Heartland Outdoors: Versatile Hunter

Outdoor Recreation Destinations

Tuesday, January 02

It used to be that trip planning was all about what I wanted to do (hunting, fishing, etc. . ) and/or what my wife wanted to do (beaches and outdoors recreation).  Planning trips these days is all about the family. As we go about this planning, I’ve read about and talked to families about so many great outdoors spots that I’ve kept a small list when I hear something that catches our attention and/or that we visit ourselves. 

With really young kids (ours are 2 and 5), I’ll make this blog a little more specific to the Midwest which means it’s slightly more tolerable on drives (are we there yet??).

Southern Ozark Mountains-This generically covers everything from the beautiful rivers and lakes of the Ozarks in Missouri to Branson.  So many different things to do outdoors.  Take your pick of crystal clear rivers to float and fish for trout (Black, Current, North Fork of the White, White, Buffalo in Arkansas, etc. . . ) to the three amazingly crystal clear and yet uncrowded lakes (Norfork, Bull Shoals, Table Rock).  The lakes are also crystal clear and if you are a water sports person there are none that compare.  This is also an awesome place to rent a house boat.  We grew up spending summers in this area and my family still has a house on the beautifully preserved Bull Shoals Lake.  Development is generally not allowed within so close to the lake as the Corps of Engineers owns that forested buffer. Branson and of course, the Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Springfield are within short drives and well worth the drive.  Check out the new Wonders of Wildlife exhibit for an adventure I’m certain will blow away your expectations on natural history (both living and dead).

Lake of the Ozarks-I’m sure this lake once looked and felt like the three lakes I write about above but it is now much more of a party atmosphere (also cool if you’re into that).  The water is not nearly as clear but the things for the kids to do (like the many family-friendly restaurants on the water) are still dynamite.  Don’t even think about bringing a smaller boat out onto the main lake.  Millionaire yachts throw up huge wakes on busy weekends. Find the coves to avoid big boat swells and better opportunity for water sports.

Wisconsin Dells-A family favorite since I was a kid and we’ve now planned trips to this area two seasons in a row.  We prefer to stay off the main water parks and then water taxi in (Wilderness Resort is our favorite spot).  From the on and off road/river army ducks to the deer park and more—kid’s things to do are more than you can fill a weekend with. . . .

Northern Wisconsin—What I love about northern Wisconsin in the summer are the cool night time temps which means that outdoors campfires still make sense all while swimming during the day.  Camping is also still enjoyable throughout the summer.  Float and white water trips down the many beautiful and well-preserved rivers (Wolf, Peshtigo, Black, Flambeau) to flowage camping and fishing trips on islands, cabin and pontoon rentals and more.  If you are an outdoors family, the north woods are hard to beat. Check out the Flambeau flowage on state-run parks for island camping like you’ve never experienced before.

Michigan beaches—Want beautiful beaches that might rival going to Florida but are within 6 hours drive time from central Illinois?  Check out the west coast of Michigan.  From the more popular Holland, Grand Haven areas up to the Traverse City area that has both beaches and plenty of local wineries and breweries for mom and dad to check out, the beaches and family stuff to do will keep everyone happy.  We stayed in the Hart area and also spent time renting Jeeps to ride on the many incredible recreational dune areas.  Seeing a 250,000$ long carriage dune buggy hit 100 miles an hour on sand is quite the site and even the Jeep rental trip near Hart, MI had our entire family’s hearts pounding.  Trust me—its more adventure than what you think when you sign up—and that’s a good thing! There are also slightly slower and milder options for cruising the dunes but they’re a blast. . . . One beware—the water temps in Lake Michigan in mid-summer are still really cold.  Finding beaches with inland lakes discharging to Lake Michigan were the trick.  Duck Lake State Park was our favorite.

I’ve given you some of our family’s favorite trips—what are yours??

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