The tri-state area is gearing up for a summer season of visitors, with tourism officials noting that the wealth of attractions appeals to visitors and residents alike.
“There’s a lot of things throughout the season for people to see and do,” said Keith Rahe, president and CEO of Travel Dubuque.
Summer serves as the peak of tri-state-area tourism, even in places often associated with winter fun.
“Some people think we’re primarily a winter town – because of the ski resort, but summer is actually our peak season,” said Tom Rynott, communications director for Galena (Ill.) Country Tourism. “During the winters, Galena is busy primarily on the weekends, but during the summer season, every single day Main Street is packed, the restaurants are packed and the vineyards are full.”
Summer provides visitors and residents opportunities to enjoy themselves outside, and Rahe said outdoor activities are a growing segment of the local tourism economy.
“That’s an area where we have seen significant growth, really over the past three to four years,” Rahe said. “People are getting out and about in our parks — our county parks — and utilizing the trail system and the water. So many people are kayaking and canoeing. People are getting out into nature.”
Rahe attributes some of the rise in outdoor tourism to COVID-19-related health restrictions that limited indoor activities for people seeking recreation.
“The pandemic really reinforced the ability of people to go outdoors,” Rahe said.
Rahe said a recent development has been a rise in tourism related to mountain biking.
“We have seen tremendous growth in that,” he said.
A nonprofit group, Tri-State Mountain Bike Riders, has taken a lead in developing trails.
“The trails are drawing people from all over,” Rahe said.
Dubuque County also boasts a pair of attractions Rahe characterized as “staples” that swell with visitors during the summer months.
“The (National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium) continues to be a major draw for the area,” Rahe said.
The museum’s summer exhibit, POPnology, will run from May 27 through Sept. 4. It includes robots, virtual reality experiences and time-traveling cars from classic films.
Rahe said the other tourist staple is the Field of Dreams movie site outside Dyersville, Iowa.
“It’s been here for 34 years, but with the Major League Baseball games being held out there in 2021 and 2022, it really has brought a lot of new life to (the attraction),” Rahe said. “People come from everywhere for the Field of Dreams.”
Live music also offers summer options for tourists and visitors.
“The music scene has really grown, with the outdoor (venues) like the Q Casino, the Diamond Jo (Casino) and the different bars,” Rahe said. “That’s a great draw.”
Rahe said one of the major additions to Dubuque’s summer travel landscape has been the increased visits by riverboat cruises. Travel Dubuque recorded 16,282 passengers visiting the area from riverboat dockings in 2022, 3,291 more than 2021.
“The excursion boats that we have continue to amaze me — that sector (of the tourism industry) continues to grow,” Rahe said.
Buses take cruise ship passengers throughout Dubuque, out to the Field of Dreams, and to Galena.
Rynott highlighted four events expected to draw crowds to the Galena area this summer.
“Our Independence Day Celebration on July 4 is one of the largest in the region,” he said.
The event features live entertainment, food and beverages with a fireworks display over the Galena River at dusk.
The Great Galena Balloon Race will be held from June 16-18 at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, 444 Eagle Ridge Drive.
Chestnut Mountain Resort, 8700 W. Chestnut Mountain Road, will host the third major summer event — Galena Brew Fest — on July 22. In addition to craft brews, the event features a range of outdoor activities.
Wine is the main attraction of the fourth major summer event. Corkless in Galena will be held June 24 at 91 Bouthillier St., Galena. The event features sampling from northern Illinois wineries.
Jo Daviess County wineries include Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery (4746 N. Ford Road, Galena), Massbach Ridge Winery (tasting room at 117 S. Main St., Galena) and Fergedaboutit Vineyard & Winery (4595 Speer Road, Hanover, Ill.).
Outdoor activities in the Galena area include Chestnut’s Alpine Slide, the ziplines and other amenities of Long Hollow Canopy Tours (3247 W. Longhollow Road) and the kayak and electric bike rentals of Nuts Outdoors (336½ Spring St.).
A range of attractions and activities will draw tourists to southwest Wisconsin this summer.
Museums in the region include Platteville’s Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums, 405 E. Main St., which features tours of an 1845 lead mine.
“Like many farm families here in the Upper Mississippi Valley, the museum staff prepares all year long for the summer season because it is of such profound importance,” said Erik Flesch, director of the Platteville museums.
Flesch said although the Platteville museums offer special programs throughout the year, the only months the facility is open for general admission and guided tours is May through October.
“Our museum campus truly comes alive when the summer tourist season begins,” Flesch said. “The season is responsible for around 80% of our visitors and earned income for the year.”
Other Grant County museums include Lancaster’s Grant County History Museum, 129 E. Maple St., where visitors can learn about lead mining, farming and the Civil War; and Fennimore’s Railroad Historical Society Museum, 610 Lincoln Ave., where the highlights include an operational 15-foot gauge rail with 700 feet of track.
Cassville’s area attractions include Stonefield Historic Site, 12195 County VV, a re-created 1901 farmstead and village; the adjacent, 756-acre Nelson Dewey State Park; and the popular Cassville Car Ferry, which will take visitors across the Mississippi River.
The self-titled “Catfish Capital of Wisconsin,” Potosi offers visitors the unique Potosi Brewery Co., 209 S. Main St., a working brewery that includes the National Brewery Museum.
Among the local summer events in southwest Wisconsin is the Darlington Canoe Festival. The four-day event marks its 57th year in 2023 and features fireworks, a carnival and parade and canoeing on the Pecatonica River.
Erik Hogstrom writes for the Telegraph Herald.