MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for fall

Hawk heaven
On a ridgetop in Duluth, bird watchers keep eyes on the fall skies.
Toasting Oktoberfest
These festive tributes to Bavarian tradition put the oompah into fall.
10 cool ways to see fall colors
When the trees put on a show, get a front-row seat that can't be beat.
15 great fall views
From these overlooks, see rolling waves of color light up the landscape.
Greatest hits of the Ice Age
In Wisconsin, the best walking trails are gifts from the glaciers.
Bash on a bike trail
In fall, kick up your wheels at a small-town festival.
Packer country
Like Oz, Green Bay glows green and gold.
Paddling the Bois Brule
In northwest Wisconsin, this lively river is cherished by presidents, paddlers, fishermen and wildlife-watchers.

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FastPlans/Swiss in New Glarus

The chocolate shop in New Glarus.

In the Wisconsin town of New Glarus, the Swiss look is not just a facade for the tourists.

This town near Madison has jealously preserved its heritage on buildings, in restaurants and with festivals. It's an easy way to visit Switzerland without paying air fare.

What to do: Ride the 23-mile Sugar River State Trail. Tour the  New Glarus Brewing Co. Visit the Swiss Historical Village.

Events to catch: Sept. 4-6, Wilhelm Tell Festival. Sept. 25-27, Oktoberfest.

Details: For more, see Swiss at heart.

Past fast plans: Fun in the Porkies, Exploring Voyageurs, Alexandria's lakes, Keweenaw Peninsula, Cool Grand Marais

This weekend

Chuck a chip, cross a bridge, try a dish.

The Mackinac Bridge.

Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw in Prairie du Sac, Wis. There are chip-chucking contests plus music, kids' games and an arts and crafts fair. The Tournament of Chips parade is at noon Saturday. Sept. 4–5.

Taste of Madison in Madison, Wis. This free festival on Capitol Square includes 200 menu items from more than 80 restaurants, all priced at $1-$4. There's also music on three stages. Sept. 5–6.

Fox Valley Folk Music & Storytelling Festival in Geneva, Ill. Musicians and storytellers perform on eight stages at this festival in Island Park on the Fox River. Sept. 6–7.

Mackinac Bridge Walk in Mackinaw City, Mich. Once a year, on Labor Day, people can walk across the five-mile span, the third-longest suspension bridge in the world. Sept. 7.

For more events, see our Events Calendar.


Autumn in the studios

On fall art tours, treasure hunters strike gold (and orange and red).

Shops on Commerce Street in Mineral Point.

In September and October, artists everywhere throw open their studio doors, inviting the public to see some fall colors along with fine art.

It's tempting because of the scenic landscapes in which so many artists live: the bluffs of northeast Iowa, the coulees of southwest Wisconsin, the towns around Lake Pepin, the lumpy terrain of the Ice Age Trail.

"This is such a pretty area in the fall, and we thought it would be nice to have a tour where people could travel through it,'' says potter Diana Johnston, who helped found southwest Wisconsin's Fall Art Tour, the region's oldest.

The tours are free, and many artists demonstrate their craft and provide music and treats. It's not like shopping at the mall, that's for sure.

"You can get a slice of someone's life and see just what they do out there,'' Johnston says. "You can go home with a piece of art and have a story to go with it.''

Here are some of the best in 2015.

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Great grape stomps

At winery harvest festivals, compete with your feet.

A grape-stomp contestant in a barrel.

During harvest time in a vineyard, turning purple has nothing to do with the Minnesota Vikings.

Purple is what you'll be if you get into a wooden tub of grapes and try to turn them into juice with your bare feet.

Vineyards don't get their juice that way anymore, but many still offer a grape stomp, and there's nothing goofier to do on an autumn day.

There are prizes for those who extract the most juice and those who show the most "style,'' so wearing a creative costume helps.

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Best of fall

The chase is on as autumn colors start to coat the countryside.

Fall colors at Devil's Lake.

We always get a little frantic in fall, trying to make the most of a too-brief window of opportunity.

Fall is the best time for a lot of things: hiking, after frost has knocked off the bugs; road trips, when the countryside is at its loveliest; and wildlife-watching, when birds and beasts are on the move.

Plus, it's gorgeous. Most people try to catch the reds and oranges of maples at peak, but tamaracks, tallgrass and oaks keep things glowing through October.

Here are our picks for the best things to see and do this fall.

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10 great day trips from Chicago

Take a break to lounge on beaches, gawk at river canyons and go on brewery tours.

Bicycling along Racine's lakefront.

There's an endless number of fun things to do in Chicago, which is why tourists flock to it from around the world. To paraphrase the English wit Samuel Johnson, "When a man is tired of Chicago, he is tired of life.''

And yet, everyone needs to get out of town once in a while.

The traditional playground of Wisconsin lies to the north, and the beaches of  Michigan to the east. To the west, aim for destinations on rivers: the Fox, the Illinois, the Rock.

It's not easy to get out of Chicagoland, because it sprawls almost endlessly. Luckily, you can get to some of the destinations below by train.

Here are 10 great day trips from Chicago, all within an hour and a half (assuming traffic isn't impossible).

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So many festivals, so little fall

Want to go on an autumn power trip? Here are the best places to be each weekend.

Pumpkins decorated by kids.

In this part of the world, fall is sweet but way too short.

All of the quaint little towns along rivers and in the bluffs have to pack their autumn festivals into the same six weekends, rolling out parades, pumpkin contests and oompah bands for all the leaf-peeping tourists.

The choices are paralyzing. Flea market or scarecrow contest? Pumpkin regatta or studio tour? Yodeling contest or dachshund races?

You can't do it all, but you can do a lot. Just go on a power trip — to two, even three festivals in one weekend.

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Cheap fall getaways

Here are 20 places to enjoy autumn colors without going into the red.

A waterfall on the Presque Isle River in the Porcupines.

Fall is the busiest travel season of the year — we all know the nice days are numbered, and we're going to try our darndest to make them count.

But with pretty much everyone heading out to look for fall color, especially on weekends, there are few bargains.

That's why those of us on a budget look to our old friends: the parks, the mom-and-pop motels, the environmental centers, the hostels, the outdoors clubs.

Here's our list of 20 great autumn trips for $100 or less per person, based on two

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