Category Archives: Weekender

Discover Columbus (Indiana)

A place where Hoosier hospitality and world-class architecture come together

The Commons
The Commons

While central Indiana may rarely leap to mind as one of the country’s great architectural hubs, this modest-size enclave (population 50,000) just southeast of Indianapolis is indeed legendary for its buildings and sculptures by some of the biggest names in modern art and architecture, including I.M. Pei, Eero Saarinen, Harry Weese, Henry Moore, and Dale Chihuly.

City-sign sculpture by Rick Valicenti
City-sign sculpture by Rick Valicenti

Of course, after that common question of “really?” is answered, the next logical query is usually something along the lines of “why?” And the short answer, provided by Visit Columbus director of marketing Erin Hawkins, is that longtime local manufacturer Cummins established a program in the 1960s through which the firm’s foundation would pay the design fees for any public building in its hometown, provided it was an architect from a preselected list.

What resulted was a collection of projects from some of the giants of mid-20th-century modern design that continue to mark Columbus as a unique Midwestern destination. “Columbus has a super-walkable downtown full of public art and great buildings,” Hawkins says. “Unlike a lot of cities, we didn’t raze our historic storefronts so downtown retains a lot of small-town charm.”

And while its lineup of impressive structures is by far the city’s most notable calling card, Hawkins says there are plenty of other reasons for suburban Chicagoans to make the easy four-hour trek down I-65—including its proximity to nearby Brown County, which is always a popular autumn draw. Here are a few highlights to check out on your weekend adventure.


Exhibit Columbus

Open through the end of November, this exhibition pairs designers, artists, and architects with 13 of the city’s iconic architectural sites to create temporary, interactive installations under the theme of “Public by Design.”


Miller House and Garden
Miller House and Garden

Miller House and Garden

Designed in 1957 by Saarinen for Cummins president J. Irwin Miller and his wife, Xenia—not to mention interior work from Alexander Girard and landscaping by Dan Kiley—this landmark home is considered one of the most important examples of midcentury modern residential architecture in the country. “This is the product of the collaboration of the three top designers in their respective fields working together at the height of their careers,” Hawkins says. “It never fails to blow people’s minds.”


Luckey Climber
Luckey Climber


Situated in a three-story historic building, this community children’s museum features a climbing wall, a bubble room, and (seriously) the world’s largest toilet, complete with a slide that lets kids flush themselves down. Across the street from the museum is the 5,000-square-foot Commons indoor playground, a free play experience that includes the 35-foot-tall Luckey Climber, an installation built of colorful platforms cabled together for adventurous kids to explore.




Dating from 1900, this lovingly restored ice cream parlor features a soapstone soda fountain from the 1904 world’s fair in St. Louis as well as the Welte Orchestrian, an antique mechanical musical contraption that staff will play on request.


Photos: Don Nissen (sign); Thomas R. Schiff (The Commons); Andrew Laker/The Republic Newspaper (Luckey Climber); Tony Vasquez (Miller House and Garden); Columbus Area Visitors Center (Zaharakos)

Color Run

Western Illinois’ Great River Road is a leaf-peeper’s dream drive

Bluffs along the Great River Road
Bluffs along the Great River Road

If you’re looking for colorful places to explore, the Great River Road pairs fall foliage with plenty of small-town charm. As one of seven scenic byways in Illinois, the 550-mile stretch extends along the Mississippi River from Galena at the top of the state to Cairo at the bottom, offering an array of quaint river towns, historic sites, state parks, cultural attractions, and, of course, eye-popping fall colors along the journey.

“The Great River Road is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful drives in the country to experience fall colors, thanks to the majestic limestone bluffs overlooking the river,” says Daniel Thomas, deputy director of the Illinois Office of Tourism. “There are so many picturesque places along the way to soak in the gorgeous fall scenery and capture stunning photos.”

And while not every color-hunting traveler will be up for the full 550-mile route, there are worthwhile stops along the way, making it ideal for a long afternoon drive or a multiday excursion, with plenty of things to see and do amid the vibrant fall vistas. From north and to south, here are a few highlights.

Illinois map

Historic Main Street, Galena

This popular tourist destination in northwest Illinois is usually buzzing, with fall a prime season for folks to come check out the more than 125 unique boutiques, eateries, wineries, and galleries.

Mississippi Palisades State Park, Savanna

Just off of the Great River Road, this 2,500-acre park is rich in Native American history and packed with recreational opportunities, including 15 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing amid steep cliffs, plus camping, fishing, and boating.

Pere Marquette State Park
Pere Marquette State Park

Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton

This year-round gem is even more impressive amid the blazing reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn, which helps explain why last year it was ranked the eighth-best place to view fall colors in the United States by Farmers’ Almanac. While in the area, get a view of those colors from high above on the Grafton SkyTour gondola or the Alpine Coaster ride, both at nearby Aerie’s Resort.

Great River Road in Alton
Great River Road in Alton

Haunted Places and Famous Faces, Alton

Often rated one of the most haunted small towns in America, Alton is a great place to get in the spooky spirit of the season with a local ghost tour and one of the country’s oldest Halloween parades (on October 31). It’s also an ideal spot for a photo op alongside statues of famous former townsfolk like world’s tallest man Robert Wadlow and jazz titan Miles Davis.

Along the Mississippi River
Along the Mississippi River

Cahokia Mounds and Colossal Condiments, Collinsville

Explore the remains of one of the most advanced prehistoric civilizations north of Mexico at the fascinating 2,000-acre Cahokia Mounds. Or for something completely different, head to downtown Collinsville to see the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle. and


Photos: Illinois Office of Tourism

Something’s Brewing

Where to eat, drink, and stay at the “other” city on the lake

Milwaukee skyline

Boasting beaches, brews, and bobbleheads—just a two-hour drive from the western suburbs, Milwaukee makes for a terrific getaway. Although the Cream City (a nickname derived not from its ties to the dairy industry but rather from the distinctive cream-colored bricks of many of its 19th-century structures) bears many similarities to the Windy City, it also has plenty of one-of-a-kind highlights.

“While Chicago and Milwaukee share Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is a distinctly different city,” says Ian Thompson, senior communications manager for Visit Milwaukee, the city’s tourism bureau. “Our history, attractions, museums, theaters, and festivals are all unique experiences you cannot find anywhere else in the world.”

Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee Art Museum


Whether you plan to spend part of your weekend checking out the iconic Santiago Calatrava–designed Quadracci Pavilion at the lakefront Milwaukee Art Museum (, hanging with the kids at the nearby Discovery World science and tech museum (, nodding along with more than 10,000 ballpark giveaways at the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame (, going hog wild at the Harley-Davidson Museum (, or just strolling the banks of the Milwaukee River in search of a thumbs-up photo op with the Bronze Fonz, be sure to eat hearty and get plenty of rest.

National Bobblehead Hall of Fame
National Bobblehead Hall of Fame


There might not be a better place on this planet than Milwaukee to subsist on little more than bratwurst and beer (though your physician might raise an objection), but those looking for something a little bit off the well-worn sausage-and-suds path will discover plenty of other options. For example, “Milwaukee” and “empanadas” might be a long-shot combo in a game of word association, but you’re sure to find several pockets of delight among the 16 varieties on offer (all of which enjoy a significant boost from the outstanding chimichurri) at East Side hot spot La Masa ( Meanwhile, a more traditional, old-school Wisconsin tavern vibe awaits at the Swingin’ Door Exchange (, which, amid the circa-1930s dark wood, stained glass, and cozy (read: tight) confines, serves up a killer old-fashioned and some seriously elevated comfort food—such as the maple mustard-glazed pork chop sandwich—with no pretension whatsoever.

Bronze Fonz
Bronze Fonz


Skip the standard cookie-cutter hotels in favor of something a little more historic and, let’s face it, just a little bit cooler. At the top of that list for many is probably the city’s most famous hotel, the Pfister (—an 1893 icon that is as well known for its grand lobby and well-appointed rooms as it is for its many unsubstantiated ghost stories. Elsewhere, housed in the more than 125-year-old Loyalty Building, the Hilton Garden Inn Milwaukee Downtown ( can certainly give the Pfister a run for its historic bona fides (if not its opulence), boasting a five-story atrium replete with marble and iron, a bank vault, grand staircase, and magnificent skylight.


Of course, leaving Wisconsin without a Spotted Cow beer, an O&H Kringle, or a frozen custard is just gauche. And as long as you’re in Milwaukee, you might as well get this last one exactly right with a stop at the venerable Leon’s (, which has had them lining up for rich and creamy treats since the 1940s.


Photos: Visit Milwaukee (panarama, Bronze Fonz); Milwaukee Art Museum; National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum


Northwest Indiana carves out an identity all its own

Lake View Beach
Lake View Beach

To grow up in northwest Indiana is, in many ways, to be without a state—not quite Indiana and not quite Illinois. A sense of forced independence among those living in these no-man’s-land communities has, over time, hardened into defensive pride for the area known as the Calumet Region (or simply “the Region”). And it has helped shape this corner of the Hoosier State into a place all its own, complete with distinct traditions, quirks, and discoveries.

‘Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure’ by Joseph S. Pete

Joseph Pete (like this writer, a Region native) knows the area inside and out. As a scribe for the Times of Northwest Indiana and an author of several books extolling the Region’s unique charms—including his latest, Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure—he knows it’s probably not the first place most Illinois residents think to visit, but he also knows well what they’re missing by not making the (surprisingly short) trip.

“Some people have a misconception that it’s farther away than it actually is,” Pete says. “It’s really just another bedroom community for Chicago but with a vibe all its own. And for those who love getting out and exploring and soaking in nature, arts, and culture right in their backyard, there’s plenty to see and do just across the border.”

Pete’s book is a treasure trove of eccentric sites and uncategorizable oddities from not only northwest Indiana but nearby communities in south suburban Illinois and southwestern Michigan as well. Here are a few of his top picks for a weekend in and around the Region.

The Lubeznik Center for the Arts
The Lubeznik Center for the Arts

A Bustling Arts Scene

Amid the area’s surprisingly vibrant—and growing—arts and culture scene, the Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City is a true standout, according to Pete.“It’s really stepped up its game in recent years with several blockbuster exhibits,” he says. “It’s also a short walk from Washington Park along the lakefront and the Uptown Arts District, which is home to galleries, theaters, restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, antique stores, and an artists’ colony.”

The COP Florida Tropical House
The COP Florida Tropical House

A Trip Back in Time

While northwest Indiana is home to a number of notable local museums—including the popular Old Lake County Sheriff’s House and Jail in Crown Point (from which John Dillinger famously escaped)—one of the most fascinating historical sites is the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes in Beverly Shores. “A developer planning a resort community on the Indiana coast moved the experimental homes by barge across Lake Michigan after the 1933 world’s fair,” Pete explains. “They showcase then-futuristic building materials and include the striking Florida Tropical House—a pink pastel marvel on a bluff overlooking the expanse of Lake Michigan.”

Natural Wonders

Though it’s heavily industrialized with steel mills and oil refineries, northwest Indiana remains one of the most biodiverse places in the country, and the Indiana Dunes (which encompasses both Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton and Indiana Dunes National Park in Porter) is the crown jewel of this natural landscape. Says Pete: “A great way to experience the rich diversity of the dunes is to hike somewhere like the Cowles Bog, where you trek for miles through varied habitats like wetlands and woods before ascending a steep dune to be rewarded with a panoramic view of the glistening horizon of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline off in the distance.”


Photos courtesy of Indiana Dunes National Park (beach and house), Lubeznik Center for the Arts, and Reedy Press (book cover)

Four Times the Fun

Straddle the Mighty Mississippi on a trip to the Quad Cities

Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport
Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport

Like siblings who share a bedroom, adjoining states have a tendency to get on each other’s nerves from time to time. Wisconsinites, for example, occasionally refer to Illinois visitors by an unprintable acronym, while Illinois residents don’t always have the nicest things to say about our Hoosier neighbors to the east. Yet deep down, there’s a geographic kinship among most Midwestern states that endures beyond any petty disagreements or rivalries—a bond that is perhaps best exemplified by the Iowa-Illinois amalgam that is the Quad Cities.

‘100 Things To Do in the Quad Cities Before You Die’ by Jonathan Turner

Situated along both banks of the Mississippi River, Illinois’s Rock Island and Moline and Iowa’s Bettendorf and Davenport exist on one level as four independent towns, but more significantly as one big cross-border community—a collective of more than 400,000 people and hundreds of unique places and experiences. And for Chicago-area residents looking for a quick getaway, longtime journalist and Quad Cities enthusiast Jonathan Turner says there’s plenty to discover just two hours west of Naperville.

“From spectacular riverfront trails to outstanding cuisine, a bountiful live music scene, tremendously varied museums, and a growing, thriving theater community, the Quad Cities has it all, and it won’t break your bank,” says Turner, offering his elevator pitch for the area he calls home. But Turner’s love for the Quad Cities goes beyond mere run-of-the-mill civic pride—his 2022 book 100 Things To Do in the Quad Cities Before You Die is a bucket-list compendium of places to see and experiences for anyone considering a visit. Here are a few of his top picks for a weekend in the QC.

Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island
Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island


In a world of dwindling dinner theater, Turner calls the historic Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse—a grand 100-year-old former movie palace in downtown Rock Island—a glorious throwback to the golden age of the form. Onstage now through mid-March is the Queen jukebox musical We Will Rock You, served with a meal by the performing waitstaff, the Bootleggers. “It may sound cliché, but when you’re at Circa you truly feel like you’re home among family,” Turner says.


At the corner of 11th Street and 8th Avenue in Moline are two magnificent, stately callbacks to the historic influence of John Deere and its founding families on the Quad Cities—the Deere-Wiman House and the Butterworth Center. “Both homes have beautiful gardens, and at Butterworth, be sure to see the library’s 18th-century Italian ceiling painting, originally found in Venice and purchased by the Butterworths,” Turner says.


The Quad Cities boast plenty of great vistas, but Turner believes one of the best river views is seeing the Centennial Bridge (spanning Rock Island to Davenport) from the third-base side (or maybe the 110-foot Ferris wheel) of Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, home to the minor-league Quad Cities River Bandits. The Kansas City Royals affiliate opens its 2023 season on April 7 against the South Bend Cubs.

For more information on Turner’s book, visit


Photos courtesy of Jonathan Turner (book cover), Sean Flynn (Modern Woodmen Park), and Kimberly Calhoun (Circa ’21)

Glacial and Palatial

Lake Geneva’s Ice Castles captures wintry magic


Ice Castles

It’s a marvel of icicle agriculture and architecture. Part science and part fairy tale, Ice Castles in Wisconsin opens for the season in late January, weather permitting, on the grounds of the Geneva National Resort & Club, 1091 Hidden Cottage Circle in Lake Geneva.

“Guests who enter the icicle-adorned archways get to explore a world built entirely from ice,” says Ice Castles spokesperson Melissa Smuzynski. “With caverns, tunnels, crawl spaces, ice slides, fountains, and thrones—all created or carved from ice—it is a true winter wonderland. At night, the ice glows with color-changing lights that are embedded.”

Ice slide
Ice slide

The frosty attraction draws tens of thousands of visitors during its typical three-to-four-week season. “Walking into Ice Castles is like stepping into another world where wonder and imagination awaits,” Smuzynski says. “For some, it resembles Elsa’s ice palace from Frozen, for others it’s the Fortress of Solitude from Superman. It truly is a place where your imagination guides you through the experience. There is nothing else like it, and I personally love how it brings joy and wonder to a season and time of year that is often characterized as dreary and dark.”

So, how does one build such a frozen fortress? By hand, actually, one icicle at a time.

“Our ice artists typically start setting up water lines and lighting elements in late October and begin growing icicles in late November or early December, depending on the weather,” she says. “We’ll grow and harvest up to 12,000 icicles each day. Those icicles are then hand placed and sprayed with water.”

Over and over and over again.

“This process is repeated daily until the ice grows to about 10 feet thick and 20 feet tall,” she explains. “It typically takes a team of 20 ice artists per location to create the experience, and by the peak of the season, we’ve made approximately 20 million pounds of ice.”

Snowshoeing at the Geneva National Resort & Club
Ice skating at the Geneva National Resort & Club
Snowshoeing and ice skating at the Geneva National Resort & Club

In addition to America’s Dairyland, the company also constructed four other ice castles this year—in Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, and Utah. While the overall designs evolve from year to year, some features (such as ice slides, thrones, and fountains that castlegoers have come to expect) are always included—as are some enhancements.

“This year we have completely reimagined our horse-drawn sleigh ride trail,” Smuzynski says. “We will be adding some new lighting features and introducing whimsical, magic winter characters, which will be at the attraction every day for meet-and-greets with guests.”

Sunset at Ice Castles

The Ice Castles concept has a pretty endearing origin story. More than a decade ago, Brent Christensen and had just moved his family from sunny California to Alpine, Utah, and wanted to give his children something to do outdoors in their new snowy home. He began tinkering with running water to build an ice cave in the front yard. “His icy creation brought out kids from all over town who wanted to explore the frozen fortress,” Smuzynski says. “The kids affectionately called it the Ice Castle, and thus, our attraction was born.”

Christensen eventually patented his ice-build process and opened several venues across the country in snowy climes. Since that first cave, the temporary winter wonderlands have attracted millions of visitors. Not surprisingly, some of those visitors have even used the stunning backdrops for wedding proposals and other special occasions. In fact, if you’re looking for a private spot, you can reserve your own chunk of the icy paradise—the Arctic Alcove—for $450 per hour (six general-admission tickets and six sleigh-ride passes are included.)

For tickets, guidelines, and a schedule, visit

Know Before You Go

A multicolored ice structure at Ice Castles

• With some dates and times already sold out, to guarantee entry be sure to buy tickets online in advance. Weekday general admission is $25 ($17 for kids 4 to 11), while weekend and holiday general admission is $29 ($22 for kids). Tots ages 3 and under are free.

• Wanna ride? Sleigh-ride tickets can be added to online orders. Rides (lasting 10 to 15 minutes) are $17.

• Dress for the weather. This is an all-outdoor event, after all. Hats, gloves, snow pants, and boots are recommended.

• No, there are not ice bathrooms. But portable facilities are available.

• Since all this chilly exploring can build up an appetite, the Geneva National Resort & Club offers concessions, including s’mores kits, chili, cheese curds, hot cocoa, and hard cider. The venue also has an onsite restaurant, Turf, complete with snow-globe dining and Ice Princess Brunches (reservations required).

• Looking for more outdoor fun? Ice skating, sledding, and even candlelight snowshoeing are available on the resort grounds (free for overnight guests or for daily fee). For more info, visit

• Need even more winter escapades? Lake Geneva Ziplines & Adventures ( features year-round ziplining and a 16-obstacle high-ropes course. Vail Resorts’ Wilmot Mountain ( and Alpine Valley ( offer nearly 50 ski runs as well as professional instruction and equipment rentals. (Wilmot also boasts 22 tubing lanes and a magic carpet.) ClearWater Outdoor ( in downtown Lake Geneva rents snowshoes and cross-country ski equipment to explore the area’s trails, like those at Big Foot Beach State Park or Kettle Moraine State Forest.


Photos courtesy of Destination Geneva National (snowshoeing, ice skating, and winterscape) and A.J. Mellor (Ice Castles)

Yes, This is Iowa

Head west for a spelunking adventure

It’s pretty much rolling farmland as far as the eye can see. This is eastern Iowa, after all.

That is, until you enter Maquoketa Caves State Park, and suddenly a world of towering bluffs, forested ravines, and a system of caves appears.

“They are Iowa’s hidden gem,” says Ryland Richards, natural resource technician at the park. “They are some of the only caves in the country that are open for self-exploration without a guide. Most cave systems, you must enter with someone. They are also an unexpected location because we are surrounded by cornfields and towns.”

Prepare to spend some time happily wandering both above and below ground. “We have 15 different caves that vary in difficulty,” Richards says. “The Natural Bridge and [17-ton] Balanced Rock are two of the main features people come to see. The main cave, Dancehall, has lights and a sidewalk.”

In fact, actual dances were held in the caves in the early 1900s, all part of the park’s storied history. Millenniums of water erosion on limestone bedrock created the caves. “They have been explored since they were made, but our earliest records date to the 1800s when they were rediscovered by two hunters,” Richards says. A popular place for picnics and hikes since the 1860s, the area became a 370-acre state park in 1933 (one of Iowa’s earliest) and now averages about 300,000 visitors a year (plus 700 or so overwintering bats). A six-mile trail links the caves, winding through—and up and down—the lush scenery and geologic formations. “The caves are accessible by those who can walk up and down stairs to enter and exit them,” Richards says. “Out of the 15 caves, 10 are crawling caves and five are walk-through caves.” Most visitors stick to the walking caves, leaving the tight spots to the serious spelunkers.

“Dress appropriately—it’s about 55 [degrees] in the caves. Bring clothes that could get dirty,” Richards says. “Flashlights are recommended but not needed in the walk-through caves. You can spend anywhere from an hour to eight here, depending on what you see. You will see something amazing that you wouldn’t have known was in Iowa.”  

More to MAquoketa

  • From March through November, Maquoketa Caves State Park offers a campground as well as primitive hike-in campsites. Reservations are required through
  • Enjoy a float on the nearby Maquoketa River. Outfitters like Maquoketa River Rentaloffer inner tubes, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, floating coolers, as well as shuttle service and guided tours.
  • Grab a bite to eat at Mega’s Grill & Eatery (101 McKinsey Dr., Maquoketa), open for breakfast and lunch daily and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. Waffles, burgers, and steak are all on the menu, as is a chicken strips on French toast sandwich.

Photos by Jen Banowetz

Shore Thing

Nestled along Lake Michigan and the Kalamazoo River—a three-hour drive from Naperville—Saugatuck, Michigan, has long had ties to the Chicago area. “It was a lumber town and after the Chicago Fire mills proliferated along the lake and along the river in order to get the wood over to Chicago,” explains James Brandess, a School of the Art Institute of Chicago alum who came to Saugatuck for a work-study program at the Ox-Bow School of Art. 

The nexus of the lake, river, woods, and bluffs makes Saugatuck heaven for a landscape painter like Brandess, who decided to stay and open a gallery here almost 30 years ago. The city has become a favorite of Chicago-area travelers, and it’s not too late to plan a weekend trip before the end of fall. “Summer [lodging] books out anywhere from a year to six months out, but fall is more like three [months] to one month out,” says Jonathan Schreur, co-owner of Hidden Garden Cottages & Suites. “We always tell people September is the best time to come to Saugatuck. We jokingly call it ‘adult summer.’ The kids are back in school, our town is lively, but the big crush of July and August is behind us. The weather is still great, and you can still go to the beach every day.” 

While in town, view the city from the water on the Star of Saugatuck paddlewheel boat tour ($20—$58,, which offers a 90-minute cruise of the Kalamazoo River, Lake Kalamazoo, and Lake Michigan. Saugatuck Dune Rides will take you on a rugged buggy ride along an off-road trail to take in the sights of the area’s picturesque sand dunes ($14—$25, For a stunning view, hike the one-mile loop at Mount Baldhead (769 Park St.) and climb the 302-step staircase up to the top.

The beach town also is known for its art and shops. Browse handcrafted jewelry, sculpture, and ceramics at Good Goods (; cool home decor and clothing at Urban Found (; and Michigan-made soaps, scrubs, and soaks at 42N Naturals ( When you’ve worked up an appetite, Brandess is a fan of Phil’s Bar and Grille ( across the street from his gallery. “Full disclosure, they have a number of my paintings on the wall, but the food is excellent,” he says. “Their burgers are really great.” Schreur recommends Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions (, helmed by executive chef Missy Corey, a former chef de cuisine at Publican Quality Meats in Chicago. “[Her] food is fantastic,” Schreur says. “It is, in my mind, the epitome of farm-to-table, and they really stick to that ethos.”  

Halfway There

Craving a Michigan getaway with a shorter drive time? Ninety minutes in the car will land you at the Neighborhood Hotel Grand Beach (, which opened earlier this year in Michigan’s Harbor Country, just south of downtown New Buffalo. Originally built as Pinewood Lodge in 1914, the property has been renovated and now offers a dozen suites with kitchenettes and two cottage homes, all with appealing modern rustic decor. When you’re not at the beach or on a hike admiring summer and fall colors, you can check out hotel perks such as the pool, yoga, and campfires. 

Photos courtesy of Saugatuck Douglas area Convention & visitors Bureau and The Neighborhood Hotel

Welcome to the Rock

Primitive or just plain perfect? Rock Island State Park in northern Wisconsin offers an adventure in old-school camping—and getting there is half the fun. 

The trip to this 912-acre island near the northern tip of the Door County peninsula requires a five-to-six-hour drive from Naperville followed by not one but two ferry rides—one on the vehicular ferry from Northport Pier in Door County to Washington Island and a second on the passenger-only Karfi ferry from Jackson Harbor on the northeast side of Washington Island to Rock Island. (You can leave your car by Jackson Harbor on Washington Island.) The Washington Island Ferry Line sells combo tickets covering both rides via Northport Pier (, $13.50—$25), with multiple trips scheduled per day on both crossings during the summer.  You can tote along your canoe, kayak, or standup paddleboard for an additional $10.

Once on Rock Island, campers are treated to a true back-to-nature experience—meaning fire rings, picnic tables, and vault toilets, but no flush facilities or vehicles—with many campsites situated just steps from gloriously uncrowded beaches. “Camping at Rock Island is serene and quiet,” says Tina Jacoby, president of the nonprofit Friends of Rock Island State Park. She has been volunteering and camping on the island for decades. “There are no cars, no bicycles, no traffic—just the sound of the waves hitting the rocky shores. And the night hiking and stargazing are second to none and only can be experienced in a few places in the Midwest. All in all, it’s a pretty remarkable island.”  

Places to explore include the massive stone boathouse constructed in 1929 by early settler Chester Thordarson, the historic Pottawatomie Lighthouse (Wisconsin’s oldest), and 10 miles of hiking trails, including the six-mile Thordarson Loop, which follows the island’s coastline and offers spectacular views. 

With only 40 campsites available, the summer and fall calendars on Rock Island book up quickly for weekends, so advance reservations through the Wisconsin State Park System Department of Natural Resources ( are encouraged. 

Pack wisely. Your campsite could be more than half a mile from the ferry dock, so whatever you bring has to be carried in or transported by small wagon. Also keep in mind that there is no camp store on the island, which means you’ll have to bring along almost everything you need, though firewood is available for sale onsite. You can find drinking water near the dock and boathouse. “Plan for everything,” Jacoby advises, “because it’s quite an ordeal—and an extra ferry ticket—to go back and get something you forgot in the car or to make a trip to the store.” 

Ferry Tips

Summer and fall are the height of tourist season in Door County, and Washington Island (en route to Rock Island) is a popular day trip for Door County crowds. With five boats running continuously, the ferry line does an admirable job of keeping up with the crush, but there may not always be room on the boat you planned to take, leaving your waiting for the next one, so pack some patience along with your bug spray.  

If you get hungry on Washington Island before your ferry trip to Rock Island or on the way home, hit up local favorite Jackson Harbor Soup for a hearty meal overlooking the water just steps from the dock.  

Photo courtesy of Friends of Rock Island State Park