Group travelers who seek beautiful waterfront destinations don’t need to fly to California or the East Coast — there’s an abundance of such places in America’s heartland.
These seven Midwest locations, perched on rivers and lakes, offer sun-soaked beaches, riverfront parks and plenty of water sports, historical sites and attractions.
Right across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, Clarksville is best known as the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William Clark’s brother had a home near the site, and the explorers used the area as their home base, recruiting members of the Corps of Discovery from the surrounding settlements.
Groups visiting the area won’t want to miss Falls of the Ohio State Park, a riverside attraction with an interpretive center that explores the geology of the area. Visitors can then walk down to the riverside and explore exposed prehistoric Devonian fossil beds, full of shells, mussels, crinoids and brachiopods. Clarksville’s newest attraction, Origin Park, gives canoers and kayakers access to the only remaining whitewater along the Ohio River and the only stretch of the river that is closed to commercial traffic.
Derby Dinner Playhouse, one of the country’s oldest continuously operating dinner theaters and a top group attraction, offers Broadway musicals and comedies and a buffet meal. Ashland Park, along Clarksville’s riverfront, offers views of downtown Louisville and contains part of the Ohio River Greenway trail, which connects downtown Jeffersonville, Clarksville and downtown New Albany.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Situated on the Cedar River, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, offers many opportunities to get outside and into nature. Groups can rent standup paddleboards or kayaks from SOKO Outfitters in the Czech Village and put in at Prairie Park Fishery or Cedar Lake. They can fish or hike at Pinicon Ridge, or rent canoes or kayaks for a quick trip down the Wapsipinicon River.
Indian Creek Nature Center, one of the most environmentally sustainable buildings in the country, includes a bird sanctuary, exhibits, trails and an outdoor theater. It is a favorite spot for farm-to-table dinners.
The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library has a number of group experience packages, including admission to all exhibits, a movie, a docent-led tour of the Sieger Immigrant Home and a visit to Skala Bartizal Library, which focuses on genealogical research. For an additional fee, groups can add on a box lunch or coffee and kolaches. The Czech Lunch Experience includes the self-guided museum experience, a buffet-style Czech meal and a private space for dining.
Muskegon, Michigan, one of a string of beach towns along the Lake Michigan shoreline, has 26 miles of lakefront (including Pere Marquette Beach), 22 inland lakes and more than 65 miles of trails for walking or biking.
With one of the deepest ports on Muskegon Lake, the city has a rich history in shipping and lumber. Visits to the Muskegon Museum of History and Science, the Muskegon Heritage Museum of Business and Industry, and five historic sites are good ways to learn about its past.
The Hackley and Hume Historic Site is two Queen Anne homes, built side-by-side for two lumber barons. The Hackley and Hume City Barn, which the two families shared, sits between the two residences and features an old carriage and groom living quarters. Two blocks away, the Historic Fire Barn and the Scolnik House can be toured on the same ticket.
There are three light towers and a lighthouse in the county, and two of them are open for tours. The USS Silversides Submarine Museum offers group tours of the World War II submarine, a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter and museum.
Hannibal, Missouri, the boyhood home of author Mark Twain, and the inspiration for many of his books, overlooks the Mississippi River. A one-hour sightseeing tour takes visitors through historic downtown, Riverfront Park and its scenic overlooks of the river and Mark Twain Cave. Hannibal’s riverfront recently underwent a $3 million renovation, making it a nice stop to grab a picnic lunch and watch boat traffic on the river.
Groups can take a one-hour sightseeing cruise or a two-hour dinner cruise with live entertainment on the Mark Twain Riverboat. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, a block from the river, has eight buildings along Main Street and offers a self-guided tour. Twain fans will also want to visit Mark Twain Cave, an inspiration for “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” There are no stairs, and the cave is group friendly.
Rockcliffe Mansion’s hour-long docent-led tours explore the Gilded-Age home. And Molly Brown Birthplace and Museum, Hannibal History Museum and Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center.
Called America’s Little Sweden, Lindstrom’s downtown is a block from South Lindstrom Lake, part of the Chisago Lakes Chain of Lakes. For those who like the outdoors, the Chisago Lakes Water Trail connects 24 small lakes that can be traversed by canoe, kayak or paddleboard. In the winter, visitors can cross country ski, ice fish, snowmobile or snowshoe.
To learn more about the area’s Swedish heritage, groups can visit the 125-acre Allemansrätt Swedish Heritage Wilderness Park and its 14-acre lake, glacial eskers, wetlands, a five-acre island, 33-acre peninsula and 1853 homestead. Many trails traverse the park.
A self-guided Lindstrom Historical Walking Tour passes the city’s historic buildings, Swedish-inspired murals, Swedish signage and famous coffeepot water tower. Gammelgarden Immigrant Heritage Museum, an open-air museum, promotes Swedish immigrant heritage through historic buildings, artifacts, special events and classes. Moody Lake Park Round Barn is another point of interest in Chisago Lake Township.
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Nestled on the lower portion of Lake Winnebago, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, is located between Milwaukee and Green Bay. The lake plays a major role in the community, and its lakeside park has a carousel, miniature train ride, boat rentals, a splash pad for kids and a lighthouse built in 1933. Visitors can try wind and kite surfing or rent pontoon boats, wave runners or a duck boat to get out on the lake.
The city is a mecca for groups that enjoy dining at waterfront restaurants and supper clubs or taking agricultural excursions. They can see homemade ice cream being made at Kelley Country Creamery; the ice cream is handmade from milk produced at the Kelley family’s 200-acre farmstead dairy. The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center shows visitors how their food gets from the field to their table, and Henning’s Cheese and LaClare Family Creamery demonstrate how cheese is made while visitors sample many different varieties.
There are distilleries and wineries to tour and Horicon Marsh, the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States, to explore.
Waukegan, on the shore of Lake Michigan is in Lake County, a region rich in outdoor beauty, with 170 lakes and rivers to enjoy. Groups can visit Illinois Beach State Park in Zion or Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Spring Grove or book a charter fishing expedition. The Illinois Beach Hotel is in the state park and offers many options for outdoor walks and to soak up the sun. Waukegan also has plenty of opportunities for hiking, boating, fishing, bird watching or playing a round of golf. For example, Lake County Forest Preserves alone has nearly 31,000 acres to explore.
Other interesting stops include the Tempel Lipizzans, the world’s largest privately owned herd of Lipizzaner stallions, with performances and behind-the-scenes tours. The Gold Pyramid was built as a home and houses a collection of Egyptian furnishings, artifacts and paintings, including a reproduction of King Tutankhamen’s throne. Groups can tour the first floor and then sample some Gold Pyramid water or premium vodka. The Genesee Theatre, a restored 1920s movie palace, hosts concerts, plays and films. It offers private tours for groups and a Ghost Walk in October.