NWQ Getaways: Summer/Fall 2022 Edition

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.

(Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Center photos)

Elhorn, Wis. : A Small Town with Some Big Fun

What the Elkhorn, Wis., community may lack in size it makes up with year-round fun. Every day of the week you’ll discover fabulous restaurants, friendly coffee and pastry shops, and unique retail shopping in downtown Elkhorn. Take a tour just outside of town to visit a family favorite, The Apple Barn Orchard & Winery. There’s no place better to gather with friends and family than on the patio of Duesterbeck’s Brewing Co. With three beautiful hotel accommodations, campgrounds and a quaint bed-and-breakfast, the Elkhorn community is ready for you to come experience what this cozy hometown has to offer.


Just like a bear out of hibernation, we all look forward to a feast in spring. In May, you’ll find the streets lined with food trucks and crafters ready to celebrate the spring season at the Spring Food Truck Festival. Starting Memorial Day weekend, the city’s fresh market, Saturdays on the Square, kicks off its 13-week season. From live music to morning workouts, there’s much that can be found at this farmers market in downtown Elkhorn, which runs 9 a.m.-1 p.m. every Saturday in Veterans Park. Antiques, junk and treasures abound at the Elkhorn Antique Flea Market, which fills the Walworth County Fairgrounds May 15, June 26, Aug. 14 and Sept. 25.

Meanwhile, enjoy hiking and biking on the White River State Trail and area preserves before meeting friends for golf at the lush 27-hole golf course, Evergreen Golf Club. Stay for dinner and relax with live music on the terrace.


When the hot air arrives, there comes with it a craving for ice cream and beer, both of which you’ll find at Elkhorn Ribfest (July 13-17), Elkhorn Truck & Shuck (July 30), DAS Fest USA (Aug. 5-7), and the Walworth County Fair (Aug. 31-Sept. 5).

Stay cool poolside at Sunset Park’s heated Sunset Pool, where there are also waterslides, basketball hoops, zero-depth entry, geysers and concessions. It’s a perfect leadoff to a Friday night Concert in the Park.


While we watch the colors change throughout the Kettle Moraine and surrounding areas, locals eagerly anticipate the annual favorite Elkhorn Oktoberfest (Oct. 15). Four blocks of city street turn into festival grounds during this weekend. The event brings an Oktoberfest tent, more than 100 craft/commercial vendors, food trucks, a classic car show, mainstage live music and family activities.


Ice fishing, snowshoeing, skiing and sledding all take place on the lakes and hills of Elkhorn.

Early winter isn’t complete without a visit from Santa. Guests from near and far travel to catch a glimpse of the man in red at Elkhorn’s Annual Tree Lighting and Christmas Parade held the first weekend in December, this year, Dec. 2-4. Santa spends three full days at Let It Glow, held at the Walworth County Fairgrounds. Elkhorn knows how to ignite the holiday spirit with workshop shenanigans and jolly fun.

Elkhorn is yours to explore, all year round. For more event and city information stop by visitelkhorn.com.

(Ottawa Visitors Center photos)

Ottawa: Pick Your Own Adventure this Season

By Pat Szpekowski

The scenic Fox River is a familiar and beloved recreation spot for many. It’s a place where people enjoy sitting and watching nature, dining near the water, canoeing and paddling downstream, and enjoying its riches in many other ways. Flowing down from Wisconsin, this waterway meanders through a variety of Illinois communities on its way toward the Illinois River.

The last stop is Ottawa. A vibrant tourist destination located just 80 miles outside of downtown Chicago, Ottawa just so happens to sit in the heart of Starved Rock country.
“We’re noted as being ‘In the Middle of Everything,’ and we’re just a stone’s throw from many diverse activities, outdoor areas and renowned cultural attractions,” says Donna Reynolds, tourism operations manager at the Ottawa Visitors Center.

Ottawa has really put itself on the map as a must-see place to explore. Its historic downtown streets are filled with boutique shops and a large variety of unique and tasty eateries, from casual and fine dining favorites to pubs and lounges offering their own cold brews and wines.

Many visitors love to stop by Buffalo Rock State Park, located on a bluff that was once an island on the Illinois River. The Dayton Bluffs Preserve offers 100 acres of open prairie while preserving the majesty and cool shade of 150 woodland acres with rugged ravines, glistening water cascades and views of the beautiful Fox River. It also comes with sacred American Indian burial mounds.

For history buffs, a visit to the only I&M Canal toll house in existence is a must-see. Then, there’s the Reddick Mansion, which was built before the Civil War. It’s a magnificent Italianate mansion known to be one of the most expensive and ornate residences ever constructed in the Midwest during the mid-1800s. Philanthropist William Reddick and his family lived here for nearly 30 years.

These are only a few of the tempting attractions that await those who are intrepid enough to plan a trip to Ottawa.

The Ottawa Visitor Center has put together specialized getaway packages to make it easier for you to explore.

“We have our special Girl’s Getaway and Adventure Getaway packages to take our visitors’ fun to the next level,” says Reynolds, adding that it’s a surefire way to take in the city’s colorful history, scenic trails, shopping destinations and culinary outlets.

Pick the Girl’s Getaway trip and select a variety of restaurants, spa services and activities to share with friends while encountering the many charms of Ottawa.

The Adventure Getaway is especially attractive to those who are looking for a couple’s getaway or a weekend retreat.

Choose a hotel or cozy cottage for a minimum two-night stay, then select from a variety of restaurants and activities, including biking the historic I&M Canal or trying a tandem jump at Sky Dive Chicago for a bird’s eye view and photo op from the skies above Ottawa. For any visitor, a trip to Ottawa offers downtime ideas to unplug to exciting water adventures.

The Ottawa Visitor Center proudly exclaims, “Pick Us.” This just might be what you need to unwind, breathe some fresh air, and see where the mighty Fox and Illinois rivers meet.

Check out Ottawa getaway packages and much more at pickusottawail.com.

(Experience DeKalb County photos)

DeKalb County: A Day Trip Destination that Has It All

By Pat Szpekowski

With its long and rich agricultural history, its educational footprint, a legacy of innovation, and its growing attraction to social media and online shopping giants, DeKalb County is increasingly the place to be. That’s little surprise, as there are so many ways to explore and have fun.

“We have so many events for everyone to enjoy during the summer,” says Katherine McLaughlin, marketing coordinator for Experience DeKalb County. “Whether you love the outdoors, live action and music, or relaxing and sipping a beverage, the options are endless.”

Sycamore Speedway has been a popular spot since the 1960s, and today it offers events pretty much every weekend in the warm months. Family-friendly summer entertainment goes up a notch with the roar of the action-packed stock car races, figure-eight racing and demolition derbies, which take place on Friday and Saturday nights into October. Classic car and truck shows also pop up throughout DeKalb County.

Love participating in outdoor sports? Kayaking or canoeing down the Kishwaukee River is a refreshing and invigorating experience. Kayak rental companies will offer a boat, pick up and drop off at just $25. For another take on the water, kick up the adventure with fishing or boating at Shabbona Lake State Park. Take in the grass-covered meadows and wonder at the beauty of nature. Enjoy stand-up paddleboards, john boats and pontoons on the beautiful 318.8-acre man-made Shabbona Lake.

If live music and libations are at the top of your list, why not join the fun at Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. in DeKalb or Warehouse on Park in Genoa? Both destinations offer music and food trucks every weekend. Whiskey Acres distills and handcrafts its own whiskey from seed to spirits using grains grown on the best and richest soils in DeKalb County. Warehouse on Park celebrates outdoor entertainment complete with two bars, a grain gin bar and a food truck court.

Sipping wine and enjoying cool wine slushies is a treat at Prairie State Winery in Genoa, which serves delicious, locally produced wines and nosh including brown sugar ham sliders, seasonal cheese trays and other rustic flavors.

“We have unique and fun patios at MVP Sports Bar’s rooftop in Sycamore and Bull Moose Bar and Grill in Sandwich, which provides a historic setting with its 1893 Pullman Palace dining car used by President Roosevelt in 1912,” says McLaughlin.

No summer is complete without a visit to the farm. As you drive around the country roads, stop by one of the roadside stands or weekly farmers markets and bring home summer’s best fruits and vegetables, all of it fresh from a nearby farm.

Agricultural buffs will enjoy the DeKalb County self-guided barn quilt tour. These “quilts” are totally unique with varied designs that play on anything from a farm’s family history to patriotism or even a family pet.

Stay for the day or the weekend in DeKalb County. There’s so much to do, see and learn.
For more ideas, visit dekalbcountycvb.com.

(Visit Rock Falls photos)

Rock Falls: A City with Many Summertime Destinations

By Pat Szpekowski

Our region is full of incredible places to either de-stress or embark on an adventure. Choosing just one destination can be a real challenge, especially when visiting Rock Falls. Located in the Sauk Valley, along the Rock River, this is a getaway where you can happily find an array of fun in one place. Whether you take a day trip or stay a few days, you’re in for an unexpected and surprising visit.

“We offer such a vast variety of things to do,” says Melinda Jones, director of tourism and events for the City of Rock Falls. “No matter what type of adventure our visitors are looking for, we can help them select day trips to suit their passions. We have trips to our local museums, open spaces, outdoor recreation parks and dining establishments.”

The Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park provides a variety of outdoor activities including fishing, boating, picnicking, canoeing, hiking, horseback riding and bicycling in the summer. The winter months are no less exciting, as Hennepin hosts skiing, ice skating and snowmobiling.

The Hennepin was the first American canal built of concrete without stone cut facings. Today, this waterway is a 104.5-mile linear park spanning five Illinois counties (Bureau, Henry, Lee, Rock Island and Whiteside), and it boasts a rich history.

Fans of the Hennepin Canal rave about its scenic views and hint that it offers surprises along the way. Among all of the magnificent state parks in Illinois, Hennepin is a unique jewel.

The Rock River is a centerpiece of Rock Falls and a center of activity all year long. In the summer, people traverse the new Riverfront Trail path. During the winter months, bald eagles congregate to fish, and they can be seen in trees next to the open water beneath the dams.

The RB&W Riverfront Park provides beautiful green space along the Rock River. Open all year, it sets a backdrop for the Art in the Park Sculpture Walk, which displays unique sculptures created by local and non-local artists.

“This year’s unveiling of eight new juried selected sculptures will take place on Sept. 3,” says Jones. “It’s a big event that includes an outdoor art gallery with many artists selling art. Plus, there’s food and music. The creators of each sculpture are also there to talk about their work.”

Check Visit Rock Falls’ website for fun itineraries and tour ideas, including the “MileZ for MillennialZ Tour” targeting the under-40 crowd. This tour kicks off with breakfast at a local breakfast restaurant and includes a cup of Joe and baked goods. This is followed with shopping at the city’s quaint, locally owned boutique stores and a farmers market, outdoors in the summer and indoors during winter. Of course, there’s time for a visit to the Hennepin Canal, dinner at a local restaurant and a movie at a local cinema.

It’s time to stay, play and explore Rock Falls, where city life and nature meet. Find more tours and choose your own adventure at VisitRockFalls.com.

(Starved Rock Lodge photos)

Starved Rock: Plenty of Summer Left to Enjoy Some Nature

By Kathy Casstevens, marketing manager, Starved Rock Lodge

Getting outside to have some fun, especially with family or friends, is the best reason to plan a summer getaway to Starved Rock Lodge. Whether you choose to take a river cruise on the Eagle 1 or explore the park on a guided hike, it quickly becomes apparent that time spent in nature brings you a sense of calm. The photos you’ll capture will preserve your time here and prove that investing in memories is money well-spent.

Riding on the Starved Rock Trolley is a great experience for kids of all ages. It’s easy to board the trolley and the Eagle 1 river boat, even if you have mobility issues. The Visit a Canyon & a Boat Ride Tour, offered on Saturday and Sunday at $50 per person, is for everyone who would enjoy a boat ride and a short hike to see Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon. This is the best way to see the geology and landscape of the Starved Rock area.

Outdoor dining on the veranda offers the best view in Illinois. Live music fills the air every Friday night from 8-11 p.m. while you enjoy dinner and drinks under the stars.

The Elvis Tribute is back on Aug. 15. If you’re a fan, you’ll love this Tribute Show. Tickets are $45 per person and include the lunch buffet.

With gas prices over $5 per gallon, Starved Rock Lodge’s “Park the Car, Take a Hike, Stay the Night!” package gives you priority parking that’s located mere steps from the trails and your room. In addition, your package includes a one-night stay in a room or cabin (for two guests), two souvenir drawstring backpacks, a $15 breakfast voucher and a $40 dinner voucher. You can also enjoy our indoor pool complex, shopping, the Great Hall and more.

Little ones are sure to love the Princess Sing-Along on Saturday, Aug. 20, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Great Hall and Starved Rock Room. This event includes a child-friendly lunch buffet, a meet-and-greet with princesses, and a sing-along performance with the Columbian Miracle Princess. Ticket prices are $25 for ages 4 and up, $10 for ages 3 and under.

Grab your friends at 1 p.m. on Aug. 28 and join the Lodge team for a fun afternoon of painting. The new Sip & Paint event includes hors d’oeuvres and an 11-by-14 canvas painting you create. Wine tasting is available for an additional cost. Instructor Lucy Schmidt guides participants through the creative process, so no experience is necessary. Reservations are required, and those participating must be age 21 or older. Tickets for Sip & Paint are $55 per person.

When booking tours, hikes and special events through Starved Rock Lodge, set a reservation in advance because these events fill up quickly. Call (815) 220-7386 or book online. To save 10% on your room, book a Great Rate Date at starvedrocklodge.com or call (800) 868-7625.