MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for winter

Great holiday festivals
In November and December, check out Santa, Scrooge and shopping markets.
The best in snow tubing
With their multiple lanes, conveyor lifts and snow-making, these aren't your grandma's hills.
Old World Christmas markets
Local versions of the traditional German Christkindlmarkt are a hit during the holidays.
Staying warm in winter
If you know what to wear, dealing with cold weather is a breeze.
Owls, owls, everywhere
An influx of magnificent birds has birders hurrying up north.
Choosing snowshoes
You can make, buy or simply try the different models at state parks and nature centers.
Ski or snowshoe by candlelight
On a cold winter's night, follow the twinkling lights.
Inn retreats
If you don't like the weather, spend a weekend where everything is under one roof.

Find us on Facebook

FastPlans/Swans in Monticello

Trumpeter swans gather in Monticello.

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.

What else to do: Shop at the nearby Albertville Premium Outlets. Ski, snowshoe or ice skate at nearby Lake Maria State Park.

Events to catch: Jan. 5-11, Frostbite Days.

Details: See Snow birds and Winter weekend in Monticello.

Past fast plans: Shops of Cedarburg, Christmas in Chicago, Milwaukee Christmas, Sample the Amanas, Shopping in Madison

This weekend

Join in Christmas traditions from Germany.

The Landing in Shakopee.

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.

Best of winter

Here are 20 things that will make you fall in love with snow season.

A tube line at Afterglow Resort.

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.

Read story and trip tips

The coolest days of winter

Ditch the indoors for one of these great festivals.

A festival ice sculpture.

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.

Read story and trip tips

Cheap winter getaways

Here are 20 places where a fun weekend is easy on the wallet.

Skiers in front of Mississippi Headwaters Hostel in Itasca.

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.

Read story and trip tips

20 perfect cabins

They're in the woods, with views, vintage charm and modern luxuries (but maybe not all together).

Cabin B at Tettegouche Camp.

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 doesn’t 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 don’t know if it exists,'' she says. “Maybe only in the movies.''

Read story and trip tips

Great shopping towns

Few shoppers can resist these Shangri-Las of spending.

Shops on High Street in Mineral Point.

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.

Read story and trip tips

Homes for the holidays

For Christmas tours, historic mansions up the ante on opulence.

Mayowood decorated for the holidays.

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.

Read story and trip tips

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter

Get our weekly stories, tips and updates delivered a day early — directly to your Inbox. Wondering what you'll get? Take a look at our newsletter archive.

* indicates required