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Get Out of Town

10 fall adventures and six scenic drives

Photograph courtesy of Mount Pleasant Winery

(page 1 of 2)

We often equate Hermann with wine, Hannibal with Twain, Kimmswick with pie…but where else can you find entertainment and adventure nearby? We uncovered 10 quaint destinations within a short drive. Some you might know, but they’ve changed recently; others might come as a surprise. From concerts to climbing, drinks to diving, there’s no shortage of excitement, but we added six scenic fall drives anyway, for a breath of fresh air. It’s all enough to make you want to get out of town—if only for an autumn weekend.

(Scenic Drives and maps on pg. 2)

10 Fall Adventures

Open and Shut

Ironton

Standing on the deck of Black River Center, gazing out at a vast field of boulders, you can almost picture it: 1.3 billion gallons of water rushing through Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, leveling trees and overturning giant rocks in its path. Nearly five years after the upper reservoir breach at AmerenUE’s Taum Sauk plant wreaked havoc on the land, the park reopened earlier this year following a major face-lift. A 10,000-square-foot visitor center stands in place of the one-time campsite (the new site’s safely located across Highway N). Scour Trail, a new interpretive path, runs near the giant scar the reservoir water left in the St. Francois Mountains and teaches about the scour channel’s exposed minerals. And Shut-Ins Trail now consists of a boardwalk leading to the park’s magnificent namesake: a natural water park made of igneous rocks and cascading water. The altered landscape offers a stark example of the power of nature—and people. (While in the neighborhood, don’t miss the equally impressive Elephant Rocks State Park, just 15 miles northeast.)|

Bunk: Plain & Fancy Bed & Breakfast, 11178 State Route 72, Ironton, 314-640-2564, plainfancybb.com
Nosh: Baylee Jo’s BBQ, 1315 N. State Route 21, Ironton, 573-546-2100
Travel Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

 

The Other Wildwood

Steelville

Modeled after an Adirondack Mountains inn, Wildwood Springs Lodge is unlike any concert venue you’ve ever visited. The grand building, nestled in a vast stretch of Ozark wilderness overlooking the Meramec River, opened during the Roaring ’20s as a getaway for the elite, complete with white tablecloths and an orchestra. The lodge closed in the 1980s, but current co-owner Bob Bell, who grew up across the road, bought it in 1992 and slowly began to resurrect it as a haven for hearty food and heartier music. During the past decade, Wildwood Springs has hosted an impressive list of performers: bluegrass star Rhonda Vincent; Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley, of “One Toke Over the Line” fame; and Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry’s piano player and inspiration for “Johnnie B. Goode.” After savoring an old-fashioned meal (think prime rib, fresh rainbow trout, homemade desserts) in the long dining room, guests gather in front of the lobby’s stone fireplace to enjoy live music in an intimate atmosphere. (Tip: Those staying overnight at the lodge can enter a lottery for primo concert seats.) Some of this fall’s acts—Poco (October 1 and 2), Brewer & Shipley (October 8 and 9), The Marshall Tucker Band (October 15 and 16), Little River Band (October 22 and 23), Suzy Bogguss (October 29), and Ozark Mountain Daredevils (November 5 and 6)—are returning for a reason: The experience is memorable for musicians and fans alike. “There’s something about the energy,” says Bell. “It brings the fans back to their younger days.”

Bunk: Wildwood Springs Lodge, Grand Drive and Shady Lane, Steelville, 573-775-2400, wildwoodspringslodge.com
Nosh: Wildwood Springs Lodge (room rates include meal prices)
Travel Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

 

 The Fruits of Autumn

Maeystown, Ill.

What better use for 22 bushels of apples? Eighty to 100 volunteers pare and slowly stir them, over a fire, in copper kettles. For two weeks, jars of the burnished apple butter—its not-so-secret recipe dating back to the Maeys family and other 1852 settlers—are locked away. Not a jar will be sold (unless you helped stir) until 9 a.m. on October 10—Oktoberfest. By noon, the apple butter’s all gone. Then you meander along the spring-fed Maeys-town Creek, lined with 40 antiques and crafts vendors; browse the museum in old Zietinger’s Mill (don’t miss the antique switchboard or 1792 trunk); walk up the hilly street to the narrow stone church; head downhill to shop at Georgia Mae’s Antiques and Collectibles and the Maeystown General Store; and celebrate the 30th anniversary of Oktoberfest with German potato pancakes, brats, pork steaks, and homemade pie. (If all the food and sun and apple-scented air leave you drowsy, hit the Village Kaffeehaus before you head home.) “We often refer to Maeystown as our own little Brigadoon,” says innkeeper David Braswell, the town’s unofficial historian. “A sleepy little town comes alive, and 5,000 people show up for the day.”

Bunk: The Corner George Inn, 1101 Main, Maeystown, Ill., 618-458-6660, cornergeorgeinn.com
Nosh: Rooster Hill Farm, 4162 Wetzler, Fults, Ill., 618-458-6226, roosterhillfarmandgifts.com
Travel Time: 1 hour

 

Deep-Earth Diving

Boone Terre

By now, the tale is a familiar one: How Doug and Cathy Goergens, owners of West End Diving (888-843-3483, westenddiving.com), went searching for a place to dive closer to home and stumbled onto a gold mine… Well, technically it was an expansive lead mine far beneath Bonne Terre, where St. Joseph Lead Company closed in 1961, leaving tools and tracks to be engulfed in spring- and rainwater. By 1981, the Goergenses had transformed the subterranean space into a hot spot for deep-earth diving. Enthusiasts from around the world, including Jacques Cousteau, came to swim in the clear, 60-degree water, and the mine hit the top 10 on National Geographic’s Adventure 100 list in 2000. Today, you can follow a former mule path 160 feet below terra firma to the 2-square-mile lake, where you can dive in (with a guide, of course) and explore the mine’s underwater remnants, an experience akin to seeing the remains of a shipwreck or ghost town. Bonne Terre Mine’s diving packages run $130 to $195. Not yet a diver? West End Diving hosts $250 certification courses—though those who’d rather stay dry can opt for a one-hour guided walking tour of the mine ($18) or a walking and boat tour along the Billion Gallon Lake ($25).

Bunk: Bonne Terre Depot, 41 Oak, Bonne Terre, 888-843-3483, 2dive.com/lodging.htm
Nosh: 12 West Bar & Grill, 12 W. Columbia, Farmington, 573-760-1135, 12westbarandgrill.com
Travel Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

 

Life on the Mississippi

Louisiana & Clarksville

Clarksville’s old buildings are filled with shops selling hand-thrown pottery, painted drums, bent-willow furniture, and glass beads. There are picnic pavilions on the riverfront, festivals for everything from sunflowers to catfish, and a Sky Ride—the rumor is it’s reopening this fall, anyway. So visit, but keep driving up state Route 79 to Louisiana, which is best experienced while wandering around. Some things you may see: the Georgia Street Historic District, “the most intact Victorian Street in the state of Missouri”; new murals on old buildings, including one of Georgia Street in the 1940s and a portrait of Zebulon Pike; The Studio at Seventh’s wry stencil on its building, which reads “THE NON-MURAL”; ASL Pewter Foundry, which crafts traditional pewterware, minus the lead (it made the tableware for John Adams); Daybreak Donuts and Diner, where farmers in suspenders get white boxes of glazed donuts to go; Riverview Cemetery, a Civil War graveyard on the river bluffs; the Henry Lay Sculpture Park on state Route UU, where you can walk through 350 acres of meadows and oak-hickory forest, or just stick to the 20-acre outdoor sculpture park; and if you leave on U.S. Route 54, you will pass Stark Bro’s. Nurseries, where the Red Delicious apple was first propagated. Even if you don’t stop, the surrounding orchards make for a lovely drive out of town.

Bunk: River’s Edge Motel, 201 Mansion, Louisiana, 573-754-4522
Nosh: The Eagle’s Nest Winery, Inn & Bistro, 221 Georgia, Louisiana, 573-754-9888, theeaglesnest-louisiana.com
Travel Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

 

Get Fired Up

Sparta, Ill.

It’s fitting that in July 2006 former Gov. Rod Blagojevich opened a firing range near Sparta, years before being fired by both the state of Illinois and Donald Trump. Fortunately, the World Shooting & Recreational Complex (618-295-2700) holds a far better reputation than Blago these days. The 1,600-acre site is a shooter’s paradise: 120 trap fields with voice-activated release systems across 3.5 miles,
24 of which are also skeet fields; a cowboy action shooting corral; two sporting-clay courses ($28 per round); and a 34,000-square-foot event center with an on-site gunsmith’s shop. Each year, the complex hosts the Amateur Trapshooting Association’s Grand American World Trapshooting Championships—billed as the world’s largest shooting event—as well as skeet and sporting-clay events. (Open shooting runs Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) For those less likely to attend an NRA rally, there’s also an archery area, three fishing lakes, and more than a thousand campsites.

Bunk: Marissa Station Bed & Breakfast, 202 S. Main, Marissa, Ill., 618-363-0363, marissastation.com
Nosh: 17th Street Bar & Grill, 1 Main Event, #150, Sparta, Ill., 618-295-2754, 17thstreetbarbecue.com
Travel Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

 

Trailing Off

Missouri Weinstrasse

For months, you’ve talked about biking the Rhineland just west of St. Louis with your significant other…but the days were too warm, and hauling the Huffy seemed a strain. So make it easy on yourself: Follow state Route 94 early one morning to Katy Bike Rental in Defiance, and rent a hybrid mountain bike or tandem for $20 or $30 per day, respectively. From there, pedal west along the Katy Trail—celebrating its 20th anniversary this year—past bluffs, trees, and wildlife near the Missouri River. A whole string of wineries awaits: Sugar Creek Vineyards & Winery’s Victorian farmhouse, 2 miles from downtown Defiance, provides a quaint setting to savor its estate-grown dry wines. Six miles farther you’ll come to Augusta, home of Augusta Winery (whose 2007 estate-bottled Norton was featured on NBC’s Today Show in June) and, of course, Mount Pleasant Winery (the largest purveyor of Augusta-appellation wine). Bike another 4 miles down Route 94, and you’ll find Louis P. Balducci Vineyards (where there’s live music on weekend afternoons). And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can travel 4 miles more to enjoy a bottle of gold medal–winning 2009 Vignoles on the patio at Dutzow’s Blumenhof Vineyards. A few tips along the way: 1) Bring a backpack for extra bottles, 2) hydrate, and 3) pace yourself—with the pedaling and the drinking.

Bunk: Apple Gate Inn, 5549 Main, Augusta, 636-228-4248, applegate-inn.com
Nosh: Café Bella, 5501 Locust, Augusta, 636-482-4334
Travel Time: 45 minutes

 

Get On Line

Sullivan

Meramec Caverns has remained a popular underground attraction since 1933, when Lester Dill bought what was once known as Saltpeter Cave and began marketing it to the public. But it wasn’t until this May that Dill’s grandson, Lester Turilli Sr., took the attraction far above ground—up to 82 feet above ground, to be exact. Its new Caveman Zipline (573-468-3166, cavemanzipline.com)—two years and $300,000 in the making—soars over the Meramec River, past treetops, and high above bluffs. After hooking into a harness, you travel up to 50 miles per hour between eight different towers along four zip lines, ranging from 250 to 1,250 feet in length, and traverse three swinging rope bridges. The thrill ride is friendly for ages 10 and up—though a boat aptly named the Chicken Chaser awaits those who change their minds midway through the course. Reservations are recommended for the 90-minute tour, which costs $49 for adults and $39 for kids. (And in case you’re wondering, there are other zip lines within several hours, including Eminence’s Eagle Falls Ranch Zipline Adventures, New Florence’s Eco Zipline Tours, and Mine La Motte’s Zip and Dip Zip Line Adventures at The Off-Sets.)

Nosh: Du Kum Inn, 101 Grande Center, Sullivan, 573-468-6114
Travel Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

 

Rock Out

Makanda, Ill.

When it comes to nature in Southern Illinois, Garden of the Gods gets most of the attention—but don’t overlook Giant City State Park, south of Carbondale. Shaped by eons of geological faulting, the 4,000-acre state park comprises lush vegetation, winding trails, and impressive sandstone bluffs ideal for rock climbing and rappelling. There are two main climbing areas here: Devil’s Standtable and Shelter No. 1. The former is an 80-foot, chimneylike rock with a peak resembling a tabletop that’s ideal for climbing; the latter, a 100-foot bluff near the park’s main entrance that’s better for rappelling. (Note: Climbing in the park is unsupervised, so do so at your own risk.) Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center (ton.siu.edu) is a good local climbing resource. “We have all the gear and all the safety training,” says Erik Oberg, program coordinator for the center’s Underway Outdoor Adventure Program. For those who’d rather keep their feet on the ground, the park offers plenty of other geologic wonders. The popular 1-mile Giant City Nature Trail slices through building-size rock formations; Stonefort Nature Trail is named for an ancient man-made rock wall; and the more strenuous 2-mile Trillium Trail runs along a series of bluffs. You can also experience 40-plus arts vendors and six bands at Makanda’s 11th annual Vulture Festival October 16 and 17, right around the time that kettles of vultures circle the sky above the small town.

Bunk: Giant City Lodge, 460 Giant City Lodge Road, Makanda, Ill., 618-457-4921, giantcitylodge.com
Nosh: Newell House Bistro Café, 201 E. Main, Carbondale, Ill., 618-549-6400, thenewellhouse.com
Travel Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

 

Over the Rivers

Brussels, Ill.

It’s hard to get there in January, when the rivers freeze, or in March, when they flood. But the best time to take the ferry into Brussels is in the fall, anyway. Flanked by the Illinois River on one side and the Mississippi on the other, Brussels’ watery isolation and undulating landscape foiled Victorian industrialists, but the German immigrants who settled there in 1876 just wanted fertile soil and a place that reminded them of home. The railroad tycoons never managed to run tracks over the water, so the village still looks very much like it did in their time—you can still see 19th-century chicken coops, barns, privies, and a “calaboose,” a sort of jail/shed once used to house men overnight if they’d drunk too much beer. Board the free Brussels Ferry 2 miles west of Grafton, cross the Illinois, and continue on the Illinois River Road until it turns into Brussels’ Main Street. Like the village, the landscape is much like it was in the calaboose days, with rolling hills covered in silver prairie grasses, fields, and orchards, and here and there, a collapsing barn being eaten alive by morning-glory vines. Take Golden Eagle Road south out of town to board the Golden Eagle Ferry ($7 one way, $13 round-trip), and cross the Mississippi River into St. Charles.

Bunk: Kinder’s Restaurant, Mississippi River bank near the ferry, Golden Eagle, Ill., 618-883-2598, kindersrestaurant.net
Nosh: Wittmond Hotel & Restaurant, 108 Main, Brussels, Ill., 618-883-2345, wittmondhotel.com
Travel Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

 

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