NWQ Getaway Guide, Spring Edition

A great weekend’s journey isn’t so far away. Here are some excellent places to visit.

Get away from the city and head to the quiet rural areas of DeKalb County to find places like Shabbona Lake State Park, in Shabbona.

Isn’t it Time to Seek Something Amazing?

By Pat Szpekowski

The Illinois Tourism Office has a unique theme: “Are You Up for Amazing?”

DeKalb County, comprised of 14 notable cities and towns, lives up to, and exceeds, that tagline, with no shortage of amazing, inspiring and educational destinations that make a spring outing most memorable and fun.

“DeKalb County is home to a thriving dining, arts and cultural scene that features entertainment, shopping, antiques and historical museums,” says Erin Reynolds, interim executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Spring is here and the flowers are blooming. We invite you to have fun and explore what’s incredible to see close to home.”

The choices are endless. If antiquing is your thing, enjoy a day under the oaks at the beautiful Sandwich Fairgrounds in Sandwich. Sunday at the Sandwich Antique Flea Market gives both casual visitors and serious, sophisticated collectors a special time to discover unique, sought-after items. Treasures and hard-to-find items await during the second Sunday of the month, from May through October. Parking is free, and it’s worth the drive. While in town, visit the community’s many antique shops, too.

Open space and prairie restoration are the hallmarks of a great outdoors destination. Visit Shabbona Lake State Park, in Shabbona, located about 5 miles from Waterman just off U.S. Route 30.

Forget urban sprawl. Get immersed in more than 1,550 acres of rolling prairie featuring grass-covered meadows, woods, cattail, marsh marigolds, irises and native, undisturbed fens.

“We are home to an amazing amount of historical and cultural museums, too,” adds Reynolds. “Visit our DeKalb County History Center, the Ellwood House Museum, and the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead. Each has its own individual historical merit and an impact on the pages of American history.”

The DeKalb County History Center, in Sycamore, has been selected as one of six sites for a new exhibition produced by the Smithsonian Institution. This show examines the impact of rural American culture upon the identity of the United States, past and present. It heralds the economic innovations and cultural facets that have always made small towns feel unique, comfortable. and desirable – and it shows how these traits have spurred many communities to create their own renaissance.

The Ellwood House Museum is a historic mansion situated on 10 acres of parkland in the heart of DeKalb. This museum reflects the central role of Isaac Ellwood in the development of the barbed wire industry in America. The campus includes several historical structures including the 1879 Ellwood Mansion, the 1899 Ellwood-Nehring House, four gardens, and some 6,000 square feet of exhibit galleries in the Visitor Center, located inside a converted and expanded 1912 multi-car garage.

The Glidden Homestead in DeKalb is an emerging living-history museum. Joseph F. Glidden’s 1873 application for a patent for barbed wire, his generous contribution of land for the location of what’s now Northern Illinois University, and his civic responsibilities in the area all substantiate why Glidden was called “the Grand Old Man of DeKalb County.”

“We’re proud of DeKalb County’s rich history,” Reynolds notes. “Visit these notable historical places, then stop by one of the many vibrant restaurants, bars or grills for a delicious meal, and ponder the innovations and generosity of those who came before us.”

For ideas on an amazing DeKalb County experience this spring, visit dekalbcountycvb.org.

The only hotel and restaurant located on the Geneva Lake shoreline, The Geneva Inn serves up a grand menu in a scenic location.

A Touch of Luxury to Prepare for Summer

By Pat Szpekowski

Summer is right around the corner, and there’s nothing like a Memorial Day weekend escape to Lake Geneva. So, why not kick off your trip to the lake with leisurely and patriotic fun at The Geneva Inn?

“We’ve planned even more activities during this special weekend to get guests in the spirit of the upcoming summer season,” says Kara O’Dempsey, general manager of The Geneva Inn. “On Sunday we will have a live, upbeat-style performance by singer Tony Ocean inside our main dining room. On Monday during our Veterans Appreciation Day, we will honor those men and women who served. There will be complimentary hot dogs, brats and sides offered to all veterans on our picturesque patio.”

Timing for the fun-packed weekend – the unofficial start to summer – couldn’t be better for this lakeside retreat.

“We have made many renovations to our hotel rooms over the winter,” adds O’Dempsey. “All of our non-lakeview rooms have been refreshed to reflect the same boutique charm that people know and love about The Geneva Inn.”

For more than 25 years, The Geneva Inn has been a popular getaway on the shores of Geneva Lake. With its dramatic dining room, stunning atrium and luxurious guest rooms, The Geneva Inn continually celebrates its past while also pledging to live up to and exceed its distinguished traditions and history. These latest renovations add a touch of modern luxury for guests to enjoy.

“We will continue to gradually upgrade all rooms and bathrooms over the next few years,” says O’Dempsey.

As the only hotel and restaurant located directly on the shores of Geneva Lake, The Geneva Inn has long been a favorite venue for a truly unique and memorable occasion – not just for relaxing weekends away but also for family celebrations and summer nuptials.

“We make a great destination for weddings, showers, private dinners and rehearsal dinners,” O’Dempsey says.

A simple and exquisite occasion is more than enhanced by the full-service dining restaurant and 37 luxuriously appointed guest rooms, including four lakeside suites. The fun of sharing a momentous event with friends and family can take place on the lakeside patio and lobby atrium. Sip on cocktails and enjoy light appetizers.

The options continue with a beautiful banquet room that’s also ideal for the cocktail hour and reception. The Port Room offers sophistication and a warm ambiance to celebrate the bride and groom.

Situated on beautiful grounds, The Geneva Inn boasts a casual and cozy atmosphere that overlooks Geneva Lake. Adventurous guests can access a walking path that’s just steps off the inn’s patio. Take a short stroll along the shoreline or else commit to traveling the entire 21-mile public walking path that follows the entire shoreline of Geneva Lake.

Whether you’re planning an intimate or grand wedding, or creating a custom special event experience, The Geneva Inn offers a relaxed and elegant setting, both indoors and out.

Find out more about these spring and summer luxuries at genevainn.com.

Independence Grove Forest Preserve is connected to the Des Plaines River Trail, a path that runs 32 miles from its start in Cook County.

Plenty of Fun to Enjoy with the Sun

By Stefanie Dell’Aringa

This May, June and July are gearing up to be an exciting time in Lake County. As its name might imply, one of this county’s big draws is its many waterways.

“From a visitor and tourism standpoint, our big season is our summer season,” says Mary Priller, marketing manager for Visit Lake County. “We have the Chain O’Lakes up north in Antioch, with so much waterfront and many water activities such as on-the-water dining and recreational boating. It’s a great place to enjoy.”

Sun worshippers and beachgoers can enjoy a variety of beaches along Lake Michigan, from Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, with its lovely native plants and meandering trails, to Highland Park’s Rosewood Beach, nestled along wooded bluffs in the southern part of the county.

More than 38,000 acres of open space, a network of forest preserves, and a 32-mile trail running from Cook County to the Wisconsin border make up the Lake County Forest Preserves. The Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway, known as the “backbone,” connects preserves across the county, from top to bottom. It also connects to other regional trails and offers opportunities for hiking, biking, bird-watching and enjoying nature.

Independence Grove Forest Preserve, centrally located in Libertyville and connected to the trail, has a 110-acre lake for swimming, fishing, and boat and bike rentals, with picnic groves, a visitors center and nearly 8 miles of trails.
Family fun and indoor water thrills await at the new Great Wolf Lodge Illinois in Gurnee. This 440-room resort offers a wild adventure, water included. Visitors can swim, splash and slide throughout the 84-degree indoor water park, keeping super-hot or rainy weather at bay.

“They have a neat interactive kids’ adventure live-action game where you can go on magical quests,” says Priller. “It has mini-golf, a ropes course, bowling and acres of water fun.”

Six Flags Great America, also in Gurnee, is known as the “thrill capital of the Midwest.” Its big draw this year is Maxx Force, a triple-record-breaking launch coaster that tops 78 mph in under 2 seconds.

The Village of Lincolnshire is rolling out great tastes as the food trucks roll in. Knightsbridge Parkway, just off Milwaukee Avenue, will have locals and out-of-towners out enjoying another season of Food Truck Fridays, a unique dining experience that builds community spirit and a following of foodies.

About a dozen vendors serve everything from grilled cheese to lobster rolls, in addition to staples like hot dogs and barbecue. It’s casual and relaxing, and it’s often complemented by acoustic jams or outdoor games. Held on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., May 17 through Aug. 23, this event draws a variety of crowds.

“People bring along their own chairs, mill about and relax,” Priller says. “Moms and kids come out and so do businesspeople. I’m hoping the gourmet grilled cheese truck rolls up again – it’s a favorite.”

Highland Park’s Ravinia Festival, the oldest outdoor music fest in the nation, boasts an impressive lineup of acts, including Counting Crows, Josh Groban, Lionel Ritchie and Tony Bennett. Tickets are available for seating at the band shell or the lawn area. On the lawn, you can create your own al fresco experience when you bring wine and snacks to enjoy on the grass. The popular venue has ample parking, but if leaving the car at home is more your liking, train service with Metra Rail is available next to Ravinia.

Finally, when visiting Lake County, don’t forget to stop and shop. Quaint shops and one-of-a-kinds can be found in spots like Historic Downtown Long Grove. On the other end of the spectrum, Gurnee Mills offers 200-plus retailers and a mix of restaurants, deals and popular brands. It’s conveniently located just off the Interstate 94 tollway and is within a minute’s drive from Six Flags Great America and Great Wolf Lodge.

To discover more summer fun, go to visitlakecounty.org.

Making the short drive to Starved Rock State Park, in Utica, during the week makes for a great getaway with fewer crowds. (Kathy Casstevens photos)

The Season for Waterfalls and Wildflowers

By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge

Springtime is perhaps the best time to visit Starved Rock State Park and Lodge, in Utica. Seasonal waterfalls come to life in deep sandstone canyons and wildflowers pop into bloom along 13 miles of hiking trails.

Throughout the month of May, waterfall and canyon tours are offered on Monday and Saturday for $32 a person. The tour includes lunch from a special menu in the rustic Main Dining Room, a ride on a Starved Rock Trolley and a guided hike to French, St. Louis and Ottawa Canyons. Additional details and departure times are listed on the Lodge’s website.

Located in LaSalle County, less than 90 minutes from Rockford and the Chicago suburbs, historic Starved Rock Lodge is the only hotel located within scenic Starved Rock State Park. Parking is free and guaranteed for all hotel guests, who can also enjoy an indoor pool complex, WiFi, a cafe, a full-service restaurant, the Back Door Lounge and outdoor dining with an amazing view on the Veranda.

Trailheads Concessions is located at the Visitor Center, which is accessible from a steel staircase on the east end of the Veranda.
Starved Rock State Park has become increasingly popular, so midweek getaways are the best way to enjoy an overnight stay. Enjoy the beauty of this natural wonder and experience a park that’s less crowded during the week. Spend the night at the Lodge and enjoy a variety of overnight packages.

Music lovers enjoy the “Tribute to the Stars” shows, which includes a buffet lunch in the Great Hall. Shows are scheduled throughout the year. If you’re a fan of country music, you’ll love the “Nashville Connection” show, happening June 24-26.

Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll fans will be entertained by Patty Waszak and her “Rock Around the Clock” show on May 20-22, “Meet the Beetles” on July 15-17 or “Rock and Roll Jukebox” on Aug. 12 and 13. A complete schedule of upcoming shows is on the Lodge website.

Gift cards are available online and may be used for Tribute Shows, Trolley Tours, dining and more.

The Main Dining Room is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday Brunch is a crowd pleaser, so make reservations in advance. Live music makes the Back Door Lounge an especially fun place to be on Friday nights from 8 to 11 p.m. Gorgonzola Nachos and Signature Ale are among the most popular choices on the menu.

To learn more about Starved Rock Lodge’s spring events, visit starvedrocklodge.com or call (815) 667-4211.