I’m known to tout the Midwest whenever I get the chance. So many travelers – foreigners and even my fellow Americans – view it solely as “flyover country”. Such a shame as there is a wealth of recreational and cultural opportunities in the region. There are also gems: delightful little hamlets that can make you feel like you’re anywhere but the Midwest. One such place is Galena, Illinois.
Geographically, Galena is located approximately 3 hours west and a bit to the north of Chicago. Geologically, it is part of what’s known as the Driftless Area, a region of the Upper Midwest that was unglaciated during the most recent glacial event (about 12,000 years ago). Glaciers surrounded the region but did not pass over the 16,000 square miles of land that we now know as the Driftless Area. The result of escaping the glaciers is layers and layers of rolling hills and gorgeous, deeply carved river valleys.
Right in the middle of all this beauty is the luxurious and family-friendly Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa, where guests are treated to myriad options for recreational activities and accommodations. I was a guest at Eagle Ridge in early May, when I was invited out there to participate in their annual media morel mushroom hunt (more on that later). We members of the media were treated to an in-depth look at Eagle Ridge’s food and beverage program, and we were also given plenty of free time to enjoy the resort on our own.
Eagle Ridge Resort lies within The Galena Territory, a 6,800-acre natural area home to valleys, prairies, and woodlands, as well as plant and bird species found nowhere else in Illinois. Because of its commitment to preserving the natural environment, The Galena Territory was named a Community Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation in 2010. There are a number of ways for Eagle Ridge guests to enjoy the natural features of The Galena Territory:
- Play rounds of golf at one of the resort’s four championship golf courses, all of which incorporate the rolling hills and woodlands of the Territory.
- Fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, bluegill, crappie, and muskie on Lake Galena.
- Also on Lake Galena, rent one of the resort’s pontoon boats, paddleboats, kayaks, or canoes.
- Hike and/or bike more than 20 miles of rugged and paved trails (free bike rental is available).
- Gallop down the trails on horseback with guides from Shenandoah Riding Center.
Of course there are also options for guests to absolutely relax and renew:
- Float in the year-round, indoor swimming pool.
- Attend a yoga class.
- Spend a couple of hours (or an entire day!) at the full-service Stonedrift Spa.
Eagle Ridge has a little something for everyone even in the lodging department. Guests can choose to stay in the Main Lodge, the Courtyard, or in one of the resort’s distinctive homes and villas. The Main Lodge is steps away from the pool, the spa, and the on-site restaurants. Guest rooms in the Main Lodge feature 1 queen bed, 2 queen beds, or 1 king bed. Courtyard rooms are set up similarly but each has a wooded or lake view, as well as a balcony or walk-out patio. The option of renting one of the distinctive homes or villas is one of my favorite features of Eagle Ridge. The properties range in size from 1-bedroom to 6-bedroom, providing many options for groups and larger families. Each home and villa is uniquely furnished and provides the comforts and privacy of home, while still allowing guests access to all of Eagle Ridge’s amenities.
The resort has six restaurants ranging from casual snacks at the golf course clubhouses, to more formal fare at Woodlands Restaurant (named one of the best restaurants in Galena). The other dining options are Woodlands Lounge, which doubles as the Eagle Ridge Coffee Shop in the mornings; Paisano’s for fresh-baked pizzas, pastas, Italian sandwiches, and ice cream; Woodstone Restaurant; and The General Store for basic provisions. Whether you’re staying in the Main Lodge or one of the private homes, you will not go hungry at Eagle Ridge.
Now, about that morel mushroom hunt… I know it may seem unbelievable, but morel hunting is something I’ve wanted to do for a few years. To me, it’s in line with the whole fresh-food movement and it’s an excuse to get outside. Not to mention, morels are delicious but expensive to buy, so finding them on your own is way more economical. We members of the media were accompanied by Eagle Ridge Executive Chef Randy and other members of the resort Food and Beverage team. We were given simple instructions on how to locate and retrieve morels, as well as mesh bags in which to store our finds, and we were off into the woods. Long story short, I found three morels and put them into the bag. I came across another morel and went to put it into my mesh bag that I’d tied to my satchel… but the mesh bag was gone. I lost it. Apparently I didn’t tie it as well as I’d thought. I was gutted. I backtracked as well as I could to try to find my bag on the ground but no luck. Chef Randy must have taken pity on me, for when we returned to Eagle Ridge, he gave me a few morels from the kitchen to take home with me. Thanks to Chef Randy, all was not lost, and no matter the outcome, it still was a lovely walk in the woods.
Eagle Ridge made such an impression on me that I’ll be returning to the resort this month and I’m bringing a crew! I told the neighbors all about it and they want in, so we’ve rented one of the distinctive homes for our three families. This time, though, I won’t have to worry about losing my morels.
Big thank you to Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa for hosting me for the 3rd Annual Media Morel Hunt. All words and opinions, including the decision to return to Eagle Ridge at my own expense, are my own.