Looking for an affordable place to stay on your next Midwest vacation? Consider staying at one of the many charming state park lodges.
During the darkest days of the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Its mission: Put young men to work saving America’s natural resources. It employed nearly 3.5 million people and completed hundreds of conservation projects.
Nicknamed Roosevelt’s Tree Army because it planted more than 2.5 billion trees throughout the country, the CCC also built beautiful lodges in state parks across the country. These lodges remain a striking tribute to the labor of millions of desperately poor men forced to leave their families behind to earn money. The story of the CCC workers is both heartbreaking and inspirational. Living together in temporary camps, they kept only a small part of their earnings, the majority being automatically sent home to their families.
These are affordable gems that can be the highlight of your next family vacation. They can be found throughout the country. Here are a few of the best of the Midwest.
Best of the Midwest
Starved Rock Lodge is an hour and a half southwest of Chicago. The magnificent 70-room lodge, situated high on a bluff, is a sight to behold with massive stone fireplaces and aged stone walls. After exploring the surrounding canyons and waterfalls, you can relax in the hot tub, sauna or the indoor pool.
Two hours west of Chicago, in the scenic Rock River Valley, is the White Pines Inn. You can stay in one of the rustic cabins surrounded by the natural beauty of White Pines Forest State Park and enjoy dinner in the White Pines Inn restaurant. You might even want to stay for the popular dinner theater.
Sixty miles outside of Indianapolis you’ll find Turkey Run State Park and the historic Turkey Run Inn. This is covered bridge country and its also a region heavily populated by Amish. You’ll see them riding in their buggies on the bucolic country roads.
Along the Great River Road in southwestern Illinois is the Pere Marquette Lodge. It’s one of the best places in the United States to spot eagles in their natural habitat. Travel to southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest and you’ll find an exquisite stone and timber lodge with a marvelous great-room lobby. Like all Illinois state park lodges, Giant City Lodge was built of local materials. Architects here used stone from the enormous Shawnee sandstone bluffs and white oak timber. An outdoor pool makes Giant City Lodge a perfect escape.
• Giant City Lodge
• Starved Rock Lodge
• White Pines Inn
Turkey Run Inn
Andrea Guthmann is a freelance journalist focusing on family travel. She spent many years as a writer and producer for WTTW-TV, the PBS station in Chicago. Her travel stories have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Parent and on-line travel sites.
A native Floridian, Andrea’s now a big (windy) city mom of 3, who range in age from tot to teen. After giving birth to 2 beautiful children she’s had the joy of becoming a mom again through adoption. She loves sailing Lake Michigan and visiting the world class museums and restaurants in her sweet home Chicago. Being a scenery starved city girl, she loves escaping to the outdoors during vacations and is working hard to raise 3 happy campers! Follow her on Twitter @AndreaGuthmann.