Whether you’re yearning for a traditional vacation or looking for an afternoon excursion, it’s time for a change of scenery. We found 14 that are just far enough from home to feel like a true autumn getaway.
The days are getting shorter, there’s a cool breeze in the air and the trees in your neighborhood are probably starting to change colors. This can only mean one thing: Fall is quickly approaching. And with it comes a plethora of fun and unique ways to enjoy this wonderful season.
Even with all the changes happening in our daily lives, there are still plenty of reasons to celebrate this time of year, and we’re here to help.
To help make this an autumn to remember, we’ve searched our great region and found several destinations that’ll allow you and your family to have fun while playing it safe. Some are close to home, while others are just far enough to create the perfect weekend escape.
No matter what you decide to do, an adventure to remember is closer than you think.
Jonamac Orchard, Malta, Ill.
Enjoy a cool fall afternoon at this generational family farm, home to 20,000 apple trees and more than 30 apple varieties, all available throughout the season.
The unmistakable smell of apple cider donuts permeates the air. Your nose will follow the scent to the store and bakery, where you’ll find apple-themed sweet treats, including pie, cider, wine and jams.
Head over to Jonamac’s Cider House, where you can watch how the apple cider is made. Explore the wine and hard cider collection and enjoy a glass on the patio, which overlooks the orchard.
Keep the kids happy and check out some other fall favorites while you’re here, including a petting zoo, sunflower patch and corn maze.
Chicagoland Skydiving Center, Rochelle, Ill.
Face your fears and enjoy the wonders of the season as you take a free fall from 18,000 feet in the air.
This skydiving center is fully equipped to make you feel comfortable enough to jump out of an airplane. Friendly staff, updated facilities and top-notch equipment are just the start.
Once you’re safely back on the ground, there’ll be a cold beer waiting for you, provided you’re of age.
Skydiving is clearly the main event, but there are plenty of other activities to enjoy during your visit.
Play a game or two on the sand volleyball court and check out the camping area. You can also enjoy a cold one at The Flight Deck Bar & Grill, which features a bar and restaurant with an outdoor seating area that provides firsthand views of the drop zone.
PrairieFire Golf & Grill, Byron, Ill.
Temperature-controlled heating bays overlooking a large, targeted driving range bring a new way to experience the allure of golf – even when the links are closed for the season.
TopTracer technology combines golfing with augmented reality, creating a unique experience. This technology tracks your ball’s launch, speed, curve and other data, similar to what you see when the pros play on TV. The best part is that it’s all delivered in real time the moment your ball leaves the tee.
TopTracer also allows players to play top-rated, virtual golf courses and entertaining golfing games.
Each heated bay features lounge seating, fire pits and large TVs. As you wait for your turn to play, indulge in a loaded food menu full of snacks, sandwiches and drink options.
Famous Fossil Winery and Vineyard, Freeport
Treat yourself and unwind with a glass of wine from this peaceful and tranquil winery.
There are 15 wines to choose from, including reds such as “Make Me Blush,” which is a little sweet with a crisp finish. Or, try a fruit wine like “Summer Rhubarb,” which is both sweet and tart.
Not sure which wine to drink? Try a wine tasting, where you can experience a sip of several wines. Enjoy your glass of wine in a cozy outdoor seating area, and relax a little while you take in the views of this rolling countryside.
Small finger foods are also available to pair with your wine, including locally made cheeses, sausages and crackers.
Stage Coach Trail, Galena, Ill.
Take a relaxing journey on an historic trail that traces its roots to our area’s early settlers. The closer you get to Galena, the more you’ll find flat Illinois fields give way to stunning, rolling hills topped with farmhouses and barns that trace back to the 1850s.
Starting in Lena, Ill., The Stage Coach Trail passes through small, quaint villages – including Apple River and Scales Mound – that are well off the beaten path. This winding, two-lane road is a joy when traveling in a flashy, top-down sports car or a speedy and nimble motorcycle.
The trail ends at Main Street in Galena, another destination seemingly frozen in time. Get lost in chic shops filled with antiques, crafts, art galleries and plenty of unique dining options.
Chain O’ Lakes, Northern McHenry/Lake Counties
This system of 15 lakes and 45 miles of river accompanies the Fox River on its journey from Wisconsin into Illinois. It flows through several cities, including Antioch, Fox Lake and McHenry. In total, the Chain O’ Lakes encompasses some 7,000 acres of water.
This water playground has long been a favorite for boating, fishing, kayaking and lake life. Because these lakes are interconnected, they’re easy to navigate.
Plan ahead, as some lakes have restrictions on boat size.
If boating isn’t your thing, grab a meal to-go at one of downtown McHenry’s many establishments and enjoy a picnic at Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Spring Grove, where you’ll find seven picnic areas and 6 miles of biking and hiking trails.
Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Rockford
There’s no better place to experience fall in all of its glory. This living museum, one of the largest such gardens in the area, offers up 155 acres of gardens and forest, immersing you in a palette of colors and nature’s true beauty.
Take a scenic walk along roughly 2 miles of paved paths or nearly 3 miles of wood-chip trails.
You can also tour the grounds aboard the Klehm Express shuttle. Along the 30-minute guided riding tour, be on the lookout for the Nancy Olson Children’s Garden and the Fountain Garden. Klehm Express tours must be scheduled one week in advance by calling (815) 965-8146 or emailing [email protected].
A Tour of Geneva Lake
Witness the allure of the Lake Geneva area as you travel a 26-mile lakefront path that winds through the lawns of historic estates, marinas, beaches and public parks. The terrain and the surface – grass, dirt, brick, concrete – vary with each property.
The best place to start your journey is at the Lake Geneva Library, in the northeast corner of the lake, and travel in either direction for about a mile. This portion of the path is paved, so it’s perfect for young children and those who are less sure-footed.
If you’d rather explore the lake from the water, the Lake Geneva Cruise Line has resumed its famous boat tours that share fascinating details of the area’s historic properties. Ice cream socials and cocktail cruises also provide exciting entertainment.
The boats are operating at 50 percent capacity right now and have pod seating, which allows families to sit together.
Golfing at Grand Geneva, Lake Geneva
This luxurious resort is home to two golf courses, making it the perfect place for a weekend filled with golf. Of course, there are activities in and around the resort for non-golfers, too.
The Brute Golf Course is considered one of the top courses in the Midwest, complete with large sand traps and striking water features. The second course, The Highlands, is a Scottish link-style course with wide-open fairways and fast greens.
Make for a unique experience this summer and try out the GolfBoard. This electric-powered vehicle resembles a scooter or skateboard and has a built-in bag holder. It travels easier than a cart and helps golfers to play at a faster pace.
The Badger State Trail, Madison to Illinois State Line
This adventurous bike trail runs 40 miles between Madison, Wis., and the Illinois state line. Along the route, you’ll see farmland, woods and rolling hills, in addition to many small towns that popped up when this trail was a busy railroad line.
The highlight is Stewart Tunnel, where the trail curves as it passes underground. As you enter, you won’t be able to see the other end – 1,200 feet away. The tunnel is currently closed, but when it re-opens, it’ll be worth the wait.
The Badger State Trail connects to the Capital City, Military Ridge and Sugar River trails in Wisconsin. As it enters Illinois, it becomes the Jane Addams Trail and leads to Freeport. Watch out for detours around several construction sites this year.
Mount Horeb Trollway, Mount Horeb
This small, quaint town west of Madison is known as the troll capital of the world, and the locals fully embrace that title. There are more than 30 carved trolls scattered around town. Most are shaggy and might look frightening, but they don’t mean any harm. You’ll find them doing everything from watering flowers to playing music.
There’s a troll outside of Farmers Savings Bank that proudly greets visitors. There’s another right outside Culver’s – enjoying a cup of custard, of course.
No matter what part of town you visit, be on the lookout for these fun-loving creatures.
New Glarus Woods State Park, New Glarus
This 435-acre park has 8 miles of hiking trails and more than 5 miles of nature trails.
Traveling through forests and restored prairies, among gently rolling terrain, you’ll spy wildlife including deer, squirrels, turkeys and woodpeckers.
The Vista Trail provides a beautiful view of nearby New Glarus, a popular tourist attraction known for its Swiss-inspired charm. The Bison Nature Trail is less than a mile long and includes interpretive signs as well as a replica, life-sized bison.
If you’re into camping, this state park has 18 drive-in campsites for recreational vehicles and 14 tenting sites. Restrooms, a playground and plenty of picnic tables are also available. Firewood is purchased on site.
The Kenosha Sculpture Walk, Kenosha
Along the shores of Lake Michigan a dozen fascinating works of art make for an enjoyable exploration.
Most of the attractions on this sculpture walk are in Harbor Park, along the promenade on the park’s south side. Other sculptures can be found across the channel near the lighthouse, and other sites.
The sculptures are created by artists from around the Midwest. One created a memorial that honors Vietnam veterans, while another celebrated wildlife by depicting a large moose. Another created “flames” that seem to billow in the sky.
Every two years, a new crop of artists showcases their talents.
A Getaway to Holland
Scenic beaches and exciting tourist attractions make Holland a beloved destination for vacationers. The busy downtown area has received plenty of national accolades for its generous combination of local businesses, dining options and lively activities.
Enjoy a paddlewheel riverboat cruise on The Holland Princess, or take a load off and enjoy dinner along the shores of Lake Michigan as you watch the sunset.
One of the biggest tourist attractions is Big Red, a popular lighthouse situated in the heart of Holland State Park. Take a walk up to the north pier if you want a great view of the lighthouse.