5 Late Fall Midwestern Getaways
Happy November! I hope All Hallow’s Eve went without any ghoulish surprises this year and was lots of fun. Now that November is here, fall is in its final few weeks. The leaves are falling rapidly, the colors have changed, and the weather has turned much more brisk. It’s delightful! With four weeks left until Thanksgiving and four weeks between T-Day and Christmas, now is the time to plan a last-minute fall getaway. With limited time to spare, a getaway that’s closer to home makes much more sense. For those of you Chicago-based or Midwest-based, I have five late fall getaways to put on your calendar. It’s a great time to travel to any of these locations because the height of tourist season is over. Rates are dropping and crowds are thinning. Take this as an opportunity to explore each of these Midwestern destinations at your own leisure.
The state capitol of Wisconsin, Madison is better known as the home of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, often called the #1 college football town in America. Considering we’re in the thick of football season, there’s not better time than now to grab a pair of tickets and head to a Madison home football game. It seems to be an experience not to miss if the opportunity presents itself. Besides seriously intense football games, there’s plenty to do in Madison for a long weekend getaway. For starters, the local food scene is something to dig right into with the local and sustainable practices used throughout the city. Take a stroll down State Street and get to know the local culture and personality. The pedestrian walkway provides a direct path from the capitol building to the university leaving it impossible for those who are direction challenged from getting lost. Sample local beer, attend a farm-to-table dinner, and take a bite out of the best mac and cheese. Between being one of the most walkable cities and being one of America’s friendliest cities, there are hardly any reasons why Madison shouldn’t be on your fall travel list, especially when you just have a few days to get away.
For those who are like me and hate the heat, late fall is the perfect time to head south. Music City, in particular will be in the height of its fall season throughout November! Visit before the holiday crowds descend during the lull between busy seasons. Nashville has an endless number of things to discover from legendary local institutions like the Bluebird to architectural beauties representing a different part of the world such as the Parthenon. Hopefully you are at least a small time country music fan because you’ll find quite a bit of that represented in Nashville, mostly at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Music Row, and Grand Ole Opry.
Tour plantations and house museums like The Hermitage and the Belmont Mansion which was built by one of the wealthiest women in the antebellum South. Visit traditional museums dedicated to music and individuals along with old studios which have been restored and turned into museums in their own right. If you’re traveling with friends, have a night on the town at Printer’s Alley. Originally the part of town where newspapers were printed and books were published, Printer’s Alley is now a hub to bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Nature lovers can breathe easy away from the city at one of the many parks and hiking trails. With the Smoky Mountains not far away, a drive to the actual mountains isn’t out of the question but for a closer outdoor adventure, try the Warner Parks, Centennial Park where the Parthenon is located, Beaman Park with over five miles of trails, and more. There’s something for everyone in Music City and with a central location, it’s not hard to get to either!
When in Omaha, start in the Old Market. The heart of the city, the Old Market is home to brick-paved streets, local coffee shops, top-notch dining, and more. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride over cobblestone streets for a bumpy but romanticized experience of the city. Head to the Joslyn Art Museum to see 19th and 20th century European and American art from the likes of Monet, Degas, and more. You can’t beat the free admission! The riverfront along the Missouri River has been through and continues to see lots of development making it the spot to visit. Take a walk over a large pedestrian bridge across state lines to Iowa if you have the stomach for walking hundreds of feet in the air over water. Or, you could just stay on the Nebraska side of the river and take a look at the shops and restaurants the beautiful city of Omaha has to offer. In case you’re not sold on a visit to Omaha, this article from The Globe and Mail was a fun read that’ll have you booking a trip soon!
Two Harbors, MN
I may be a city girl but I can appreciate the beauty of nature as long as my accommodations are comfortable. Two Harbors is the #1 spot on this list for nature lovers. There are numerous national parks, hiking trails, and outdoor experiences to be had. From an iconic lighthouse up on a rocky cliff to the Northern lights, this is a destination that would get even the most stubborn city people to visit. Located on the Northeastern edge of the state right on Lake Superior, Two Harbors is a fairly small town but the general North Shore area has plenty to fill a long weekend. Take a drive along the waterfront for gorgeous views of the lake, visit the Two Harbors downtown area for shopping, restaurants and a small town experience, and embark on an adventure on one of the many different trails. The North Shore has a total of eight state parks where you’ll find several breathtaking waterfalls. Some of them are a bit of a hike so be prepared for a drive depending on where you stay but they’re well worth it.
Let’s get to the two main reasons Two Harbors is on this list though: the Split Rock Lighthouse and Northern Lights. The Northern Lights always felt out of reach to me so knowing that there’s an opportunity to see them not far away makes this destination even more tempting. The famous lights are best to see on a clear night looking towards the north. The farther you head from the city, the better your chances of getting a peek at the lights are. Did you know that Split Rock Lighthouse was used in Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio in 2013? It’s true! Split Rock Lighthouse sits atop a rugged, rocky cliff and was originally built in the 1920s. The lighthouse is taken great care of to maintain a realistic representation of what it would have been like to visit back in time. Take a tour to learn the history and hear stories from the past, hike the grounds around the state park, and get photos of the lighthouse overlooking Lake Superior.
Traverse City, MI
Traverse City is surprisingly in the thick of a rich wine area. Many vineyards and wineries in Michigan can be found within the Traverse City limits including the town itself. With that said, now is a great time to try some of the latest varietals from the recent harvest or crack open a bottle of red from years past. Normally a bustling summer town, the crowds have lessened by this time of year and while the weather can get quite cold, the final days and weeks of fall are still beautiful. Driving from town to town in the Traverse City area, you’ll discover one small town after the other all with different things to offer. Take a ferry over to Beaver Island where you’ll be greeted by welcoming locals. Walk along Front Street where you’ll find boutiques, galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, concert venues, and more. The store fronts are picturesque and embody the ultimate small town feel. While I wouldn’t recommend leaving without doing at least one wine tasting, the Traverse City Ale Trail is famous as well even at one point being named one of the seven top beer destinations in America by the Travel Channel. For more inspiration on how to spend a weekend in Traverse City, the New York Times laid out their ideal itinerary and there are quite a few wonderful recommendations.