A great weekend’s journey is hours away. Here are some excellent places to visit.
See the Best of the Season Unfold this Spring at Starved Rock
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
Springtime is perhaps the best time to see why Starved Rock Lodge is such a popular place to visit. The only hotel within scenic Starved Rock State Park, in Utica, Ill., is less than 90 minutes from Rockford and the Chicago suburbs, and it’s an ideal starting point for your springtime adventures.
Waterfalls come to life and wildflowers begin to bloom as spring arrives. The Virginia Bluebells in Illinois Canyon, coming in late April, are the highlight of Mother Nature’s handiwork.
Throughout April and May, Waterfall and Canyon Tours are offered on Mondays and Saturdays. The tour includes a ride on a Starved Rock Trolley and guided hike to French, St. Louis and Ottawa Canyons. Details and departure times are listed on the Lodge’s website.
If you’re up for a real challenge, try hiking to all 18 of the park’s canyons in a single day, during the Spring MegaHike – set for April 28 and 29. Several departure times are offered on this “bucket list adventure.”
Starved Rock now attracts more than 3 million people each year. Visit for a midweek getaway and enjoy the beauty of this natural wonder with fewer crowds. Spend the night at the Lodge and find a variety of overnight packages.
First-time visitors are encouraged to register for the “First Course Tour” on Wednesdays to learn about the rich history of the Lodge and its surrounding parkland.
Tickets are $20 per person and include the tour, a beverage from a special drink menu and an appetizer sampler plate. Guided hikes are offered each weekend along with historic Trolley Tours.
Music lovers enjoy the “Tribute to the Stars” shows, which include a buffet lunch in the Great Hall. The Branson Country Legends Matinees are set for April 9-11.
Dueling Pianos returns April 16-17. Enjoy more country music at Cash, Conway & Brooks Legends matinees on May 7-8, and a Rock & Roll Review set for May 9-10.
The Main Dining Room is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday Brunch is a crowd pleaser, so make your reservations in advance.
Live music makes the Back Door Lounge a fun place to be on Friday nights from 8 to 11 p.m. Gorgonzola Nachos and Signature Ale are among the most popular choices on the menu.
If you’d like to adopt a new BFF, don’t miss Woofstock, a pet adoption festival, on May 20. Not only can you find dogs in need of a forever home, but you can bring your own dog to join in the pet parade at 10 a.m. and learn about how to care for your pup from experts who will lead educational seminars.
To learn more about Starved Rock Lodge’s spring happenings, visit starvedrocklodge.com.
Time to Explore Some New Geography in McHenry County
By Randy Ruef
Spring signals a time to get out and get away, and McHenry County, Ill., just a 45-minute drive east of Rockford, has plenty to offer for both day trips and weekend adventures.
“Springtime in McHenry County is one of my favorite seasons,” says Jaki Berggren, executive director of Visit McHenry County. “The outdoors begin to bloom, people venture outside and there are plenty of events to keep them busy. It’s fun to watch the county come alive again.”
For outdoors enthusiasts, there are myriad opportunities. Bicyclists can enjoy the 26-mile Prairie Trail, which begins just south of Algonquin and runs through eight communities on its way to the Wisconsin state line. The path travels across farms, prairies, forests and parks. It also hugs the Fox River at points and cuts through the expansive Glacial Park conservation area.
For those who prefer two feet to two wheels, Moraine Hills State Park, near McHenry, has more than 10 miles of trails where hikers can see rare plants and migratory waterfowl. The Fox River borders Moraine Hills on the west, and the 48-acre Lake Defiance rests right in the middle.
Speaking of water, Chain O’Lakes State Park, near Spring Grove, has much to offer. The park borders three natural lakes – Grass, Marie and Nippersink – and the Fox River connects another seven. The park also contains a 44-acre lake within its boundaries. In all, the Chain O’Lakes system encompasses 6,500 acres of water and 488 miles of shoreline – a real haven for boaters, water skiers and fishermen.
For a quieter experience, Three Oaks Recreation Area, in Crystal Lake, sits upon a former quarry that’s been repurposed into two lakes with a picnic area, playground, hiking trails, wakeboard park and marina with rowboat, canoe, kayak, sailboat and paddleboat rentals available.
Popular outdoor events in McHenry County include the weekly farmers markets, most of which begin in May. They take place in Cary, Crystal Lake, Huntley, McHenry and Woodstock, where vendors offer fresh seasonal produce, baked goods and crafts. For days and hours of the markets, go to VisitMcHenryCounty.com.
One of the great destinations in McHenry County is the Illinois Railway Museum, the largest railway museum in the nation. Illinois Day, which celebrates the state’s bicentennial, is May 5, and all Illinois residents will be admitted at half price. Steam, diesel and electric trains will also operate during Memorial Day Weekend, with active military personnel and their families admitted free.
If you’re looking for one-day events throughout the county, there are plenty:
• Earth Day at Prairieview Education Center, in Crystal Lake, on April 21: This event features guided nature hikes, environmental exhibits, games and crafts, live music, open mic, puppet shows and food vendors.
• Craft Brew Crawl at the Lost Valley Visitor Center in Glacial Park, in Ringwood, on April 21: A beer-tasting hike through Glacial Park features stops along the way to taste microbrews from several local microbreweries.
• Glacial Park Team Challenge, Non-Competitive Recreational Triathlon, in Richmond, on May 19: Participants bike 14 miles, hike/run five miles, and paddle seven miles. Registration deadline May 7.
• Food & Wine Pairing Classes at Loyola University Retreat & Ecology Campus, in Woodstock: Two professional chef-instructed classes are offered, starting with the Vegetarian Wine Dinner on April 28. It begins with a wine reception and appetizers, followed by a totally vegetarian five-course dinner. Then on May 11, the Champagne & Sparkling Wines class features a champagne reception with appetizers that leads to a five-course dinner paired with champagne and sparkling wines from around the world.
Spring in McHenry County offers a smorgasbord of opportunities. To learn more about events, lodging and dining, go to visitmchenrycounty.com, or call (815) 893-6280.
Come Rain or Shine, Adventures Await in DeKalb County
By Pat Szpekowski
Spring has sprung, which means it’s time to break out, take a joy ride and explore some new and unfamiliar destinations.
This is a prime time of year to explore DeKalb County, Ill., which is filled with popular attractions that can excite the family come rain or shine.
For those who want to escape a spring shower, the region’s communities contain unique museums that showcase art, nature and historical exhibits.
“The campus of Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, is home to two prestigious museums: the NIU Pick Museum of Anthropology and the NIU Art Museum,” says Debbie Armstrong, executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Both of these museums are free and open to the public.”
The Pick Museum’s latest feature exhibit is Quilts and Human Rights, now on display through May 11. Organized by the Michigan State University Museum, this colorful exhibit includes more than 40 quilts centered around themes of social justice honoring champions of human rights.
“The Pick Museum staff has added 15 more quilts from the past decade, to highlight the booming modern quilting movement,” says Armstrong.
Through the generosity of benefactors, the NIU Art Museum includes a vast collection of 20th century works of art, including prints, drawings and photographs, plus contemporary paintings and sculptures. Its current exhibit, Reclaimed Baggage, depicts how migration and globalization have played a pivotal role in the formation of identity.
A trip to the Midwest Museum of Natural History, in Sycamore, is sure to capture the attention of youngsters who have a natural curiosity for animals. This museum’s collection is unique because it’s comprised mostly of mounted animals. Visitors are awed by the mounted African elephant, one of the few on display in the United States. Downstairs, visitors can interact with live animals who make their home at the museum. A new exhibit, Water World, will be on display until the end of August.
For those who’d rather venture outdoors, DeKalb County has an expansive system of bike trails within its borders. Three major trail systems wind through the county, the largest of which is the Great Western Trail. It runs between Sycamore and St. Charles.
“Riders are able to go from the southern part of DeKalb, through the NIU campus and several parks and forest preserves,” says Armstrong.
These same trails and locations are equally enjoyable for passive recreation, such as bird-watching and nature walks. Photographers enjoy their encounters with spectacular wildlife, flowers, trees, and river views amid these open spaces.
Are you interested in antiques, treasures, and the thrill of the hunt? Mark your calendars as the City of Sandwich unveils its sixth annual Antiques Sunday at Sandwich. This popular monthly market, filled with quality antiques, collectibles, repurposed items, garden accents and artisan goods, is held the second Sunday of each month from May through October, rain or shine.
While in Sandwich, visit the Stone Mill Museum, which opens the first Sunday in April. It’s laden with artifacts of the city’s storied history, including the tale of how this community got its tasty name.
Craving fresh tomatoes and other veggies? Springtime means the arrival of farmers markets and stands, and the locals flock to places like Theis Farm Market, in Maple Park, and Yaeger’s Farm Market, in DeKalb. The weekly farmers market in Genoa opens in May, while markets in DeKalb, Sandwich, Somonauk and Sycamore open in June.
Spring brings renewal and many opportunities to refresh the body, mind, and spirit in DeKalb County. For more information, visit dekalbcountycvb.com.