starved rock state park

What Do a Bear, Salt, and Wine Have in Common?

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What Do a Bear, Salt, and Wine Have in Common?

Nothing really, just another great destination for a Microcation.

Living in the Midwest usually means you never know what to expect in terms of weather, and this winter sure is holding on for dear life. Much of March was average to above average in temperature. However, last week we were hit with a snowstorm that dumped anywhere from 4 to 8 inches of heavy, wet snow on much of the area.

Needless to say, the rollercoaster weather has left us rather stir crazy and in need of a getaway to recharge and try to forget about that nasty snow that is still lingering in our backyard.

So, we decided to hit one of our favorite destinations – Utica and Ottawa, Illinois. Even though it was a little cool out to enjoy most of what the area is most known for – great parks and hiking, there are plenty of other options.

Utica, Illinois

Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort

For this short trip, we decided to give Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort a try. Not our usual lodging spot for this area, Grizzly Jack’s is a great location for the family looking for activities for the little kids to do when outdoor activities are not an option.

grand bear photo

Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort is a full-service resort, conference center, banquet location, restaurant, water park, amusement area, and cabins. Grizzly Jack’s is a great option for the area.

We opted for the Whirlpool Suite, which was pretty nice. Whirlpool was a little small but still nice and very relaxing. Rates are comparable to other lodging options in the area, so if you are in the area you should definitely give Grizzly Jack’s a try.

*As of the writing of this post, the Water Park is closed for renovations, which is posted on the website. I did not notice that when I booked the room, but they did email me and call me to let me know the Water Park was closed. That’s pretty good customer service.

We really love this area for the outdoor activities. This area is most well known for Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park, and some of the best hiking Illinois has to offer.

Utica and the area, in general, has so much more to offer than just the outdoor options. I have been coming up to this area for over twenty years now, and it is really incredible how much has changed – some great and some not so great.

Utica has a lot to offer the day tripper or weekend warrior. Food options, winery, some shopping, and just lots of great, friendly Midwest charm.

After we checked into Grizzly Jack’s we headed over to the Starved Rock Lodge restaurant for some really great food in the rustic Starved Rock Lodge. You really cannot go wrong here; great atmosphere in the lodge, great food, and some fabulous scenery regardless of the season.

August Hill Winery

Following our wonderful meal at Starved Rock Lodge, we headed over to the August Hill Winery for some wine tasting.

If you enjoy regional wines, this is the place to visit. I would not call us wine connoisseurs, but we do enjoy a great regional wine in a great atmosphere.

We visit the winery every time we are in the area pretty much without exception. August Hill Winery tasting room offers everything to make for a great experience. Taste your way to your favorite August Hill wine.

August Hill Winery is only one stop in a small town with so many other options. Below are some other places we have visited in the past – all great options as well.

Canal Port Bar and Grill – We have eaten at the Canal Port Bar and Grill. A great location for a nice meal – Menu here

Duffy’s Tavern – an Irish bar and grill. Great place to take in lunch and a brew. Can’t go wrong here.

Ottawa, Illinois

Following a pretty good nights’ sleep at Grizzly Jack’s, we had plans to head over to one of our other favorite towns in the area – Ottawa, Illinois. If you have never been to Ottawa, you really must make plans to visit. A very historic town with lots and lots of interesting things to see and do.

First stop – Jeremiah Joe’s for some great local coffee. A wonderful, full-service coffee shop with an even better story – read it here –  A visit to Jeremiah Joe’s Coffee is a must for the coffee enthusiast.

SaltTree Yoga

I really thought I was in for a “girly” experience when my wife suggested this. However, I wanted to be a good sport and enjoy something with my lovely wife that she wanted to try.

I’m sure glad I did. I had never been to a Salt Cave, and quite frankly, never heard of such a thing prior to this trip.

SaltTree Yoga in Ottawa, Illinois is definitely worth a visit. Very relaxing from the moment you walk in, friendly staff, and the Salt Cave was a great experience. It is a time to let go of stress, give up your phone, and decompress.

After our time in the Salt Cave, my wife and I both tried other services offered at SaltTree Yoga. I opted for the Migun Thermassage Bed – a rolling type massage bed, which was pretty relaxing as well. My wife opted for the Dry Hydrotherapy Bed, which she said was also a great experience.

All-in-all, our visit to SaltTree Yoga was a wonderful experience. We even left with a couple Himalayan Salt Lamps – maybe we went overboard, but we enjoyed it thoroughly. Highly recommend. We didn’t snap any photos – time to give up the phones for relaxation, but here are a couple brochures we picked up.

The Pink Chihuahua

Following our relaxing hour at the SaltTree Yoga, we headed over to The Pink Chihuahua for lunch.

Part of our purchase at the SaltTree Yoga, we received a gift certificate to eat at some local restaurants. My wife wanted to eat at The Pink Chihuahua. This was our second time visiting the restaurant, which I wrote about HERE in my very first post about Microcations. Please read that post.

The Pink Chihuahua has a menu item for every taste. We have only been here for lunch, but both times met with one of the owners that mentioned some of the other entertainment they offer during the dinner hours. Guess we’ll have to go back.

The Lone Buffalo

Once we were done enjoying our Pink Chihuahua lunch, we decided to head up the street to the brewery The Lone Buffalo.

I had received some recommendations from friends to definitely check this place out when in Ottawa. So, we decided that since we had time, this visit was our chance to stop in and taste a little Ottawa brew.

The Long Buffalo serves food as well, so if this is more what you are looking for, definitely give it a try. We did not eat after filling up on Pink Chihuahua, but when we arrived it was very busy with most people eating – based on that, I would say the food must be pretty good.

We opted to just sit and sample a little local Ottawa brew. I went with a flight of beer, while the wife played it safe and got one that resembled something she knew she would like. I like to taste different brews and see how the Brewmaster(s) vary in their approach to their beer.


A pretty typical flight – Four 10oz glasses. Usually more than enough for me to tell if it’s a hit or not. The Long Buffalo serves Tangle Roots Brewing Company beer – brewed in Illinois with large regional influences.

For me, the beers involved a little too much fruit. Not bad at all, just left me with a slightly too fruity aftertaste. I might normally take a sample home with me, but in this case, I did not. That is not saying anything negative about Tangle Roots brew, just not really for me. I loved the environment, the nostalgic building, and pleasant feel from the people around us enjoying themselves.

I will definitely go back so I can try the food at The Lone Buffalo.

There you have it – A Bear, some salt cave, some wine, AND a Pink Chihuahua. Altogether made for another great Microcation.

We truly love this area of Illinois. There is always something going on and always something new to try that we seemed to miss the last time.

Definitely give this area a try.

Tip: Plan your visit and make sure to check the lodging well in advance – lodging fills up most weekends. Also, the parks here are usually very busy, particularly on weekends. Come during the week for the trails and stay the weekend for everything else.

We love this area and think you will also. See – we fit right in 🙂


Until next time folks. Thanks for stopping by.

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Photo of Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Lodge sign is borrowed from an internet search. All other photos are mine. 

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    1. Great – if we ever stop getting snow 😳. Thanks for the great comments and for reading along

  1. Thanks for the article. Not sure if I will ever travel there but having never heard about salt caves I had to see if there were any in our area. There are a few within an hours drive. Something I might look into more.

    1. I highly recommend it – coming from a guy 😂. Salt Caves are really pretty cool – I’ll go again I’m sure

  2. Thanks for the article. It gave me ideas and places to go on our next weekend off. Corner 230 or C230 is a restaurant and bar we frequently visit in Ottawa. If you haven’t, I hope you visit them next time. Happy Travels!

    1. I did enjoy it – I was skeptical at first, but I tried to keep an open mind. Glad I did because it really was a great experience. Thanks for reading.

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