The Midwest's brutal winters provide ample inspiation for weekend trips when the warm weather hits. Here are some of our favorite getaways, in several nearby states.
The main silver lining to Chicago's brutal winter months is the reward of a trip when the weather finally turns. Longer days, fewer layers, and more time outdoors has us plotting spring break trips. We rounded up four of our favorite seasonal getaways in Illinois and in nearby Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
1. Starved Rock State Park, Ottawa, Illinois
Waterfalls and towering trees are nestled throughout Starved Rock State Park, located about an hour and a half from Chicago. The family-friendly park (dogs also are welcome, on leash) is a welcome respite from the concrete jungle. At this time of year, the heavy rains and moderate weather make the waterfalls active. Opt to stay at Starved Rock Lodge or nearby Ottawa, where a charming downtown is filled with restaurants, gift and apparel boutiques, and coffee shops.
2. Circle City (a.k.a. Indianapolis, Indiana)
Nicknamed for its original design, Indianapolis is rich with museums and it's particularly accessible for visitors. The Indianapolis Zoo and Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art are both conveniently located downtown, as is the Crowne Plaza, which offers 26 authentic Pullman train car sleepers, resting on their original tracks, as a lodging option (don't be surprised to hear train cars running—Union Station is just around the corner).
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is the country's largest children's museum and a ten-minute drive from downtown. Nearby Broad Ripple is the place for nightlife, dining, shopping, and other cultural attractions or, for local, seasonal, and fresh fare, head to Café Patachou (don't skip the house-blend coffee). Walkable Massachusetts Avenue also is loaded with cultural character and public art sculptures.
3. Art Coast of Michigan: Saugatuck
This resort town just over two hours from Chicago is sleepy during the winter months, since it's not high tourist season, but come spring it's ready to awaken from its hibernation. Some shops and galleries remain closed until Memorial Day, yet several are open year-round, which makes it the perfect reason to come in the spring: fewer crowds. Opt to stay in a bed and breakfast or historic inn and be sure to stop by Kilwin's Chocolates for some homemade fudge.
4. The Dining Room in Monticello, Wisconsin
Most people have never heard of Monticello, Wisconsin. To be fair, its downtown is a block long and just more than 1,000 people live in the town. It's two and a half hours from Chicago and a five-minute drive from New Glarus (home of cult favorite beer-maker New Glarus Brewing), but nestled in the center of Main Street is the Dining Room, a cozy spot with old-time flair whose sticky toffee pudding alone is worth the drive.
We recommend booking a room at nearby Albany House Bed & Breakfast and settling in near one of the fireplaces located throughout the 1908 house. If time permits, bike the 24 miles of the scenic Sugar River State Trail and enjoy sights filled with farmlands, woods, rolling hills, meadows, and remnant prairies.