A weekend’s journey is closer than you might think. Check out these fun destinations that are close to home but feel far enough away.
Starved Rock Lodge: Embrace Spring and Explore the Natural World
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
Spring is here. Each day, new arrivals appear at Starved Rock State Park, near Utica. Virginia Bluebells have sprouted in Illinois Canyon. American White Pelicans can be seen sunbathing on the shores of Leopold Island. Many other migratory birds can be spotted at Starved Rock because of its unique location on the Illinois River (also called the Mississippi Flyway). This is a bird highway, so bring your binoculars when you visit.
Be sure to start your visit at Starved Rock Lodge, which overlooks the river valley and provides a quick entry into the park’s hiking trails.
Council Overhang glows with warmth as the sun rises over this stunning geological structure composed of St. Peter Sandstone. Ottawa Canyon’s waterfall is flowing right around the corner, waiting for hikers to discover its beauty. Day by day, wildflowers pop throughout the park. From skunk cabbage to Dutchman’s breeches, there are many species hiding in the woods. It’s worth buying a field guide or checking Woodland Wildflowers of Illinois online to learn about the hundreds of blooms that appear annually at Starved Rock.
COVID-19 shut down the world last year and forced us all inside. As the nation and our state re-open, hope comes along with it. Capacity limits are still at 50% at Starved Rock Lodge, but there’s hope it will increase soon. Outdoor dining will be offered on the Veranda once warm weather arrives and the Lodge’s seasonal workforce is in place.
Live music has returned to the Veranda every Friday night, and the stunning view from the east end of Starved Rock Lodge’s overlook is the best in Illinois. A new Flatbread Friday menu has been added to the outdoor dining options this season.
The staircase leading from the veranda to the visitor center was closed last summer due to a severe storm, but repairs are starting soon.
“Tribute to the Stars” matinees have returned to the Great Hall. Lunch buffet is included. See website for show dates.
Guided hikes are offered each weekend at the Lodge. Throughout April and May, Waterfall & Canyon Tours are the Lodge’s top-selling way to see the magnificence of this National Historic Landmark.
We are helping brides and grooms-to-be plan their weddings as much as two years out, and creating flexible guest lists is the key to having a post-pandemic dream wedding. The sales team is helping couples plan for a variety of scenarios at both of the Lodge’s outdoor venues, and that includes backup locations in case of inclement weather. The trolleys can transport an entire wedding party to a waterfall for amazing photos.
For reservations and details on all programs, lodging details and menus, visit starvedrocklodge.com.
Lake Lawn Resort: Stay and Play Along Delavan Lake
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
As the sun comes back out from hiding, it’s time for a little getaway. Just 90 minutes from Chicago, near Lake Geneva, is a place that’s long been a favorite for unwinding and relaxing. Lake Lawn Resort, in Delavan, Wis., is ready to give you that mini getaway you need.
Considering Lake Lawn has 2 miles of Delavan Lake shoreline, it’s impossible to avoid the water. This season, the resort is launching all-new water-related equipment, including new boats, jet skis and pontoons. Stay right at the lake, in a room or suite, for first dibs on these daily rentals.
“It’s like a summer extravaganza with outdoor watersports,” says Dave Sekeres, general manager of Lake Lawn Resort. “You can stay lakeside in a suite or a room. Some even have a kitchenette, where you can have a lake house experience for a weekend or during the week.”
As early as May, Lake Lawn guests can climb aboard the resort’s two-level, 76-foot cruise boat, the Lake Lawn Queen. The boat hosts many cruises throughout the season, from an early season Mother’s Day special to adults-only booze cruises and beer and bourbon tastings.
With three restaurants, Lake Lawn provides plenty of ways to enjoy some serious cuisine with a beautiful backdrop. The Frontier Restaurant and the Fireside Lounge both provide a more upscale, sit-down experience where prime rib is the Saturday-night special. The Lookout Bar & Eatery is a laid-back sports bar atmosphere and is located next to the pools. This is the sort of spot where it’s easy to find a Spotted Cow beer and authentic Wisconsin food like cheese curds. The Isle of Capri Cafe is a grab-and-go restaurant with drinks, small bites and Wisconsin’s Cedar Crest ice cream.
The full-service resort also includes an 18-hole golf course, a variety of overnight accommodations, a fitness center and much more that’s waiting to be discovered.
For more on Lake Lawn Resort, head to lakelawnresort.com.
DeKalb County: Patio Dining Beckons this Spring
By Sara Myers, multimedia editor
Getting outside and enjoying a refreshing drink is easy to do in DeKalb County. Patios across the area are open and inviting the curious for a different kind of culinary exploration this season.
Prairie State Winery, which has been serving a taste of DeKalb County-raised grapes since 1998, now serves special sangria and sangarita slushies exclusively for the patio. While they’re enjoying the beautiful, rolling terrain just outside Genoa, guests can drink specialty red, white and dessert wines. Try a different approach and visit during events like Weenies and Wine, where you can taste Prairie State’s newest vintages, served with a hot dog straight off the grill.
At Whiskey Acres Distilling Co., just outside the city of DeKalb, the patio overlooks rolling farm fields that supply the corn, wheat and rye for this group’s signature spirits.
Distilled-on-site bourbons, vodkas and rye whiskeys are typically the star, but they take a backseat when food trucks come rolling in. This May, look for Brothers’ BBQ Food Truck and Burritoville Food Truck to make a special appearance.
Brothers’ BBQ serves its signature Kansas City-style barbeque, which means the meat is smoked traditionally and finishes with a tang. The family-owned business seasons its meats with a signature rub, then slow-smokes it with apple and hickory.
Burritoville Food Truck – an extension of the popular family restaurant in DeKalb – serves up fresh, authentic Mexican tacos with hearty servings of rice and beans on a flour tortilla.
For a completely different kind of patio experience, there’s Blumen Gardens in Sycamore. This beloved home decor and garden center, set within an old warehouse, also serves as a wedding and event center.
Its kitschy urban-chic-meets-outdoor-garden setting feels cozy and completely unique.
Food trucks stop by the Blumen Gardens patio every Saturday in May, starting in the morning and lasting through the afternoon. Arrivals include Open Door Coffee, Slow Smoke BBQ, My Funnel Truck and Wild Carrot.
Open Door Coffee serves award-winning cold brew coffee and My Funnel Truck brings decadent, inventivefunnel cakes and ice cream sundae combos. Wild Carrot serves seasonally inspired, locally sourced dishes. Check Blumen Gardens’ website for food truck times and additional details.
For more ideas about visiting DeKalb County this season, head to dekalbcountycvb.com.