In the Midwest, upscale resorts are unified by much more than their high-thread-count sheets, well-stocked wine cellars and friendly, detailed service. Many not only take advantage of the diverse scenery and natural resources of the region, but also offer unparalleled access to some of the Midwest’s most beautiful places, including national and state parks.
Some resorts, such as Mackinac Island’s Mission Point Resort and Gervasi Vineyard, front on protected parkland. Others, like Honey Creek Resort, were built in concert with the state to provide a one-of-a-kind on-site experience.
Some resorts provide private access to coveted natural spaces. In Nebraska, the Prairie Club borders one of the country’s most scenic rivers, and Ludlow’s Island Resort in Minnesota allows guests to stay in the middle of one of the northern lakes.
Honey Creek Resort State Park
Rathbun Lake, Iowa
The 5-year-old Honey Creek Resort was built by the state of Iowa in an 800-acre state park on the shores of Rathbun Lake to provide a luxury retreat in line with the highest eco-building and operating standards.
From the Audubon-certified golf course to the LEED-certified buildings, on-site wind turbines and solar water heaters, Honey Creek offers visitors an unusual opportunity to learn about sustainability in a luxury domestic setting. “When TripAdvisor was setting up their green standards, we were one of the few properties they reached out to for advice,” said Andy Woodrick, the resort’s general manager.
Though the resort itself is a great eco-learning opportunity, with interactive kiosks in the lobby introducing the resort’s green features, one of the high points of a visit to Honey Creek is getting out into the state park. In the summer, a team of full-time naturalists give kayak and fishing lessons, organize geocaching or scavenger hunts around the park and lead guided hikes on the resort’s miles of hiking trails.
Groups should book one year ahead for the busy corporate-event season in May, June and September, and “summer weekends fill very early, especially in the cottages, because we do a lot of reunions and that kind of business,” Woodrick said.
Ludlow’s Island Resort on Lake Vermilion
For groups looking to tour the northern lake region, there are many accommodation options, but Ludlow’s Island Resort takes a different tack: Rather than staying near the lake, why not stay around it?
With 20 cabins ranging from one to five bedrooms on and around Ludlow’s Island, the resort offers groups an easy way to have a space of their own.
“All cabins are spaced out. They’re not right on top of each other, so you feel like you have your own cabin in the woods; but in the large cabins, 20 people can easily congregate in the common area,” said resort owner Mark Ludlow.
Groups can also reserve larger public areas for group activities and private dining.
“Being on an island, a lot of groups use us as a home base to explore the area and take day trips,” said Ludlow. “Most groups spend three nights at least, and I like to find out their entire itinerary so I can help them make a circle route.”
Ludlow recommends that groups tour an underground iron mine close to the resort that dates back to 1885. Also in the area is a co-located particle accelerator; there, scientists give tours of a facility where they research negative matter by shooting particles to Chicago in a fraction of a second.
“Sometimes a group of 30 or 40 will head out in two or three different directions,” said Ludlow.