Travel Directions

May 2023 View more

By Mark Loehrke, Judy Sutton Taylor, and Jen Banowetz

North, South, East, West: four fantastic road-trip destinations

Hit the waves and trails of Minoqua, Wisconsin. Snap some memorable pix of the Toronto sign in Nathan Phillips Square or gaze at the CN Tower. Traverse a historic covered bridge in Brown County, Indiana. See the wonders at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque.
1. Hit the waves and trails of Minoqua, Wisconsin. 2. Snap some memorable pix of the Toronto sign in Nathan Phillips Square or gaze at the CN Tower. 3. Traverse a historic covered bridge in Brown County, Indiana. 4. See the wonders at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque.


Minocqua, Wisconsin

350 miles, 5 hours

Minocqua, Wisconsin

Summertime in the Midwest conjures images of relaxing by a sun-kissed lake or plunging into that same refreshing liquid gold for a long afternoon of splish-splash fun. For many seeking out just this type of getaway, the aquatic playground of northern Wisconsin has long been a popular draw, with many converging on the closely situated Northwoods communities of Minocqua, Woodruff, and Arbor Vitae—an area home to nearly 2,300 bodies of water, including 45 named lakes.

At the heart of this natural playground is the “island city” of Minocqua (so coined because a portion of the town is situated on what was once an actual island, these days accessible by bridge on Highway 51 on the south and a large area that was filled in to the north). Here, the year-round population of just under 5,000 nearly quadruples over the summer months, as vacationers settle in to enjoy their lakeside vacation homes or to check into one of the many cabins, resorts, and hotels tucked amid the pines.

Among the abundance of lakes and rivers flowing through the area is a chain of three large, popular options enveloping the town—Lake Minocqua, Lake Kawaguesaga, and Lake Tomahawk—that are all connected by narrow channels, allowing boaters to enjoy an uninterrupted day on the water that might include a fishing trip, water ski excursion, or leisurely cruise. A variety of vacation residences dots the shoreline, from modest, decades-old cabins to lavish multimillion-dollar mansions. All the while, boaters can dock at a plenty of lakeside restaurants for a bite or drop anchor near one of many small islands for a swim.

Meanwhile, back on dry land, Oneida Street running through downtown Minocqua is home to an assortment of quintessential vacation town staples, including T-shirt shops, ice cream parlors, restaurants, a bookstore, a mini golf course, and even an old-school five-and-dime. Nearby there are golf courses, a zoo and wildlife park, horseback riding, a go-cart complex (with more miniature golf), and the popular Bearskin Trail, a former railway corridor that is now a 21.5-mile crushed-gravel path for walkers, runners, and bikers that winds through the woods and waters.

What does it all add up to? If a classic Midwest family vacation was plotted on a bingo card, Minocqua would be a blackout game. For more information, visit —M.L.


A Minocqua getaway is pretty much about water. Fortunately, there are plenty of places on and around the area’s main lakes to rent a pontoon or ski boat (with or without ski equipment) by the day or the week, including Lakeside Rentals, Storage and Marina (, which has been getting landlubbers off the shore for the past three decades.

Bridge to Minocqua
Bridge to Minocqua


Just a short walk from downtown shops and restaurants, the biggest selling point for The Pointe Hotel and Suites ( is its proximity to the beautiful water of Lake Minocqua—as in, it’s right on that water. Tie up your boat at the hotel dock for easy access, take a dip just steps from your room, or simply relax and take in the view from your private balcony or patio.


A trip to the Northwoods wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a traditional Wisconsin supper club, and from the woods to the water to everywhere in between, there’s no shortage of choices to be had. Tucked amid the trees on the shore of tiny Patricia Lake, Norwood Pines ( has been contributing to the robust supper-club culture for several generations, serving up old-fashioneds, relish trays, fried cheese curds, throwback ice cream drinks, and, of course, a killer all-you-can-eat Friday-night fish fry.

Min-Aqua Bats


For vintage vacation vibes, it’s hard to top the thrice-weekly Min-Aqua Bats water ski shows on Lake Minocqua (, as a talented crew of fresh-faced amateur performers carries on a more-than-70-year-old tradition, breaking out the kinds of jumps, pyramids, and tandem tricks that weekend skiers in the bleachers-and-boats crowd wish they could replicate.

Rib Mountain State Park


Before wrapping up the long drive, about an hour south of Minocqua is a great opportunity to stop and stretch in Wausau, Wisconsin, at Rib Mountain State Park (, which boasts more than 13 miles of hiking trails and some of the most commanding vistas in central Wisconsin. On autumn weekends, visitors can ride up the north face of the mountain on the chairlift at Granite Peak Ski Area for an eye-popping view of the fall colors.


Brown County, Indiana

250 miles, 4 hours

Brown County State Park
Brown County State Park

After beginning as an artists’ colony amid the scenic natural backdrop of the rolling central Indiana hills, Brown County has developed into a tourist magnet, with visitors descending on the tiny town of Nashville and the sprawling landscape of its eponymous state park (especially during the colorful autumn months) to experience a dose of Hoosier hospitality.

This evolution has turned Brown County into something of an all-things-to-all-people kind of place. The streets of Nashville, for example, are packed with shops and ice cream spots, and kitschy little hideaways for those looking for that sort of thing. Meanwhile, out among the wilds of the Brown County State Park (Indiana’s largest) and surrounding environs, a nature enthusiast could spend days traversing the miles of trails winding through the “Little Smokies” without ever even thinking to stop for a hunk of rock candy or an old-timey photo. Most visitors, of course, are likely to opt for something in between these two extremes—maybe a day of biking or kayaking followed by an evening stroll through the galleries of Nashville and a quiet dinner at one of the town’s many restaurants.

As with most great destinations, the beauty of Brown County lies in this kind of versatility. It’s a place that beckons visitors to create their own experience—and with so many different options from which to choose, the possibilities for that experience are limited only by one’s imagination. For more information, visit —M.L.

Goat Conspiracy


The Brown County area offers hundreds of lodging choices, but it’s probably safe to say that there’s only one Goat Conspiracy ( Situated next to a pond on more than 40 acres of pasture populated by dozens of Nigerian dwarf goats (above) and scores of free-range chickens, this three-bedroom luxury cabin is an opportunity to discover a little slice of rural peace and tranquility that is, without a doubt, far afield from everyday suburban living.

Strahl Lake
Strahl Lake (bottom)


One of the most popular activities for Brown County visitors is also one of the simplest—seeking out and soaking in some of the Midwest’s most beautiful panoramas. And an easy guide to those great views throughout Brown County State Park is the Seven Vista Challenge (, a septet of picture-perfect spots (complete with human-size frames) that all seem to be begging for a prime slot in your social-media feed.


It’s possible (though probably not advisable) to eat one’s way through Brown County on a diet of strictly fudge, popcorn, and ice cream. But for those with a taste for something a little more substantial and a little less cavity-inducing, Nashville’s Stonehead Pizza Co. at Trails End ( is more than a just a mouthful of a name—it’s a great place to find creative pies and tasty sandwiches, including a classic (read: gigantic) Indiana breaded pork tenderloin.



From horseback riding and camping to zip lines and ATV tours, there’s plenty of adventurous options. But for something a little more laid-back, give them the chance to indulge their curiosity and sense of discovery by panning for treasure in the waters of Salt Creek behind the steeped-in-Americana Gatesville Country Store (812-988-0788) or enjoying a more organized treasure hunt in the water sluice at Copperhead Creek Gem Mine (

Traders Point Creamery


If you’re feeling a little bit peckish on the road, pull over in Zionsville, Indiana, and enjoy some farm-fresh food at Traders Point Creamery ( The restaurant/creamery was the state’s first USDA-certified organic dairy. The menu offers everything from a grass-fed beef burger to fillet mignon. Be sure to indulge in some homemade artisan treats at the open-air Dairy Bar on the front patio.


Toronto, Ontario

540 miles, 8 hours


Looking for a way to give your passport a workout without getting on a long, pricey flight? Road trip across the border to Toronto, which is within a day’s driving distance while offering an experience that can feel worlds away.

As the fourth-largest city in North America, Toronto has no shortage of must-sees: There’s the CN Tower (, the largest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere. Brave souls (in harnesses) can experience its EdgeWalk (above), a full-circle path around the roof of the tower, which sits 1,168 feet in the air. The Royal Ontario ( is Canada’s largest museum, showcasing more than 6 million artistic, cultural, and natural history artifacts from around the world in 40 gallery spaces. Casa Loma (, a Gothic Revival–style castle and garden, attracts loads of visitors to tour its historic grounds (below). And the St. Lawrence Market complex ( is one of the world’s best-known food markets, filled with a seemingly endless array of international grocery items, dining spots, and artisan wares.

Last year, the Michelin Guide included Toronto as its first Canadian destination. Its list of recommendations includes a mix of well-known icons such as Scaramouche (, a French fine-dining mainstay since 1983, and the decidedly modern and casual Little Bird, serving dim sum and craft beer (

While you can visit these spots any time of year, summer is the city’s time to shine, according to Ashley Rochefort, a media-relations manager for Destination Toronto: “Food, music, art, culture, sports—whatever your passion, there is an event in Toronto for everyone.”

Casa Loma

So be sure to consult the social calendar. “Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world with 158 diverse neighborhoods, and summer festivals are a direct reflection of that diversity,” she adds, pointing to Pride Toronto (June 23–25) and Toronto Caribbean Carnival (August 3–7). Other noteworthy options include Luminato, an international arts festival dedicated to contemporary music, dance, theater, and visual arts (June 7–18); North by Northeast (NXNE), a music festival featuring emerging artists whose past performers have included Lizzo, Run the Jewels, and Lumineers (June 13–17); and the Honda Indy Toronto motorsport race (July 14–16).

“No summertime visit to Toronto is complete without a trip to the truly unique Toronto Islands,” Rochefort says. Accessible by a 13-minute ferry ride from downtown or by water taxi, the group of 15 islands is connected by pathways and bridges, enabling visitors to walk among the islands and enjoy its beaches, trails, Centreville Amusement Park, and picturesque views of the city skyline.

Other fun warm-weather activities include a stop at Toronto Music Garden, a park designed in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma using inspiration from Johann Sebastian Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, and the nearby Toronto Waterfront WaveDecks, a series of wooden structures that vary in shape to reflect the movement of Lake Ontario.

Don’t leave without stopping at Toronto City Hall to grab a pic in front of the iconic Toronto sign and visiting nearby Little Canada (, where you can see miniatures of landmarks within Toronto and throughout the rest of the country, to spark ideas for your next trip. For more information, visit —J.S.T.

A woman doing yoga


It’s been a while since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Pay it a visit—and enjoy interactive exhibits as well as the world’s largest collection of hockey artifacts—at the Hockey Hall of Fame (


Try the Freedom Toast, made with Brie, Havarti, and peameal bacon, or the poutine (or both) at the “almost always open” Lakeview Restaurant (, a diner that’s been around since 1932 and featured in many movies, including Cocktail and Hairspray.

Sweet Jesus


Bless your taste buds with a treat from Sweet Jesus (, a quirky-cool ice cream shop that serves creative frozen goodies such as Krusty the Cone (vanilla soft-serve with cotton candy and rainbow sprinkles that bares an impressive resemblance to its Simpsons character namesake).

Gladstone House


Built in 1889 and formerly known as the Gladstone Hotel, the trendy West Queen West neighborhood’s Gladstone House ( recently underwent a major overhaul to unveil a modern aesthetic that features the works of more than 50 local artists in each of the 55 guest rooms.

Zingerman’s Delicatessen


Stop in Ann Arbor, halfway into your journey, to visit the impressive University of Michigan campus ( Its football stadium, aptly dubbed “The Big House,” is the largest in the country and the third largest in the world. Grab a bite at Zingerman’s Delicatessen (, which has been selling made-to-order sandwiches and an eclectic array of gourmet foods in a famously unstuffy environment since 1982.


Dubuque, Iowa

170 miles, 3 hours

Fenelon Place Elevator

Chances are, if you’re from the Chicago area, you’ve spent a weekend or two in quaint Galena. However, if you just keep driving west a smidge farther and cross the Mighty Mississippi, you’ll find a bigger gem: Dubuque.

“When people think of Iowa, they think flat cornfields for miles and miles—Dubuque is the opposite of that,” says Emily Adlfinger, a transplant from the Chicago suburbs and a North Central College grad. “Beautiful bluffs along the river, the expansive Mississippi River, a vibrant downtown scene, and so much history to take in, it really offers something for everyone.”

A stingray

One of the best places to get the lay of the land (and water) is the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium ( In association with the Smithsonian Institution, this 14-acre campus offers a hybrid experience with both animal exhibits and historic collections, serving as a cultural, geographical, and ecological guide to the third-largest watershed in the world.

“Who would have thought you could touch a stingray in Dubuque, Iowa?” says Adlfinger, the museum’s marketing and communications manager. “If you love animals and learning about new species, you’ve come to the right place. Our newly renovated Rivers to the Sea exhibit features nearly 100 species of exotic marine life such as octopus, sea horses, moon jellies, and a stingray touch tank.” Not to mention all the playful river otters, impressive fish, and turtles on display.

“If you are interested in history, the River Museum offers an extensive historical collection and the National Rivers Hall of Fame, celebrating river and waterways stewards who have had a positive and lasting influence,” Adlfinger says. “Guests can also come aboard the steam dredge, the William M. Black, a national landmark in the Ice Harbor, which is open for tours during the summer and warmer months.”

In addition to the museum and its downtown shops and eateries, Dubuque offers plenty of outdoor adventures as well. Just south of the city, the Mines of Spain Recreation Area and E.B. Lyons Interpretive and Nature Center ( encompasses 1,437 acres of woodlands and prairies, including 21 miles of hiking trails. Heading west, the 26-mile-long, multiuse Heritage Trail, is a former railroad line that connects Dubuque to Dyersville.

For more information, visit —J.B.


How can you pass up the world’s shortest and steepest railroad? The unique Fenelon Place Elevator (above, is a Dubuque icon. Modeled after cable cars used in the Alps, this 296-foot funicular railway (a.k.a. the Fourth Street Elevator) was built in 1882 to save a former mayor from the half-hour buggy ride from his bluff-top home to the bank where he worked below (which was technically only two and a half blocks away). Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 1 to November 30, a ride is $2 cash each way for adults, $1 for kids (ages 5 to 12), and free for riders under 5. A ticket for a bicycle and rider is $3 one way.

People enjoying a scenic view


If you happen to be in town for the Fourth of July holiday, be sure to look up. The Dubuque Airshow & Fireworks take to the skies July 3 in 2023. The 164-acre Eagle Point Park ( overlooking Lock and Dam No. 11 makes for a great place to perch.

A cocktail


For some of the best cheese curds in town, plus a wide menu of greens, burgers, and entrées (like pretzel-crusted pork chops and butternut squash ravioli), check out the Copper Kettle (2987 Jackson St.) For a fine-dining, farm-to-table experience, make reservations at Brazen Open Kitchen (, which uses seasonal, local ingredients in its ever-changing menu. Offerings run the gamut from a 20-ounce Iowa rib eye to vegan stroganoff, plus a host of cocktails.

Tame your sweet tooth at Betty Jane Candies (, which had been making its signature Gremlins (pecans and homemade caramel covered in a blend of milk chocolate) since 1938.


Fancy or fun? For fancy, the Hotel Julien Dubuque ( offers downtown elegance and a rich history dating back to its 1839 origins as the Waples House. Abe Lincoln, Buffalo Bill Cody, Mark Twain, and Al Capone all reportedly have been guests. Extensively renovated inside and out, the hotel today has 133 rooms and suites, plus a spa and indoor pool. The lobby and Grande Ballroom also have been faithfully restored.

For family fun, the Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark ( boasts a 25,000-square-foot indoor water playground with water slides, activity pools, hot tubs, and a lazy river. The hotel is walking distance to the National Mississippi River Museum, Diamond Jo Casino, Dubuque Museum of Art, and Stone Cliff Winery.

Little Cubs Field


Stretch your legs by runing the bases at Little Cubs Field ( in Freeport, Illinois. From the marquee and scoreboard to the bleachers and ivy-covered brick wall, this Little League baseball diamond that opened in 2008 is a loving mini replica of Wrigley Field. In addition to ivy, the Chicago Cubs donated some dirt and grass from the Friendly Confines.


Photos courtesy of Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce/Mike Tittel (photographer), Mike Burley (National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium), Destination Toronto, Getty Images, Travel Dubuque, and Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau. NORTH: Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce/Mike Tittel (photographer) and Greg Bouressa (Rib Mountain State Park). SOUTH: Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Ashley Joines (Goat Conspiracy), and Jen Banowetz (Traders Point Creamery). EAST: Courtesy of CN Tower (Edgewalk), Destination Toronto (Casa Loma, yoga, Sweet Jesus), Gladstone Hotel (hotel room), and Zingerman’s Delicatessen. WEST: Courtesy of Travel Dubuque (Fenelon and sightseeing view) and Jen Banowetz (stingray).