MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

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Favorites for summer

Grand sand
Along Lake Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are a playground for all ages.
Marvels of Starved Rock
In northern Illinois, a state park draws crowds to its forest canyons and riverside cliffs.
Digging the Keweenaw
On Lake Superior, an isolated peninsula yields up all sorts of riches.
Dreaming of Ely
The wilderness around this Minnesota town exerts a magnetic pull on city folk.
North Shore by the mile
Planning a trip to this beloved part of Minnesota? Start at 0.0.
Watching a water-ski show
Spend a perfect summer evening watching flips, dance lines and pyramids.
Best brew fests
Quaff craft beer to your heart's content at these tasting parties.
Swimming holes of Duluth
In this Lake Superior town, rivers are the place to cool off.

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FastPlans/Exploring Michigan's Porkies

A hiker on the Porkies' Escarpment Trail.

On Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is gorgeous, with 90 miles of trails through old-growth forest, 25 miles of Lake Superior shoreline and four inland lakes.

Hiking is best in late summer and fall, when bugs are gone and hardwoods turn colors that are among the region's most vivid.

What to do: Hike the Escarpment Trail above Lake of the Clouds (pictured). See waterfalls along the Little Carp and Presque Isle rivers. Take a workshop at the Porcupine Mountains Folk School.

Events to catch: Aug. 24-26, Porcupine Mountains Music Festival.

Where to stay: The park rents 19 rustic cabins, four yurts and a handsome 1940s lodge.

Details: For more, see Afoot in the Porkies.

Past fast plans: Exploring La Crosse, Cooling off on the lake in Duluth, Paul Bunyan in Bemidji, Traveling by boat in Voyageurs, Exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula

This weekend

Time for a fair, a fiesta and folk.

A kids' ride at the Minnesota State Fair.

Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul. Try flights at the Craft Beer Hall, eat food on a stick, listen to free concerts and watch the 2 p.m. daily parade. Aug. 23–Sept. 3.

Potato Days in Barnesville, Minn. This goofy central-Minnesota festival features mashed-potato wrestling, a golden potato hunt, potato car races, peeling and eating contests and a Saturday parade. Aug. 24–25.

Mexican Fiesta in Milwaukee. Enjoy the best of Mexican culture at the Henry Maier Festival Park: mariachi, arts and crafts, spicy foods and contests: dance, costume, jalapeno-eating and el grito, or shouting. Aug. 24–26.

Great River Folk Festival in La Crosse, Wis. This festival in Riverside Park includes children's activities, a traditional arts and crafts fair and music performances and workshops. Aug. 24–26.

For more, see our Events Calendar.

10 great places to find late-summer wildflowers

In special spots, blooms paint the landscape in every color under the sun.

Pearly everlasting grows amid bunchberries on the Keweenaw P

In summer, you don’t have to hunt wildflowers.

They’re big and splashy, blooming by the thousands on prairie, along bicycle trails and anywhere there’s sun. When everything else is green, they give us pops of color: the purple of bottle gentian, the orange of hawkweed, the yellow of tansy.

Do you like Monet’s paintings of Giverny? Then you’ll love the meadows of blue vervain and Queen Anne’s lace on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, the pearly everlasting on the Keweenaw Peninsula and the sunflower fields along the Waters of the Dancing Sky scenic byway in northern Minnesota.

This time of year, it’s a real pleasure to take a drive — or a hike or bike ride. Here are 10 great places to find late-summer wildflowers.

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15 great places for kids in Wisconsin

From farm to city to beach, the state is one big playground for children.

Youth learns whitewater kayaking on Wolf River.

Over the years, my children logged many crossings of the St. Croix River.

Like all who are young at heart, we love traveling in Wisconsin. Not only is it beautiful, but it also tends to produce people who remember how much fun it was to be a kid.

Take Laura Ingalls Wilder and Caddie Woodlawn, whose adventures were recounted in famous children's books.

The Ringling Brothers' youthful spectacles in Baraboo grew into the world's biggest circus, and Tommy Bartlett's water-ski thrill show helped turn the Wisconsin Dells into Kid Central.

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20 great beaches in lakes country

In cities as well as forests, it's not hard to find a place to play.

People walking around Lake Calhoun.

Around here, you don't need oceans for a beach vacation.

We have thousands of lakes, plus inland seas on shoreline that often is called the Fourth Coast. Lake Michigan's shores are a veritable Riviera, and even rocky Superior has some noteworthy stretches of sand.

You could throw a dart at the map and come up with a good beach. Or you could take a cue from names of state parks — Point Beach and Harrington Beach in Wisconsin, McCarthy Beach in Minnesota, Orchard Beach in Michigan.

They're big, they're beautiful and they're not far away. Below are some of this region's best places to lounge away a summer day.

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10 tourist traps to love

These roadside attractions dole out equal portions of schlock and awe.

Big muskie in Hayward.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with their tourist traps. They’re so uncool . . . but so irresistible.

What makes something a tourist trap? It’s a place that’s so cheesy you have to see if it’s really as cheesy as it looks. A place so iconic you’ve seen a million pictures of it. A place plugged by thousands of highway billboards.

Mostly, it’s a place everyone else has seen — so you have to, too. We can’t help ourselves, especially when it comes to anything that’s odd or oversized.

And why not? Few tourist traps have no redeeming qualities at all, and most actually are pretty cool — or so you’ll think afterward, once the headache fades (I’m talking about you, House on the Rock).

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