Our region offers endless opportunities for holiday escapes. Here are a few ideas for an easy weekend getaway this autumn.
Savor Another Magical Season
By Pat Szpekowski
There’s something purely magical about the fall season. It heightens the senses with images of trees ablaze with rich colors, crunching sounds of leaves underfoot and intoxicating scents of crisp apples, pumpkin pies and more.
Now’s the time to make new memories and traditions by exploring all of the amenities autumn brings to DeKalb County.
“Fall is a very special time to get out into the country and enjoy what we offer,” says Debbie Armstrong, executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. She knows this region west of Chicago is ripe with family-owned apple orchards and farms, wineries, theaters and museums, and she has plenty of ideas for making the most of a day trip to the DeKalb area.
There’s something special about picking your own apples, pumpkins and raspberries right on the farm, and every fall Jonamac Orchard, in Malta, and Honey Hill Orchard, in Waterman, overflow with a wide variety of apples to suit every taste. Jonamac offers 35 varieties on its 105-acre farm. Honey Hill serves up 17 apple varieties grown among 2,100 apples trees and an additional 500 trees at a second farm. Honey Hill welcomes raspberry picking through September.
Step inside these orchards’ country stores for plenty of other goodies. At Jonamac, try hand-dipped caramel apples, baked goods, apple cider slushies, fall gifts and exclusive apple butter. Visit the new Cider House to watch cider being pressed and try a variety of hard ciders, aple ale, and apple wines, the latter made by Prairie State Winery from fruit grown on the farm. Check out Jonamac’s 10-acre corn maze, which becomes a Haunted Maze Friday and Saturday nights in October.
The Apple Barn Country Store at Honey Hill is a late-1800s farm barn converted into a unique market. It’s filled with fresh produce and salsas as well as easy-to-use baking, dip and soup mixes – among other treats. With 20 beehives on-site, Honey Hill produces its own pure raw honey, too.
A stone’s throw away from Honey Hill is Waterman Winery, a 10-acre sustainably-minded vineyard. Visit on Saturday or Sunday for tastings of these unique red and white wines, all grown on site. Tours are available, by appointment, for a ride through the vines to see how it all begins.
For another take on local wines, Prairie Sate Winery, in downtown Genoa, serves up food and wine pairings prepared by an in-house chef. The beautiful atmosphere inside and cozy patio outdoors provide an idyllic backdrop for wine tastings and live music on the weekends. Soon, you’ll also be able to sample some of Prairie State’s wines at a new satellite location arriving in downtown Sycamore.
“Nature lovers also have so many opportunities for fall outdoor recreation in DeKalb County,” adds Armstrong. “We have three bike trails, nature trails, 44 parks, a forest preserve, and Shabonna Lake State Park for camping, fishing and boating.”
DeKalb County has many hidden treasures, as well. Tour the Ellwood House, in the city of DeKalb, and explore the magnificent estate’s gardens and structures. Later this season, look for the holiday decorated mansion tours and open house.
DeKalb County also is home to big-city arts and culture with award-winning live entertainment, music and museums. Enjoy performances and a fall film series at the Egyptian Theatre; a play at the Stagecoach Players Theatre; and many cultural institutions at Northern Illinois University, including the NIU School of Theatre and Dance, NIU School of Music, NIU Art Museum and NIU Pick Museum of Anthropology.
Grab your comfy sweaters and be prepared to find something new this fall in DeKalb County. For more information, visit dekalbcountycvb.com.
Join a Badgers Tailgate This Fall
By Eron Harvey
Wisconsin’s autumn colors may be multi-hued, but in Madison, the dominant color is University of Wisconsin red. The Edgewater, located in the heart of downtown Madison, enthusiastically joins the crimson wave, with staff donning their football jerseys and offering Badger-centric events throughout September, October and November.
Located on the shores of Lake Mendota, The Edgewater is Madison’s place for game-day fun, both before and after a match at Camp Randall Stadium. Throughout the season, the urban resort hosts a fan’s ultimate tailgate party. The festivities continue for Badger home games all season long, including the Oct. 21 Homecoming game against Maryland. Other notable matchups are Oct. 14 against Purdue, Nov. 11 against Iowa and the big Nov. 18 showdown with rival Michigan. Locals and visitors alike can kick off game-day celebrations at The Edgewater with tailgate fare and cold brews.
For 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. games, revelers can feast on a pre-game brunch at The Edgewater’s The Statehouse restaurant. The Edgewater will serve as a headquarters for live, on-site, pre-game broadcasts from ESPN Wisconsin Game Day – a new feature this year – and post-game festivities on The Grand Plaza.
For evening games, The Edgewater offers a pre-game celebration including brunch and tailgate with music, food and drink on The Grand Plaza, located between the Langdon Building and the Wisconsin Building. All of The Edgewater’s game-day events are free and open to the public, with food and beverage available for purchase.
Another nice perk at The Edgewater is the easy parking/shuttle access that’s available for purchase, either for individual games or the entire season. The deal includes parking for the day, a shuttle to and from Camp Randall, and a complimentary beer or bloody mary for the shuttle ride. The round-trip shuttle begins running two hours before kickoff and conveniently departs every 20 minutes, with return shuttles continuing for two hours after the game concludes.
UW-Madison fans and alumni also have their pick from special overnight offers, including the Wisconsin Alumni Package, which offers 15 percent off the best available rate and a special amenity upon arrival.
Looking beyond football season, the resort applies its artful touch to the holidays with a sampling of activities for all ages.
Friday, Nov. 24, kicks off the holiday season with the Fourth Annual Tree Lighting event. Picture New York City’s Rockefeller Center right in the heart of the Midwest. If the weather cooperates, the Grand Plaza is turned into an ice skating rink for the winter season and family entertainment is provided. Visitors can expect special guests like Bucky Badger as well as performers like children’s entertainer David Landau, Madison Area Community Chorus, Ringing Badgers Handbell Ensemble, Central Midwest Ballet, and Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Festive Thanksgiving and Christmas brunches make celebrating a breeze with a succulent and stylish meal in the stunning Grand Ballroom, where 16-foot windows frame sweeping views of Lake Mendota. Throughout the holiday season, the resort offers themed breakfasts with Santa and Bucky Badger.
Whether you’re looking for football fun or new holiday traditions, The Edgewater is a cherished place to stay and play.
For more information visit theedgewater.com.
Continuous Fall Fun is on the Calendar
A wide range of hands-on and interactive experiences await visitors to the Rockford area this season.
“Fall in the Rockford region is a fun time to get outside and enjoy the leaves changing at various outdoor parks, preserves and gardens and to indulge in apple cider donuts found at our local markets and orchards,” says Andrea Mandala, marketing & communications manager for the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s also the perfect time to explore the Rockford region’s local sites and attractions for fun, hands-on activities that families can enjoy together.”
A fall visit to the Rockford region often begins with a trip to one of the area’s many apple orchards and pumpkin patches. Locals will tell you their autumn isn’t complete without a visit to Edward’s Apple Orchard, but it’s not the only orchard in town.
There’s also Edwards Apple Orchard West, on Cemetery Road, where you can enjoy all of your favorite fresh fall treats and a pick-your-own pumpkin patch. Curran’s Orchard, on Kilburn Avenue, also has you-pick orchards and lots of fresh goodies, like cider, apple pie, caramel apples, honey, maple syrup and more.
Meanwhile, Valley Orchard, in Cherry Valley, sells fresh produce and baked goods using fruits raised on the farm. At Lindberg’s Pumpkin Patch, near Caledonia, Ill., families love to pick a homegrown pumpkin while exploring the farm.
Head of the Rock Regatta, on Oct. 8, is a unique opportunity to join 5,000 spectators along the banks of the Rock River and watch more than 2,000 rowers from across the country compete in a 5,000-meter (3.2 miles) rowing race on the Rock River, beginning at Martin Park and finishing at the YMCA.
Starting Oct. 14, the Rockford IceHogs hit the ice at BMO Harris Bank Center downtown. Fans of the Chicago Blackhawks cheer on their team’s American Hockey League affiliate and its many up-and-coming players throughout the fall and winter.
Participants set their own pace at the Trick or Trot, on Oct. 22 at Midway Village Museum, as they run or walk through the Victorian Village on the 3.1-mile certified course on paved or gravel trails. More adventurous souls are encouraged to wear their best Halloween costumes.
For parents looking for a one-of-a-kind trick-or-treating experience, Midway Village Museum is also the location of All Hallow’s Eve on Oct. 21. Visitors can bring their family to trick-or-treat in the safety of the Victorian Village where more than 20 buildings will be decorated for Halloween and attended by local volunteers handing out candy.
Come November, runners can get their fix during the Veterans 5K Run & Walk on Nov. 4 at Mercyhealth Sportscore One. The run benefiting the Veterans Drop-In Center is on a flat, fast, beautiful course weaving along the Rock River.
On Nov. 10, come on down to The Price is Right Live – Stage Show at the Coronado Performing Arts Center downtown, and take part in an interactive show that gives eligible individuals the chance to win prizes.
As autumn comes to a close and winter winds nip, thousands gather on the streets of downtown Rockford for the new tradition of Stroll on State. This year’s fifth annual celebration, which is free to enter, draws together events from 2-9 p.m. on Nov. 25, as crowds enjoy live music, wagon rides and ice skating, a visit with Santa and the lighting of Rockford’s official Christmas tree.
To learn more about fantastic fall festivities in Rockford, visit gorockford.com.
Here’s Your Mid-Week Invitation to See Fall Colors
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
If you haven’t used all of your vacation days, a mid-week getaway to Starved Rock Lodge could be just what you need. An amazing canopy of autumn hues will welcome you as fall colors appear, over the next several weeks, and trails are less crowded between Sunday and Thursday.
Starved Rock Lodge and Starved Rock State Park are located just south of the quaint village of Utica, about 75 miles south of Rockford. Known for being one of the top 10 places in the Midwest to experience a magnificent display of fall color and texture, the park and its Lodge provide many activities to complement the fall season.
A recommended activity is the Lodge’s Fall Colors Trolley Tour, which runs throughout October on Mondays and Saturdays. Cost is $30 per person and includes the trolley ride, lunch in the rustic main dining room and a guided hike to Council Overhang and Ottawa Canyon. This tour is not recommended for anyone with limited mobility, and reservations are necessary.
Musical tribute shows provide fun indoor entertainment. A Patsy Cline Tribute Show is slated for Oct. 16. Lunch is included and reservations are required. Call (815) 220-7386 for tickets and showtimes.
Fall Colors Weekend will take place on Oct. 21-22. Crowds flock to the park to see the colors, but the season extends beyond just one weekend. The panoramic view from the Veranda at Starved Rock Lodge is one-of-a-kind, as the peaceful Illinois River Valley paints itself in hues of orange, gold and brown. Whether you choose to have lunch, a refreshing Starved Rock Signature Ale or a different favorite drink, the air is crisp and the atmosphere is casual.
Oktoberfest Dinners, which begin at 5 p.m., are planned for Oct. 21-22 during Fall Colors Weekend. Reservations are necessary. The Lodge also celebrates Oktoberfest with early-day “matinee” luncheons, which begin at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 23.
As November arrives, an umbrella of yellow leaves top the trees as the last warmth of the season slips away. Historic Trolley Tours run every weekend, as do the “Take a Hike and a Lunch” guided hikes to LaSalle Canyon.
Tickets are still available for the “Nightclub in the Afternoon” Tribute Show on Nov. 6 and 7 and Alan Jackson Tribute Shows Nov. 12-15. Midweek getaway packages are detailed on the Lodge’s website and include a variety of fun pairings with overnight stays, including visits to Tangled Roots Brewery, August Hill Winery and Salt Tree Yoga, which features a Himalayan Salt Cave. Veterans are always welcome at Starved Rock Lodge and enjoy Veteran’s Overnight Package and a military discount with every booking.
The Thanksgiving Buffet, served in the historic Main Dining Room and Great Hall, is a convenient solution for families seeking a centrally located meeting place with comfortable sleeping rooms and tasty buffet options. Reservations are required.
For details on upcoming events, overnight packages and holiday buffets, visit starvedrocklodge.com.
Fall into Fun in Sycamore
By Rhonda Mix
Located 60 miles west of Chicago, the charming city of Sycamore offers a variety of family activities this fall.
“Sycamore’s historic downtown offers quaint sophistication served with true hospitality that only a small town can deliver,” says Rose Treml, executive director of Discover Sycamore. “But, we also have some big-time events and entertainment that you would expect from a big city.”
Starting in late September, visitors can head over to Johnson’s Pumpkin Stand and Corn Maze, on West State Street, to get into the fall spirit. People with a penchant for pumpkins will be delighted with the more than 50 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and squash to choose from. The brave at heart are invited to embark on a thrilling adventure inside the property’s 7-acre cornfield maze, which, from aerial view, resembles a pirate ship this year. Rumor has it that hidden treasure is secreted away inside. Are you up for the hunt?
In early October, pay a visit to the Midwest Museum of Natural History and peruse displays with mounted giant black bears, lions and fossilized mastodon bones, among other critters big and small. A museum field station houses live fish, tarantulas, turtles, lizards and snakes.
On Oct. 6, in keeping with the creepy Halloween vibe, field station visitors will be able to watch the resident snakes enjoy their lunches – live – while also learning how a snake’s body is uniquely adapted to eat. The event will be free with admission.
The 56th annual Pumpkin Fest takes place Oct. 25 through 29 on the lawn of the DeKalb County Courthouse. Hundreds of carved and painted pumpkins will turn the courthouse lawn into a pumpkin patch as the squash await judging in the annual decorating competition.
“People really take the pumpkin decorating seriously,” says Treml. “You should see how creative people are.”
The fest will also feature two arts-and-crafts shows, carnival rides and vendors selling tasty fall treats. Be sure to snag yourself a caramel apple.
“The best-kept secret I can tell you about is getting a caramel apple at the The Confectionary,” Treml says. “They only have them while they’re fresh, and they’re harvested locally, so once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
On Saturday of Pumpkin Fest, Sycamore History Museum staff members will guide visitors through historic homes, a renovated train depot and an old school. On Sunday, more than 1,800 runners will fill the streets for the annual Pumpkin Run 10K road race and, later that day, the city will host its festival parade.
Sycamore fall fun doesn’t end there.
On Nov. 17, the city welcomes winter a tad early with the Moonlight Magic shopping marathon. Stores will be open late to offer the best deals of the season. From 6 to 8 p.m., storefront windows will come alive with magical performances from local arts, theater and dance groups.
“This is our official kickoff of the holiday season in downtown Sycamore,” says Treml. “We enjoy providing an opportunity for consumers to get a head start on holiday shopping. It’s nice to see families continuing the tradition of shopping together during this event. It’s about supporting our local economy and having fun with friends and family.”
Last but not least, the Sycamore Winter Chocolate Walk takes place Nov. 30 from 4 to 8 p.m. Grab your sweetie or just your sweet tooth, because select shops will offer an array of fine chocolate desserts, chocolate bars, pretzels, chocolate martinis, chocolate meringue cookies and more. Maps and check-off cards will be provided at the walk’s starting point at Blumen Gardens around 4 p.m. Drop off your completed card at the final location to enter a raffle. Tickets are available at the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce and online at eventbrite.com.
Aside from all of the festivities, Sycamore offers plenty of additional ways to enjoy this season. Antiques and gift shops abound. Wine tasting is popular at Prairie on State Wine Cellars. For dinner options, the cozy and chic Nat’s On Maple offers everything from sirloin steaks to meatloaf and authentic Mexican cuisine. Ristorante de Acquaviva is known for its Italian fare, and people with a hankering for a burger can grab a bite to eat at Pub 64 and PJ’s Courthouse Tavern.
To learn more about Sycamore attractions and events, call (815) 895-3456 or visit discoversycamore.com.