MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for winter

Cross-country skiing 101
There's no better way to enjoy the winter landscape, and anyone can do it.
The coolest days of winter
Ditch the indoors for one of these great festivals.
Fun in the fast lane
Need speed? Here's where to ski or snowboard in the Upper Midwest.
The silly season
Smoosh racing? Human foosball? Winter is the time to come out and get crazy.
Classic Minnesota lodges
The passage of time burnishes the appeal of historic lake resorts.
White gold in the Porkies
In the Upper Peninsula, a wilderness park rewards those who love snow.
Itasca in winter
From a cozy hostel, guests ski out the door onto park trails.
The best in snow tubing
With their multiple lanes, conveyor lifts and snow-making, these aren't your grandma's hills.

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FastPlans/Eagle River fun

Feeding the chickadees on the Anvil Lake Trail.

There's plenty of snow around the northeast Wisconsin town of Eagle River, where beautifully groomed trails draw legions of skiers and snowmobilers.

What to do: See the ice castle. Go skiing and snowshoeing on the many trails. Anvil Lake, where chickadees eat out of skiers' hands (pictured), is a favorite. Go on a snowmobiling tour with Decker's Sno-Venture.

Events to catch: Jan. 19-22, World Championship Snowmobile Derby

Details: For more, see Winter in Eagle River.

Past fast plans: Dubuque's views, Itasca in winter, Swans in Monticello, Shops of Cedarburg, Christmas in Chicago

This weekend

Go tobogganing or watch jumpers.

The Arctic Avalanche in Waukesha.

Janboree in Waukesha, Wis. The fest in this Milwaukee suburb includes Friday-night fireworks, ice sculpting, trolley rides, a penguin-egg hunt and tobogganing on the lighted run in Lowell Park. Jan. 20–22.

Winterfest in Amana, Iowa. Go on a wine walk or scavenger hunt or compete in ham-throwing, log-sawing, the Amana Freezer Run/Walk, snowshoeing or for the best beard. There will be ice sculptures, storytelling and schnitzel-sampling, too. Jan. 21.

Hunter Ice Festival in Niles, Mich. This festival in the southwest tip of the state, named for a turn-of-the-century ice-harvesting business, features more than 150 ice sculptures and a competition. Jan. 20–22.

Norge Ski Jumping Tournament in Fox River Grove, Ill. See some of the nation's best jumpers compete in this northwest Chicago suburb. Jan. 21–22.

For more, see our Events Calendar.


Ski or snowshoe by candlelight

On a cold winter's night, follow the twinkling lights.

Candlelight skiing in a state park.

If you do only one thing outdoors in winter, do it by candlelight.

Nothing is more magical than a forest full of flickering lights. I got hooked when I skied in Minnesota's Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.

A fat blue moon hung in the sky, sparkling hoarfrost made twigs as nubby as reindeer antlers and more than 400 glowing bags gave the forest a fairy-tale aura.

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Where eagles land

Near winter gathering spots, towns capitalize on the birds' popularity by throwing festivals.

An eagle looks for fish at the lock and dam in Genoa, Wis.

Eagles don't really have lovable personalities. But, man, are they fun to watch.

Those haughty pale eyes, that 6-foot wing span, those wicked talons and the flesh-shredding beak — eagles are just plain cool.

Everything about them is larger than life, right down to their nests, which are so big and sturdy that bears sometimes climb into them to hibernate.

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Ice playgrounds

Along rivers and lakes, it's fun to hang out with Jack Frost.

The Eben ice caves near Munising, Mich.

In winter, ice comes with the territory. You can curse it — or you can play with it.

Kids know how. Climbers and skaters know how. And photographers adore it.

Having fun with ice also is a good way to cope with a winter that drags on, endlessly, into April.

That's when gigantic heaps of shards pile up on Lake Superior and ice storms create glistening tableaux that make photographers come running.

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Best of winter

Here are 20 great ways to savor the chilly season.

A village of Art Shanties.

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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Serious reservations

Here's a guide to the lodgings, campsites and permits you should nail down now for travel in 2017.

Canoeing in the Boundary Waters.

In the Upper Midwest, travel can be competitive.

Many festivals are so big and so fun that everyone wants to go. If you do, too,  you'll have to act fast to stay ahead of the crowds. 

And sometimes, you also need to know when not to visit a certain area. Planning to take the kids on a field trip to Chicago's famous museums? If you settle on Aug. 3-8, when 300,000 music fans will be in town for the rock festival Lollapalooza, you won't be able to find a hotel.

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Cheap winter getaways

Here are 20 places where a fun weekend away is easy on the wallet.

Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

In the Upper Midwest, finding a good deal is a sport second only to football.

Some of us need a bargain. Some of us just like them. But we all need to get away occasionally, especially when cabin fever strikes in winter.

The easiest way to save is to round up a group of friends and rent a guesthouse in a state park. You'll find more overnight deals at environmental centers and hostels. And most of the fun — skiing, snowshoeing, bird-watching, festival-attending — is free.

You also can snowshoe from a yurt in the Upper Peninsula, hit the museums in Chicago and track wolves in Wisconsin.

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