Lifestyle

11 Hidden Gems of the Great Lakes Region

Most folks have heard of Chicago’s Sears Tower, Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Michigan’s Dunes. Dig a little deeper. You’ll discover these lesser-known attractions of the Great Lakes Region. They offer unique charm and natural beauty worth exploring.

11. Moraine Hills State Park

Flikr/ Maria J Aleman
Flikr/ Maria J Aleman

Tucked up in the northwest suburbs of Chicagoland, this park offers a variety of trails for short leisurely strolls or long nature hikes. Boardwalks by the lily pad pond, grassy trails through fields, and dirt paths through forests create a variety of landscapes to explore. Encounter turtles, cranes, frogs, and fish along the way. Spend an hour or spend the day. Either way, it’s a hiker’s top pick.

10. Woodstock, IL

Flickr/ EarlRShumaker
Flickr/ EarlRShumaker

Remember Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day? That quaint town where he was trapped can be found in northern Illinois. Oozing with small-town charm, Woodstock is a must-visit. Its historic square where much of Groundhog Day was filmed is the site of weekly farmer’s markets, frequent town festivals, and unique restaurants and businesses. The locals even look you in the eye and smile! It’s so inviting you may wish for Murray’s experience, so you never have to leave.

9. Salomon Farm Park

Wide Open Country Salomon Farm
Flickr/ Indiana Stan

This landmark farm in Fort Wayne, IN has been transformed into a historic working farm and park. The huge barn is a center of activity, offering animal encounters, educational events, crafting, and entertainment for adults and children. Wildlife, hiking, and biking can all be enjoyed on the grounds that include a paved trail, gardens, and even a blacksmith forge.

8. Rock Island, Door County

Flickr/ Joshua Mayer
Flickr/ Joshua Mayer

Here’s the spot to visit if you really want to leave civilization behind. You’ll hop on a ferry for the last leg of your journey, since it’s accessible only by boat. With no vehicles on the island, this 906-acre escape offers beaches, trails, rustic campsites, and a historic lighthouse to explore. Enjoy swimming, fishing, hiking, and peace and quiet on this northernmost State Park of Door County, Wis.

7. The Covered Bridges of Ashtabula County

Wide Open Country Covered Bridge
Flickr/ Mark K.

Take a drive in and around Jefferson, Ohio to cruise through their 18 enchanting bridges. These historic covered bridges create picturesque spots that make you want to pull over and soak it all in. The locals are so proud of them that they hold an annual covered bridge festival, complete with parade, entertainment, and crafts.

6. Drummond Island

Flickr/ Charles Dawley
Flickr/ Charles Dawley

This gem of the UP offers some of the best kayaking of the region. The island’s shore offers 140 miles of coastline. The water trail here includes more coves and bays than you can count. Wildlife abounds. The scenery is amazing. Explore shipwreck sites, paddle in the shipping lane of a Great Lakes freighter, or simply take in the magnificent sunsets. If you can squeeze in a big enough cooler, you just might stay out there for days.

5. Warren Dunes State Park Loop Hiking Trail

Flickr/ Josh Koonce
Flickr/ Josh Koonce

Most visitors to the Dunes take in the beaches, go for a swim, and climb around the mounds near their family picnic. At Warren Dunes State park in Sawyer, MI, it’s the same. Those who want a fuller experience can mosey on up this trail, away from the crowded beach and into the less-explored heart of the dunes. You can try the challenges of steep dune climbs, or stick to the gradual ups and downs that take you through woods, wetlands, sandy fields, and back to the beach, for a total of 4.2 miles of gorgeous scenery.

4. North Point Lighthouse, Milwaukee, WI

Flickr/ John Skodak
Flickr/ John Skodak

It’s not every lighthouse that offers the opportunity to climb the inviting spiral staircase. Here you can. At the top, views of Lake Michigan make it worth the effort. A small museum in the main floor of the building is fun to poke around in. A short trail from the lighthouse leads down to the beach where you can walk the coastline you glimpsed from the tower.

3. Old World Wisconsin

Flickr/ beautifulcataya
Flickr/ beautifulcataya

Leave the hustle and bustle of today’s society behind when you enter this historic recreation in Eagle, WI. Visit the village smithy. Stop in the homes to see how baking, laundry, and sewing were accomplished by Wisconsin’s original settlers. Pet a team of oxen, horses, and goats. Pop in the general store to chat with the owner or sit in a rocker by the stove and play checkers. Have lunch in the historic octagonal barn. Or, visit during October for Halloween dinner theater shows.

2. Stephens’ Falls

Flickr/ Josh Haroldson
Flickr/ Josh Haroldson

Waterfalls are always nice to see, but sometimes you just want to get in and play. This trail destination in Governor Dodge State Park, WI offers one of the few waterfalls you can actually splash around in. Connecting to a large system of trails, it’s the perfect spot to end a nice hike, and it’s pretty, to boot.  Beware – it’s a great spot to cool off, but you’re in Wisconsin, so even in July, this water is chilly!

1. Anderson Gardens, Rockford, IL

Flickr/ jpellgen
Flickr/ jpellgen

Pretty much every major city offers botanic gardens to stroll. For a less travelled garden path, take in the tranquil scenery here. Fewer acres than the big city gardens, it’s easily explored in an afternoon, and you’ll likely have large patches of scenery to yourself. Japanese gardens and décor create a unique and peaceful setting to stretch your legs, and stop and smell the roses.

recommended for you

11 Hidden Gems of the Great Lakes Region