Our Midwest Favorities


There are already tons of guidebooks to all of the areas on this page, and we can't even begin to cover that entire scope here.

However, we do have plenty of personal memories of places we've "discovered" and enjoyed. So take this collection of notes as merely that: A collection of random notes that might add a personal dimension to the information that is available from other sources. -- Kevin and Debby Killion


Contents of this page:


Illinois

Rockford

  • Discovery Museum: Rockford is home to one of the finest and liveliest children's museums anywhere. (More info to come.)
  • Der Rathskeller: a dark, well decorated friendly restaurant with good, hearty German fare. Very informal. 1132 Auburn St., 815-963-2922.

  • Michigan

    Mackinac Island

    We love Mackinac for a terrific, get-away-from-it-all retreat! It's a treat to adjust to the klip-klop of the traffic: the only motor vehicles anywhere on the island are a couple of emergency units. It's a major vacation destination, so we needn't repeat the details. The major things to do at Mackinac, which are thoroughly covered in all the usual tourist booklets, are: Here are a few of our own random observations: Cool fund-raiser: the local school had its students assemble a booklet of Q&As about what life is like on the island, without cars and isolated during winters. It's for sale in many of the local shops.

    Getting to the island is an adventure in itself: we always get a kick out of the ferry boats connecting Mackinac to the mainland.

    The Mackinac Bridge ("Mighty Mac") across the straits is breathtaking: the bridge itself is 8,600 feet long, with towers 552 feet tall. The view is no less awesome: with the U.P. on one side, the lower peninsula to the south, Lake Michigan to the west, and Lake Huron (with Mackinac Island) to the east, the drive across is a dazzling geography lesson.

    Upper Peninsula

    Upper Peninsula -- Mackinac to Manistique

    Marquette National Monument / Father Marquette State Park: Just west out of St. Ignace (ig' nuss), this 52-acre park and museum honors the missionary and explorer, Father Jacques Marquette. The small museum is crisp, attractive and very interesting, with artifacts and exhibits on Marquette's explorations and journals.

    Tahquamenon Falls: Billed as the "second tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi", this is worth a visit. There are actually two locations to visit, the upper and lower falls. The upper falls offer the big drop, but both are refreshing, beautiful places. Note that this is a state park, and you can drive in and take a modest walk to the falls - some tourist ads for a pricey commercial train service imply that they are provide the only access.

    Chamberlin's Ole Forest Inn: A very special find, about dead center between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, north of the northern edge of Lake Michigan. This is truly an "inn", due to a wonderful and sprawling common lounge area and porch, a huge fireplace, and a wide staircase leading up to 11 guest rooms. The view is wonderful: the lounge and porch face the serene Big Lake Manistique. A totally unexpected delight was the Chamberlin's spectacular dinner service, deliciously wonderful yet completely relaxing. A unique touch for an inn or a B&B is a full service bar area downstairs. The location also makes this inn a great base camp for eastern U.P. adventures.

    Seney Wildlife Refuge: Near the town of Germfask, Seney is an interesting and welcoming nature reserve (the largest east of the Mississippi), with easy, attractive foot trails. There is also an easy and pleasant auto tour. Good opportunity to see bald eagles!

    Eagle's Nest Inn: A nice lunch stop in Germfask, near the Seney Wildlife Refuge.

    Upper Peninsula -- Manistique to Escanaba

    Kitch-Iti-Kipi / Palms Book State Park: Just northwest of Manistique, this is a crystal-clear bubbling spring in a State Park. To view the spring, you can get on a large raft and pull it across the pond by means of a wire cable. Fun and unique! (12 miles northwest of Manistique on M-149)

    Fayette State Park: Fayette was a thriving center for production of pig iron before it was loaded in the adjoining protected harbor. But when mining went bust in the U.P., Fayette quickly degenerated into a ghost town. Fortunately for us, its out-of-the-way location left the area and some of its buildings largely intact. Today, you can visit this gorgeous location (although it probably wasn't as idyllic back when the smelters were running!) A number of the original buildings are still standing, and helpful interpretive exhibits help you to imagine your way back to the last century. Well worth a visit on a detour off the main highway.

    IXL Office Museum: Now here is something unique! IXL was a successful turn-of-the-century company. But, the owner never threw anything away. The company went through many stages, but all the old records, machines, and office furnishings were kept. Ultimately, it was decided to restore the original office building to its original appearance. Walking into this little museum is like visiting an office of a hundred years ago. You feel as though the staff just stepped out for lunch. You can see ancient "photocopy" devices (it involves a huge manual press), comptometers, an Edison-built light-table, and hundreds of thick volumes of correspondence, payroll records and other office epherema. There's also a wacky bicycle-driven rickshaw affair so the boss could be pedalled around the plant on railroad tracks. The museum is in Hermansville, just west of Escanaba. If you examine this on the map, you'll find that this really isn't very far out of the way for a lake-hugging tour.

    (So what was IXL? It was a manufacturer of high-quality wood flooring systems around the turn of the century. They devised a unique manufacturing process that made their products the best of their kind. In fact, IXL floors were used in the construction of many of the great national park lodgest of the West.)

    Gladstone: This town, just north of Escanaba, features one of the finest children's playgrounds we've seen (Chicago area included!). Head for Van Cleve Park, on the lakefront off the southern part of the town.

    Escanaba: Two good restaurants worth mentioning: Swedish Pantry, at 819 Ludington (the main east-west drag), is THE place to have breakfast, with unique and delicious breakfast choices and baked goods. Crispigna's, at 1213 Ludington is a casual, cozy place with good Italian dinners.

    Upper Peninsula -- Keweenaw

    The Keweenaw Peninsula is the thumb of land that extends into Lake Superior from the U.P. It's a gorgeous, rolling and hilly country, with a wonderful remote and exhilirating feeling. Don't visit the Keweenaw in winter, though, unless you're prepared for the 30 feet of snow that can fall in one season!

    Brockway Mountain Drive claims to be the highest altitude highway between the Rockies and the Alleganies, and features dramatic views of Lake Superior (wow -- are we sure that isn't an ocean???)

    The town of Houghton offers great casual restaurants (try the Library, or Marie's Deli) in a college-town atmosphere.

    Hancock, across the river, is certainly the most Finland-oriented town in the U.S. Most of the street signs carry Finnish names, and Suomi College is the only school in the U.S. offering a degree in Finnish.

    Palosaari's B&B: A farmhouse on a dairy farm on the beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula. The Palosaari's kids have grown and moved out, and the bedrooms have been converted to cozy B&B rooms. The Palosaari's are wonderful surrogate grandparents, and our son loved walking around the chickens, jumping in the hay barn, and watching the cows at milking time. A good base for exploring the Keweenaw.

    Copper Harbor: The town, and the end of the Keweenaw, is also at the end of US 41 (the south end is in Florida). There are a couple of restaurants, and old Fort Wilkins to explore.

    Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest: I'm not sure how to describe this shrine, halfway between L'Anse and Baraga, at the base of the Keweenaw. Depending on your point of view, this is either an inspirational and holy place, or a great example of high kitsch. Decide for yourself!


    Indiana

    Western Indiana

    The state of Indiana operates a half-dozen beautiful lodges around the state, and the closest one to Chicago is just terrific. Turkey Run State Park is near the Illinois border, southwest of Lafayette.

    The combination of river erosion and glacial action has left some pretty spectacular meanders along Sugar Creek. The park offers eleven excellent trails, ranging from "Easy" (a short walk) to "Rugged" (through canyons, up and down ladders, and some scrambling over somewhat slippery or muddy rocks). A substantial suspension bridge crosses the creek, and gets you to the key trail areas, which may be the equivalent of a couple of undergrad geology courses. You'll hardly believe you're anywhere in the midwest.

    The lodge itself, a woodsy old building, offers unassuming but quite comfortable rooms at affordable rates, dining room service with good breakfast and dinner buffets, and an indoor swimming pool (always fun, but a bit on the cool side, and with a limited shallow end). There is also an outdoor olympic sized pool.

    Turkey Run is in Parke County, which is quite a destination in itself: Parke is thought to be the covered bridge capital of America!

    Northeast Indiana

    A good base for exploring this area is the Pokagon State Park. The lodge offers pleasant rooms in a beautiful park, featuring buffalo roaming across a large grassy area.

    Northeast Indiana is home to a substantial Amish community. The town best known for its Amish connection is Shipshewana, but if you really want to get some insight into this unique culture, go to the Amish-Mennonite Center. This is a surprisingly lively and vivid museum of the history and beliefs of these groups.


    Wisconsin

    Milwaukee

    Go to Safe House for a family-friendly, burger and brew dinner. Its spy motif is unique and fun, but if we say too much, it'll spoil the surprises! Enjoy!

    The brewery tour at Sprecher's is thoroughly enjoyable: at the end of the tour is a mini-beerhall, but a nice touch is that since half of Sprecher's business is in soft drinks, the kids get tickets for samples as well as the adults. While we were trying out the weiss beers, our son was up at the counter saying, "I think I'll try the cream soda next!"

    Central Wisconsin

    Instead of taking the usual, boring interstate all the way to the Dells, Baraboo and Devil's Lake region, try going through the towns just south of there. The countryside is pretty, and there are some pleasant discoveries. At Merrimac, take the free ferry across the river. Stop in Lodi for a terrific breakfast at the Spring Creek Country Inn (121 South Main St.), and then cross the street to read the story of Susie the Duck.

    Southwest Wisconsin



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    Kevin & Debby Killion
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    Entire contents Copyright 1995, Kevin and Debby Killion, Arlington Heights, Illinois. All Rights Reserved.