MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for winter

Time to eat
During Restaurant Weeks, you can be a glutton with a good conscience.
White gold in the Porkies
In the Upper Peninsula, a wilderness park rewards those who love snow.
Inn retreats
If you don't like the weather, spend a weekend where everything is under one roof.
Owls, owls, everywhere
An influx of magnificent birds has birders hurrying up north.
20 perfect cabins
They're in the woods, with views, vintage charm and modern luxuries (but maybe not all together).
The best in snow tubing
With their multiple lanes, conveyor lifts and snow-making, these aren't your grandma's hills.
Serious reservations
Here's a guide to the lodgings, campsites and permits you should nail down now for travel in 2015.
Dog days of winter
Deep in Superior National Forest, novice mushers tag along with some huskies.

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FastPlans/Fun in Bayfield

A skier and snowmobiler use trails near Bayfield.

In winter, when snow covers the Bayfield Peninsula, attention turns from Lake Superior to the hills. That's where there are miles of trails for skiing, snowshoeing, mushing and sledding.

What to do: Hike to the mainland ice caves near Cornucopia. Ski downhill at Mount Ashwabay. Ski and snowmobile at Mount Valhalla. Go on a dog-sled trip

Events to catch: Feb. 7-8, Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race. March 6-8, Winter Festival.

Details: For more, see Bayfield in winter.

Past fast plans: Winter in Wausau, Itasca in winter, Swans in Monticello, Shops of Cedarburg, Christmas in Chicago

This weekend

Bring a crew and join the winter games.

Smoosh racing.

U.S. Snow Sculpting Championship and Winterfest in Lake Geneva, Wis. Watch artists shape snow into whimsical shapes and vote on the best ones. There will also be music and helicopter rides. Jan. 28–Feb. 8.

Celebration of the Lakes in Center City, Minn. This festival on North Center Lake includes smoosh racing, sled-dog rides, a medallion hunt and a free ice-fishing camp for kids. Jan. 30–Feb. 1.

City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis. On city lakes, watch or join a snow-sculpture contest, ski games for children and lots of races: skiing, orienteering, ice-cycle, snowshoeing, skijoring, fat-tire and sled-dog. Jan. 30–Feb. 1.

Scandihoovian Winter Festival in Mount Horeb, Wis. In this town just west of Madison, there's turkey bowling, a snowman-building contest, kick sledding, a spelling bee and a vintage snowmobile show and ride. Jan. 30–Feb. 1.

For more events, see our Events Calendar.

Ski or snowshoe by candlelight

On a cold winter's night, follow the twinkling lights.

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

If you do only one thing outdoors in winter, do it by candlelight.

Nothing is more magical than a forest full of flickering lights. I got hooked when I skied in Minnesota's Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.

A fat blue moon hung in the sky, sparkling hoarfrost made twigs as nubby as reindeer antlers and more than 400 glowing bags gave the forest a fairy-tale aura.

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The chocolate cure

As winter drags on, drown your sorrows with sweets.

Candinas chocolates in Madison.

In February and March, most of us are getting tired of winter . . . time to eat some chocolate.

As everyone knows, chocolate has unique restorative qualities. It's effective draped on strawberries, whipped into mousse, covering cakes . . . you get the idea.

Here's where to go to thumb your nose at winter (and your diet). Pick from tastings, tours, road trips and tours.

Here's how to take the chocolate cure in 2015.

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Bacon bashes

If you fry it, they will come. Here's where to pig out around the region.

Baconfest in Chicago.

Have you ever had enough bacon?

If not, you can get your chance at a rasher of pork parties around the region. At Des Moines' Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival one year, a Nebraska woman put away 2½ pounds in less than five minutes.

If you're wondering how the bacon boom started, Business Week can give you the official answer. It has to do with pork-belly futures (seriously).

Here's a better answer: The world is complicated, and bacon is simple. 

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Winter adventure on a budget

High ropes course at Wolf Ridge.

In winter, it's hard to find a lodge getaway that fits every budget.

Lodges that offer skiing on groomed trails, sled-dog mushing and wood-fired saunas aren't cheap.

But if you'd like to try those things — and be greeted by a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies afterward — you have a friend in environmental learning centers.

These non-profit centers are the low-cost Club Meds of the north woods, offering all-inclusive weekend packages that include home-cooked meals, indoor lodgings and winter fun — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, even wolf-tracking and sled-dog mushing.

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Living in a lighthouse

Around the Great Lakes, volunteers keep the light on for tourists.

Pottawatomie Light on Rock Island.

Around the Great Lakes, love for lighthouses is unlimited. Often called "America's castles,'' lighthouses are symbols of a more adventurous era, and tourists find them irresistible.

Now, the state parks and friends associations who care for them have found a way to harness all this passion: They're turning tourists into volunteer keepers. 

For a week or two, volunteers live at the lighthouse, hosting visitors and doing chores. Some get to sleep under quilts in the historic keepers' quarters.

Some stay at nearby cabins, and others, like Molly and Rich Hoeg of Duluth, choose to camp at the remote 1875 Crisp Point Light near Michigan's Shipwreck Coast.

"We liked having it to ourselves,'' said Molly Hoeg. "There wasn't anyone allowed to stay over but us.''

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Where eagles land

Near winter gathering spots, towns capitalize on the birds' popularity by throwing festivals.

An eagle looks for fish at the lock and dam in Genoa, Wis.

Eagles don't really have lovable personalities. But, man, are they fun to watch.

Those haughty pale eyes, that 6-foot wing span, those wicked talons and the flesh-shredding beak — eagles are just plain cool.

Everything about them is larger than life, right down to their nests, which are so big and sturdy that bears sometimes climb into them to hibernate.

To watch an eagle wheeling and dipping through the air is treat enough. It's even more of a thrill to see an airborne food fight or the tandem plummet of mating eagles.

As eagle populations have increased, it's no longer uncommon to spot a bald eagle. But that's only increased the number of tourists who want to do so.

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