As May evenings fall on Holland in southwest Michigan, visitors to the annual Tulip Time festival lean in from the curbs to watch dancers twirling by the hundreds in the streets. More than 500,000 guests come for the festivities, and nearly 4.5 million tulips bloom around town. A 250-year-old mill (imported from Holland) highlights Windmill Island Gardens, where a Dutch village includes a museum, carousel and shops selling delftware and wooden shoes. During the festival, daily guided tours wend through the compact downtown full of boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants. Nearby, Veldheer Tulip Gardens draws visitors by the busload with its array of 5 million flowers.
Echoing its roots as a utopian community, New Harmony, Indiana, continues to thrive as an ideal destination for reflection and inspiration as spring unfolds. Even if you’re not an artist, pockets of spring’s lime-green beauty near the two-block downtown beg for attention. New Harmony has not one but two walking labyrinths, one with a stone grotto at its center and one modeled after a 12th-century original outside Paris. The Roofless Church, an open-air domed sculpture with no seating, and nearby Harmonie State Park also encourage quiet communion with nature.
At top wildlife-viewing areas like Horicon Marsh, spring arrives with throngs of migrating birds. Considered one of the nation's top birding spots, Horicon Marsh sits just an hour northeast of Madison. Split into state and federal wildlife refuges, the 33,000-acre preserve welcomes an estimated 300,000 birds every spring and fall. Hike, bike, or take a pontoon or paddling trip to explore this area.
One of America's best displays of modern architecture waits in Columbus, which knows how to blend small-city hospitality with modern style. The town is filled with more than 70 buildings created by famed architects, giving Columbus (a city of 45,000) a skyline that mixes 20th-century masterpieces with 19th-century structures. Take a walking or bus tour for an overview, then learn about Eero Saarinen's modernist style during an in-depth tour of the Miller House and Garden. Columbus' many restaurants and shops round out a getaway.
Wind through the Ozarks scenery that gave rise to the legends of Sam Walton and Bill Clinton, and you’ll find an Arkansas weekend as memorable as it is authentic. Explore Bentonville—with attractions such as Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art and The Walmart Museum—and Little Rock, where the Clinton Presidential Center, Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and Arkansas River Trail are among the highlights.
A top-notch botanical garden, museums and vibrant warehouse district draw visitors to Wichita. Thousands of daffodils nod their cheerful yellow faces at spring visitors to Botanica, the Wichita Gardens, while the city's Old Town packs in more than 100 shops and restaurants. Make sure to visit the Old Cowtown Museum, which captures the rowdy spirit of Wichita’s early days, and the Wichita Art Museum.
Spring in Cincinnati comes in two waves. The first: a pride-filled Opening Day parade through town and a hope-filled game at the Reds' Great American Ball Park. The second: Bulbs bursting in parks overlooking the Ohio River and in the Queen City's diverse neighborhoods.
The Mackinac Island Lilac Festival promises a second chance at spring. While most Midwest lilac blooms are gone by late May, thousands of them are bursting with color in June on this nostalgic Michigan island.
Lilacs arrived here with New England settlers then later with wealthy homeowners who planted the pink, blue, white and lavender bloomers to appeal to tourists. The shrubs took to Mackinac’s cold winters, Great Lakes breezes and limestone much like the million annual tourists have taken to the island’s century-old flavor, horse-or-bicycle-only transportation and irresistible fudge.
Comfortable B&Bs like Natures Nest in Montrose, Minnesota, offer the charm of a weekend on the farm—without the work. (Unless, of course, you want to help gather eggs!) At Natures Nest, busy hands and minds come to rest. This whimsical farmhouse B&B is all about relaxation (35 miles west of Minneapolis). Two private suites have comfortable beds and refreshing cross breezes. In the garden, a hanging bed with a soft comforter invites afternoon naps. For a rustic "spa" treatment, guests soak in side-by-side claw-foot tubs in an adorable gazebo where lanterns glow after dark. Organic breakfasts include buttery eggs with asparagus, Gruyère and freshly snipped chive flowers.
In the quiet early season among Lake Michigan's bluffs, Port Washington offers biking, bird-watching and historical tours. Staircases dot the town dubbed the City of Seven Hills; for a flatter journey, the paved, 37-mile Interurban Trail follows a former electric-train line from downtown out through woodlands, over Cedar Creek and past farmland. Guidebooks in hand, birders flock to the trail each spring. When spring rain drives adventurers off the trail, they return to town, where the state's largest collection of pre-Civil War buildings houses shops and restaurant.
Each spring in central Nebraska brings a new chance to see one of the world's greatest wildlife spectacles. Starting around mid-March, half a million Sandhill cranes stop to rest and feed along the Platte River between Grand Island and North Platte. Reserve a spot before sunrise or sunset in Rowe Sanctuary's viewing blinds 19 miles east of Kearney. You’ll need to bundle up and be quiet, but the three-hour experience leads to great photo ops. While in Kearney, visit The Archway, a museum that stretches over I-80 and shares the story of western migration in gripping ways. Funky The Flippin' Sweet restaurant serves pillowy pizzas with funny names (like the Goodfella, topped with meats).
Halfway between Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio's sprawling Amish Country offers travelers divergent paths to sample the rural lifestyle. Most people follow tour buses to the museums, Main Street shops and reliable restaurants. But if you're hungering for a slower, more authentic experience, follow the buggies along Holmes County's backroads to the farms and shops of everyday Amish life. You'll delight in the quiet life and artistry of Amish shops, restaurants and homes.
Spring comes early in the Ohio River town of Madison, Indiana. Spend a day in Madison's historic downtown, including a tour of Lanier Mansion (pictured), then take a country drive to explore nearby parks, farms and estates.
Pink and white apple blossom petals bloom as 250,000 paradegoers watch a dazzling parade at April's annual Blossomtime Festival. There's a lot to celebrate on the southern end of Lake Michigan: The region is home to 60 percent of the state's apple trees and more than a dozen vineyards. Apples flavor the jams, jellies and salsas at Jollay Orchards, and guests sip vodka made from grapes in the century-old barn of Round Barn Winery, Distillery and Brewery. In downtown St. Joseph, upscale clothing boutiques meld with quirky shops like FuzzyButz Pet Bakery and Boutique.
Bird-watching, boating on Lake Pepin, quaint shopping and dining in cozy waterfront cafes round out a stay in the Great River Road towns of Lake City (population: 5,048) and Wabasha (population: 2,591). Don't miss the National Eagle Center or the whimsical carousel at Lark Toys, two of our top stops in the area.
Classic Americana and massive ice sheets shaped this quiet town of 7,000—but not in that order. In 1982, Bob Lang founded the Lang Companies in Delafield and began churning out Americana-cute calendars and home accessories while injecting downtown with a Colonial-Amerian style. Though the main Lang store has since closed, pretty shops, restaurants and hotels continue to carry on that tradition.
But thousands of years before Lang devotees arrived, enormous sheets of ice were sculpting much of Wisconsin. Today the 1,200-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail explores the edge of this glacier, including 70 miles winding through Delafield and the hardwood trees and rolling prairies of Kettle Moraine State Forest, 30 miles south.
Unplug from the modern everyday on a nostalgic, kitschy, friendlier-than-a-front-porch run down the Midwest stretch of the Mother Road. Pick a short stretch to explore on a weekend, or take a longer road trip to enjoy all the unique finds along the way—including the Launching Pad's 27-foot-tall Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois.
Before throngs of summer tourists descend on Lake Superior's northern Wisconsin shore, discover the natural beauty that blossoms everywhere in tiny Bayfield. Starting about mid-May, when 40,000 daffodils unfurl along State-13 leading into town, springtime visits reveal sights, sounds and scents that Midwesterners welcome after a long winter. Bike along the shoreline, visit one of the area orchards, tour gardens and take a walking tour to explore this lakeside town.
Each May, the Dutch-theme Tulip Time festival blooms in Pella, one of many Midwest towns throwing huge street parties to greet spring. More than 150,000 visitors come to toast Pella's Dutch heritage—and to be dazzled by 300,000 tulips blooming in red, pink, purple, yellow, coral and white. Vendors sell peppery bologna sandwiches and buttery pancakes called poffertjes. Cobblers and blacksmiths work in the pretty Pella Historical Village. The Tulip Time parade, a twice-daily spectacle, melds Dutch tradition with Main Street Americana.
Adams County rests on the edge of the Appalachian foothills, 60 miles southeast of Cincinnati, along the Ohio River. For years, travelers zipped through on the Ohio River Scenic Byway (US-52), admiring northern Kentucky's redbud-splashed hills as they raced to Shawnee State Park in neighboring Scioto County. But Adams County has a quiet beauty all its own. Visit the dozen-plus parks and preserves, fledgling Amish community and surprisingly upscale bed-and-breakfasts.
Catch the jewels of spring—the rich colors of bulbs and blooming trees and shrubs—at Midwest public gardens. Some of our favorites include the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, where tens of thousands of tulips and daffodils burst into bloom each year; The Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio (pictured), with its lovely 20-acre rhododendron garden; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum in Madison, where crabapples and lilacs steal the show in early May at the Longenecker Horticultural Gardens.
Every time we visit Ann Arbor (population: 112,000), we come back raving—about the vibrant downtown, the eclectic cuisine, the affordable galleries, the sleek museums, and of course, that infectious college-town energy. Just 45 minutes west of Detroit, the University of Michigan's hometown makes a colorful (and tasty) weekend getaway.
Follow the Ohio and Erie Canal into the past—and through an unexpected national park outside Cleveland. A weekend here could include visiting the Canal Exploration Center, biking along the Towpath Trail, hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, floating on a mule-drawn boat and riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.