Midwest Vacation Guide 2009
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How can it be that a gem like Okoboji, Iowa—just three hours southwest of the Twin Cities metro—isn’t being shouted from the rooftops as a fun, affordable, close-to-home place to escape?
Stacy Rosemore, tourism director of the Okoboji Tourism Committee, is certain that first time visitors will be very impressed with Iowa’s No. 1 vacation destination.
West Lake Okoboji (a spring-fed lake, and one of the only truly blue lakes in the world) is popular for recreational water sports, and Lake Okoboji and Big Spirit Lake are popular among fishing enthusiasts along with wake boarders, skiers, kayakers, and canoers. The area is home to 34 lodging facilities, campgrounds (state and privately owned), golf courses, the Queen II excursion boat, Okoboji Summer Theatre, Treasure Village Children’s Theatre, Pearson Lakes Art Center, unique shopping, three marinas, museums, nightlife that includes live entertainment and dancing, expansive trails system, beaches and parks, and a variety of restaurants. The Old Iron Car Show, Rock the Roof Concert Series, Vettes in the Park, Antique Wooden Boat Show, University of Okoboji Triathlon/Marathon, and Art in the Park events during the summer months will offer something for everyone in your family.
Visit the website to see a full list of what’s happening in the Okoboji area.
Fargo - Moorhead
Named the “Happiest City in America” by Self magazine in its Best Places for Women list (2006), the Fargo-Moorhead aera is safe, welcoming, and reasonably-priced. (Fargo is North Dakota’s largest city and Moorhead, Fargo’s sister city, is across the state line in Minnesota.)
Not only is this area a great place to live, it’s the perfect vacation destination—combining a lively, cultural community with a friendly hometown atmosphere.
When you visit, you’ll quickly realize that you’ll run out of time before you run out of things to do. Some of the many fun attractions in the area include the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center in Moorhead (featuring a 76-foot handbuilt Viking ship replica); Bonanzaville, with 15 acres of historic buildings, the North Dakota Horse Park, Plains Art Museum, Red River Zoo, Thunder Road Family Fun Park, and the Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm. Sprint car enthusiasts of all ages will have a blast watching sprint car racing and the World of Outlaws at West Fargo’s Red River Valley Speedway.
Exciting summer festivals in the Fargo-Moorhead area range from the Midwest Kid Fest, set this year for June 19, to the Blues Festival, taking place at Newman Outdoor Field from July 31-Aug. 1.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Powwows. Buffalo safaris. The continent’s tallest mountain this side of the Rocky Mountains. This isn’t your average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill vacation. That’s because Rapid City lies on the edge of the legendary Black Hills, where you can explore two of the longest caves on the planet, hike around the four granite faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, and scale the walls of the Needles—and that’s just your first day.
“One of the only complaints we hear is that there wasn’t enough time to see everything,” says Wanda Goodman, media and public relations manager for the South Dakota Office of Tourism. “Make sure you allow yourself enough time when you come out here.”
Must-see attractions include Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Devils Tower, and Custer State Park.
“Custer State Park is a great destination for someone looking for outdoor adventure. It’s one of the largest parks in the country, you can camp, canoe, kayak or paddleboat on Sylvan Lake, and there’s some great hiking there,” Goodman says.
For those interested in history, Hot Springs in the Black Hills area—a short drive from Rapid City—was named one of a Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Don’t miss the Festival of Presidents June 26-27 in the heart of downtown Rapid City, featuring concerts, a kids’ fair, vendors, and a fun parade.
Southeast South Dakota
“You often hear South Dakota described as flat and dry; the southeast region is anything but,” says Jacquie Fuks, executive director of Southeast South Dakota Tourism. “Water is abundant from the lush green rolling prairie to the jagged rock-lined Split Rock Creek to the bluffs of the Missouri River.”
Visitors love the Missouri National Recreational River at Yankton, Palisades State Park near Garretson, the Corn Palace at Mitchell, Falls Park in Sioux Falls, and the Lewis & Clark Trail, to name a few hotspots. Other great places to visit include Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River (excellent fishing), and area festivals celebrating ethnic, western, and Native American culture.
Visit from May 15-17 during Free Fishing Weekend at South Dakota State Parks. It’s a great way to introduce someone to the sport of fishing.
Designed exclusively for couples (no children are allowed), Canoe Bay—the only prestigious Relais and Chateaux member in the Midwest—is a gorgeous, unspoiled, secluded retreat located on a 280-acre estate in northwestern Wisconsin. The retreat is all about romance, just what the doctor ordered. All rooms and cottages feature a two-person whirlpool, fireplace, and a private deck with views of Mother Nature at every turn. Guests spend their time hiking and canoeing, scheduling in-room spa treatments, and checking out the well-stocked Great Room/Library with an updated collection of books, movies, and CDs.
One of the highlights of staying at Canoe Bay is dining in the elegant lakeside dining room, serving a prix fixe chef’s menu and a wine list of over 500 domestic and imported vintages. The dress code in the romantic dining room is “casual elegance” (a sport coat for gentlemen is appropriate, but not required). Canoe Bay can accommodate up to 19 couples in lodge rooms, inn rooms, or cottages. The luxurious 3,500-square-foot Edgewood guesthouse features a wraparound deck, high ceilings, a 25-foot limestone fireplace, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake.
A wonderful alternative to the costs and challenges of air travel (or long road trips) is a vacation close to home in Hudson, Wisconsin. Located along the scenic St. Croix River just 20 minutes from the Twin Cities metro, Hudson has managed to grow and develop while maintaining its historic charm. The natural beauty of the area sets the scene for hiking at Willow River State Park, free Thursday concerts at Lakefront Park during the summer months, dinner and comedy cruises aboard the Grand Duchess river yacht, and fishing, birding, and boating down the St. Croix River. Visit the Phipps Center for the Arts for cultural events, take a walk on Hudson’s historic Third Street where most homes are on the National Registry of Historic Places (be sure to tour the eight-sided Octagon House Museum), find one-of-a-kind items in Hudson’s downtown area, and treat yourself to dinner at any number of locally owned restaurants. Stay at a charming bed and breakfast, motel, or hotel.
Visit Hudson on Sunday, April 5 for the Spring Showcase Business Expo held at the Hudson Sports and Civic Center from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. The day will include children’s activities, family entertainment, and a variety of products and services available in the Hudson area.
River Road Inn
One of the many good things about spring is that without it, and without the absence imposed by fall and winter, we might not appreciate the beauties around us. When everything is covered in snow, we forget how much we appreciate the warm, fresh sunlight, green grass, and blooming flowers. The perfect place to view the awakening of spring is the River Road Inn, located just upriver from the charming village of Stockholm, Wisconsin.
“Spring comes early on Lake Pepin and there’s a sense of anticipation,” says innkeeper Kathleen Burk. “The ice is coming off the lake, you can hear it crack and pop. Trumpet swans and pelicans are migrating north again.”
The spa-like Inn offers stunning views of Lake Pepin and the glorious bluffs, a spa shower with invigorating body jets, a king-size bed, vaulted ceilings, a fireplace, and is just minutes away from fine dining, art galleries, and the National Eagle Center.
Guests have described the Inn as a “peaceful port in the storm,” she says. “Staying here is all about comfort, relaxation, and romance.”
Sundara Inn & Spa
Sundara Inn & Spa on the scenic outskirts of Wisconsin Dells isn’t just any spa; it’s the spa vacation destination. “We’re as good as an escape to Bali, but a little more budget-friendly than that,” explains Carla Minsky, communications manager. “Just because we live in the Midwest doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a world-class spa experience.” Sundara’s accolades include being named a “Favorite Spa Escape in America” by ABC’s Good Morning America and listed among the “25 Top Spas in America” by Travel + Leisure Magazine. Lodging options in this adults-only, smoke-free spa include 26 spacious suites or 12 private spa villas featuring featherbeds, spa bathrooms, and fireplaces. In addition to the luxurious amenities, guests love the Purifying Bath Ritual, full menu of spa services including Sundara, organic, and chakra series, spa rooms designed for two with side-by-side massage tables, chef-prepared seasonally fresh cuisine, and outdoor infinity edge pool, heated year-round, with an outdoor fire pit beside it. The location—tucked back into a 26-acre forest—is perfect for a spa retreat. “Even on a cool spring morning, it’s not unusual for people to be sitting outside, inhaling the fragrance of fresh pine trees,” Minsky says. “This spa really could’ve been built anywhere, but they chose the outskirts of Wisconsin Dells. It’s very, very pretty here.” Sundara is also a member of the Green Spa Network. Eight of the villas were built with sustainable building practices, and the ancient Cambrian sand—an exfoliating agent made perfect by nature used in Sandara’s sandstone scrub—was discovered at the excavation site.