The trumpeter swans have arrived in Monticello. From November through February, more than 2,000 trumpeter swans gather at a warm spot on the Mississippi River, just an hour west of the Twin Cities.
When to go: Jim Lawrence feeds the swans at 10:30 a.m. every day; get there early and watch them fly in.
Events to catch: Jan. 5-11, Frostbite Days.
Past fast plans: Shops of Cedarburg, Christmas in Chicago, Milwaukee Christmas, Sample the Amanas, Shopping in Madison
Folkways of the Holidays in Shakopee, Minn. The Landing, a living-history museum, offers horse-drawn trolley rides, tours of 19th-century homes, a folk concert, live reindeer and German dancers. Dec. 20-21.
Christkindlmarket in Chicago. At this Old World Christmas market, the Christkind appears Saturday, and there's a cooking demonstration Sunday. Through Dec. 24.
Holidazzle Village in Minneapolis. An open-air, German-style market is open daily and the village on weekends, with ice-skating on Nicollet Mall Dec. 20-21.
Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, Minn. Tour the retro-cool lighted decorations in Bayfront Festival Park, visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus and enjoy free treats. Bring food to donate. Through Dec. 27.
For more events, see our Events Calendar.
When we were kids, we liked winter. Remember?
We built snow forts and made snow angels. We caught snowflakes on our tongues and took flying leaps on patches of ice.
We had fun. What happened?
We grew up. And now, winter is a chore.
There's no use hiding from winter it lasts too long, and eventually that living room will get old.
Many of the tourist spots we love to visit in summer work hard to lure us back when it's cold, offering festivals with lots of fun in the snow, plus bonfires and chili feeds to warm us up afterward.
For an exciting spectator event, watch the start of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth or the Crashed Ice extreme skating in St. Paul.
If you wish you could be at the Winter Olympics, see the next best thing at ski-jumping competitions in Westby, Wis., or Iron Mountain, Mich.
In the Upper Midwest, finding a good deal is a sport second only to football.
Some of us need a bargain. Some of us just like them. But we all need to get away occasionally, especially when cabin fever strikes in winter.
Round up a group of friends, and you'll save a bundle. One February, we rented one of the modern guesthouses in Minnesota's St. Croix State Park. We skied by candlelight, went snowshoeing on the river and spotted a rare boreal owl sitting in a tree near our house. Total cost per person, including food: $30.
That's among 20 inexpensive weekend trips you can take in 2015, most for $100 or less per person.
It's not easy to find the cabin of your dreams. My friend Ellen knows, because she's been looking for years.
I want a cabin with a big stone fireplace, a pine floor and an old-fashioned bed, nestled in the woods with really tall pines or near a lake where you can go out skiing during the day,'' she says. "Not at a big resort with a ton of things to do, necessarily, but with some ice skating, can you picture that?
Something like Little House in the Woods,'' you know, with a braided rug. It doesnt have to be all fussy and brand-new. So many cabins are so modern, kind of like a hotel. I like rustic.''
Has she ever found this cabin? Nope.
I dont know if it exists,'' she says. Maybe only in the movies.''
Some people may guess that lakes or bicycle trails are the chief attraction for travelers in the Upper Midwest. Other might say museums, state parks or stadiums.
Wrong, wrong and wrong. The No. 1 attraction in travel is . . . shops.
Shopping is sightseeing for a lot of people. On vacation, they shop not as they would at the local mall, but as if had all the time in the world to browse, stroll and sample.
As, in fact, they do. Legions of weekend hobby shoppers have fueled the rise of such boutique towns as Stillwater in Minnesota, Cedarburg in Wisconsin and Galena in Illinois.
Two centuries ago, Minnesota and Wisconsin were ripe for the picking.
Iron ore lay under forests of tall white pine, fertile farmland lay under prairie grasses, and rivers teeming with beaver led to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.
It all turned into money when ambitious men arrived, gathering up the goodies like kids on Halloween. They logged, they mined, they traded and they shipped. The men who made the biggest fortunes did it all, plowing their first round of profits into railroads, land and banking.
Then, they built houses.
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