No one can deny the awe-inspiring scenic beauty of Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, or Salt Lake City. But, often overlooked are the splendid topographic and geographic settings where a number of Rust Belt cities are situated. Beautiful city settings of the Rust Belt may not get the national notoriety and ink of their western competitors, but some are equally endowed with great scenery. Here’s a list of 15 Rust Belt cities that I feel are a visual delight:
Duluth-Superior, Minnesota/Wisconsin – the view of the city, harbor, and Lake Superior from Interstate 35 as it crests over the top of Spirit Mountain is simply magnificent. Throw in some alpine skiing within sight of the downtown skyline and you’ve got something very, very special. If Duluth were situated on the Pacific or Atlantic coasts, it would be the legendary subject of artists worldwide. Shush…don’t tell anyone what a great secret we have hiding right here in the Rust Belt.
Cumberland, Maryland – shoe-horned between the steep ridges of Willis Mountain, Haystack Mountain, Irons Mountain, Big Knob, the Pennsylvania border, and the Potomac River, Cumberland is a history and outdoor recreation lover’s paradise. Sometimes called the “City of Spires” for its magnificent church steeples, Cumberland is scenically gorgeous and filled with delightful historical charm.
Madison, Wisconsin – built on an isthmus like Seattle, Madison is bounded by lovely freshwater lakes. The city’s handsome downtown area sits smack dab in the center of the isthmus and is visible from throughout the metro area across lakes Monona and Mendota. Throw in the University of Wisconsin’s main campus and you have one beautiful urban setting.
Traverse City, Michigan – the sand dunes, the lake, the dune ridges, the cherry trees, the bays, the lighthouses, the peninsulas. What more could anyone ever ask for?
Chicago, Illinois – One glimpse of the city’s skyline from Lake Michigan and one quickly realizes that Chicago is much more magnificent than just a single mile. Personally, I find Lake Shore Drive in the summer to be one of the most captivating excursions anywhere.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – there are few initial views of a city skyline that are more impressive than exiting the Fort Pitt Tunnel and seeing downtown Pittsburgh, especially at night. With more bridges and inclines (funiculars) than anyplace else in the United States, varied topography and visual goodies are a huge understatement in Pittsburgh.
Ithaca, New York – with a slogan of “It’s Gorgeous” Ithaca beholds and beckons residents and visitors alike to explore its gorge-dotted terrain. Toss in the Finger Lakes and you have scenic combination that’s hard to top.
Dubuque, Iowa – like Bloomington, Indiana (see below), Dubuque defies the stereotype of Iowa being flat. It is a delightfully hilly city set along a particularly scenic segment of the Mississippi River where three state border converge (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin). Though not located on an Interstate Highway, Dubuque is easy to get to via U.S. 20, U.S. 61, and U.S. 151. It is definitely worth the try. Oh, by the way, be sure to check out the “Field of Dreams” in nearby Dyersville, Iowa.
Marquette, Michigan – the economic epicenter and unofficial capital of the Upper Peninsula, Marquette is a charming city situated on an especially scenic segment of Lake Superior shoreline. Sugarloaf Mountain, and Presque Isle City Park add to the ambiance, as do the crystal clear waters and rugged coastline. While you are there, within a few miles of Marquette are a myriad of waterfalls.
Altoona, Pennsylvania – set in a long, lovely valley, Altoona is framed by linear blueish mountain ridges of the Allegheny and Appalachian Mountains.
Athens, Ohio – hidden in hilly southeast Ohio, Athens is an enchanting surprise to anyone visiting the city for the first time. The University of Ohio campus (far prettier than that other school in Columbus) adds to the charm of overall setting.
Cincinnati, Ohio – tucked away in the southwest corner of the state along the Ohio River, Cincinnati has a storied history. Its hilly terrain makes the city come alive with exciting views and vistas from every direction.
Fall River, Massachusetts – another isthmus city, which is situated on a ridge between the Taunton River and Mt. Hope Bay on the west, and North Wattupa Pond on the east. The view from any direction while crossing the Charles Braga (I-195) Bridge is spectacular.
Erie, Pennsylvania – set aside its namesake lake, Erie is much more than lake effect snow. It is Presque Isle State Park which juts out into Lake Erie like a gigantic comma; it is sandy, windswept ridges, and it is full of captivating history.
Bloomington, Indiana – who said Indiana was flat? Come to Bloomington to see for yourself that the Hoosier State indeed has hills. I may be a Purdue alumni, but in spring time, Bloomington is especially nice as the flowering trees bloom and blossom.
There are other cities I could have included, but I think the point has been made. Sometimes, we are overly critical of ourselves. But, if Rust Belt residents stop and take an objective look, I think they would agree that we have some inspiring city settings too.
by Rick Brown