MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for spring

Great summer festivals
Here are the best of the fests in the Upper Midwest.
Wildflowers of the North Shore
On the shores of Lake Superior, delicate blooms mark the return of warmth.
Michigan's great lake cabins
In the only state that borders three Great Lakes, the best places to stay are in state parks.
Destination: Mackinaw City
On the south shore of the Mackinac Straits, the year is 1775.
A feast of festivals
At small-town shindigs, get your fill of strawberries and sauerkraut, kolacky and sweet corn.
Road trip: Wisconsin River
The valleys and bluffs around Prairie du Sac draw paddlers, hikers and Sunday drivers.
Searching for mushrooms
When days get warmer, fungus hunters get ready to root out the wily morel.
Watching a water-ski show
Spend a perfect summer evening watching flips, dance lines and pyramids.

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FastPlans/Lanesboro outdoors

A bicyclist pedals the Root River State Trail in spring.

In summer, this hamlet in Minnesota's southeast corner kicks into high gear as bicyclists, paddlers and trout fishermen stream into its many inns and B&Bs.

The beautiful Root River State Trail jump-started Lanesboro's renaissance in the 1980s, but now tourists also come for the theater and art.

What to do: Bicycle the 42-mile Root River State Trail or 18-mile Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail. Canoe or kayak the Root River. Fish for trout.

See Ibsen's "The Master Builder'' or "Woody Guthrie's American Song'' at Commonweal Theatre. Shop for art at Lanesboro Arts Center. Take an Amish tour in the countryside.

Events to catch: June 6, Rhubarb Festival. June 21, Art in the Park.

Details: For more, see The belle of bluff country.

Past fast plans: Door County spring, Horicon Marsh birds, Escape to Stillwater, Duluth boat-watching, A ball in Milwaukee

This weekend

Listen to concerts, marching bands and jigs.

Chocolate sculpting in Burlington.

World's Largest Brat Fest in Madison. There's music on four stages plus races, family sports, carnival rides and Sunday fireworks. Admission is free. May 22–25.

Chicago Gaelic Park Irish Festival in Oak Forest, Ill. In this west Chicago suburb, there's music plus a petting zoo, hurling, theater, Irish dog and pony exhibits and red hair, freckle and bonnie baby contests. May 22–25.

North Iowa Band Festival in Mason City, Iowa. Don't miss the 10 a.m. Saturday band parade in this town, which Meredith Willson made famous in "The Music Man.'' May 21–25.

ChocolateFest in Burlington, Wis. This big festival features a battle of the chefs, chocolate-eating contests, a lumberjack show, carnival rides and Friday fireworks. May 22–25.

For more events, see our Events Calendar.


Chicago as you like it

Tourists at Cloud Gate in Chicago.

Chicago is like one big theme park. The thing is, you have to bring your own theme.

I have one every time I go there: Blues and bicycling. Museums and dim sum. Skyscrapers and food tours.

That's because the possibilities are endless. There's so much to do in Chicago that it's easy to bounce around like a kid in a candy store, overwhelmed by choices, as time runs out.

So I always zero in on what I can't do at home. How about seeing a Caribbean reef at Shedd Aquarium and Dalis at the Art Institute? Or cruising through an urban landscape shaped by the man who said, "Make no little plans''?

There's certainly nothing little about Chicago. It's big, swaggering, a bit uncouth by reputation — the most American of cities, some say — but also friendly and generous to visitors.

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Baileys Harbor in Door County

On the Lake Michigan side of the famous peninsula, this town draws nature-lovers.

Kiteboarding in Baileys Harbor.

Every May, wildflower followers find their way to Baileys Harbor.

They walk past two 1870 range lights on a boardwalk lined by endangered dwarf lake iris.  On  strips of wetland called swales, they look for bogbean and goldthread. In June, they search for 25 species of orchids.

The land Ridges Sanctuary occupies almost became a trailer park. Now, it's habitat for more species of plants than any other place in Wisconsin.

The preserve is why many people visit Baileys Harbor. But even more come to photograph its lighthouses, kiteboard off its breezy beach and bicycle on its roads.

The town is the biggest on the Lake Michigan side of Door County, and its arguably the most outdoorsy destination on the peninsula.

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10 great bog walks

In early summer, find out what's blooming under the boardwalk.

The flower of a pitcher plant.

In nature, bogs are the coral reefs of the north woods.

They're wet, spongy and seething with life that's often too small to see unless you look closely. Lean over the boardwalk, and you'll get a better view of sparkly goldthread or the lacy needles of baby tamarack.

But looks can be deceiving in a bog. Flowers that seem delicate are relentless predators, attracting flies to patterned red leaves that resemble engorged arteries, then drowning and digesting them.

The daintiest of the orchids have oddly menacing names: dragon's mouth, adder's mouth.

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Planning a paddle trip

If you'd like to hit the waterways this summer, you'll find lots of encouragement.

Canoeists paddle on the Chicago River.

Early spring is not too soon to start planning a summer on the water.

Outdoors and paddle clubs are happy to show the ropes to new members.

Outdoors stores offer boat demos and free classes on trip planning. Rangers at federal wildlife reserves offer guided trips.

Paddling guides offer lots of ideas, and many water trails are being developed, some right in cities.

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Cheap summer getaways in the Upper Midwest

No money, no problem: Here's how to find a great vacation for $100 or less in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois.

Marquette University's Straz Tower dorm.

In summer, you don't need to spend much to have a great vacation

Many of the great travel experiences in the Upper Midwest can’t be bought, anyway — swimming in a Great Lake, hiking on a wooded trail, canoeing under an eagle's nest.

Here's where to find great vacations you can take for $100 or less.

Read story and trip tips




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