MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for winter

Great holiday festivals
In November and December, check out Santa, Scrooge and shopping markets.
Gales of November
Along the North Shore, early-winter winds evoke visions of shipwrecks.
Great places to snowshoe
In winter, the outdoors is wide open to those who walk on snow.
Chicago at Christmas
During the holidays, this glittering, festive town becomes the City of Broad Smiles.
Ice playgrounds
Along rivers and lakes, it's fun to hang out with Jack Frost.
Milwaukee at Christmas
During the holidays, this city shimmers like Cinderella.
Lodgings in Minnesota state parks
Surrounded by nature, a lucky few sleep in relative luxury.
November girlfriend getaways
In the slow season, women head out to have fun with their friends.

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FastPlans/Cocooning in a cozy cabin

A cabin at Cascade Lodge in Minnesota.

Now that winter is deepening, many people are fantasizing about burrowing into a cozy cabin with a good book and a glass of wine. Here's how to find the perfect place to do some serious cocooning.

Budget: Stay in a camper cabin or state-park guesthouse. See A roof in the woods and Lodgings in Minnesota state parks.

Higher-range: Stay in someone else's cabin. See Renting a vacation house.

More: See 20 perfect cabins and What to bring to a rented cabin.

Past fast plans: The Gales of November, Fall hikes at Devil's Lake, Fall colors in Door County, Fall in Decorah, Fall on Minnesota's North Shore

This weekend

Visit Minnesota parks on Black Friday.

A family hiking in a park.

Free Entrance Day to all Minnesota state parks. Entrance to all 75 Minnesota state parks is free today. Nov. 27.

Parade of Lights in New Ulm, Minn. The holiday parade downtown will be drive-through and from 6 to 7 p.m. Nov. 27.

Holiday Kerstmarkt in Holland, Mich. This open-air European Christmas Market at the Eighth Street Market Place includes 18 timber booths offering Dutch imports, folk art, hand-knit apparel and other gifts. Nov. 27–28.

Holiday Stroll in Red Wing, Minn. This Mississippi River town offers a window-display scavenger hunt and a drive-through Santa. Nov. 27.

For more, see our Events Calendar.

Walking on ice

Even when trails are slippery, you can grip the moment with a good pair of crampons.

Ice hiking in Tettegouche.

One year, I declared war on ice.

You can have the finest skis, snowshoes and 4-wheel drives in the world, and you're still dead in the water when trails are covered with ice.

So for Christmas, everybody got ice grippers. I gave my husband a set whose teeth and chains made it look like S&M gear, and my son got a set with low-profile spikes that wouldn't embarrass him on walks to class. I gave myself a pair, too.

We didn't have long to wait to try them. One weekend when we were in Duluth, rain turned into ice that coated streets and trails.

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Best of winter

Here are 25 great ways to savor the chilly season.

A ski jumper in Westby.

There's a reason why winter is the favorite season of many photographers — it's gorgeous. 

You've seen this region's icicle-draped sea caves, volcanic Great Lakes waves and dancing northern lights on social media. Now get out there and enjoy the scenery yourselves.

Snowshoe up frozen river canyons, barrel through the woods behind a team of huskies and go to bock festivals at breweries. Learn to ice fish, track wolves and look for bald eagles.

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Staying warm in winter

If you know what to wear, dealing with cold weather is a breeze.

The ultimate in winter clothing.

In this chilly region, smart men are on to Victoria's Secret.

Shopping at the mall, they breeze right by the silk nighties, the gold bracelets, the dainty perfumes. Because what Victoria secretly wants for Christmas are SmartWool undies, a goose-down parka and moosehide mukluks.

When I was a newcomer to Minnesota, my boyfriend was a smart man. Our first Christmas, he gave me a bulky down parka that made me look like the Michelin man.

The second Christmas, he gave me a big sheepskin hat that made me look like a Cossack. The third Christmas, he gave me chunky mukluks that made me look like an Inuit.

Forget dainty. I was warm. The dorkier it was, the better I liked it — think Marge in "Fargo."

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Wings over the Mississippi

Tundra-swan watchers have a honkin' good time during the November migration.

The view from Buena Vista Park.

In the sloughs of the Upper Mississippi, birds of a feather flock together.

Bird-watchers, especially. On chilly days in late fall, they crowd onto wooden platforms to watch tundra swans paddling around sloughs of the Mississippi River.

This big bird needs a lot of fuel for its flight from the Arctic Circle to the marshes of Chesapeake Bay.

So when ponds in southern Canada and North Dakota start to ice over in October, the swans fly down to feast on arrowhead tubers and wild celery along the Mississippi before continuing east.

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Quiet time on Minnesota's North Shore

Late fall is marked by stark beauty, cheaper stays and the gales of November.

Bridge over the Brule River.

The skies were leaden and forbidding as Lake Superior slid into view and we descended into Duluth. The wind mauled our hair as we stood alongside the harbor canal, waving to the crew of the Sea Pearl II as it pushed toward Malta with a load of grain.

Driving up the shore, we listened to taped stories of shipwrecks: The sidewheeler Lotta Bernard, pummeled into pieces off Gooseberry Falls on Oct. 29, 1874.

The steamer Edenborn, hurled into the mouth of Split Rock River and broken in two on Nov. 28, 1905. The Lafayette, pulverized against a cliff near Encampment Island on the same day.

Ahhhh. This is the North Shore I know and love.

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