Rocky Mountain National Park showcases diverse habitats, from wild grasslands to mountain tundra. Some 60 mountain peaks divide the park along the Continental Divide. (National Park Service photo)

NWQ Getaway Guide, Spring Edition

Our region is filled with exciting destinations, available practically in our backyards! Learn more about these popular getaways.

Rocky Mountain National Park showcases diverse habitats, from wild grasslands to mountain tundra. Some 60 mountain peaks divide the park along the Continental Divide. (National Park Service photo)

Chicago Rockford International Airport: Explore the West’s Pristine Landscapes

The American West is still a pretty wild place, but not because of its cowboys and gunslingin’ bandits. Rather, the majestic mountains, wild herds and scenic landmarks are still on full display at our western national parks. Thanks to Chicago Rockford International Airport, their beauty is more accessible than ever, by way of Frontier Airlines flights from Rockford to Denver.

From Denver, you’ll be on your way to accessing Colorado’s 13 national parks and 42 state parks, which together boast more than 16.6 million annual visitors. There are plenty of interesting sights to see along the way, 1,400 of them listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Start your journey to the west of Denver, with a two-hour drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. Situated around the city of Estes Park, this giant national park is bisected by the Continental Divide and contains contrasting ecosystems and weather patterns. From grassy valleys at 8,000 feet above sea level, more than 60 craggy mountains climb skyward, including Longs Peak, at 14,259 feet above sea level. With campgrounds and more than 359 miles of trail, plus mountain climbing and fishing, visitors can enjoy the beautiful landscape and learn about it at various visitor centers.

To the north and south of Rocky Mountain National Park stand the Roosevelt and Arapaho national forests, which, combined, encompass 1.5 million acres of forest and grassland. The highways are few, but there are far more rugged ways to feel the terrain. Pull into a campground or set up a rustic tent most anywhere around the park, then tour by horseback, ATV or kayak. For a unique experience, visit any of the parks’ 10 wilderness areas, where the land remains virtually untouched by humans.

Farther south, about half an hour from Colorado Springs, are the Pike and San Isabel national forests, containing some 3 million acres of Colorado’s easternmost mountain ranges. Amid massive mountains and lowly grasslands, discover the wild terrain that provides metropolitan Denver with nearly 60 percent of its water. This massive tract of land includes famous Pike’s Peak and the Picket Wire Canyonlands, which are filled with an enormous cache of dinosaur fossils.

The fun doesn’t stop in Colorado. Connect to a flight from Frontier’s Denver hub and reach some 80 destinations across the Unites States, Canada and Mexico. Fly far north to Anchorage, Alaska, where you’re in reach of the seaside Chugach National Forest, and the 6 million-acre Denali National Park, home of Mount McKinley.

For a warmer experience, fly out to Las Vegas or Palm Springs, Calif., where you’re a few hours from the bone-dry desert of Death Valley National Park and the ancient, towering trees of Sequoia National Forest.

Closer to Denver is Jackson Hole, Wyo., where, after just a short flight, you can take in the majestic, snowcapped mountains at Grand Teton National Park. Travel a little farther north and view the diverse wildlife and bubbling hot springs at America’s very first national park, Yellowstone National Park. Stretching through three states, Yellowstone is home to grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk, which roam freely. Stay at the historic log cabin lodge at Old Faithful Inn, right near the hot springs and America’s most famous geyser.

Go westward this summer, and discover the land that has captivated generations of Americans. Frontier flights from Rockford to Denver depart about three times a week. To learn more about these and more exciting destinations, visit ❚

Starved Rock Lodge’s main entrance.

Starved Rock Lodge: Springtime Beauty Unfolds in State’s Oldest Park

How do you leap into spring when you’re over 100 years old and your next of kin is 73? The answer may be to push yourself to try something new. You see, Starved Rock State Park, in Utica, Ill., turned 100 last year, although the property is much older. Starved Rock Lodge is quickly approaching its 75th anniversary.

In an effort to look and feel young, all of the furniture in the Great Hall is being restored and reupholstered. The oversized sofas, tables and chairs built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps were in need of repair. The Lodge is also replacing all of the furniture in its hotel rooms with something “green.” The company chosen for this giant task is Green Gables, Inc., of Bradford, Ill., because it specializes in hand-crafting furniture from reclaimed wood such as oak, pine and maple. The mortise and tenon style, in which no metal hardware is used, fits perfectly into the natural, hand-hewn craftsmanship of the Lodge itself. The best part is that each piece of furniture is unique and made by hand in America! “We didn’t buy assembly-line furniture,” says General Manager Mitch Wagner. “Each room has a furniture style that best fits the room size and layout.”

In a time when technology is moving faster than a speeding bullet, the need to keep up with it never ends. So, the Lodge will soon launch a newly designed, customer-focused website with a mobile version, blog, mobile trail maps and more.

As springtime arrives, waterfalls become active, the scent of blossoms fills the air, and foliage pops out in bright hues of green. Opportunities for refreshing hikes and nature photography abound at Starved Rock State Park. Beginning in March, historic Starved Rock Trolley Tours are offered every Sunday, departing from the Lodge at noon and 1:30 p.m. This tour is perfect before or after Sunday Brunch.
Two levels of survival workshops will be offered in mid-April. This successful event has expanded to offer more outdoor tips on wilderness survival. Hikers won’t want to miss seeing all the canyons at Starved Rock – in one day – on the annual MegaHike. This 13.4 mile endeavor is a challenge and lunch is included. Choose your day: April 28 or 29.

Also that weekend, the park’s annual Wildflower Pilgrimage kicks off with free, guided hikes departing from the Visitor Center at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. One brief walk on the path leading to Illinois Canyon is worth the trip. Bluebells are aglow as far as the eye can see, peaking in early May. The parking lot is very close to the path, just off Route 71, and other than a little mud, this is a must-see display of spring. Every Saturday and Sunday, guests are invited to enjoy the new “Take a Hike” tour. This guided hike includes a boxed lunch and a trip to beautiful LaSalle Canyon.

 April brings Waterfall & Canyon Tours with a trolley ride and lunch. Walking is involved with this tour and, although it’s beautiful, paths can be muddy and a bit difficult.  Many activities are planned and detailed on-line at❚