gazing at the stars and taste-testing delicious ice cream.
This October brings two full moons and Halloween! Ghost Tours are on the calendar every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Board the Starved Rock Trolley and be escorted to some of the most haunted destinations in the area, then finish the tour with a chance to try Star Union Spirits. (Anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult).
Starved Rock Lodge had hoped to host a fundraising dinner in April, but that was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Thanks to the support of Tangled Roots Brewery in Ottawa, a “Path Mender” benefit will take place on Oct. 14 in an outdoor tent near the brewery.
Path Mender Pale Ale is a craft beer brewed by Tangled Roots to support the For the Love of Starved Rock campaign. One dollar from every bottle or glass of Path Mender will be donated to this cause, which is securing the funding needed to repair and improve Starved Rock State Park’s well-traveled trail system. If you can’t make it, look for your own draft of Path Mender ale or visit ForTheLoveOfStarvedRock.com.