MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Great spring festivals

It's a good time to indulge in brews, birding and blooms.

Three prairie chickens courting.

© Beth Gauper

Watching prairie-chicken courtship from blinds is the highlight of the Prairie Chicken Festival in central Wisconsin.

In the Upper Midwest, it's hard to know when spring starts.

On St. Patrick's Day, revelers may parade in sun or sleet; you have to be prepared for both. In the north woods, ski slopes hold spring luaus, carnivals and egg hunts, and skiers had better slather on the sun block or they'll burn.

March is the month for expos antiques, autos, gardens, golf, pets and sports and for tastings of beer, wine and cheese. Birding festivals start in April, and in May the flowers start popping out and festival season starts in earnest.

Here are the best festivals for spring 2015.

For more on birding festivals, see Birding in spring.

For maple-syrup festivals, see Sugarbush safari.

For ethnic festivals, see Celebrating roots.

For beer festivals, see Best brew fests.

For events year-round, see the Events Calendar.

Second weekend of March

In traditionally Irish St. Paul, the annual noon parade runs along Fourth Street to Rice Park; the parade in Madison is at 1:30 p.m. and runs from Capitol Square.

In Milwaukee, the big St. Pat's parade starts at noon, starting at Third and Wisconsin downtown and followed by music, dancing and pipes and drums at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center.

In Chicago, they really do dye the river green. Watch the dye job at 10 p.m. from the Michigan Avenue or Columbus Drive bridges, then watch the noon St. Pat's Day parade through Grant Park.

In Wisconsin, there are also parades in Prairie du Chien, Racine and Sturgeon Bay and in Plymouth, River Falls and the usually Swiss capital of Monroe.

In Minnesota, there are parades in Crosslake and St. Peter.

For more, see Toasting St. Pat.

Ghost Ships Festival in Milwaukee, WI This trade show, at the Crowne Plaza Milwaukee Airport Hotel, is devoted to Great Lakes maritime history and scuba diving. The exhibit hall is free and open to the public. March 13–14.

Canoecopia in Madison, WI It's the world's largest paddlesports expo, according to host Rutabaga, with dozens of demonstrations, workshops and presentations plus discounts on boats and gear. Bike-O-Rama, with discounts on bicycles and gear, is next door. At Alliant Energy Center. March 13–15.

St. Patrick's Day Festival in Emmetsburg, IA In northwest Iowa, this is the state's Irish capital, and it celebrates with many festivities, including a parade at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. March 13–14.

Balloon Rally & Snowshoe Championships in Cable, WI Hot-air balloonists give rides for charity, weather permitting, and athletes compete in the Braveheart Midwest Snowshoe Racing Championships. There's a balloon glow in the evening. Hosted by Lakewoods Resort. March 13–15.

St. Patrick's Day parade in Manitowoc, WI The parade in this Lake Michigan port town begins at 6:30 p.m. and features St. Patrick himself. Fireworks follow. March 13.

St. Patrick's Day parade in Milwaukee, WI The big parade starts at noon, starting at Third and Wisconsin downtown and followed by music, dancing and pipes and drums at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center. March 14.

St. Patrick's Day Parade in Chicago, IL In Chicago, they really do dye the river green. Watch the dye job at 9:15 a.m. from the Michigan Avenue or Columbus Drive bridges, then watch the noon parade through Grant Park. March 14.

Celtic Fest in Moorhead, MN This free festival at the Hjemkomst Center includes two entertainment stages, heritage programs, arts and crafts, interactive booths and Celtic food and treats. March 14.

Winter Powwow in West Allis, WI This traditional powwow with drumming, singing and food is the winter version of Indian Summer Festival. At Wisconsin State Fair Park. Grand entries are 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. March 14–15.

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi. March 14–15.

St. Patrick's Day parade in Madison, WI The parade is at 1:30 p.m. and runs from Capitol Square. March 15.

St. Patrick's Day Parade and Irish Fest in New London, WI This town west of Appleton becomes "New Dublin'' for the week, with festivities that include a big Grand Parade at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed with Irish music, food and marketplace under a heated big-top tent. March 16–21.

St. Patrick's Day parade in St. Paul, MN In this traditionally Irish city, the noon parade runs along Fourth Street to Rice Park. March 17.

Trolls wave in Westby's Syttende Mai parade.

© Beth Gauper

Trolls wave in Westby's Syttende Mai parade.

Third weekend in March

St. Patrick's Day Parade and Irish Fest in New London, WI This town west of Appleton becomes "New Dublin'' for the week, with festivities that include a big Grand Parade at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed with Irish music, food and marketplace under a heated big-top tent. March 16–21.

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi. March 21–22.

Fourth weekend in March

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi. March 28–29.

First weekend in April

Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, IA Dozens of musicians, artists and writers perform and read at downtown venues. On Friday evening, there's a literature crawl. March 31–April 5.

Egg Day in Milwaukee, WI There will be crafts, face-painting, bubble art and treats at the Hop-to-it Bunny Hunt, plus a parade at the Milwaukee County Zoo. April 4.

Maple Syrup Festival in Poynette, WI The MacKenzie Environmental Center, between the Wisconsin Dells and Madison, offers a pancake breakfast, guided tours of the sugarbush, demonstrations of tapping and syrup-making, intrepretive talks about how Indians and pioneers made syrup, old-time music and horse-drawn wagon rides. April 4.

Easter Egg Hunt in St. Paul, MN Children ages 2-7 can hunt for eggs on the lawn of the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue. Visitors can win prizes, get a small snack and look around the first floor of the mansion. Reserve in advance. April 4.

Easter Eggstravaganzoo in Green Bay, WI Look for Easter eggs at the NEW Zoo. April 4.

Victorian Easter Egg Roll in Shakopee, MN Make a basket, decorate a wooden egg and join a bunny hop relay or egg-and-spoon race at the Landing heritage park on the Minnesota River, in this southwest Minneapolis suburb. April 4.

Spring Egg Hunt in Bloomington, MN At Normandale Lake Park, there's a Fun Walk at 9:30 a.m., live music, a giant Easter Bunny and an 11 a.m. egg hunt with prizes for children up to 8 years old. April 4.

Second weekend in April

Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, WI See 150 independent films from Wisconsin and around the world in seven theaters in and around State Street. April 9–16.

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN More than 200 films from 70 countries are shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre on the Minneapolis riverfront. April 9–25.

Peace in Union sesquicentennial in Galena, IL This event commemorates the surrender at Appomattox, ending the Civil War, and includes performances of an original play, a pie auction, a Civil War band concert and a lamplight tour of the Grant Home. April 9–19.

Roots and Bluegrass Festival in River Falls, WI Hear music at half a dozen venues in the downtown of this western Wisconsin college town. April 10–12.

World War I Encampment in Rockford, IL A living-history encampment at Midway Village, with reenactors portraying soldiers from the United States, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, marks the 101st anniversary of the start of World War I. April 11–12.

Prairie Chicken Festival in Wisconsin Rapids, WI There's a Boomin' Brewery Bash at Central Waters Brewing in Amherst, with music, a poetry slam, arts, prairie-chicken trivia and prizes. On Saturdays in April, there are children's events at the Central Wisconsin Children's Museum in Stevens Point. Throughout the month, there's pre-dawn viewing of prairie-chicken courtship from blinds. Reservations are required. April 11.

Third weekend in April

Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, WI See 150 independent films from Wisconsin and around the world in seven theaters in and around State Street. April 9–16.

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN More than 200 films from 70 countries are shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre on the Minneapolis riverfront. April 9–25.

Peace in Union sesquicentennial in Galena, IL This event commemorates the surrender at Appomattox, ending the Civil War, and includes performances of an original play, a pie auction, a Civil War band concert and a lamplight tour of the Grant Home. April 9–19.

Ibsen Festival in Lanesboro, MN Festivities in this southeast Minnesota hamlet revolve around Commonweal Theatre and production of an Ibsen play. There will be Scandinavian food, art, film, music and walking tours. April 17–19.

Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, WI There's a Friday-night rodeo, blacksmith championships, stagecoach rides, Texas trick riders, music and performances, including the Wisconsin Mounted Police Team. At Alliant Energy Center. April 17–19.

Dairy State Cheese & Beer Festival in Kenosha, WI A celebration of cheese and microbrews at the Brat Stop. April 18.

Earth Day Birding Festival in Hastings, MN This festival at Carpenter Nature Center includes bird-banding demonstrations, a raptor class and guided birding trips. Reservations are required. April 18.

Dancers circle the maypole during Maifest in Amana.

©

Dancers circle the maypole during Maifest in the Amana Colonies.

Fourth weekend in April

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN More than 200 films from 70 countries are shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre on the Minneapolis riverfront. April 9–25.

Mid West Music Fest in Winona, MN More than 75 musical groups in all genres play in museums, galleries, cafes and arts centers across town. There are arts workshops for children, too.   April 23–25.

Julien Dubuque Film Festival in Dubuque, IA See 70 films and a silent-film showcase. There's a red-carpet awards show Saturday. April 23–26.

Spring Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis, MN A spring kickoff for outdoor enthusiasts, with presentations on outdoor adventures and destinations and a gear sale and auction of used canoes and kayaks. April 24–26.

Minnesota Horse Expo in St. Paul, MN There's a parade of breeds daily at noon, free horse, pony and carriage rides and a rodeo Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon. At the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. April 24–26.

Bluff Country Studio Art Tour in Northeast IA/Southeast, MN Take a spring drive through southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa and visit artists in and around Winona, Lanesboro, Spring Grove and Harmony in Minnesota and Decorah in Iowa. April 24–26.

Art Attack in Harbor Country, MI The eight Lake Michigan towns between the Indiana border and Warren Dunes State Park offer gallery receptions, artist demonstrations, theater, music and wine tasting. April 24–26.

Behind the Arts Studio Tour in Racine and Kenosha, WI Visit more than 75 artists at 45 studios, in Racine on Saturday and in Kenosha on Sunday. On Friday evening, there's a Preview Party. April 24–26.

Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival in La Crosse, WI Sample 200 beers from 20 to 25 breweries. It's 2-6 p.m. at the Oktoberfest grounds. April 25.

Taylor County Maple Fest in Medford, WI This festival at the fairgrounds features maple syrup in a breakfast, a baking contest, a cooking demonstration and crafts plus music, children's activities and door prizes. April 25.

Homegrown Music Festival in Duluth, MN More than 100 musical acts will perform in venues around the Twin Ports, plus film, visual arts and beer. April 26–May 3.

First weekend in May

Homegrown Music Festival in Duluth, MN More than 100 musical acts will perform in venues around the Twin Ports, plus film, visual arts and beer. April 26–May 3.

Festival of Nations in St. Paul, MN Food, music, crafts and dance from 90 different ethnic groups at the downtown RiverCentre. April 30–May 3.

Dutch Days Festival in Fulton, IL This Mississippi town, across from Clinton, Iowa, celebrates its heritage with Dutch dancing, windmill tours, street scrubbing and a 3 p.m. Saturday parade. May 1–2.

Kids & Kites Festival in Chicago, IL This festival at Montrose Harbor in Lincoln Park includes free kite kits for kids, games and a candy drop from kites. May 2.

Tulip Time in Holland, MI More than 6 million tulips bloom during this festival, which features a Dutch market, dancers, trolley tours, big-name performers and three parades, ending with the Muziekparade, with 40 bands and 40 floats, at 2 p.m. May 9. May 2–9.

Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul, MN This fiesta on the West Side (just south of downtown) features a parade, low-rider car show and lots of food, music and dancing. May 2.

Maifest in Amana, IA There's a lot going on in this former communal society in eastern Iowa — a 10 a.m. Saturday parade, polka music, keg-tapping, food-sampling, artisan demonstrations and pony rides. May 2–3.

Brew & Vine Festival in Tinley Park, IL There's beer, wine and food tasting at the Convention Center in this south Chicago suburb. May 2.

Earth Arts Spring Art Tour in Upper St. Croix Valley, WI Visit artists at 28 studios and sites in and around St. Croix Falls, Osceola and Amery. May 2–3.

100-Mile Garage Sale in Lake Pepin, This big garage sale is a good excuse to make the scenic, 70-mile drive around this wide spot in the Mississippi (the sales extend south to Winona). May 2–3.

May Day Parade and Festival in Minneapolis, MN This earthy, lighthearted Sunday-afternoon event in south Minneapolis' Powderhorn Park features the giant puppets of Heart of the Beast Theatre and a people's parade to the park.   May 3.

A reveler at Milwaukee's St. Pat's Day parade.

© Donald S. Abrams

Milwaukee's big St. Patrick's Day parade draws revelers from around the region.

Second weekend in May

Tulip Time in Holland, MI More than 6 million tulips bloom during this festival, which features a Dutch market, dancers, trolley tours, big-name performers and three parades, ending with the Muziekparade, with 40 bands and 40 floats, at 2 p.m. May 9. May 2–9.

Pella Tulip Time in Pella, IA This big Dutch heritage fest features daily historical tours, a craft market and afternoon and evening parades. May 7–9.

Spring Festival & Folk Fest in Gays Mills, WI This Kickapoo Valley village in southwest Wisconsin offers a rodeo and Maypole dancing and crown-making, a ceili dance, fiddle bee and Saturday-night concert. May 8–10.

Mushroom Festival in Mesick, MI This northwest Michigan town is morel central in May, celebrating the spring hunt with a carnival, carriage rides, flea market, duck races and a parade at noon Saturday. May 8–10.

Chicago 24 history tours in Chicago, IL The Chicago History Museum offers 24 hours of walking, running, bicycling, bus, boat and train tours, with themes ranging from crime scenes to coffeehouses and hangovers to hot dogs. They start with an Architectural Gem sunset cruise at 6:30 p.m. Friday and end with a History Puppy Crawl at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. May 8–9.

Horicon Marsh Bird Festival in Horicon, WI This large festival in east-central Wisconsin is around a large marsh often called the Everglades of the North. There are bird hikes, bird-banding demonstrations, pontoon-boat tours, canoe and kayak tours, bus tours and a round-the-clock Big Sit, in which participants try to identify as many birds as possible. Register early for field trips. May 8–11.

Costumed folk dancers twirl during Tulip Time in Pella, Iowa

© Beth Gauper

In Pella, Iowa, the Tulip Time festival attracts more than 100,000 visitors.

Third weekend in May

Tulip Festival in Orange City, IA The popular festival in this Dutch town in northwest Iowa celebrates its 75th anniversary with dance, music, street scrubbing and parades at 2:15 and 6 p.m. daily. May 14–16.

Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes, MN This festival in northwest Minnesota is near the convergence of prairie with northern pine forest and eastern hardwood forest. Space in field trips to local refuges fills quickly. May 14–17.

Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival in Ashland, WI Based out of the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center, activities include bird-banding, hikes and expeditions, hatchery tours and kayaking tours of estuaries. May 14–16.

MorelFest in Boyne City, MI This town on the east end of Lake Charlevoix is all about morels in May, with a guided mushroom hunt, a competition with prizes, drawings for free morels and The Taste of Morels, with morsels provided by local restaurants. May 14–17.

Syttende Mai in Stoughton, WI The festival in this town south of Madison, which celebrates Norwegian constitution day, is the largest in North America and probably the world. The big Norwegian parade is at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. May 15–17.

Syttende Mai in Westby, WI This Norwegian town, southeast of La Crosse, holds a bicycle tour, troll hunt, rommegrot-eating contest, old-time music, children's tractor pull and a big parade at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. May 15–17.

Art-A-Whirl Studio and Gallery Tour in Minneapolis, MN More than 500 artists take part in this tour of 60 locations in the northeast Minneapolis arts district.   May 15–17.

DubuqueFest in Dubuque, IA This downtown arts festival includes dance, music on two stages, storytelling, food, children's activities and an Old House Enthusiast's Old Home Tour. May 15–17.

Syttende Mai in Spring Grove, MN In Minnesota, Norwegians settled first in this town in bluff country. There's Norwegian food, music and dance, and a big parade at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. May 15–16.

Morel Mushroom Festival in Muscoda, WI This town along the Wisconsin River calls itself the Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin. There's a parade at 2 p.m. Sunday, plus a car show, fireworks, helicopter rides, a chainsaw-carving show and microbrew tasting. May 16–17.

Stand Still Parade in Whalan, MN In this village on the Root River State Trail, just east of Lanesboro, it's the spectators who do the parading. There's music, food and games. May 16.

Great Lakes Kite Festival in Grand Haven, MI On the Lake Michigan beach at Grand Haven State Park, watch kite ballets, kiteboarding demonstrations and kites as big as school buses. There's also an inflatable obstacle course for kids. May 16–17.

North Country Dylan Celebration in Duluth, MN The town in which Bob Dylan was born its native son with pub trivia, a poetry showcase, a Blood on the Tracks Express rolling musical revue on Thursday, a singer-songwriter contest Friday and, on Saturday, a bus tour to Hibbing and back and an evening acoustic salute to Dylan.       May 17–24.

Norwegian Constitution Day Parade in Park Ridge, IL Syttende Mai festivities in this near-west suburb of Chicago start in Hodges Park at noon, with the parade starting at 1 p.m. at Talcott and Cumberland streets. May 17.

For events from Memorial Day weekend on, see Great summer festivals.


Last updated on April 6, 2015

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