MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for summer

Cruising around Excelsior
On the Twin Cities' fringe, a historic lake-resort town still draws day-trippers.
A feast of festivals
At small-town shindigs, get your fill of strawberries and sauerkraut, kolacky and sweet corn.
Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis
The lakes, river and creeks that ring this metropolis are a magnet year-round.
The Wisconsin resort of your dreams
Here's where to look for the perfect place on a lake.
The Minnesota resort of your dreams
Here's where to look for the perfect place on a lake.
Planning a family reunion
It's tough to please everyone, but the rewards are huge.
Cruising to a lighthouse
In summer, excursion boats give visitors a chance to see historic beacons.
Tubing a lazy river
Lolling on the water, it's easy to play it cool.

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FastPlans/Cool Grand Marais

People walking on the Grand Marais breakwall.

On Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior, this village of 1,400 is more cosmopolitan than many towns 20 times its size — it has a performing-arts center, a folk school, an art colony and galleries and restaurants that could hold their own in much bigger cities.

What to do: Walk to Artists' Point and the harbor light station. Skip rocks on the beach. Take a class from North House Folk School. Hike at nearby Cascade River State Park. Hunt for agates and Thompsonite at Cutface Creek Wayside.

Events to catch: July 30-Aug. 2, Fisherman's Picnic.

Where to stay: For rooms on a budget, see Mom-and-pop motels of Grand Marais.

Details: For more, see Four seasons of Grand Marais.

Past fast plans: Moose Lake agates, Breezy in Bayfield, Summer in Winona, Minneapolis' river, Summer in Chicago

This weekend

Celebrate summer on Great Lakes shores.

Cobblestones line Grand Marais' harbor.

Fisherman's Picnic in Grand Marais, Minn. There's a lot going on at the North Shore's biggest festival, including loon-calling, log-rolling, herring-eating and rock-skipping contests; Saturday fireworks; and the grand parade at 1 p.m. Sunday. July 30–Aug. 2.

Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven, Mich. There's nightly entertainment on the waterfront, a downtown carnival, tours of Coast Guard cutters and a Grand Parade  and fireworks Saturday. Through Aug. 2.

Brat Days in Sheboygan, Wis. This town on Lake Michigan is sausage central. There's music, a carnival, beer and, of course, a brat-eating contest. The parade is 9 a.m. Saturday. July 30–Aug. 1.

Taste of Wisconsin in Kenosha, Wis. This free harborfront festival features locally produced specialties as well as cooking demonstrations and music on three stages. July 31–Aug. 2.

For more events, see our Events Calendar.

Grand sand

Along Lake Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are a playground for all ages.

Girls run into the Platte River.

One Great Lake east of Superior, there’s another North Shore.

It doesn’t have any craggy points or sheer palisades, and there are no agates waiting to be found. It has no waterfalls, and not a scrap of basalt; in fact, there’s nothing volcanic about it.

But this north shore, on the leeward side of Lake Michigan, has something Minnesota's beautiful North Shore on Lake Superior doesn’t have: Sand, lots and lots of sand.

In fact, it’s nothing but a big, squashy pile of sand, deposited by the last glacier and continually whipped into new shapes by the same nor’westers that skip right over the North Shore.

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For football fans, a preview

Watching is free and festive at training camps for Vikings, Packers and Bears.

Green Bay Packer on way to practice.

It's that time of year again.

If you're wondering how the Vikings, Packers or Bears will do this year, you can get a preview by watching the players gear up for the season at training camps.

Make a day of it, because all of the camps offer festivities, games of skill, giveaways, autograph sessions for kids and even fireworks. Admission is free.

Here are the highlights in 2015.

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Road Trip: Otter Tail County

Big surprises pop up along a scenic byway in northwest Minnesota.

A giant otter is Fergus Falls' mascot.

In Minnesota's Otter Tail County, everything comes extra-large and in multiples.

Few know that this county near the North Dakota border has more lakes than any other in Minnesota — 1,048 — or even that it has lakes at all.

It also has the state's densest concentration of giant mascots and roadside sculptures, largely thanks to a scrap-metal wizard who also is the father of an astronaut.

But before he made his first piece, a 1,200-pound foot, the county already had a 23-foot fiberglass warrior plus a 15½-foot pelican and 22-foot otter, both billed as the world's largest.

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What to bring on a camping trip

Here's how to keep your packing list short but still have what you need.

Campsite in Decorah.

Tent camping is the best deal in travel. You can go at the last minute, you get the most scenic locations and you pay hardly anything.

It's too bad about all that stuff you have to bring along.

Some super-organized people love to pack gear and have most of it ready to go after the last camping trip. But most of us aren't that kind of person.

Most of us just want to head out the door and go. But if you want to save on a hotel bill, you've got to bring stuff.

The question is, how much? Here's how to make it easy on yourself. 

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Cheat the heat

When summer becomes a sauna, it's time to chill out.

Rafters go over rapids on Wolf River.

When heat wraps itself around your shoulders like an electric blanket with static cling, there’s only one thing to do: Look for cold water.

You'll find it tubing on a spring-fed river, such as the South Branch of the Root River, which takes a short cut through Mystery Caverns and heads toward Lanesboro chilled to 48 degrees.

On Minnesota's North Shore, plop yourself into one of the Baptism River’s potholes and let the cool waters swirl around you. Or go whitewater rafting — a fast cool-down is guaranteed.

If it's really scorching, try a dip in Lake Superior. Sheltered coves can be tolerable, especially off Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but otherwise it's perfectly chilly.

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