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10 budget-friendly adventures across the midwest
Outside exploration close to home became a popular alternative for conventional vacations this year providing a safe and creative chance to rediscover (or even discover for the first time) our own backyards. While travel may look different, there are plenty of safe and distanced ways to find fun and adventure. The Midwest is a treasure trove of unique experiences for every age with a range of exciting opportunities and beautiful landscapes. The Midwest is known for four very distinct seasons and many of the experiences can be enjoyed with a whole new perspective based on season (though some are strictly seasonal) These ten destinations in six Midwest states provide a range of options …from National parks to local U-pick farms, avoiding indoor crowds opting instead for wide open outdoor spaces. 1. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana. This beach in the middle of the country has a surprising ocean vibe with opportunities to hike, swim, camp, fish, and bird watch. The park offers the “3 dune challenge”, a hike involving a 1.5 mile trail with a 552 vertical feet climb (equivalent of 55 stories) to the 3 highest dunes in the park…through sand!! The views are worth the climb and completion of the hike is an accomplishment in itself. Admission is 7-12$ per vehicle. Starved Rocks State Park, Illinois. Photo by: Vigil Photography. Flickr creative commons license. 2. Matthiessen and Starved Rock State Parks, Illinois. These parks, within a few miles of each other, offer trails that lead to spectacular displays of bluffs and canyons highlighted with scenic overlooks, rock formations and waterfalls. In the summertime, the waterfalls provide a cool respite from the hike and in the winter ice falls form and are climbable. Admission is free. Elephant Rocks State Park. Photo by: Miguel Acosta. Flickr Creative Commons License. 3. Johnson’s Shut Ins and Elephant Rocks State Parks, Missouri. These parks, also within a few miles of each other, are both truly hidden gems. Johnsons Shut Ins is essentially a natural water park with chutes, slides and waterfalls as well as swimming holes and rocks to climb. This adventure is truly one of a kind – a stunning destination to see and experience. Elephant Rocks State Park is made of giant elephantine boulders that are available to climb and explore. The park provides an accessible trail. Both are free. Maquoketa Caves State Park. Photo by: Phil Roeder. Flickr Creative Commons license. 4. Maquoketa Caves State Park, Iowa. A unique park in Iowa with 13 caves suited for different levels of exploration, from caves that are lighted and large enough to walk through on a boardwalk…to small caves well suited for spelunking. The park provides hiking trails through rocky canyons and a spectacular natural bridge. *For added fun, 61 Drive In Theater (just miles from the caves) is a fun way to end the day…a throwback to time gone by, the drive in usually offers current double features, a playground for children before the movie, a concession stand and a train ride. The caves are free. The drive in ranges in price from 7-9$ for children and adults. 5. Drive the Great River Road. A natural scenic byway passing through 10 states along the 3000 mile Mississippi River. In Illinois, a day’s drive might start in the quaint artsy town of Galena to enjoy the vibrant main street shopping and eateries. After which, drive along the river to Palisades State Park to hike the bluffed overlook enjoying the views. Continue with a stop in the Quad Cities, the only place where the mighty Mississippi runs east to west instead of north to south. The Quad Cities are home to John Deere world headquarters and pavilion where construction and agricultural machinery is often available to view on their outdoor terrace. A paddlewheel riverboat cruise is reminiscent of simpler times depicted by Mark Twain in his life and writings on the Mississippi and a perfect way to enjoy the third longest river in the world. End the evening on the sky bridge with a sweet corn flavored ice cream watching the sunset . All free with exception of the cruise (and the ice cream.) 6. Henry Doorly Zoo, Nebraska. This zoo was a wonderful Midwest surprise (similar to the inland beach), as this zoo is constantly ranked as one of the best on the world and is right here in the middle of the country. The zoo has a variety of specialized exhibits including an aquarium, butterfly enclosure and creatures of the night display. The animal population ranges from polar bears and penguins to gorillas, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and mesmerizing jellyfish. Price is $18.95-$25.95 for a child or adult. 7. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. While this one may be more crowded and a bit pricier – it most definitely deserves a spot in the top ten. From idyllic natural scenery to thrilling water adventures, the Dells is a must see destination. Self proclaimed water park capital of the world, the dells offer water sports, waterslides, museums, amusement parks, and the original duck boat ride – which takes passengers from land to sea on the same craft. The majestic scenery of the sandstone bluffs and the opportunity to explore natural beauty of Witches Gulch or Devil’s Lake State Park is not to be missed. Prices vary depending on activity. 8. Monticello Iowa Canoe Company, Iowa For an afternoon of canoeing, kayaking, or tubing down the Maquoketa River through beautiful bluffs – truly a memorable way to enjoy a sunny summer day. The company provides a bus ride or covid friendly van ride for small groups or families to the beginning of the float and collects the rented equipment at the end of the float leaving only relaxation time for the floaters. 3-6 hours float for 15-30$ depending on canoe, kayak, or tube rental. Chestnut Mountain, Galena. Photo by: Alan Light. Flickr Creative Commons license 9. Sky Tours Zipline, Iowa. This most unique adventure combines adventure with history and nature. A guided tour through the ruins of an entertainment venue from the early 1900’s including hiking through the natural overgrowth and nine ziplining opportunities. 74$ for the ziplining tour lasting approximately 2 hours. *To extend the day’s adventures, nearby in Galena Illinois is Chestnut Mountain which is home to one of the Midwest’s “alpine” slides providing approximately 2000 feet of downhill fun! The tri- state views from the top of the mountain are spectacular and the slide is thrilling way to spend an afternoon. Prices are 10$ per ride or multiple ride passes may be purchased too. 10. U-pick farms. An afternoon to relax and enjoy nature’s harvests is a perfect way to pass the day. The farms are local and seasonal but opportunities to spend an afternoon in an orchard or field are plentiful in the Midwest. Options range from picking flowers, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, pumpkins, and even Christmas trees depending on the time of year. The harvests of the day can be enjoyed long after with fresh bouquets, delicious homemade pies and pumpkin carving or the fresh pine smell of a real Christmas tree for the holidays, An afternoon at a local vineyard can be truly heavenly with friends or as a romantic getaway…a time to enjoy this unique time in history secluded with the ones you love. Miss Effie’s Country Flowers – first You pick flower farm in Iowa – Donahue, Iowa. Pride of the Wapsi – Pumpkins and sunflowers Long Grove IA Wilson’s Orchard and Farms (apples) Iowa City Iowa Shady Knoll Pumpkin Patch Moline IL Lakeside Pines (Christmas trees) – Hillsdale IL Galena Cellars – vineyard and winery Galena IL Prices vary
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Davenport is a city in and the county seat of Scott County, Iowa, United States. It is located along the Mississippi River on the eastern border of the state, and is the largest of the Quad Cities, a metropolitan area with a population estimate of 382,630 and a CSA population of 474,226; it is the 90th largest CSA in the nation. Davenport was founded on May 14, 1836 by Antoine Le Claire and was named for his friend George Davenport, a former English sailor who served in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812, served as a supplier Fort Armstrong, worked as a fur trader with the American Fur Company, and was appointed a quartermaster with the rank of colonel during the Black Hawk War. According to the 2010 census, the city had a population of 99,685 (making it Iowa's third-largest city). The city appealed this figure, arguing that the Census Bureau missed a section of residents, and that its total population was more than 100,000. The Census Bureau estimated Davenport's 2019 population to be 101,590.Located approximately halfway between Chicago and Des Moines, Davenport is on the border of Iowa across the river from Illinois. The city is prone to frequent flooding due to its location on the Mississippi River. There are two main universities: St. Ambrose University and Palmer College of Chiropractic, where the first chiropractic adjustment took place. Several annual music festivals take place in Davenport, including the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, the Mississippi Valley Fair, and the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival. An internationally known 7-mile (11 km) foot race, called the Bix 7, is run during the festival. The city has a Class A minor-league baseball team, the Quad Cities River Bandits. Davenport has 50 plus parks and facilities, as well as more than 20 miles (32 km) of recreational paths for biking or walking. Three interstates, 80, 74 and 280, and two major United States Highways serve the city. Davenport has seen steady population growth since its incorporation. National economic difficulties in the 1980s resulted in job and population losses. The Quad Cities was ranked as the most affordable metropolitan area in 2010 by Forbes magazine. In 2007, Davenport, along with neighboring Rock Island, won the City Livability Award in the small-city category from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In 2012, Davenport, and the Quad Cities Metropolitan Area, was ranked among the fastest-growing areas in the nation in the growth of high-tech jobs. Notable natives of the city have included jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Susan Glaspell, former National Football League running back Roger Craig, UFC Welterweight Champion Pat Miletich, IBF Middleweight and WBA Super Middleweight boxing champion Michael Nunn, and former two time WWE Champion and WWE Universal Champion Seth Rollins.
LeClaire is a city in Scott County, Iowa, United States. The population was 4,710 in 2020, a 65.4% increase from 2,847 in 2000, making it one of the fastest growing communities in the Quad Cities.LeClaire is considered a suburb and part of the Quad Cities Metropolitan Area, which include the area of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline, Illinois.
Muscatine is a city in Muscatine County, Iowa, United States. The population was 23,797 at the time of the 2020 census, an increase from 22,697 in 2000. The county seat of Muscatine County, it is located along the Mississippi River. The local business association states that the name Muscatine is not used by any other community.Muscatine is the principal city of the Muscatine Micropolitan Statistical Area (2010 census population 54,132) as of 2011 the estimate was 54,184, which includes all of Muscatine and Louisa counties, making it the 208th-largest micropolitan statistical area.
Clinton is a city in, and the county seat of, Clinton County, Iowa, United States. The population was 24,469 as of 2020. Clinton, along with DeWitt (also located in Clinton County), was named in honor of the sixth governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton. Clinton is the principal city of the Clinton Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is coterminous with Clinton County. Clinton was incorporated on January 26, 1857.