A weekend’s journey is closer than you might think. Check out these fun destinations that are close to home but still feel so far away.
Starved Rock Lodge: No time for Winter Blues or Cabin Fever
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
Feeling isolated? Sick of winter? Say goodbye to the winter blues and get out your calendar. Starved Rock Lodge, in Oglesby, Ill., has added some new activities to its calendar of events. All of these are in addition to the warm glow of the fireplace in the Great Hall and the comfy rooms and cabins that are just a few steps away.
This is the perfect time of year for a “Galentine’s Day” getaway. It’s usually celebrated on Feb. 13, but this year, the rules are different. Bring your girlfriends to the Lodge any time this winter and enjoy the indoor pool, hot tub and sauna. Then, head to the Back Door Lounge for some comfort food and some quality time together.
This winter, the Lodge has three special ways to enjoy lunch or dinner. Midwest Monday celebrates a different state each week with an ala carte option for the soup, sandwich, dessert and cocktail of the day. Taco Tuesday features a new taco each week, and while you’re at it, add on a specialty cocktail and dessert taco. Burger & Beer Friday is the perfect pairing to kick off the weekend.
Guided Winter Hikes depart from the Lodge every Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. You’ll see the winter wonderland of Starved Rock State Park, complete with frozen ice falls and, hopefully, bald eagles in flight overhead. The hike is about 3 miles. Hikers should dress appropriately and bring Yaktrax and trekking poles for extra traction. Reservations are required.
Bald Eagle Tours are the highlight of winter here. These tours begin with lunch at 11 a.m. Ride the trolley to the Illinois Waterway Visitors Center for eagle viewing and an educational seminar. Advanced reservations are required. Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for children 10 and under.
Princesses and Super Heroes of all ages are invited to attend the newest event at Starved Rock Lodge. On March 27, the first-ever “Princess & Super Hero Breakfast” takes place in the Great Hall. Children are invited and encouraged to come in their favorite costume to meet “Beauty,” “The Ice Princess,” “The Ice Queen,” “Bat Hero” and “Spider Guy.” The event begins and 9:30 a.m. with an enchanting breakfast buffet. There will also be face painting as well as photo ops with each of the characters. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for children 10 and under, and children 3 and under are free.
Come get in the Easter spirit at Breakfast with the Bunny on April 10. After breakfast, the Bunny himself joins the crowd for a fun egg hunt. Advanced reservations are required, as space is limited. This event begins at 9:30 a.m. in the Great Hall. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children 10 and under, and children 3 and under are free.
For more information or to reserve tickets, call (815) 220-7386.
There’s plenty of winter fun at Starved Rock, including an overnight stay in the lodge. Start planning your winter escape at starvedrocklodge.com.
Dekalb County: Outdoors or Indoors, Winter Fun Abounds
By Jim Taylor, multimedia editor
You don’t need to stay outside when you visit DeKalb County, Ill., but with its abundance of ice rinks, sled hills and hiking trails, along with its hundreds of acres of forest preserves, you just might be tempted.
“We just embrace winter here,” says Katherine McLaughlin, marketing specialist at DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “When it’s winter in northern Illinois, you have to be willing to try things out.”
Throughout the winter, the many parks of DeKalb County offer opportunities for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The sledding hill and skating rink at Hopkins Park are open throughout the season (weather permitting), and NIU Outdoor Adventures offers equipment rentals to anyone who is looking for outdoor fun. Bird enthusiasts may want to hire a guide to take them through Hopkins Park to learn more about our region’s feathered friends.
Visitors who wish to come in from the cold might enjoy learning more about DeKalb County’s history. The inventor and manufacturers of modern barbed wire lived here, and their historic homes are open to the public. The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Ellwood House Museum (named for Isaac Ellwood) can both be visited by appointment. They are two of 12 museums and historical societies to see in DeKalb County.
The Sandwich Opera House offers a wide variety of performances year-round. The building, opened in 1879, once housed the functions of the village government, in addition to an entertainment venue. These days, it still functions as a community hub, and its auditorium hosts lectures, recitals, private functions and theatrical shows.
The historic Egyptian Theatre in downtown DeKalb is one of only five remaining venues of its kind in the country. When it opened in 1929, hundreds of theaters across the country had been built with an Egyptian influence. Recently renovated, the venue has played host to rock shows, movies, theatrical reviews and comedy shows. Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy even paid a visit in 1959, while campaigning for President.
All this excitement is sure to make visitors thirsty. Luckily, Tangled Roots, an award-winning brewery from Ottawa, Ill., is opening a new location in downtown DeKalb, adding to an already impressive number of breweries, wineries and distilleries in the area. Visitors and residents alike can experience all of DeKalb County’s beer, wines and spirts with the Bold Spirits of DeKalb County passport program offered by the visitor’s bureau.
“It’s exciting to expand our Bold Spirits options in the area,” says McLaughlin. “We’re happy to add to the tour that people are already going on.”
DeKalb County always has much to offer to the outdoor enthusiast, no matter what the season, and winter is no exception.
To get your winter getaway started, visit dekalbcountycvb.com.
Take a Drive to Ottawa: A Town that Takes Visitors Back in Time
By Jim Taylor, multimedia editor
For some, winter is a time for hunkering down, staying inside and waiting for the warm weather to return. For others, it’s a time to bundle up, head outside, and embark on a snowy adventure. No matter which side of the spectrum you fall on, Ottawa, Ill, has you covered.
For outdoors enthusiasts, the Dayton Bluffs Preserve is perfect for snowshoeing, hiking and cross-country skiing.
The preserve boasts hundreds of acres of natural wonder to explore, with wide expanses of open prairie alongside rugged woodlands. The Fox River borders the preserve, leaving craggy ravines that carve out the landscape.
The preserve is also rich in history. Hikers can find ancient American Indian burial mounds as well as Daniels Cemetery, a pioneer graveyard dating back to 1837.
Located just north of Ottawa, the preserve is a relative newcomer for the public and it’s still a work in progress, but volunteers are working hard to add modern amenities.
“The volunteers at Dayton Bluffs Preserve are passionate, hardworking and dedicated,” says Donna Reynolds, administrative assistant with the Ottawa Visitors Center. “No matter what time of year it is, they’re always out there working. We have a wonderful group of volunteers.”
History buffs will also want to head downtown to see Washington Square, the site of the first Senate debate between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln in 1858. A monument now sits in the square, with statues of the esteemed debaters looking over the city.
On the north side of Washington Square is Riddick Mansion, former home of William Riddick, a prominent merchant who also served as sheriff and state senator. Riddick commissioned the mansion to be built in 1855, and its completion coincided with the first debate. Naturally, its steps were a prominent place for Ottawa citizens to watch the action. These days, Riddick Mansion is open for tours Friday through Monday from 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Ottawa’s rich history is easy to explore with a simple drive around town. In 1993, the city began a project that has, so far, resulted in 10 murals that depict some of the most significant events and figures from the area, including the Lincoln-Douglas debates and Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath, who was born here.
Follow a truly in-depth historical tour and let Awesome Ottawa Tours do the planning. With an offering of driving tours in winter and walking/bicycle tours in the summer, tour owner Tom Aussem and his staff relish showing off the sights and stories of Ottawa’s past and present.
“The Awesome Ottawa Tours are always a lot of fun,” says Reynolds. “They operate year-round and they’re always coming up with something new.”
In between all of that time traveling, sample the many fine eateries this city has to offer. Ottawa’s Tangled Roots brewery grows its own barley and sources all of its ingredients from the surrounding area. The company’s flagship restaurant, the Lone Buffalo, is located downtown and boasts an original craft brewery as well as a menu of delectable dishes to complement.
With a wide selection of indoor and outdoor fun, Ottawa allows an easy escape from the winter doldrums.
“Our city is a wonderful destination, whatever season it is,” says Reynolds. “We love to welcome visitors, old and new.”
For more information, visit pickusottawail.com.
Explore Rock Falls: The River Town Where Eagles Soar
By Jim Taylor, multimedia editor
Rock Falls, Ill., is a family-friendly getaway throughout the year, but during the winter months it’s particularly special. In addition to being a haven for outdoors enthusiasts, Rock Falls also welcomes a large number of bald eagles.
“We’re fortunate to have about 100 eagles that come to our area in the winter,” says Melinda Jones, Director of Tourism & Events for the City of Rock Falls. “They’ll be staying with us from early December through early March.”
Rock Falls’ vicinity to the Sterling and Sinnissippi dams makes it an ideal feeding spot for fish-eating raptors like the bald eagle. Because the water of the Rock River doesn’t freeze here in the winter, eagles have plenty of space to dive and catch fish, even during the coldest days.
“It’s really cool to see,” says Jones. “The eagles will swoop right over your head.”
To accommodate the growing number of eagle watchers, Rock Falls has recently completed the Rock Falls Birding Trail. This car-friendly driving route begins at the Hennepin Feeder Canal in Rock Falls and follows Second Street to Lawrence Park, where the eagles feed. Prominent signage along the trail reminds drivers of the importance of eagle etiquette.
“If the eagles are scared, they won’t return,” explains Jones. “It’s fine to take photographs and observe them from your car, but loud noises will scare them off.”
In addition to birdwatching, the Hennepin Canal offers multiple trails for winter hiking, ice fishing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Rock Falls’ Art in the Park Sculpture Walk is open year-round, offering 10 original works of art at RB&W Park. Nine of the sculptures are changed each year, making a visit to the Sculpture Walk a fresh experience each winter.
“The sculptures are beautiful when they’re covered in frost and ice,” says Jones. “Last year, I was freezing, but I took so many pictures.”
Rock Falls is the hometown of legendary jazz drummer and composer Louie Bellson. To honor this distinction, the city holds an annual percussion event called “Percussion Palooza.” Now in its eighth year, the competition features solo and ensemble percussion acts in a variety of levels, including middle school, high school and post-secondary. This year, the event is scheduled for Feb. 12 at noon.
In conjunction with its twin city, Sterling, Rock Falls hosts a year-round farmers market. The Twin City Farmers Market is open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon. Located inside the historic Twin City Produce Co. building, the market features locally grown and produced meats, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, jams, jellies, honey and artisanal items, among other things.
With its well-earned moniker as the place “where city life and nature meet,” Rock Falls is the perfect destination for adventurers looking for fun. The city is happy to welcome visitors, both human and eagle alike.
To start planning your winter getaway, visit visitrockfalls.com.