So many festivals, so little fall
When time is short, go power tripping and catch two or three fests in one day.
© Beth Gauper
In La Crosse, Oktoberfest stretches across nine days.
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
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 day.
If you want to cram in as many fall festivities as possible before cold weather arrives, here's a guide to the best places to be each weekend in 2012.
If you want to stay overnight, make reservations as soon as possible. And before setting out, call or check websites for festival highlights and plan around them.
Second weekend of September/Southern Minnesota
The first time I went power tripping was the weekend after Labor Day, when Northfield holds its Defeat of Jesse James Days, the historic village of Mantorville holds Marigold Days and the Minnesota River
college town of St. Peter holds the Rock Bend Folk
Don't miss the bank-raid re-enactments in Northfield, where the bad guys ride horses. In Mantorville, catch a melodrama. In St. Peter, kick back in the city park and listen to as much music as you want — it's free.
I hit them all on a day trip from the Twin Cities, and after three festivals and three towns, I felt as if I’d been gone three days. The best thing was that fall was just getting started.
© Beth Gauper
In Northfield, Defeat of Jesse James Days features re-enactments.
Third weekend of September/Lake Michigan from Milwaukee
If you think accordions and beer steins say "fall,'' start your weekend in Glendale,
on the northern edge of Milwaukee.
The monthlong Oktoberfest put on by the Bavarian Soccer Club and United German Societies in Heidelberg Park is the oldest in the Midwest. It includes folk dancing, sing-alongs, yodeling and such typical German festival foods as spanferkel and rollbraten.
Don't miss the Great Pumpkin Regatta, where paddlers in hollowed-out pumpkins race across Cedar Creek, or the grape stomp.
The bicycle trail ends at the county line, north of Belgium. But if you keep going, you'll hit Two Rivers for Ethnic Festival and Algoma for the Wet Whistle Wine Festival at Von Stiehl Winery, which includes a celebrity grape stomp and fine-art show.
Fourth weekend of September/St. Croix River Valley
In fall, the small towns that line the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin are a favorite destination. This weekend is a particularly good time to go.
Just west of Taylors Falls, stop by the Franconia Sculpture Park for the family-friendly Franconia Art & Music Festival. In town, Interstate State Park is offering a Pothole Exploration Tour on Sunday.
In Marine on St. Croix, it's Voyageur Encampment and Geocaching Weekend at William O'Brien State Park.
Farther down the river, the village of Afton holds Afton Art in the Park. After that, head south to Afton State Park for a Fall Colors Walk on Sunday. Along St. Croix Trail, apple orchards will be offering hay rides and trips through corn mazes.
For more, see A sortie along the St. Croix.
© Beth Gauper
There's a whole field of sculptures at Franconia Sculpture Park, near Taylors Falls.
Fifth weekend of September/Iowa heritage towns
People are fascinated by the Amana Colonies of eastern Iowa, though they aren't Amish. The Amish live nearby, however, along with their cousins the Mennonites, in the countryside around Kalona.
Both areas are having fall festivals this weekend, Oktoberfest
in Amana, west of Cedar Rapids, and
Fall Festival in Kalona, south of Iowa City. You'll see lots of
Old World craftsmanship and be able to eat old-fashioned, homemade food at both fests.
First weekend of October/Mississippi River Valley
Down at the riverside, it's the first of two weekend Flea Markets Under the Bridge in Marquette. A hop farther, it's the Fall Arts and Crafts Fest in McGregor, a quirky little town tucked at the foot of the bluffs.
© Beth Gauper
In northern Illinois, St. Charles holds Scarecrow Fest.
And take time to drive up to Pikes Peak State Park, 500 feet above the river. The views are spectacular, and admission is free.
Galena is known as an adult destination, but this weekend there are games and prizes for kids, too.
Second weekend of October/Door Peninsula
With all its orchards, Door
County is impossibly scenic in fall, and its fall color tends to hang on longer than most places.
Then head up the Door Peninsula for Fall Fest in Sister Bay.
Third weekend of October/Wisconsin coulee country
Just south of Wisconsin Dells, the big Fall Art Tour winds through the most picturesque nooks and crannies of southwest Wisconsin. It’s in and around the towns of Baraboo, Dodgeville, Mineral Point and Spring Green.
Just to the west, in the countryside around Reedsburg, go to Fermentation
Fest, a series of tastings, cooking classes, brewing seminars and the 50-mile Farm/Art DTour, with Roadside Culture
And take an hour or two to hike in Devil's Lake State Park just south of Baraboo, which still should have good fall color this weekend.
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