MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for summer

Beaches on bike trails
After the sweating, cool off in the surf.
Packer country
Like Oz, Green Bay glows green and gold.
30 great campsites
These spots have what campers want: location, location, location.
Tubing a lazy river
Lolling on the water, it's easy to play it cool.
Giants of Lake Superior
On a trip around the biggest lake, stop to see larger-than-life heroes and mascots.
Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis
The lakes, river and creeks that ring this metropolis are a magnet year-round.
10 great getaways from Chicago
Take a break to lounge on beaches, gawk at river canyons and go on brewery tours.
Touring Mackinac Island
On a scenic web of trails, visitors see another side of a celebrated spot.
Grand sand
Along Lake Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are a playground for all ages.

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FastPlans/Exploring La Crosse

A carriage in La Crosse.

The biggest asset of this three-college town is its location, right on the Mississippi River in southwest Wisconsin's coulee country. 

Getting there: Why not take the train? From the west, Amtrak's Empire Builder arrives at 10:47 a.m.; from the east, at 7:11 p.m. (barring delay).

What to do: Take a cruise on the paddlewheeler La Crosse Queen. Drive up Grandad Bluff for a panoramic view of the town. Bike the La Crosse River State Trail.

Events to catch: Aug. 25-27, Great River Folk Festival. Sept. 1-4, Bicycle Festival, with free tours for all ages and social events.

Details: See Cruising La Crosse.

Past fast plans: Cooling off in Duluth, Paul Bunyan in Bemidji, Exploring Voyageurs, Exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula, Breezy in Bayfield

This weekend

Watch show in sky, on water, land.

Chicago beachgoers photograph aerial manuevers.

Air & Water Show in Chicago. The 59th annual free show features aerobatics, extreme flying and parachuting off North Avenue Beach. Aug. 19–20.

Venetian Festival in Lake Geneva, Wis. In this southeast Wisconsin vacation area, the festival includes a carnival, arts and crafts fair, firefighter water fight and, on Sunday, a water-ski show followed by a lighted boat parade and fireworks. Aug. 16–20.

Irish Fest in Milwaukee. The nation's largest Irish festival features 100 acts on 16 stages, plus children's activities, red hair and freckle contests and demonstrations by Irish dog breeds. In Henry Maier Festival Park. Aug. 17–20.

Ki-Chi-Saga Days in Chisago City, Minn. The fest in this town just north of St. Paul features an Old World market, sandcastle and skateboard contests, Swedish dancers, a horn hunt and a parade at 2 p.m. Sunday. Aug. 17–20.

For more, see our Events Calendar.


15 great rivers for paddling

On a fine day, go sightseeing in a canoe or kayak.

Canoeists paddle at the foot of cliffs on the Upper Iowa.

In this region, nearly every river is a good paddling river.

For adventure, try northwest Wisconsin's Bois Brule, which flows into Lake Superior over a series of rapids.

For scenery, head for the cliff-lined Upper Iowa, which National Geographic Adventure magazine calls one of America’s Best Adventure 100, along with rafting in the Grand Canyon.

For fun with kids, paddle the crooked Kickapoo in southwest Wisconsin, also a great river for bird-watchers.

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Chasing gangsters in Wisconsin

In lakes country, tourists still love to see where infamous crooks relaxed.

Filming of

In 1920, northern Wisconsin already was a playground for people from Chicago.

And when Prohibition flung open the door to organized crime, its remote lakes and forests became even more attractive to a certain kind of Chicagoan.

Al Capone had a fortified summer home on a lake near Hayward, to which hydroplanes flew whiskey from Canada.

His lieutenants frequented the saloons and brothels in Hurley. Rival Roger Touhy vacationed in Minocqua, fishing with a machine gun.

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10 great outdoors towns

Want to get sweaty, dirty . . . and exhilarated? Here's where to go.

Brewers Ridge on the Superior Hiking Trail.

In 2014, Duluth made us proud by beating out 63 other U.S. towns in Outside magazine's best outdoors town tournament.

It's hard to argue with Duluth, even against such better-known towns as Boulder, Colo., and Missoula, Mont., because everything it offers is right in the city – hiking, mountain biking, paddling, skiing.

But other towns are almost as deserving. Here are 10 great outdoor towns in the western Great Lakes.

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Cheat the heat

When summer becomes a sauna, it's time to chill out.

Rafters go over rapids on Wolf River.

When heat wraps itself around your shoulders like an electric blanket with static cling, there’s only one thing to do: Look for cold water.

You'll find it tubing on a spring-fed river, such as the South Branch of the Root River, which takes a short cut through Mystery Caverns and heads toward Lanesboro chilled to 48 degrees.

On Minnesota's North Shore, plop yourself into one of the Baptism River’s potholes and let the cool waters swirl around you. Or go whitewater rafting — a fast cool-down is guaranteed.

If it's really scorching, try a dip in Lake Superior. Sheltered coves can be tolerable, especially off Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but otherwise it's perfectly chilly.

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