Midwest MUST-DO's
April 24, 2017 6:37 PM   Subscribe

I’m currently living in Chicago but plan on moving away in a year or two. Do you have somewhere you consider an ESSENTIAL road trip destinations from Chicago that I MUST do while I’m here?

I’ve searched the green and found lots of amazing general suggestions for midwest travel, but what I’m really looking for is: do you have somewhere you think a person CANNOT leave the midwest without checking out? Where and Why? If my time is limited, I want to prioritize! Already visited: St. Louis, Nashville/Memphis. Thanks in advance!
posted by carlypennylane to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Get to the Upper Peninsula this summer, you must, you must.

Also you have to get to Pierogi Fest at least once.
posted by veery at 6:54 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

You know that water thingy that the cold wind blows off of in the winter? Well, turns out it's one of several of its kind that have spectacular shorelines when you get away from the city:

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
posted by praemunire at 6:57 PM on April 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Cincinnati is a few hours away and we have great art, restaurants and architecture. Plus it is a good place to take a day trip down into Bourbon country if that peaks your interest.
posted by mmascolino at 6:58 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Taliesin and/or House on the Rock (pick your flavor) in Spring Green, WI.

Upper Michigan.

Mammoth Cave.
posted by theodolite at 6:59 PM on April 24, 2017

It would help to know your interests, e.g., outdoors/nature, weird/kitschy, serious cultural, etc.
posted by she's not there at 7:02 PM on April 24, 2017

Iconic Wisconsin:
- House on the Rock, which is the most bizarre "house" you'll ever see
- Wisconsin Dells Duck boat tour
- Lambeau Stadium in Green Bay (if you have any interest in the NFL)
- Door County (Washington Island specifically)
- Summerfest in Milwaukee (or any of the zillion ethnic festivals)

I could go on endlessly but those are the top 5 things I'd recommend to anyone coming here.
posted by AFABulous at 7:03 PM on April 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Detroit. Don't miss the Rivera murals at the DIA and try hard to make it to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.

Drive across the Mackinaw Bridge at least once, either on your way to or from the UP. A circle tour around Lake Michigan isn't a bad idea.

If you can go further afield, there is much to love on Minnesota's North Shore.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:03 PM on April 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

oh - you have to try regional FOOD. For Wisconsin that would be a fish boil in Door County or a Friday fish fry everywhere. Cheese curds. Bratwurst. New Glarus beer. Brandy old-fashioneds. You have to go to a supper club.
posted by AFABulous at 7:07 PM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

A foodie/live music weekend in Minneapolis.
posted by lunasol at 7:16 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really really want to endorse the plan to go to the UP, though it really is a "bum around for a few days" kind of experience that you can't hurry through. For best results go sometime around the summer solstice when it's light until like 10:30 pm.

My second suggestion, though, if you're taking the northern Michigan / Mackinac Bridge recommendation, is to stop by Sleeping Bear Dunes. That place is crazy. And again, during the summer, you'll feel like you're on a tropical beach somewhere, not in Michigan. Amazing.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 7:22 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

A theater play at American Players Theater in Spring Green WI.
Mackinac Island in MI.
posted by drlith at 7:31 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

A multi-day canoe trip with a friend in the Boundary Waters.
posted by cnidaria at 7:46 PM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: (she's not there, honestly i like all that stuff. "nature" and "weird/kitschy" are probably top but i am open to whatever. basically, if you think it's an essential piece of america that i'm within driving distance of, i want to grab my chance to see it while i'm here!) thanks to everyone who replied so far, i'll keep watching for more suggestions!
posted by carlypennylane at 7:56 PM on April 24, 2017

In Iowa: The Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, touring the Amana Colonies, The Bix Dixieland Jazz Festival in Davenport.... aaaaaand the Candy Kitchen in my hometown of Wilton, IA. If you want any advice on fun things to do in Iowa along I-80, send me a message! I know some great places to eat and stuff.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:35 PM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oooh, definitely Taliesin.

Starved Rock State Park is gorgeous. Nature, hiking, history. Fun things right nearby the park, including the locks-and-dam, a little town, antique stores, mule boat, etc.

Downstate, Springfield is a must -- Abe Lincoln Museum, state museum, Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, Old State Capitol. You can take Amtrak to Springfield and walk to everything from the station (including hotels). You can, of course, also drive.

If you come down to Peoria, memail me and I'll squire you around, we have a nice little zoo and children's museum and planetarium and two observatories and some unique biome parks (Forest Park), and a big prairie park (Wildlife Prairie Park) that has huge prairies for bison, elk, and deer, as well as wildlife rehab etc. Also the Spirit of Peoria paddleboat which you can ride for short 2-hour tours along the riverfront, or you can take an 8-hour trip up to Starved Rock and back the next day.

I am also fond of Indianapolis (jazz clubs, children's museum, etc.); St. Joe-Benton Harbor; Holland, Michigan, especially for the spring tulip festivals which are stupidly fun; and South Bend, where you can visit Notre Dame, the Studebaker Museum, the minor league ballpark (South Bend Cubs), etc.

Bishop Hill is a bit obscure but really interesting. It was founded by Swedish utopianists and is now a historic site and artist colony. Periodically Sweden flies in a 747 full of Swedish tourists to remind Illinois that the site drives international tourism. Which, I don't think it does that much except when Sweden sends an absurdly large airplane? But that's cool!

Two relatively new downstate parks, the Emiquon waterfowl preserve (if you like birds), and Rocky Glen, a unique bit of geology that was just preserved in the last five years.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:58 PM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

The Caterpillar Museum in Peoria is interesting if you go to Peoria.

Came to recommend the Lincoln Museum in Springfield.

Rock Creek State Park in Kankakee is really nice. You'll have it to yourself too, probably.

Indiana Dunes State Park is lovely.

Brown County Indiana is so charming with all its covered bridges.

My hometown just set up a visitor page. We have bar none the best 2nd weekend of August with our hot air balloon ascension with two guys who parachute out, the best low key fireworks show ever, a junior livestock fair, and, well other small town goodness. Check out Cullom.

If you like quilts, you can buy handmade ones at auction the 3rd weekend in March at the Illinios Mennonite Relief Sale in Bloomington. Arthur has Mennonites and Amish who sell livestock, handmade furniture and quilts year around.

Have fun!
posted by rw at 9:27 PM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

How far west is Midwest?
Because Yellowstone is absolutely worth it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:17 PM on April 24, 2017

Holland, Michigan, especially for the spring tulip festivals which are stupidly fun

This will be the 2nd week of May this year, from the 6th through the 14th - it's called "Tulip Time". For a town the size of Holland, the attendance stats are insane. The actual tulips are just about in full bloom right now.
posted by LionIndex at 3:06 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by davejh at 4:10 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you like architecture, visit Columbus, Indiana (pop 46,000), the 6th most architecturally diverse city in the US. Thanks to a visionary trust set up by Cummins Diesel, this tiny town boasts churches, schools, fire stations and other public buildings designed by Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Robert Venturi, Cesar Pelli, Richard Meier and many more. It's quite something to have so many striking and historically important examples of modern architecture packed into such a small area.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:45 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Illinois things:

a for-real blues club (good thing you're already in Chicago)

Starved Rock (Sunday buffet and a drink on the patio of the visitor's center)

Springfield (Do all the touristy things, rub Abe's nose for good luck, visit the Illinois State Fair and enjoy some fried butter on a stick while you admire cows and stuff.)

a corn maze and/or pumpkin farm (fall)

Brookfield Zoo

Galena on a summer weekend
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:59 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Indiana Dunes State Park has these homes that were built and displayed at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. Someone bought them all, and then floated them to the state park where they have been ever since.

They are very cool "homes of the future," well worth seeing.
posted by chocolatetiara at 5:13 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Louisville, Kentucky.
I also enjoyed Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in Minnesota.
posted by papayaninja at 5:34 AM on April 25, 2017

The Forevertron combines well with a trip to Wisconsin Dells or Spring Green (Taliesin, House on the Rock), and is well worth a visit. It requires a bit of forethought as it's not open to visitors on all days of the week.
posted by yomimono at 5:42 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Leisurely car camping trip. Go up the western shore of Lake Michigan, all the way up to the tip of Door County. (This is very touristy, but still fun. Stop and buy cherry goods along the way.) Unfortunately, there's not a ferry from Door County to Michigan, so you drive back down through Green Bay and up into the UP, then to Mackinac, across the bridge, around Lake Superior and down back and spend the last bits of your vacation driving across the south Shore of Lake Superior. (Don't neglect the Apostle Islands and the Copper Country in the UP.) This entire trip is gorgeous. Take two weeks at least. Relax and enjoy. There are many places to camp right on the lakeshores. Take those opportunities. It's best to do this when the heat of summer is stupid in Chicago, but you'll have a harder time finding camping spots, of course, so plan as best you can. Mostly, it's not that much of a problem, but you might have to be flexible.
posted by RedEmma at 7:34 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Plus one for Springfield in general and the Lincoln Museum in particular.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:54 AM on April 25, 2017

You've visited St. Louis, but if you've not seen both Cahokia and the city museum it's worth a return trip. They're among the most interesting things in the united states, and well worth a long distance flight to visit. Not taking a five hour car trip to see them would be a tragedy.

The Dunes, mentioned above, is also worth at least half a day. Perhaps a whole day if you're excited about bird watching.

(As a recent immigrant to the midwest, I'm going to keep an eye on this thread for ideas. Thanks!)
posted by eotvos at 8:29 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would go out of my way to see House On The Rock.
posted by ovvl at 8:37 AM on April 25, 2017

Yeah, House On the Rock is a total weird experience that I am glad I did.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:44 PM on April 25, 2017

There are a few outfits that will rent you some kayaks and drop you into the Saint Croix River in Wisconsin for a lovely day trip that is pretty easy. My entire family, including four people over 70, did the trip and we all had a lovely day. They pick you up at your designated pull out destination and bus you back to your vehicle. I've done it twice and I would do it again.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:48 PM on April 25, 2017

Springfield, Illinois is my hometown. I hate the Lincoln museum. It's Disney does Lincoln - literally. It was designed by former Disney people. (Designers from the Holocaust Museum in Washington were rejected by the Springfield folks.) If you want to do Lincoln stuff, see Lincoln's home and the old state capitol in Springfield. And go to New Salem.

I found as an adult that the Illinois State Fair spoiled me for other state fairs.
posted by FencingGal at 6:53 PM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

nthing Cahokia. I spent a fascinating half-day there and then read a lot about these early inhabitants. Try to get there.
posted by MovableBookLady at 6:57 PM on April 25, 2017

Came here also to say Pictured Rocks.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:25 AM on April 26, 2017

Take a weekend trip up to Madison, Wisconsin! Visit the National Mustard Museum! Tour New Glarus Brewery! Browse the Dane County Farmer's Market surrounding the state capitol building! Visit the University of Wisconsin and lounge on the Terrace at Memorial Union!
posted by me3dia at 2:50 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

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