MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for spring

20 great spring drives
When weather warms, the urge to hit the road is irresistible.
Living in a lighthouse
Around the Great Lakes, volunteers keep the light on for tourists.
Best of spring
With the early arrival of warm weather, there's time to tiptoe through the tulips.
Serious reservations
Here's a guide to the lodgings, campsites and permits you should nail down now for travel in 2018.
Inn retreats
If you don't like the weather, spend a weekend where everything is under one roof.
Spring bird festivals
After a long winter, birders welcome the return of feathered friends.
Planning a Circle Tour of Lake Superior
For a great vacation, follow the shores of Lake Superior.
Tours on two wheels
On organized weekend bike trips, it's easy to go along for the ride.

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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: Spotting eagles, Prime time on the Gunflint Trail, Chinese New Year in Chicago, Madison for kids, Fun around Ely

Great spring festivals

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

Dancers circle the maypole during Maifest in Amana.

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 2018.

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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 — capturing the many dramas that go on in and around the nest — and posting them on Youtube for everyone to enjoy. 

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

In January, the eagles court and get the nest ready. In the last half of February, Mom Decorah lays the eggs. At the end of March, the eggs hatch, and in April and May, viewers can watch the eaglets grow.

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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 warm 2017, the Roger Blough, a favorite of boat nerds, was first to leave on March 22.

In 2015, icebreakers had to help the John G. Munson leave port on March 20. There was no ice in 2016, but the Edwin Gott didn't leave until March 22. 

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.

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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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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. 

Here's our 2018 edition of great spring trips, most costing $100 or less per person.

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