From volcanic sandstone cliffs and scenic rivers to pine forests and plains, the Midwest is an outdoor-lover’s paradise. Adventurous groups can canoe into one of the most pristine wildernesses in the country, relax on a guided riverboat cruise or hop on horses or mountain bikes to see what awaits on rugged backcountry trails.
River Point Resort and Outfitting Company
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota is one of the most-visited natural areas of its kind in the U.S., with 150,000 annual visitors. What makes the area special is it is made up of numerous lakes and rivers connected by short trails. No mechanized vehicles are allowed.
River Point Resort and Outfitting Company is primely situated on a mile of coastline on the South Kawishiwi River. The serene water and breathtaking views allow groups to quickly get away from it all and still get pampered along the way.
“People need to get away to these places that are special so they can decompress and get their balance back in place,” said Jane Koschak, owner of the company.
The River Point Resort is the jumping-off point for all guided canoe trips. Groups can book rooms in the resort’s bunkhouses or chalets before their scheduled canoe trips and meet with their guides to map out a preferred route through the Boundary Waters. They also can take advantage of the resort’s amenities, like fishing, paddleboating, kayaking and canoeing. If visitors have never paddled a canoe, the resort’s staff will take them out in the protected bay area to teach them.
Visitors of all ages and experience levels can canoe the boundary waters. All meals are included in the trip, and River Point Resort and Outfitting Company provides all the necessary gear.
Keweenaw Adventure Company
Copper Harbor, Michigan
Keweenaw Adventure Company is a small guided outfitting company that offers both sea kayaking and world-class mountain biking tours in Copper Harbor, Michigan, a small town on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior. The peninsula was formed by ancient volcanoes, so everything in the area is rocky and rugged, said Sam Raymond, president of the company.
Group adventures can include a combination of sea kayaking, hiking or mountain biking. Mountain biking trails in the area are moderate to difficult, but Raymond and his staff offer a 2.5-hour introduction to mountain biking tour that includes basic instruction and time to ride some easier trails.
The sea kayaking is a little more laid-back for people who want to enjoy the scenery without exerting themselves too much. They get a front row seat to the rocky and rugged shorelines and the remnants of ancient volcanoes that can be seen beneath the boat through crystal-clear water.
The tours point out arches, sea caves and sea stacks as groups paddle in the area. The town can accommodate 1,000 visitors, and there are several great trails, nature sanctuaries and preserves in the area.
Dells Boat Tours
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
The Dells of the Wisconsin River are glacially formed sandstone gorges and rock formations that are a major tourist attraction. The best way to see the Dells is by boat, and Dells Boat Tours offers tours for groups of 35 to 175 people.
In the Upper Dells portion of the river, all the land is protected. There are no hotels or big resorts on the water. It is beautiful, pristine wilderness, said Stephanie Gunderson, group sales manager for Dells Boat Tours.
“We traverse that part of the river and tell you the history of tourism in the Wisconsin Dells,” she said.
The tour allows guests to make two shore stops along the way: one at Witches Gulch canyon and the other at Stand Rock, a large pillar of sandstone that looks like a tall cocktail table. Both locations are accessible only through Dells Boat Tours. The canyon takes visitors on winding walkways through narrow rock canyons.
River City Star
The River City Star, a 1940s-era paddle-wheel-style riverboat based in Omaha, Nebraska, plies the Missouri River.
“It looks like a paddle wheeler, but the Missouri River has the fastest current of any river its size, so ours is a look-alike paddle wheeler with jet engines,” said Tami Bader, director of fun and general manager for the company.
The riverboat has two levels. The lower level is fully enclosed with seating, a bar and restrooms. The upper level is where the captain’s pilot house is located, and guests can take advantage of the open-air seating. The riverboat holds up to 145 people.
The River City Star offers one-hour scenic river cruises as well as lunch, dinner and party cruises. The party cruises include a happy hour with a band. Private groups can book the entire riverboat. The ride takes guests north past Freedom Park, a U.S. Naval Museum that is home to the USS Marlin SST-2 Submarine and the USS Hazard AM-240 Minesweeper, to the old Illinois Central Missouri River Bridge, which was once the longest-working double-swing railway bridge in the world. The cruise also goes under the Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which allows people to walk between the Nebraska and Iowa border, and then travels past the Omaha and Council Bluffs riverfronts.
Sightseeing cruises include a running narration from the captain. On the lunch cruises, the River City Star offers passengers a deli buffet, and the dinner cruises offer a two-entree dinner buffet with live entertainment.
Millbrook Trail Rides
Millbrook Trail Rides is on a farm that shares borders with a local forest preserve. It offers guided horseback-riding trips and hayrides, as well as a petting zoo with goats, potbelly pigs and miniature horses. Visitors can also learn how to groom horses and how to tack up horses.
The two-hour rides start out on the farm and take riders through the farm’s pasture and fields to the forest preserve, which has a rugged trail. The trail ends up paralleling the Fox River before it heads back to the farm. The tractor-pulled hayride lets its 15 passengers sit in hayracks instead of enclosed carts. The hayride takes guests through the water and even through a cattle herd.
Close to Yorkville, Aurora and Joliet, Illinois, Millbrook Trail Rides gets a lot of visitors from Chicago. Guests don’t need riding experience, but they do need to be physically healthy and have no problem with balance, said Meredith Sleezer, manager at Millbrook Trail Rides.
“We’re close to the suburbs but rural enough that people do feel like they are getting a really authentic experience,” she said.
The farm is close to Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area and a Jellystone Park campground, and many group travelers will coordinate a full day’s tour of the area with a trail or hayride at Millbrook as part of their itinerary.