Sub-freezing temps in recent years have made the ice caves on Lake Superior explorable—and a record number of visitors have reaped the rewards. The archipelago of 22 islands and the old-growth forests, lighthouses, parks and local artifacts they hold offers a different kind of adventure. Experienced kayakers can get to the islands easy enough in moderate temps, “ice bikers” and hikers make their way across when the lake freezes over. For groups of up to 140, considering booking a guided tour with Apostle Island Cruises, or other local businesses renting out kayaks and boats. The most popular is the 55-mile Grand Tour May to mid-October, leaving from Bayfield and traveling through the heart of the Apostle Islands archipelago. Back on land, the town’s cultural scene of wineries, galleries, berry and orchard farms is surprisingly diverse. There’s also a 900-seat tent theatre, which has hosted some of music’s best for the past 30 years.
The National Cherry Festival is underway in Traverse City, Michigan, and cherries are being woven into the city in leaps and bounds: cherries and an air show; cherries and zumba; cherries and sand sculpting; cherry pancakes; cherry pie bike ride…you name it. As one of the top wine-producing regions in the Midwest, Traverse City’s landscapes make headlines year-round—from the towering, wispy sand dunes of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that create an almost mystical experience to an array of wineries and tasting rooms that dot dramatic coastlines. One unusual event space dotting these gorgeous landscapes is the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a former mental asylum-turned-village of mixed-use development that includes shopping, dining and galleries. The Traverse Colantha Dairy Festival and Traverse City Wine & Arts Festival are also held here. Spread across 63 acres, groups can gather for cocktails, receptions and other formal events surrounded by century-old Victorian-Italianate architecture while pondering the obvious: “what went on here.”
Jesse James hideouts, 2,000-year-old Native American burial grounds and 19th century mansions. If you haven’t guessed Missouri yet, you should have. Boonville, Missouri is a haven of history that is also easily approachable to groups. Boonville, settled by the sons of American pioneer Daniel Boone, is home to hundreds of historic locations that pay homage to everything from the Civil War and antique cars museum to the Katy Trail (a former Missouri-Kansas-Texas railrod converted into a massive rails-to-trails project). In August, the Missouri River Festival of the Arts will draw thousands to celebrate its 40th anniversary in one of America’s oldest theatres. And for the brew connoisseurs in your group, the Busweiser Clydesdales are available for a meet and greet at their 300-acre stopping groounds: Warm Springs Ranch.
The oldest continuously running bluegrass festival in the world takes place in “Little Nashville,” a.k.a. Nashville, Indiana every year (2016 will mark its 50th anniversary). Here, in this quaint arts & crafts village, groups can beef up their ‘country’ skills with banjo strumming and broom making lessons while taking in the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival. There’s always music in the air in this woodsy town, however—from campfire soirees at local wineries to cocktail receptions in art-filled historic homes (including that of the colony’s founder, impressionist artist Theodore C. Steele). As one of the oldest artist colonies in the nation; groups can step into several bygone eras tours—Brown County Railroad Museum, Bear Wallow Distillery and Big Woods Brewery—or, how about an adventure tour of zip-lining, gem mining, covered bridges and mountain biking through a 170,000-acre forest. Another “must experience” is the Little Nashville Opry, a historic gathering spot in these parts that is currently under refurbishment.
South Dakota’s geographical identity seems to change depending on who you ask. Midwest or not, there’s more than enough marvels to go around. The world’s second largest cave—currently mapped at 160 miles—exists here, with its coral-like, crystal-studded walls. There are four themed tours exploring Jewel Cave National monument—discovery, scenic, historic lantern and wild caving.Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills, the Crazy Horse monument and Deadwood gold-mining town should all be on your radar. Something quite unexpected in these parts, which even the most affluent travelers have not likely seen, is the Corn Palace in Mitchell, a civic center made entirely of corn tassles, husks and seeds. The palace is rebuilt every year with a different design, which is kicked off by the celebratory Corn Palace Festival.