Dear friend,

I hope this finds you and yours healthy, happy, and relatively sane considering the state of the world!  

Most of us are trying to squeeze as much outdoor time from these remaining months as possible.  Mother Nature can provide us glorious warm weather one day and slapping us with freezing rain the next.  I guess what I’m saying is, “GET OUT THERE WHILE THE GETTING’S GOOD!”

I’ve always felt that to truly enjoy fall, one must come to terms with the fact that it’s really pretty basic.  Fall isn’t cool or earth-shattering, it’s about getting back to our roots and embracing the simple pleasures in life.  We’ve all had to shift into this mindset during the pandemic, and I believe it’s a silver lining in this uncertain time.

In years past, we compiled a list of action-packed pumpkin farms, but with social distancing, many of us may be uncomfortable in these situations.  This year we’ve provided you with options that may require more transportation time, but will provide lots of wide-open space.

Below you’ll find a list of apple and pumpkin farms where you can get your Autumn fix.  All have social distancing protocols in place, require masks and have reduced the number of daily visitors. 

DON’T FORGET… our 14th annual Pumpkin Carving Contest is next month, so stock up on holiday gourds to carve up for the contest.  We’ve got additional categories, prizes and more in store this year so stock up!

Kuipers Family Farm

Distance from city: 50 miles
1N318 Watson Rd., Maple Park (815-827-5200 or kuipersfamilyfarm.com)

PRO TIP: While apple picking season began Aug. 22, the pumpkin farm fun opened Sep. 19. Orchard is open for picking only Saturday and Sunday. Be sure to call ahead to make sure the extra activities are open before making the drive and reserve tickets online. Please review their COVID safety procedures before visiting. Also, strollers, wagons and backpacks are not allowed in the orchard.

Jonamac Orchard

Distance from city: 70 miles
19412 Shabbona Rd., Malta (815-825-2158 or jonamacorchard.com)

PRO TIP: Jonamac’s Store & Bakery and Cider House opened Aug. 19 and apple-picking begins Aug. 29. Orchard is open for picking only Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available online. Please read their COVID information page prior to visiting. 

County Line Orchard

Distance from city: 45 miles
200 S. County Line Rd., Hobart, IN (219-947-4477 or countylineorchard.com)

PRO TIP: Apple-picking season is in full swing as of Sept. 2nd and reservations are NOT accepted, so go early or during the week to beat the crowds. Please read their COVID information page prior to visiting. 

Heinz Orchard

Distance from city: 40 miles
1050 Crest Rd., Green Oaks (847-770-3449 or heinzorchard.com)

PRO TIP: No Frills orchard. Picking begins mid-September. Many of their apples are smaller in size this year due to the weather. Check their website before visiting for updates on the ripening schedule and hours. Due to the pandemic, they will not be hosting large groups.

Royal Oak Farm

Distance from city: 76 miles
15908 Hebron Rd., Harvard (815-648-4141 or royaloakfarmorchard.com)

PRO TIP: 120 acres with 16,000 apples trees and 30 varieties makes this possibly the biggest orchard near Chicago. Make sure to check out their updated schedule of apples when ready for picking as many are not predicted until early October.

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If you’re like us, these months of quarantine have put you in an antsy state – looking to get out and do something while still protecting yourself and others around you.  Maybe you finally started taking advantage of the hundreds of nature preserves in or around the city.  Or maybe you’ve revived the “Sunday Drive” and explored back roads and small towns.  Regardless, we could all use a little time away.

That’s why we at Chicago Home Partner have pulled together another Top 10 list highlighting some of the best small towns, hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path places that you should consider checking out this summer. 

Many, (if not all), of these selections have three things in common:

  1. They are within a half-day drive of the city.
  2. They are great for those with or without kids.
  3. They provide some great outdoor activities with lots of room to roam.

We’ve tried to select less popular destinations which should avoid major crowds, but as with everything, we’re in uncharted territory right now.  You should be able to practice social distancing if planned ahead of time.

So, take and look, see if anything grabs your interest, and feel free to reach out to me for insight. 

** Remember, wear your masks in public areas, wash your hands often and practice safe social distancing. You’re not only protecting yourself but also being respectful to locals who live and work in these charming spots **

ILLINOIS

Shawnee National Forest – 6 hr. drive (Southern IL)

Garden of the Gods, Cave in the Rock and the only land bridge in Illinois await you in the Shawnee forest. This 280,000 acre reserve is home to waterfalls, unusual sandstone rock formations, swimming holes and trees lush with leaves that will help everyone keep their cool on a hot summer day or will dazzle with bursts of color in autumn – they’ve got you covered. Cabins and campgrounds are all nearby with a great list on their website.

Apple River Canyon – 2.5 hr. drive (Outside of Galena)

Apple River Canyon State Park is in the hilly northwest corner of Illinois in near the Wisconsin border. Limestone bluffs, deep ravines, springs, streams and wildlife characterize this area and make for a great natural amusement park. Lodging can be found in nearby Galena, Elizabeth and Stockton with campgrounds, B&Bs and VRBO listings plentiful.

INDIANA

Chesterton / Indiana Dunes – 1 hr drive (Southeast of Chicago)

Sand, shore, and the space to breathe—over 2,000 acres of it! This is a place shaped by thousands of years of shifting landscapes. Splash around in Lake Michigan, bound up towering sand dunes, or explore beautiful trails on foot or on your bike. Escape the mundane on these storied shores. This can easily be a day-trip or longer with easy lodging at many nearby towns.

IOWA

Decorah – 5 hr drive (Northwest of Dubuque)

“Is this heaven? No, it’s Decorah.” This is the town slogan and may be true as anyone who’s visited there in the past will attest. Be wowed by the limestone bluff surrounding the town and crystal-clear waters of the Upper Iowa river. Miles and miles of mountain bike trails are all accessible from town. Float the river in a canoe, kayak or inner tube. This quaint town has everything you could want in a place you’ve probably never heard of.

WISCONSIN

Mineral Point – 3 hr drive (Southwest Wisconsin)

Looking for more of a town that’s in the center of things to do? Welcome to Mineral Point, located in the breathtaking driftless area of SouthWest Wisconsin. Filled with sweet, tiny art galleries and pottery studios this quaint town is located just miles away from 3 amazing parks which bring a little something for everyone.

Fish Creek – 4.5 hr drive (Northern Door County)

Possibly the cutest part of Door County, Fish Creek has been entertaining families from Chicago for years – and not even Covid can slow that down. Hundreds of miles of scenic trails and Niagara Escarpment shoreline reveal new adventures at every turn. Rent a kayak, boat or bicycle, take a tour or simply stroll by the lakeside or through our beautiful back yard, Peninsula State Park.

Baraboo / Devils Lake State Park – 3 hr drive (Southeast Wisconsin)

Although Devil’s Lake is Wisconsin’s most popular state park, there are over 27,000 acres to get lost and explore. Fish Devils Lake. Hike till you can hike no more. Kayak and swim in the refreshing waters. Baraboo offers close proximity to Devil’s Lake, Lake Wisconsin and more – all within a 3 hour drive of Chicago.

Sheboygan/Kohler – 2.5 hr (North of Milwaukee)

Dubbed by the surf crowd as the “Malibu of the Midwest,” Sheboygan is a freshwater haven, an outdoor lover’s playground, and a fisherman’s sunrise glory.  Steeped in history, local art and some of the best golf in the nation – this area is not to be missed if you’re looking for a more populated get away this summer.

MICHIGAN

Saugatuck / Douglas – 2.5 hr drive (North of New Buffalo)

Looking for some lakefront but want to avoid the crowds of New Buffalo? Keep heading North until you come to the towns of Saugatuck and Douglas plant your flag. This area is a natural playground for outdoor adventure and things to do with family and friends. Our rolling dunes, Lake Michigan beaches, winding waterways, and network of trails reward you with Instagram-worthy views and bragging rights around every corner.

Petosky / Charlevoix / Harbor Springs – 6hr drive (North of Traverse City)

North of Traverse City, neighboring the U.P. of Michigan are the beach towns of Petoskey, Charlevoix and Harbor Springs. Extensive biking and hiking trails, world-class golf courses, and outdoor recreational opportunities are just waiting for you.

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