A great weekend’s journey is right inside our region. Here are some of our area’s excellent places to play.
The Quad Cities: Enjoy a Bustling Weekend Getaway
BY CHRIS LINDEN, MANAGING EDITOR
Exciting discoveries await in the Quad Cities, conveniently located between Chicago and Des Moines at the convergence of Interstates 80 and 88. Last year, the area drew nearly 1.3 million visitors who sought its unique hometown attractions.
“We’ve had visitors who come here from California and are just blown away,” says Charlotte Morrison, vice president of marketing and communications for the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau. “People love the river, our world-class attractions, fun festivals, microbreweries and beautiful biking trails.”
Despite its moniker, the area is actually comprised of five communities straddling the Mississippi River: Rock Island, Moline and East Moline in Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa. No matter which you visit, there’s plenty to see.
The fun begins with the area’s strongest industrial presence: Deere & Co. This agricultural equipment manufacturer’s world headquarters is based in Moline, longtime home of founder John Deere and his descendants. The 1,400-acre campus includes an award-winning complex designed by Eero Saarinen, designer of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch. Step inside to see a collection of more than 2,200 pieces of Deere memorabilia.
Tour the John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline to watch a combine made from start to finish, or check out the interactive exhibits at the John Deere Pavilion in downtown Moline, where visitors can sit inside actual Deere equipment and operate a machine in virtual reality.
There’s plenty more to explore along the Mississippi River, which plays a central role in the Quad Cities. The Celebration Belle riverboat offers lunch, sightseeing and dinner cruises, and takes overnight trips north toward Dubuque, Iowa. For quick jaunts around town, the Channel Cat Water Taxi’s open-air pontoon makes frequent stops in Davenport, Bettendorf and Moline.
“You pay one fee and can ride all day long, or you can jump on and off at various landings,” says Morrison. “Each landing is close to bike trails, shopping, dining and restaurants. You can even take your bike on board and enjoy the riverfront trails on both sides of the river. If you forgot your bike, the visitors bureau offers bike rentals for kids and adults.”
The mighty river is also a backdrop to many outdoor events. The Quad Cities Criterium attracts hundreds of professional bikers from around the country, while the Ride the River bike ride draws families and friends to the area’s paved riverside trails. Other major festivals include a blues festival, a jazz festival, Riverfront Pops and Tug Fest – a tug-of-war across the river.
Find enlightenment inside more than 15 museums, including the Figge Art Museum, home to a rich collection of memorabilia and artwork from Iowa’s Grant Wood; The Putnam Museum, a Smithsonian-affiliated institution with numerous interactive exhibits; and tributes to local ancestry at the German American Heritage Center and the John Hauberg Indian Museum.
There’s plenty more to see at nearby LeClaire, Iowa. The small city northeast of Bettendorf is home to several boutique and specialty shops, including Antique Archaeology, the Americana store featured on the History Channel’s American Pickers.
LeClaire is also home to the Mississippi River Distilling Co., a family-owned micro-distillery that produces craft vodka, gin and whiskey made from local grains.
Add in the area’s casinos, bustling downtowns and the Rock Island Arsenal military base, and you’ve got a busy community with lots to explore.
“The Quad Cities wraps two states, five cities and all of its surrounding areas into one fun-filled getaway,” says Morrison. “This is a bi-state community where each city offers its own vibe, attractions and fun.”
For more information, go to VisitQuadCities.com.
Dubuque, Iowa: Find A Fresh Outlook on Weekend Fun
Iowa’s oldest city is enjoying a fresh face, as its revitalized downtown prepares for a busy season. A unique combination of historic attractions and modern amenities, Dubuque is an old-school river town with a new-school attitude.
Along the riverfront, the Port of Dubuque is a favorite place to play. Home to summer events and a riverwalk with breathtaking views, the Port is also home to the Smithsonian-affiliated National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.
This unique museum honors America’s central waterway, with dynamic exhibits about its history, people and wildlife. Immerse yourself into life on the riverway at the 3-D/4-D theatre, which combines 3-D projection with the sights, sounds and movements of on-screen action. Around the exhibits, learn about river wildlife, and peer inside aquariums filled with critters that are native to every part of the river. The RiverWorks exhibit for kids includes a crawl-through beaver lodge.
A short walk from the museum is one of the city’s two gaming attractions, Diamond Jo Casino. Inside, enjoy some 975 slot machines, plus table games and live entertainment many nights of the week. At the nearby Mystique Casino, watch on-site greyhound races or play the 1,000 slot machines and 23 table games.
Dubuque is filled with outdoor adventures, too, such as the Fenelon Place Elevator, billed as the world’s shortest, steepest railway. As you zoom 189 feet up the steep bluff between Fourth Street and Fenelon Place, take in a spectacular view of the downtown and the countryside of three states beyond.
Dubuque’s rugged terrain is rife with outdoor recreation areas, including the Mines of Spain, a 1,437-acre oasis filled with wildlife. Inside the park, explore the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center’s natural and historical exhibits, or walk to the Julien Dubuque Monument, a National Historic Landmark and burial site for this city’s founder and namesake. Admidst the bluffs around town, swing in the trees at the Union Park zipline, bike the 26-mile Heritage Trail or cruise on the mighty Mississippi.
An active city all year long, Dubuque hosts numerous festivals and events, from the music-packed weekendlong America’s River Festival, in June, to the Duathlon + 5K in July. Then, there’s a women’s weekend, the Mantastic Guyathlon and numerous riverfront happenings.
About a half-hour west of town, stop by the Field of Dreams Movie Site, the actual farmstead that was transformed into a magical baseball diamond in the iconic 1989 film. On the farm, visitors are encouraged to play ball, run the bases or simply enjoy the view from the bleachers, waiting for Shoeless Joe to appear.
Located just 15 miles from Galena, Dubuque is also a short drive from quaint bed-and-breakfasts, gorgeous resorts and championship golf, including the links at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa.
Come evening in Dubuque, enjoy a performance at the Five Flags Center, or explore the vibrant downtown nightlife. The newly opened Paradise Distilling Co. serves small-batch, handcrafted spirits inside a tropical atmosphere, complete with a heated sandbox and Caribbean tunes.
The historic Hotel Julien Dubuque, located downtown just blocks from the Port of Dubuque, is an historical boutique hotel, lovingly restored and filled with plush modern amenities. Its classy Caroline’s Restaurant serves meals all day, while the Potosa Spa provides a relaxing retreat.
There are many ways to stay and play in Dubuque, and they’re all just a short drive away, along one of northern Illinois’ most scenic routes. Explore for yourself online, at TravelDubuque.com.
Heidel House Resort & Spa: Make the Most of Your Romantic Getaway
By Druellen Kosti, director, Evensong Spa
Close enough for an easy weekend drive, but far enough to be away from it all, Green Lake, Wis., is a romantic destination for a getaway with the person closest to your heart. Couples can set their own pace and take in life’s most simple pleasures on the shores of Wisconsin’s deepest inland lake.
Spring is a time when the earth awakens from a winter slumber and beauty starts forming all around us. The sun feels warmer, the days get longer, our energies are activated and we feel more cheerful. Everyone anticipates a season of outdoors and fun.
Green Lake is no exception. Big Green’s 27.5 miles of shoreline come alive with bursts of lush leaves and vibrant flowers. The ice along the surface gives way and makes room for visitors to swim, ski, float, fish, paddle and sightsee in scenic wilderness.
Nestled among the lake’s wooded northeastern shore, Heidel House Resort & Spa invites guests to relax, recharge and reconnect. In addition to scenic accommodations, Heidel House offers lakeside dining, yacht cruises, a luxurious spa, recreation equipment rentals, entertainment and direct access to the area’s golf courses, shops, attractions and culture.
With time being precious, how do you make the most of a weekend away with your significant other? Start by doing your research, planning a few main activities and leaving the rest to be decided in the moment. Trying to cram in too much can lead to stress and fatigue – the things we most want to avoid on vacation.
When visiting Green Lake, take in the natural scenery, the quiet way of life and unique offerings in the area. Slowing down to enjoy each other’s company and making memories together is what it is really all about.
Here’s a sample itinerary for your weekend stay at Heidel House Resort & Spa.
Day 1: Friday
Check into your room. As the sun sets, take a scenic walk along the lake path. Head to downtown Green Lake for a casual dinner followed by a performance at the historic Thrasher Opera House.
Day 2: Saturday
Start the day with a narrated sightseeing cruise aboard the Escapade yacht. Morning cruises include freshly brewed coffee and bakery items. While you’re out exploring, be sure to capture a photo at the Daycholah Lookout, a scenic rest spot on the corner of Lake Street and Illinois Avenue, in Green Lake.
Later, wrap up in robes and let tension melt away at Heidel House’s Evensong Spa. Enjoy a couple’s massage, lounge in the relaxation room and eat lunch in the Spa Cafe.
Grab drinks in the Grey Rock lounge before a one-of-a-kind lakeside dining experience. A live pianist entertains in the lounge from 7 to 10 p.m.
Day 3: Sunday
Get lost in a novel or the morning paper while relaxing on an Adirondack chair on the dock. Then, enjoy a breakfast buffet, before heading home.
To plan your stay at Heidel House Resort & Spa in Green Lake, Wis., visit HeidelHouse.com or call (800) 444-2812.
Playing in Peoria: Cougars, and Lynxes and Bears – Oh My!
Amidst the rolling prairies and woodlands west of Peoria, Ill., there’s a zoological sanctuary, a sort of Yellowstone Park for the Midwest. Wildlife Prairie Park, 3826 N. Taylor Road, in Hanna City, Ill., pays tribute to this state’s native plants and animals with more than 50 species of indigenous critters, from owls and bears to snakes and cougars.
Its massive pastures are home to bison and elk herds, and its hiking and biking trails are home to a variety of native flowers and trees. It also maintains a close association with the land’s Native American roots.
“Each spring, we do a Bison Blessing,” says Doug Dillow, executive director of the nonprofit-owned park. “A local group of Native Americans blesses the pasture and the herd, so that the herd will be healthy and that it will be a good year for growth of the pasture. We also host a Native American Pow Wow in April, celebrating these and other Native traditions.”
Set on 2,000 acres, Wildlife Prairie Park is more than a zoo. It also includes a pioneer village, where you can learn about early settlers and visit both a log cabin and an 1860s-era one-room schoolhouse – each fully furnished with period pieces. The park has some 15 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails, through lands formerly used for surface mining. In fact, the park’s 10 lakes, which are well-stocked for summertime fishing, are the result of early settlers’ mining operations.
During warm weather, a small-scale train takes visitors around the park’s north side, past meadows, a lake and a 58-foot slide that’s a favorite with children. This year, the park also returns its Adventure Trek, a safari-like journey through the bison pasture and less-visited areas of the park.
“It’s an open-air van that has a tour guide, and folks can get behind the scenes,” says Dillow. “They can see parts of the park that you won’t see from the wooded trails, such as the pasture where the elk and bison graze during the summer.”
Wildlife Prairie Park began in the 1960s as a potential site for Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo to raise exotic, endangered species. When plans changed, the site instead became a tribute to Illinois’ native species and pioneer explorers. It opened to the public in 1978, and became a state park in 2000. In early 2013, the nonprofit Friends of Wildlife Prairie Park took over operations from the state, and began a variety of improvements.
“For people who haven’t been to this park in a while, it’s time to return,” says Dillow. “And if you haven’t ever been here, it’s time to visit.”
Most notably, visitors will appreciate the newly remodeled lodging options inside the park. Besides camping grounds, the park includes overnight accommodations inside a single-room log cabin, several cottages, weatherproofed grain bins and four actual caboose train cars.
Visitors can also meet the park’s newest residents: a pair of Canadian lynxes. This year is also the first full life cycle for a new butterfly habitat.
“While you’re learning about their life cycles, you’re walking in the middle of their habitat,” says Dillow. “It was designed and built by local master gardeners from the University of Illinois Extension Service, so it has beautiful foliage and habitat.”
Also a popular place for school tours, corporate events and social gatherings, Wildlife Prairie Park hosts several events during the year, including a treasure hunt with clues posted to Facebook, National Train Day, and the Olde English Faire this June.
“The Knights of Valour host a full-contact jousting tournament,” says Dillow. “There’s lots of sword-fighting, and for the kids, there are hands-on crafts, with vendors and artwork.”
The nonprofit park is supported largely by its 400 volunteer workers and annual memberships, which allow year-round access. For more information, visit wildlifeprairiepark.org.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa: It’s Finally Time to Play Outdoors
Now that the snow is finally melted, it’s time to play outdoors this spring. Grand Geneva Resort & Spa’s 1,300-acre getaway just northeast of Lake Geneva is brimming with fun outdoor activities that the entire family can enjoy.
The season starts on Grand Geneva’s two championship golf courses – The Brute and The Highlands – both top-ranked by Golf Magazine, Golf Digest and the Golf Course Owners of Wisconsin.
Appropriately named, The Brute’s 7,000 yards of play include 68 bunkers and a par of 72. The Highlands was designed by golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye, and has received updates in 1996 and in 2006.
This spring, resort guests can enjoy a “stay-and-golf-free” package that includes two rounds of golf, along with access to a host of add-ons, such as club storage, locker room use and a high-tech GPS yardage system that tracks your distance from the hole.
Moms and dads can access special deals on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Memorial Day, but the ladies get an extra bonus come June, when the course celebrates Woman’s Golf Month with an 18-hole special.
Off the links, families find activities to enjoy outdoors and in, both relaxing and active. From the resort’s Dan Patch Stables, guests can enjoy year-round carriage rides around the property, as well as seasonal pony rides and horseback rides. Families can also tour the resort’s nature trails and learn the art of archery, in special classes that include plenty of target practice.
At the indoor pool, active families compete in a new battleships game, where teams construct a battle ship from boxes and duct tape, in a race to outlast the competition. At the 35-foot indoor rock climbing wall, explore 12 routes of varying difficulty, including one section just for the eight-and-under crowd.
Active adults can take advantage of the indoor fitness center, which includes a junior Olympic-sized pool, a weight room and fitness classes such as yoga.
Also for adults only, Grand Geneva offers Studio Winery Tastings on Friday afternoons, and special tours to the Geneva Lake Brewery in Lake Geneva, where a father-son team brew their own craft drinks. Inside the resort’s exclusive new Geneva Club, members can work, lounge or dine in a classy home library setting, surrounded by a fireplace, high bookshelves and plush seating.
With all that activity, it’s also nice to unwind, especially at the WELL Spa + Salon. The spa is a relaxing place to enjoy a soothing massage, facials or hair and nail services. New this year, the spa also helps guests to realize a healthier lifestyle, with four weekend-long retreats that focus on better nutrition, fitness and wellness. Along the way, participants can enjoy chef-prepared meals, spa services, group fitness and daily consultations with a certified nutritionist. Wellness weekends are scheduled for May, August and October.
Spring events fill up quickly, but the good news is that there are plenty of activities throughout the resort to enjoy this season. For more information, visit GrandGeneva.com.