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Editors' Favorite Midwest Spots

Our editors' insights on the region's best dining, lodging, shopping, gardens, scenic drives (and more) save time and legwork for Midwesterners looking for exceptional getaways.

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Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
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Winery tours:

TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN, REGION Roads stretched like grapevines along the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas lead to 19 wineries. The region’s wine industry is only 33 years old, but area vintners already have gathered many honors for a variety of wines. Tours of the wineries, surrounded by outstanding views, make for a rich tasting odyssey based in Traverse City, the hub of an area noted for gourmet dining (800/940-1120; www.mytraversecity.com).

HERMANN, MISSOURI, REGION German heritage hangs heavily in the wooded hills along the 75-mile Missouri wine trail. It leads to about a dozen wineries near the Missouri River west of St. Louis. At many stops between the towns of St. Charles and Hermann, vineyard owners themselves pour tastings and lead tours (800/392-9463; www.missouriwine.org).

Waterfalls:

TAHQUAMENON, NEAR PARADISE, MICHIGAN At our version of Niagara, the distinctive, amber-tinted Upper Falls stretch 200 feet wide and plunge 50 feet. At the gentler Lower Falls, you can row a rental boat to the cascades (906/492-3415; michigan.gov/dnr).

SMITH, NEAR VALENTINE, NEBRASKA The 70-foot stream cascading past paper birch, aspen and ponderosa pine to the Niobrara River would grab attention anywhere. It’s downright shocking to find it in a prairie state. In fact, Smith is one of 90 falls around Valentine (402/376-1306; ngpc.state.ne.us).

GOOSEBERRY, NEAR CASTLE DANGER, MINNESOTA A total of five falls (falling 60 feet in places and some visible from the highway) makes this park a staple of North Shore drives. The falls’ bonus: They’re near Lake Superior views (218/834-3855; dnr.state.mn.us).

Tourist traps:

WALL DRUG, WALL, SOUTH DAKOTA Three-hundred miles of interstate billboards lead travelers to the Old West-style complex that has spread across most of a block of tiny Wall since 1931. You’ll find plenty of souvenir shot glasses and Western art, but the highlight is seeing families pose for photos by items such as the 6-foot-tall rabbit Mom and Dad saw on their own childhood trips (605/279-2175; walldrug.com).

DA YOOPERS TOURIST TRAP, ISHPEMING, MICHIGAN If you find humor in deer dressed as hunters, photo ops involving outhouses and 23-foot chain saws with V-8 engines, then stop at Da Yoopers (named for the woodsy caricature of Upper Peninsula residents) (800/ 628-9978; dayoopers.com).

Art museums:

MILWAUKEE ART MUSEUM It’s not like the 20,000-piece art collection here needed any help, but as the five-year-old Quadracci Pavilion’s enormous "wings" rise and lower each day, they help draw a whole new audience to the art scene (414/224-3200; mam.org).

ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO How do you define an elite museum? How about one so full of masterpieces that you might actually forget to see American Gothic while you’re there (312/443-3600; artic.edu)

Train rides:

CUYAHOGA VALLEY SCENIC RAILROAD, CLEVELAND This train from the 1940s and ’50s rolls along the Cuyahoga River, past historic canalways and through a surprising national park that lies within an hour’s drive of 5 million people (800/ 468-4070; cvsr.com).

BOONE SCENIC VALLEY RAILROAD, BOONE, IOWA History echoes in the fields and forest as the last commercially built steam locomotive chugs through the Des Moines River Valley. Two bridge crossings include the 156-foot-high Bass Point Creek High Bridge (800/626-0319; scenic-valleyrr.com).

1880 TRAIN - BLACK HILLS, SOUTH DAKOTA See the scenery Gunsmoke-style behind this steam locomotive straight out of the Old West (605/574-2222; 1880train.com).

 

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