A River Runs Past It

We all know it’s cooler by the lake, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook the charms of river towns. Take Dubuque—no, really: Dubuque—for example. Check into the 171-year-old Hotel Julien ($109–$229), and the history is palpable. The golden era of riverboat gamblers, steamboat captains, and showboats may be gone, but their architecture remains. After the place burned to the ground in 1913, the Julien rebuilt with grand Romanesque elegance that drew visitors including Buffalo Bill, Al Capone, and Sylvester Stallone. Opt for the Al Capone suite ($499), and you’ll find your plush digs equipped with a huge vault where the famed tax cheat hid when the feds came calling, lore has it. There’s a gleaming new casino a few blocks away if that’s your thing, but we’re far more impressed by the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, a gleaming, multimillion dollar complex where you can go nose-to-whisker with a catfish the size of a well-fed third grader, learn the seriously harrowing history of the first couple to navigate the Mississippi via steamboat, and—but of course—brush up on your Mark Twain. The Julien is also within walking distance of the Port of Dubuque river walk, a lovely half-mile stroll that ends at the Stone Cliff Winery (a five-wine tasting costs $5).
GO Hotel Julien, 200 Main St., Dubuque, Iowa; 563-556-4200, www.hoteljuliendubuque.com. National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, 350 E. Third St., Port of Dubuque, Iowa; 563-557-9545, 800-226-3369. Stone Cliff Winery, 600 Star Brewery Dr., Dubuque, Iowa; 563-583-6100, www.stonecliffwinery.com.

Will in the World

Buffalo Bill stayed at the Hotel Julien, but he grew up about 90 miles downriver from Dubuque in Le Claire, Iowa, home to the Buffalo Bill Museum, a 3-D encyclopedia of all things William Cody that’s totally worth a side trip if you’re in the neighborhood. As a rule, we avoid chain hotels, but Holiday Inn Express Le Claire ($90–$230) has some of the loveliest river views around. Book a room with an eastern exposure, and you’ll have a spectacular water view. A walkway along the riverbank is just steps from the lobby.
GO Holiday Inn Express Hotel, 1201 Canal Shore Dr. SW, Le Claire, Iowa; 563-289-9978. Buffalo Bill Museum, 199 N. Front St., Le Claire, Iowa; 563-289-5580, www.buffalobillmuseumleclaire.com.

Got Water?

The Brick Ark Inn ($79–89) in Albion, Indiana, is about 6.5 miles from Chain O’ Lakes State Park, which, as the name implies, is a watery mecca during the dog days of summer. Bonus: The apple crisp made by the innkeeper, Tammy Luce, is irresistible.
GO The Brick Ark Inn, 215 N. Orange St., Albion, Indiana; 260-636-6181, www.brickarkinn.com.

Hike down the ravines of Starved Rock State Park—or better still, its lesser-known hidden gem of a next-door neighbor, Matthiessen State Park—and you’ll find waterfalls that rival the splashtastic attraction of any manmade water park. Starved Rock’s cabins (rates start at $130) offer the best of both worlds: You feel like you’re secluded way out in the woods, but you’re actually just steps away from a bar, indoor swimming pool, and restaurant.
GO Starved Rock State Park, 2668 E. 875th Rd., Oglesby, Illinois; 800-868-ROCK, www.starvedrockstatepark.org.

Best Deal of the Week

And finally, should your travels leave you in need of refreshment, The Spa at Trump International Hotel and Tower offers Escape Artist readers a 25 percent discount on any 90-minute massage or facial appointment booked before Monday, July 12th. There’s an array of super-indulgent gemstone-related massages incorporating diamonds, rubies, sapphires, or emeralds, as well as a roster of facials designed to combat aging with materials ranging from soybean oil to hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Use the promo code “Chicago” when booking.
GO Trump International Hotel and Tower, 401 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-588-8020