MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for summer

Toasting Oktoberfest
These festive tributes to Bavarian tradition put the oompah into fall.
Street of dreams
On St. Paul's Summit Avenue, imposing mansions are remnants of the Gilded Age.
Bicycling around Lake Bemidji
The Paul Bunyan Trail is only part of a beautiful ride in northern Minnesota.
Autumn in the studios
On fall art tours, treasure hunters strike gold (and orange and red).
Hiking in Duluth
The city sections of the Superior Hiking Trail are easy to reach and amazingly scenic.
Great grape stomps
At winery harvest festivals, compete with your feet.
10 great places to take teens
Sure, they'd rather be with their friends but you're the one with the wallet.
Best brew fests
Quaff craft beer to your heart's content at these tasting parties.

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FastPlans/Sample La Crosse

A carriage in La Crosse.

The biggest asset of this three-college town is its location, right on the Mississippi River in southwest Wisconsin's coulee country. Its scenery and festivals draw tourists year-round.

Getting there: Why not take the train? From the west, Amtrak's Empire Builder arrives at 10:47 a.m.; from the east, at 7:14 p.m. (barring delay).

What to do: Take a cruise on the Mississippi Explorer or the paddlewheeler La Crosse Queen. Drive up Grandad Bluff for a panoramic view of the town. Ride the La Crosse River State Trail.

Events to catch: Aug. 29-Sept. 1, Bicycle Festival, with free tours and a downtown music festival.

Details: See Cruising La Crosse.

Past fast plans: Fun in the Porkies, Exploring Voyageurs, Bemidji and Bunyan, Cool Grand Marais, Kickapoo canoeing

So many festivals, so little fall

Want to go on an autumn power trip? Here are the best places to be each weekend.

Pumpkins decorated by kids.

In this part of the world, fall is sweet but way too short.

All of the quaint little towns along rivers and in the bluffs have to pack their autumn festivals into the same six weekends, rolling out parades, pumpkin contests and oompah bands for all the leaf-peeping tourists.

The choices are paralyzing. Flea market or scarecrow contest? Pumpkin regatta or studio tour? Yodeling contest or dachshund races?

You can't do it all, but you can do a lot. Just go on a power trip — to two, even three festivals in one weekend.

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North Shore by the mile

Planning a trip to this beloved part of Minnesota? Start at 0.0.

Swimmers at the mouth of the Temperance River.

If you don’t know much about Minnesota’s North Shore, trip-planning can be confusing.

For one thing, it’s really the west shore of Lake Superior. People in Ontario don’t get confused because they live on the real north shore. Chicagoans do because they call their northern suburbs the North Shore.

This pointy corner of Minnesota also is called the Arrowhead Region. Some people call its roads by their names — Sawbill and Caribou — and some by their numbers — County Road 2 and County Road 4. Some people heading north along the shore say they’re heading east, and they’re right.

Even if you know exactly where you are, it’s still hard to plan a trip to the North Shore: There’s so much to see and do, and everything passes in a flash.

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Riding the rails

On vintage-train excursions, the scenery is only part of the fun.

An excursion train stops in Two Harbors.

Thanks to volunteers who love locomotives, excursion trains live on.

These days, trains also are rolling entertainment venues, offering murder mysteries and beer tasting in addition to barbecue, pizza, brunch, happy hour and holiday trains.

In autumn, there are pumpkin trains and fall-color excursions, including one on the Milwaukee Road 261 steam locomotive, which will make a run from Minneapolis to Duluth and back Sept. 27-28.

The scenery is great year-round. Below are some of the best trains to ride.

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10 great outdoors towns

Want to get sweaty, dirty . . . and exhilarated? Here's where to go.

Brewers Ridge on the Superior Hiking Trail.

This summer, Duluth made us proud by beating out 63 other U.S. towns in Outside magazine's best outdoors town tournament.

It's hard to argue with Duluth, even against such better-known towns as Boulder, Colo., and Missoula, Mont., because everything it offers is right in the city – hiking, mountain biking, paddling, skiing.

But other towns are almost as deserving, and there's still time this summer to visit them (though the best are just as fun in winter).

Here are 10 great outdoor towns in the western Great Lakes.

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10 great places to find wildflowers

In late summer, blooms paint the landscape in every color under the sun.

Pearly everlasting grows amid bunchberries on the Keweenaw P

In summer, you don’t have to hunt wildflowers.

They’re big and splashy, blooming by the thousands on prairie, along bicycle trails and anywhere there’s sun. When everything else is green, they give us pops of color: the purple of bottle gentian, the orange of hawkweed, the yellow of tansy.

Do you like Monet’s paintings of Giverny? Then you’ll love the meadows of blue vervain and Queen Anne’s lace on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, the swaths of pearly everlasting and red bunchberry on the Keweenaw Peninsula and the fields of sunflower and blazing star along the Waters of the Dancing Sky scenic byway in northern Minnesota.

This time of year, it’s a real pleasure to take a drive — or a hike or bike ride. Here are 10 great places to find late-summer wildflowers.

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