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Weekend Wonders of the Midwest

Nebraska City, Nebraska

Nebraska City is about an hour’s drive south of Omaha, and much of its tourism revolves around trees.

“Arbor Day is a big deal in Nebraska City,” said Amy Allgood, executive director of Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce.

That’s because J. Sterling Morton founded Arbor Day there; it’s estimated that nearly a million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day in April 1872. The 72-acre Arbor Lodge State Historical Park is Morton’s original estate, and costumed docents guide groups through the historic 52-room mansion, which includes a bowling alley in the basement.

Arbor Day Farm covers 260 acres and includes the 140-room Lied Lodge and Conference Center, both owned by the Arbor Day Foundation. The farm’s Tree Adventure includes interpretive trails, a 50-foot-high treehouse and a trip to the greenhouse to get a free tree. The Discovery Ride is an hourlong, tractor-pulled tram tour that takes guests past orchards and vineyards, over bridges and through the woods.

At the farm’s Apple House Market, visitors can buy jams, jellies, pies, apple cider and vinegar; most can’t pass up the famous apple slushies, which come with a scoop of ice cream and caramel drizzle, Allgood said. At Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard or Union Orchard, visitors can pick all kinds of fruit, eat apple doughnuts and sample wines.

With wood-beam ceilings and stacked-stone walls, Lied Lodge looks historic, but it opened in 1993. On-site exhibits educate guests about the property’s sustainability efforts, including the woodchip-powered biomass system.

Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth sits on the far western tip of Lake Superior, and “it’s stunning,” said Kim Kervina, sales manager with Visit Duluth. “It’s a city with a resort feel.”

The hub of the city’s lake-related activities, Canal Park, is in the revitalized warehouse district that’s now home to restaurants, boutiques and breweries.

Groups can tour the free Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center to learn about Lake Superior’s history, which includes the iron ore business and the Soo Locks system that allows ships to travel to the lower Great Lakes. It’s also a popular spot to watch ships enter the harbor and pass beneath the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge, and the museum even offers a mobile app so visitors can track vessels as they come and go.

A couple of blocks from the visitors center, groups can tour the permanently docked 1937 SS William A. Irvin ore boat museum.

Canal Park is also a midpoint on the four-mile-long Duluth Lakewalk, a paved recreation path that follows the lakeshore and fronts downtown Duluth. Lakewalk is a popular spot for bicyclists, pedicabs, Segway tours and carriage rides. Along the way, visitors can enjoy the Waterfront Sculpture Park.

Vista Fleet offers narrated sightseeing and dinner cruises on the Vista Star, which can hold up to 300 people, and the smaller, 75-passenger Vista Queen. Groups can also explore the lake by land during a trip on the North Shore Scenic Railroad.