It’s time to shake off those winter blues and embrace spring’s arrival. Here are a few nearby destinations where you can recharge your batteries and put the spring back in your step.
Starved Rock Lodge
Starved Rock State Park is a favorite destination any time of year. This jaw-dropping natural wonder, carved into the earth by glaciers over 10,000 years ago, is one of Illinois’ top tourist destinations.
With 18 canyons, cascading waterfalls and numerous craggy promontories, Starved Rock is truly a place where scenic beauty meets history. Established as a state park in 1911, the area was home to American Indians for thousands of years before French explorers made a stop here and established a fort in 1680.
These days, Starved Rock has endless trails for hiking, opportunities for canoeing, kayaking or boating on the Illinois River, and bountiful beauty to be photographed or simply enjoyed on its own. Stay at the Starved Rock Lodge and enjoy some of the area’s best lookouts while dining out, staying overnight or launching your exploration in the park.
Nature may be the reason you come to Starved Rock, but you will definitely stay for the shopping, dining and historic attractions that can be found in the surrounding communities. Utica, Streator and Ottawa are treasure troves with antique shops, restaurants, breweries, wineries and museums to be discovered.
For more information, go to starvedrocklodge.com
All of this county’s 14 communities offer limitless starting points for fun. Outdoor enthusiasts love the 17 forest preserves waiting to be explored. In winter, there are ice rinks, sled hills, and trails for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. In the warmer months, hiking, biking and boating are big draws.
Prairie Park, located just south of the NIU campus in DeKalb, is an especially popular place to get in touch with nature, with a nine-hole disc golf course and a fitness trail. Dog lovers might want to head to Katz Park, where a spacious fenced dog park awaits your furry friend. At River Heights Golf Course, on DeKalb’s south side, golfers practice their short game on the banks of the Kishwaukee River.
When you’re ready to come inside, DeKalb County has plenty of places to take in some culture, drink refreshing beverages or satisfy one’s appetite. There are many unique downtowns, each filled with local businesses offering memorable destinations and experiences. Culture lovers enjoy the historic Egyptian Theatre, one of only six remaining theaters of its kind. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this newly renovated gem hosts live acts and films for thousands of visitors each year. It’s even, according to local lore, the home of two ghosts.
To start your DeKalb County experience, visit dekalbcountycvb.com.
Known as the city “in the middle of everywhere,” Ottawa is a must-stop for history buffs. This is the city where Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln held the first of their famous debates. Their statues in Washington Park mark the site of the debate, these luminaries of history frozen in mid-sentence for time immemorial. Ottawa is also the home of William Dickson Boyce, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America. Visitors can learn more about Boyce at the Ottawa Historical Heritage & Scouting Museum.
Outdoor types have a cornucopia of options in Ottawa. The newest addition, Dayton Bluffs, is still a work in progress, but its natural beauty is not to be missed. With hundreds of acres of rugged ravines, open prairie and lush woodlands, Dayton Bluffs is the perfect spot for a hike. Amidst the woods, visitors will also find also American Indian burial grounds, as well as Daniels Cemetery, a pioneer graveyard that dates back to the 1830s.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, be sure to head to Ottawa’s downtown for an incredible selection of taverns and restaurants. Ottawa’s own Tangled Roots Brewery has its flagship restaurant here, the Lone Buffalo, where it serves up food and drink made from locally sourced ingredients.
For more information, go to pickusottawail.com
Delavan, Wis., has been a treasured destination since its very beginnings, when the place was a circus. Literally. In the 1840s, the town was selected to be the winter quarters for the U.S Olympic Circus, the largest traveling circus at the time. For decades, Delavan was where the clowns were sent in the winter, along with trapeze artists, animals, trainers and others from more than 25 traveling crews. Delavan is the place where the P.T Barnum Circus was created, a distinction that earned the town its own U.S postage stamp in 1966.
These days, Delavan is known as a prime spot for fishing, boating and other outdoor fun, with an extensive park system that boasts dozens of parks, nature trails, gardens and playgrounds.
With access to Lake Delavan, Lake Comus and Turtle Lake, Delavan is a go-to place for boaters and fishermen. Panfish, largemouth bass and northern pike can all be found, and fished, in these waters.
On Lake Delavan, there’s no better access point than Lake Lawn Resort, a longtime destination with waterside lodgings and amusements set along a full mile of shoreline.
Those wishing to learn more about Delavan’s rich cultural history need to only stare at the walls. In 2015, a group of artists gathered to paint murals throughout the town, capturing this city’s story for all visitors to enjoy.
To learn more about Delavan, head to visitdelavan.com.
Just east of Delavan, up Interstate 43, Elkhorn is known as the “Christmas Card Town.” That doesn’t mean you should only visit during the holidays, though. Elkhorn’s Sunset Park offers basketball and tennis courts, softball diamonds, picnic and playground areas, and public swimming. Sunset Park is also the home of the city’s historic bandshell, where live music is offered in the warmer months.
The Evergreen Golf Club earned a four-star Best Places to Play nod from Golf Digest, and nearby Alpine Valley Resort offers a 27-hole golf course in the warmer months, plus sledding and skiing in winter.
Lauderdale Lakes, a 6-mile drive from Elkhorn, is a chain of three lakes where visitors can swim, fish, water ski and sail. It’s also a haven for ice fishermen when the lakes are frozen over.
While you’re in Elkhorn, keep an eye out for the Beast of Bray Road, a werewolf-type creature that has put the town on cryptid hunters’ maps and is the subject of films and television shows.
For more information, go to elkhornchamber.com
Located 35 miles northwest of Chicago, the “City in the Suburbs” offers a small-town feel, despite being Illinois’ sixth-largest community. Elgin’s pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly downtown offers a vibrant environment, with many options for dining, imbibing and shopping along the Fox River.
Elgin is a cyclist’s dream, with over 40 miles of bike trails that run along the river, through forest preserves and past historical sites. When the trails are covered with snow, it’s easy to pivot to cross-country skis or snowshoes, if you don’t have winter tires for your bike.
Gambling types will want to hop aboard the Grand Victoria Casino, a riverboat permanently moored on the shores of the Fox River.
To learn more, head to exploreelginarea.com.
Deriving its name from a French word for “handsome ground,” Beloit has grown into a thriving, innovative city bursting with eclectic dining options, cultural attractions and unique shops.
Sports and outdoor enthusiasts have a bevy of destinations to choose from. Edwards Ice Arena is a popular place to hit the ice, and, in warmer months, golfers tee off at Kreuger-Haskell Golf Course, a stunning 18-hole, par-70 course with challenging but beautiful rolling terrain. The city’s 32 parks and more than 23 miles of recreation trails provide lots of options to get outside. If diving out of a plane is your bag, Skydive the Rock will get you suited up and in the air. Baseball fans will want to watch the Sky Carp (formerly known as the Snappers) play at the newly built ABC Supply Stadium, a state-of-the-art field of dreams for fans and players alike.
Culture and history are also on display in Beloit, which is the home of the oldest college in Wisconsin. Founded while the state was still a territory, Beloit College is the perfect place for a stroll back in time. For another trip to the past, drive out to Tiffany Bridge, the oldest five-arch stone bridge in the state.
For food and drink, Beloit has plenty on the menu. Fine dining, upscale casual, ethnic cuisine and family restaurants can be found throughout the city with several hotspots right downtown. With two breweries and a winery also nearby, there are many ways to take in Beloit’s many flavors.
To start your Beloit adventure, head to visitbeloit.com.