MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for fall

Free for all
At festivals and attractions across the region, fun doesn't cost a thing.
Grazing in Wisconsin
Where Badger state began, Old World flavors remain.
Ghosts on the prowl
Around the region, spirits of past turn out to haunt tourists of today.
Riding the rails
On vintage-train excursions, the scenery is only part of the fun.
Cheap Chicago
Here are 10 tips to make a trip to the Windy City easy to afford.
Halloween in Chicago
During scary season, this fun-loving city pulls out all the stops.
30 classic fall hikes
For autumn scenery, these beautiful trails are the best of the best.
15 great fall drives
Chase the colors through glorious autumn landscapes.

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FastPlans/Exploring Northfield

The Archer House in Northfield.

Just an hour south of the Twin Cities, the college town of Northfield makes a great excursion. Concerts at St. Olaf College are a great deal — they're free — but be careful; it's easy to spend a bundle in the town's nifty little shops.

What to do: Learn about the infamous 1876 bank raid  at the Northfield Historical Society. Hike in Carleton College's Arboretum, or "Arb,'' along the Cannon River. Shop downtown.

Events to catch: Nov. 7, a free concert by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra at St. Olaf College.

Details: For more, see Scrappy Northfield.

Past fast plans: Fall in Door County, Fall at Devil's Lake, Fall in Red Wing, Fall in Decorah, Art in Mineral Point

This weekend

In Madison, pick bacon, dogs or masks.

Halloween revelers in Chicago.

Freakfest in Madison. This fest along State Street features music on two stages, outdoor horror movies, a costume contest with prizes and much sampling at bars. Nov. 1.

Madison Bacon Festival in Madison. The people who brought the wildly popular Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival to Des Moines are bringing their bacon blowout to Alliant Energy Center, with unlimited sampling, bacon education lectures and music. Nov. 1.

Wisconsin Dog Fair in Madison. Demonstrations and seminars on more than 150 breeds at Alliant Energy Center. Nov. 2.

For more events, see our Events Calendar.

On the wine trail

In November, taste the fruits of the harvest on winery road trips.

Wine tasting at a vineyard.

As fall winds down on forest trails, the season is just gearing up on wine trails, where groups of wineries invite folks to take a little drive, sample the wares and maybe take home a few bottles.

Since wineries tend to be in very scenic areas, that’s not such a bad idea. And in November, many offer special events to put buyers in the holiday spirit.

Here are wine trails in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan that have planned events in fall 2014.

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Tales of the dead

At Chicago's famous Graceland Cemetery, the graves have a lot to say.

Lorado Taft's

It isn't true that dead men tell no tales.

Actually, they can be quite chatty. At Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, their stories keep up to seven tour guides busy, especially during Halloween season.

Graceland's residents are a Who's Who of Chicago society: retailer Marshall Field, meat-packer Philip Armour, hotelier Potter Palmer, piano maker William Kimball.

Often, their exits were as remarkable as their lives.

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Mural trails

In some places, colorful local characters are literally larger than life.

A mural of 22 lumberjacks in Ashland.

If you want to see colors, you don't have to wait for fall.

Artists are splashing every color of the spectrum across the sides of buildings, in murals that celebrate colorful local characters.

In the northern Wisconsin town of Ashland, murals pay tribute to lighthouse keepers, lumberjacks, pilots and jazz musicians. They've made Ashland such a destination that the Minnesota Iron Range town of Virginia has put their creators to work creating murals there, too.

In Illinois, vintage postcard-style murals in 35 towns mark the route of the Lincoln Highway.

In northern Iowa, dozens of towns sport the work of artist Carl Homstad, and in Michigan, Ludington has used eight artists to tell its story of life on a Great Lake.

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A yen for yurts

Cozy camping huts have come to the Midwest from Mongolia, with love.

A yurt in the Porcupines.

Yurts are popping up all over the Midwest, from Michigan to Iowa and now, to Minnesota state parks.

Seven new yurts have joined 88 camper cabins in Minnesota parks and recreation areas. Two are in Afton State Park on the St. Croix River, near St. Paul.

Two are in Glendalough State Park in west-central lakes country, near Battle Lake. And three are in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, the mountain-biking destination between Brainerd and Mille Lacs.

Why yurts? They rent for the same price as camper cabins, $50-$65. But the round, canvas-sided huts are much cozier, especially in winter, when they're heated by wood stoves.

I've stayed in yurts twice, once on a 30-below night in January and once on a 70-degree weekend in June. Both times, I slept like a log.

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November girlfriend getaways

When hunting season starts, women head out to have fun with their friends.

Horseback riding in autumn.

In November, women make a break for it.

As men sit in deer stands or watch football games on TV, women hit the road with their friends. They shop, they visit spas, they sip wine and they see shows their husbands or boyfriends don't want to see.

For women, November is a great month. Not only do they have a good excuse to get away with their friends, but it's time to start shopping for Christmas.

There are art fairs and holiday markets everywhere. And festivities start early in such shopping meccas as Cedarburg, Wis., which starts its Festive Friday Eves on the eve of Wisconsin's firearms deer opener.

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10 great late-fall getaways

It's the mellowest time of the year, when hotel rates drop with the leaves.

Dells Boat Tours.

Late fall – when crowds fade and hotel deals appear – is one of the best times to make a getaway.

For hikers, it's the sweet spot between the fall-color rush and hunting season. For shoppers, it's the time to get a head start on the holidays, before the craziness starts.

More often than not, the weather still is gorgeous, and stubborn oaks and willows offer color that lasts into early November.

The more popular a destination is in summer, the more likely you'll find great deals in late October and November. Check deal sites, including LivingSocial Escapes and Groupon Getaways.

Here are 10 great places to go for a late-fall getaway.

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Ghosts of the Great Lakes

Centuries of tragedy on ship and shore leave haunting memories.

The Edmund Fitzgerald.

This time of year, ghosts go hand in hand with shipwrecks and the malevolent late-fall storms that cause them.

Crews and passengers have been coming to bad ends ever since boats sailed the Great Lakes, starting with the French explorer La Salle's Griffin, which disappeared in 1679 after leaving Washington Island in Door County and may have been found this year off Michigan's Garden Peninsula.

Some say the ship was done in by an Iroquois curse on the French invaders, and that it still can be glimpsed lurking in the fog.

Lonely lighthouses also produce ghosts. In northern Michigan, two of them hold haunted tours: Seul Choix Point just east of the Garden Peninsula, where a keeper died in 1910, and Ontonagon on Lake Superior, where a young woman died of diphtheria in 1885.

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