Readers' 15 Favorite Midwest Getaways
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South Dakota's Black Hills
"My boys (husband included) and I spent a wonderful time in the Black Hills of South Dakota last summer. We went through Bear Country, a must-do for anyone visiting the area, and Cosmos [Mystery Area] to experience the unexplainable wonders of the hills! My husband and 10-year-old loved the alpine slide in Keystone. Our 3-year-old son and I took a helicopter ride!
"The grandeur of Mount Rushmore is breathtaking no matter how many times you see it, and Crazy Horse [pictured at left] is truly a dream coming to life. Growing up, I really never understood people saying we live in God's country, but seeing is believing."
-- Kelly Vant Hof, Sioux Center, Iowa
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
"Isle Royale National Park has been a family favorite for at least three generations. We love to hike and be in the wilderness. It is a place of beauty and peace. We like it because it isn't a typical vacation place for people to go. We've enjoyed listening to a wolf pack howl and waking up to a moose grazing in the stream beside our lean-to.
"On our last trip, [we spent] two weeks hiking and relaxing. It was by far the most physical and mentally demanding adventure I've ever done, and I've traveled to the middle of the jungle in Indonesia. I married into this activity, never believing that I would come to love the island as much as my in-laws, but I do."
--Martha Kirkman, Rochester, Minnesota
Door County, Wisconsin
"Door County is great whatever the season. There's always something to do and something beautiful in nature to look at! It doesn't matter where you stay -- I prefer any place with a water view.
"When I think of Door County, I automatically think of quaint shops, art galleries, great food, gentle breezes, tours, small beaches, the sound of waves hitting the shore, the ferry to Washington Island, the boat ride to Rock Island. You can do it all or do nothing at all!"
--Lynne Gonzales, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Pictured at left: Rock Island State Park.
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
"We've had a vacation home at Lake of the Ozarks for 40 years. There's something for every family member -- boating, swimming, water sports, great golf courses, resorts, water parks and amusements parks.
"I enjoy shopping at several farmers markets, a huge outlet mall and the many small antiques stores and country stores. The restaurants are as good as any you might visit in a city. When going by boat, we like The Duck, which is fine dining, or casual restaurants like Dog Days or Franky and Louie's. If you get a window seat, you can view the lake for miles at JB Hooks."
-- Janet Moss, Maryville, Missouri
Medora, North Dakota
"Medora has an outdoor arena where incredible entertainment is held after a pitchfork fondue dinner. It is a state-of-the-art theater [with] majestic views of the incredible Badlands. There are darling shops, wonderful eating establishments and sightseeing galore.
"The Bully Pulpit Golf Course is incredible. Some people just rent golf carts and tour the golf course situated in the Badlands. You might see buffalo, too. See the ranch where Theodore Roosevelt lived and worked. [Medora] is an incredible place that appeals to outdoor, theater and sightseeing people. "
-- Nancy Langseth, Minot, North Dakota
Itasca State Park, Minnesota
"Our favorite spot is Itasca State Park between Bemidji and Park Rapids, Minnesota. It is beautiful with the loons singing everyone into relaxation. Both of my sons spend hours fishing for perch, bass, sunfish and crappies. Every time someone comes to visit, we hike down to the headwaters of the Mississippi. The trails from the headwaters to Douglas Lodge are paved; there are beautiful trails that you can hike or bike."
-- Wendy Wilson, Spirit Lake, Iowa
"We went to Saugatuck for the first time last year, looking for a quick and close get away. It is less than four hours from Indianapolis and there are beaches and shopping galore. My teenagers loved it, believe it or not! [There are] lots of funky shops and galleries. We rented kayaks. They have a wonderful hand-cranked chain ferry the kids enjoyed. We took a tour of Saugatuck and Lake Michigan on a paddleboat. Lots to do, if you want, or you can sit on the beach all day. We are planning to go back again this summer before we ship my oldest off to college."
-- Jill Buckley, Zionsville, Indiana
Eagle River, Wisconsin
"Eagle River, in Wisconsin is my favorite summer vacation spot. My favorite restaurant is up there: The White Stag Inn in Rhinelander. They've been around for years (They were there when I was a camp counselor in the area in the 1970s!). We enjoy the winery in Three Lakes, fishing and boating on the Eagle River Chain of Lakes and Wisconsin River, and biking on the converted railways. We golf, swim, boat and have a very fun and relaxing time."
-- Teri Genal, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Bennett Spring State Park, Missouri
"Bennett Springs State Park, Missouri, is one of my favorite Midwest summer vacation spots. It is not as commercial as some of the other parks we stay in. On our first visit, I 'chased' butterflies with my 35mm camera. My husband enjoys fly-fishing while I read, write or take photos. We stay in a cabin and enjoy eating in the park's dining hall and in [the city of] Lebanon. We also enjoy hiking and riding around the area."
-- Linda K. Gill, Sulphur, Louisiana
Mackinac Island, Michigan
"I have been a day-tripper [to Mackinac Island] since I was a child. My husband took me to the Grand Hotel for my 50th birthday. We had a room with a balcony overlooking the bridge. We loved the island at night when it was quiet and serene. Last time we went, we took our tandem across on the ferry and biked the island, eating lunch at the Grand Hotel's little restaurant in the middle of the island. It's such a special place and has such great memories for me of my parents, my husband and my children."
-- Nancy Janda, Warsaw, Indiana
Kelleys Island, Ohio
"Kelleys Island is a quaint 5-mile isle that is quiet and unique. You can reach the island by a 45-minute ferry ride. There are a lot of old homes that are restored as bed-and-breakfasts. The Cameron House Bed & Breakfast is 150 years old. It was built during Abraham Lincoln's years! There's good food and shopping. The food at the winery is really good. There are multiple antiques stores. One is located in an original log cabin. There's a lilac walk, tons of trails and the cleanest and most beautiful state park in Ohio."
-- Connie Quinnan, North Canton, Ohio
Spring Green, Wisconsin
"We have an annual Olde Friends Reunion in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Frank Lloyd Wright's home and school are nestled in the hills. The surrounding valleys have a pristine beauty. The American Players Theatre is beyond compare. Nearby, in Mineral Point, is The Brewery Creek Inn. Locals operate wineries, art galleries, potteries and a family-run cheese farm. It's always a highlight of our summer to spend time renewing old friendships in the quiet beauty of the Wisconsin countryside!"
-- Connie Hagen Johnson, Leland, Iowa
Iowa Great Lakes
"My husband and I grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and spent many summer vacations on Lake Okoboji. After our two children were born, it was natural to continue our childhood traditions. We make the six-hour trip from the Quad Cities and spend a week at the lakes.
"Arnolds Park and the wooden roller coaster are at the top of our must-do list. We like the great miniature golf courses, and my husband enjoys many beautiful golf courses. We dine at restaurants as casual as the Barefoot Bar or the Dry Dock and as formal as Gepetto's, overlooking the lake, in the Central Emporium. We enjoy the sandy beaches, jet skiing, boating and tubing. We stop at Arnold's Perk and enjoy coffee or a treat while we surf the Internet. Rain or shine, there's never a bad day at Lake Okoboji."
--Lori Ludgate, Bettendorf, Iowa
"Galena, Illinois, has a great downtown to stroll, browse, shop or eat. It has every kind of restaurant from charming to fine food. My favorite shop is La Provencale for its French flair and unusual home decor. After working up an appetite, we stop at Frank O'Dowd's Irish pub in The Irish Cottage hotel for a good meal.
"My first trip to Galena was around age 10. My parents instilled a sense of history in us, so seeing a town that time forgot, browsing in antiques stores and visiting Ulysses S. Grant's home was extremely interesting. My husband and I visited periodically over the years, but in 2004, we had our first trip with our grandson, which included a visit to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium [in Dubuque, Iowa, about 16 miles northwest]."
-- Lenore Pettinger, Glenview, Illinois
"When I was growing up in Omaha, my family would make a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo each summer. So many animals to see, the gorillas, the cat house and the polar bears. The day usually ended with a stop at Bob's Zesto for ice cream.
"In recent years, we had a family reunion at Mahoney State Park. The highlight was walking to the top of the 70-foot observation tower with Grandpa Doolittle (who was 93 years young at the time.)"
-- Eileen Doolittle, Webster City, Iowa
Can't decide on one Midwest location for a summer vacation? Try Roxine Hild's approach:
"We love to get into one of our classic cars and use the glove compartment map from the 1940s or '50s to road trip. It's amazing that many of the roads on the old maps are still there, although they may have a new number. We haven't gotten lost yet! Every small town in the Midwest has something to offer; perhaps it's a cafe or bakery, courthouse, unique shop or local museum."
-- Roxine Hild, LaPorte City, IA
Pictured at left: Odell, Illinois', restored 1932 Standard Oil Station is a Route 66 jewel filled with roadside memorabilia such as oil cans and pop bottles.