Favorites for Summer

A feast of festivals
At small-town shindigs, get your fill of strawberries and sauerkraut, kolacky and sweet corn.

Gawking in Lake Geneva
On a mansion-lined footpath, walking is a spectator sport.

Duluth 101
Here's everything you need to know about visiting this lively port town on Lake Superior.

The divine Devil's Lake
In Wisconsin's Baraboo Hills, a stunning state park makes people come running.

Biking around Minneapolis
On the breathtaking Grand Rounds, bicyclists soak up the scenery.

Getting away from mosquitoes
In the bluffs of southeast Minnesota, breathe a sigh of relief.

Door County 101
Want to check out this popular peninsula? Here's everything you need to plan a visit.

20 great beaches in lakes country
In cities as well as forests, it's not hard to find a place to play.

Free time in state parks

On the first two weekends of June, try a new park, trail or fishing hole for free.

If you don't spend at least part of the first two weekends in June outdoors, you'll be missing the boat.

Especially in Wisconsin, where June 3-4 in 2023 is Free Fishing Weekend. In Michigan, June 10-11 is Free Fishing Weekend, and in Minnesota, there's free fishing for kids June 9-11.

On June 3-4, Wisconsin state parks celebrate National Trails Day by offering free admission — especially nice for non-residents, who pay $11-$16 for a daily pass.

On June 10, admission to all Minnesota state parks is free.

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30 great campsites

These spots have what campers want: location, location, location.

There's nothing like finding the perfect campsite.

I look for them wherever I go, and when I was at Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, one of the most popular campgrounds in Wisconsin, I found it: Campsite 435.

It's framed but not enclosed by trees, has a lovely view of Crystal Lake and is on the edge of its sand beach. It's near the shower house and not too close to latrines, easy to reach but not heavily trafficked and off a paved bicycle trail to nearby towns.

A family from Rhinelander had reserved it for an August weekend, less than two weeks before they arrived.

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Lake Superior's greatest hits

With this nine-day itinerary, take in the highlights of the magnificent Circle Tour.

The Circle Tour of Lake Superior is one of the world's most scenic drives, 1,300 miles of non-stop scenery and attractions.

There's a staggering number of things to do and see around Lake Superior. But if you have only a week's vacation, you can see the highlights on this nine-day, eight-night Circle Tour.

Drive clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on what festivals or events you want to catch. For more, see Planning a Circle Tour.

For an overview of what you'll see, go to Circling Lake Superior.

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Tours on two wheels

Here are the most scenic weekend bike rides in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, western Michigan and northern Illinois.

If you like to ride bikes and you live in the western Great Lakes, you've lucked out.

This is a bike-crazy part of the country. Michigan and Minnesota rank No. 1 and 2 for miles of rails converted to trails.

Wisconsin pioneered rail trails and for years was the top state, but it has slipped to fourth place, with No. 3 now taken by Pennsylvania. Illinois and Iowa once rounded out the Top 6 but have been supplanted by New York and Washington state.

Wisconsin's Elroy-Sparta State Trail sparked the boom in bicycle tourism in 1967; when surrounding towns and counties saw all the tourists who came to ride it, they built their own trails. We also can ride on thousands of miles of quiet country roads, built so dairy farmers could get their milk to market.

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Best of summer

The best hiking, bicycling, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife-watching, backpacking, camping, shopping, cruising and train rides in the Upper Midwest.

You probably think summer is a time to relax and enjoy the nice weather.

Wrong! It's the time to pick up the pace and make up for the months we sat around thinking about what we could be doing — hiking, biking, camping — if only we lived in Arizona or Florida.

By May, those places are sweatboxes and our time in the sun has arrived. We've got Lake Superior at our doorstep, rivers and lakes everywhere and the best bicycle trails in the nation. So go!

Here are my picks for the best things to do in summer.

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Art al fresco

When warm weather arrives, art fairs start to pop up everywhere.

We all know what summer means — days at the beach, boat rides, marshmallow roasts . . . and shopping.

Not at malls but under the little white tents that pop up wherever there's a festival, on the shores of lakes, in parks and on picturesque town squares.

That's where the region's most accomplished potters, glass makers, jewelers, painters, weavers and photographers bring out their wares and make themselves available to whoever cares to stop — customers, passersby, admirers.

At Duluth's Park Point Art Fair, set up near the end of the sand spit that forms Duluth's harbor, Frank Garcia of Duluth cast himself into the last category. He went from one photographer's booth to another, looking enviously at beautifully composed portraits of wildlife, flora and landscapes.

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America's freshwater Riviera

On the gorgeous beaches of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, everyone can find a spot in the sun.

It's funny that some people in the Upper Midwest spend their summer vacations on the beaches of Cancun or Cape Cod, because the best beaches in the world are in their own back yard.

Lake Michigan is America's freshwater Riviera, a nearly unending strand of sand that looks like Florida without the high-rise condos. It's clean, blue and pleasantly cool, with water temperatures in the 60s, and in most places it looks just like the ocean.

Add in candy-striped lighthouses and even more ice-cream stands, and you've got the makings of a great beach holiday — a cheap one, too, if you're on a budget.

One June, we drove from one spectacular beach to another. The entire east side of Lake Michigan seems to be a beach; they're at 18 Michigan state parks, dozens of city and county beaches and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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Chicago with kids

For curious children, this inviting city overflows with treasures.

For parents, it's hard to predict what kids will like best about Chicago.

During spring break one year, my friend Rebecca and I took our children to Chicago, with an itinerary that alternated visits to museums with visits to zoos and parks.

Pitting high culture against popular culture, we knew what the biggest hits would be: the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, Lincoln Park Zoo, the elevated train, deep-dish pizza, perhaps the Museum of Science and Industry.

But we were wrong.

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