MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for spring

Great spring festivals
It's a good time to indulge in brews, birding and blooms.
Chicago with kids
For curious children, this inviting city overflows with treasures.
Spring weekends for women
In shopping towns and woodsy retreats, April and May are prime time for girlfriend getaways.
Classic Wisconsin lodges
In the north woods, golden oldies recall a vanished era.
Planning a Circle Tour of Lake Superior
For a great vacation, follow the shores of Lake Superior.
Birding by rail
On Wisconsin's Chippewa River, a little train rolls into a bird-watcher's Eden.
Spring bird festivals
After a long winter, birders welcome the return of feathered friends.
Classic Minnesota lodges
The passage of time burnishes the appeal of historic lake resorts.
America's freshwater Riviera
On Lake Michigan's gorgeous beaches, everyone can find a spot in the sun.

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FastPlans/On Lake Pepin

The view from Maiden Rock Bluff.

On this wide spot of the Mississippi, villages emerge from their winter slumber with the reopening of the popular Harbor View Cafe, which marks the start of tourist season.

Where to start: It's a 70-mile loop from Red Wing, Minn., in the north and Nelson, Wis., in the south.

What to do:  Explore the artsy shops in Stockholm. Visit the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. See downtown Red Wing or climb Barn Bluff. Admire the view from Maiden Rock Bluff state natural area (pictured).

In Pepin, the Harbor View Cafe is open for lunch and dinner Fridays-Sundays in early spring. No reservations.

Details: For more, see A spin around Lake Pepin.

Past fast plans: Watching eagles, Fun in Bayfield, Gunflint prime time, Madison for kids, Fun around Ely

Planning a Circle Tour of Lake Michigan

For a great summer road trip, follow the shores of this Midwestern Riviera.

Lilac Parade on Mackinac Island.

If sun, sand and water are your favorite things, the Circle Tour of Lake Michigan is the vacation for you.

The 1,100-mile drive along this Third Coast is an easygoing road trip that appeals to beach bums, lighthouse lovers, boating buffs and anyone who likes to wander in and out of wineries and fudge shops.

It's a great family trip because there's a beach every few miles, almost always with a playground. On the northwest side of the lake, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one big sandbox.

Many of Michigan's 18 beach parks, especially Ludington State Park, are like resorts, and some families stay there an entire week. Beach-boutique towns like South Haven and Saugatuck add shopping and fine dining.

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Sugarbush safari

Running sap is cause for celebration in the maple forest.

Tapping a maple tree at Fort Snelling.

Even if it looks like winter outside, you can count on maple trees to know otherwise.

In late February, their sap starts to run, and that's "the sweet good-bye of winter,'' writes naturalist John Burroughs.

Indigenous people were first to tap trees, inserting hollow reeds, letting the sap drip into troughs and boiling it down over a wood fire. The process isn't much different today, except most people use metal taps, plastic tubing and buckets to catch the sap.

It's still a lot of work; it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. But most people think real maple syrup is worth the effort.

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The season's first ships

When the Great Lakes shipping season starts, boat nerds watch for salties.

An ore boat enters the Twin Ports.

Like robins and maple sap, Lake Superior ore boats aren't much affected by the never-ending winter that humans find so annoying.

In Duluth, the big lakers leave port the third week of March whether there's ice or not. In 2015, icebreakers helped the John G. Munson leave port on March 20.

In 2016, there was no ice, but the Edwin Gott didn't leave until two days later, on March 22. The first arrival was the Michipicoten, on March 23.

After the first boats leave winter layup, traffic starts to move within Lake Superior and then, after the Soo Looks open, from other Great Lakes.

Ah, but when will the first oceangoing boat arrive? Whoever guesses that wins the annual First Ship Contest sponsored by the city and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, and the grand prize of an all-expenses-paid trip to the port town

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Cheap spring getaways

Here are 20 places where a fun weekend won't break the budget.

A bicyclist pedals on the Root River State Trail.

After a long winter, everyone deserves a spring getaway.

On a budget? No problem. Spring is the best time to find deals, and often the weather is stellar.

Along the Mississippi in Minnesota, join a warbler weekend at a retreat center.  In northeast Iowa, go on a beginning backpacking trip. In Chicago, stay at one of three hostels during Craft Beer Week.

Think a little bit outside the box, and you'll save a ton of money. 

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Wildlife reality show

Web cams open a window into lives of eagles, bears and other wild things.

An eagle nesting in the Twin Cities.

In the northeast Iowa town of Decorah, a pair of nesting bald eagles have become an international phenomenon.

Not only do they have a constant stream of live video, but avid watchers are snatching the best episodes and posting them on YouTube. 

The Raptor Resource Project posts links on its Facebook page, along with regular updates.

In January, the eagles court and get the nest ready. In mid-February, mom lays the eggs. In March, the eggs hatch, and in April and May, viewers can watch the eaglets grow.

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