Goats and deer and woodchucks—oh my! The Wilderness Walk Zoo and Recreation Park in Hayward, Wisconsin, just isn’t that wild. To be fair, there is a tiger, as well as black bears named Laverne and Shirley. And smaller animals that aren’t exactly tame. The 35-acre Wilderness Walk represents the wilderness of Northern Wisconsin, and the animal life in that area, for the most part, is more mild than wild. We visited the Wilderness Walk last summer and found the attraction to be geared toward kids, but since I’m a big kid, I had a good time.
A Drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes
Spring is beginning to emerge following a hard winter during our mid-May visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, situated on the northwestern shore of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Young green grasses are poking out from the drab browns of winter, trees are beginning to leaf out, and the warm sun cuts through the chilly air.
Top 2014 Midwest Wanderer Travel Experiences
As another year comes to a close, we reflect on all that we’ve accomplished over the past twelve months and plan new goals for the coming year. For me, 2014 brought lots of opportunities to explore the Midwest, discovering more attractions, events and restaurants to share with you. It’s always amazing how much there is to do right here in the Midwest, from the Great Lakes to the Black Hills, from small towns to big cities. Today I’m sharing with you some of my personal “firsts” and also my top ten blog posts of the year, the ones most popular with you, my readers.
2014 New Experiences:
In March I discovered that anyone can paint—even no-artistic-talent me. At the Art Party Studio in Champaign, Illinois, bring your own wine, if you’d like, follow the step-by-step painting instructions, and every painting turns out well. If, on the slim chance it doesn’t, you can always blame it on the wine.
I tried my hand at glassblowing for the first time at The Glass Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Okay, so my turn lasted only a minute or so, since I was on a group tour and we just had a sampling. It would be fun to go back and create a “work of art” of my own.
I joined the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau dragon boat team in the Kenosha Area Dragon Boat Festival in July. As hard as our team tried, we came in last place, but we had a great time.
Two new states were added to my list this year, Nebraska and South Dakota. I spent a couple of days exploring Omaha, including gardens, museums and shop. If you like zoos, you have to see Henry Doorly Zoo, my favorite zoo of all I’ve ever been to.
Besides the national monuments, national parks and so many other things western South Dakota has to offer, I took my first helicopter ride with the Black Hills Aerial Adventures, where I saw the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments at eye level and the Needles Highway from a bird’s eye view.
As great as everything else was in South Dakota, the highlight was the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park, where I bumped along in the back of a pickup truck right in the midst of the cowboys and cowgirls on horseback rounding up around 1,100 head of bison for their annual vaccines and pregnancy tests.
The year concluded with my second helicopter tour, this time in the evening with Chicago Helicopter Experience, along the Chicago lakeshore, with a great view of the Lincoln Park Zoo and Michigan Avenue Christmas lights.
- Haunted DeSoto House Hotel, Galena IL was published in 2013 but continued to be the most popular throughout 2014.
- Ghost stories are apparently popular. Bowers Harbor Inn, Traverse City: Two Restaurants and a Ghost created quite a controversy among Traverse City locals, some believing the legend and others not.
- I don’t know whether it’s because of the location on Route 66 or if people are interested in car museums, but the Number 3 most popular post was Pontiac Oakland Museum, Pontiac, Illinois: Auto Nostalgia along Route 66.
- Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is always popular, so I’m not surprised that Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel made the list.
- Billed as the biggest biker destination in Illinois and along the Great River Road, Poopy’s Pub n’ Grub, Savanna IL; Popular Even with Non-bikers, came in at Number 5.
- Downtown shops in towns in southwest Michigan resort towns are always fun to explore, and Traverse City foodie fans especially liked Traverse City Shops: A Culinary Delight.
- Green County, Wisconsin, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Cheese Days in 2014. In June I attended a press preview of the big September event and wrote about it in Cheese Days 100th Anniversary Preview, Monroe, Wisc. The event is held every two years, so plan ahead to attend in 2016.
- Published just in time for Halloween, another Traverse City supposedly haunted location came in at Number 8, Tour a Former Asylum at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City.
- Eating at a tiny ten-seat diner is fun, especially when the delicious food is served by a magician, like it is at the Suzie Q Café, Mason City Iowa: A Meal with a Dash of Magic.
- Old lighthouses are fun to explore. The stories behind them are always fascinating. Another Traverse City attraction, Tour Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City, Michigan made the list at Number 10.
I’m looking forward to sharing more fun and interesting attractions, events and restaurants in Midwest destinations throughout 2015. If you have suggestions on Midwest places to see and things to do, don’t hesitate to share them at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll help spread the word.
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Weathering this Midwest Winter
“I’m tired of this winter.” I’ve heard it over and over again for the past month. And I agree. It seems that every day, at least here in the Chicago area, we’ve been getting either more snow, making roads dangerous to navigate, or single-digit to sub-zero temperatures, so we can’t go out and enjoy snow activities. Of course, the obvious remedy is to go somewhere warm, and if you can do that, great. But for many, a vacation to a warm climate is impractical or even impossible. Besides, a week later, you’ll be back home in the snow and cold again. So aside from hibernating and counting the days until spring, here are a couple of ways to counter the cabin fever that has hit the Midwest hard:
Go to indoor events and attractions. On the days that are cold but the roads okay to drive on, go to a local museum that you haven’t been to in a long time. (Call first to make sure they haven’t closed due to the cold.) Or go to one of the many travel, RV, boat, auto, or home shows going on in cities all over the Midwest. You’ll find links to information on lots of them on the Midwest Festivals & Fairs page.
Plan your summer travel. Now is the time to plan your summer getaways. Get them on the calendar before your calendar fills up with other obligations. If you’re planning to go to a popular seasonal destination, you should make your accommodation reservations as soon as possible, too, for the best selection. Need help in deciding where to go? Turn to the convention and visitors bureaus of the states you are thinking about. On the Internet, search “[state name] tourism” to find the state’s official tourism site, which will have listings of attractions, accommodations, dining options, and events. You can order free hard copy travel guides for the states or regions you are considering for your getaways, too. I personally like to peruse the hard copy guides from the cozy comfort of a sofa and then use the Internet to get further details on places that interest me. To get you started, I’ve included links below to order tourism guides for the Midwest states.
Just thinking about and planning your summer getaways will do wonders to counter the winter doldrums. Do you have other suggestions for cabin fever remedies? Answer in the Comments box below.
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Other attractions you may enjoy this winter:
Peoria Riverfront Museum: Interactive Exhibits, Planetarium and Giant Screen Theater
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Springfield IL: Museum Meets Disney
Frank Lloyd Wright Dana-Thomas House: 12,000 Square Feet of Phenomenal
Visit Jelly Belly, Pleasant Prairie WI: Take the Tour, Taste the Candy
Tour Stone Hill Winery, Hermann, MO: Most Historic and Awarded Winery in the State