Favorites for Summer

Nordic nirvana
Every July, Decorah, Iowa, puts on one of the best fests in the Midwest.

Schools of know-how
Go away for a relaxing weekend and come home with a new skill.

Paul Bunyan in Minnesota
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the big guy never dies.

Cabin on a waterfall
On Minnesota's North Shore, a state-park guesthouse is a prized hideaway.

Mississippi panoramas
Take in the views from 500 feet above the famous river.

Magnificent obsessions
In the Wisconsin countryside, self-taught visionaries left caches of concrete art.

Outdoors in the Kickapoo Valley
In Wisconsin's coulee country, a green zone is known for morels, apples, wildflowers and a winding river.

Lake Michigan with kids

Following the sandy shores of this great lake, families find many places to play.

Not many parents would think that a long road trip would be a perfect vacation to take with young children.

But the shores of Lake Michigan is one big sandbox, and on a drive along its shores, you'll hit one big playground after another.

On the east side, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is spectacular, a Disneyland of sand. But the lake also is lined with lighthouses, fudge shops, fur-trade forts and endless beaches.

And at the end — for us, anyway — there was a trip on a cruise ship, because we took the short cut back on the S.S. Badger.

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A spin around Lake Pepin

On the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Minnesota, a favorite driving route leads to some real treats.

Along the shores of Lake Pepin, villages like to play a game called "Tempt the Tourist."

The tourists think they're going to go for a drive and see some scenery. But the villages give them so many places to indulge themselves, they end up mostly eating and shopping — not that anyone's complaining.

The highway around Lake Pepin is a gantlet of temptations — bakeries, bistros, wine bars and gift shops. Some people never make it beyond Stockholm in Wisconsin or Red Wing in Minnesota, just an hour from the Twin Cities.

But this is the kind of place where it's fun to spin your wheels.

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A roof in the woods

In state and county parks and forests around the Upper Midwest, visitors love their camper cabins.

For people who love the outdoors, luxury is in the eye of the beholder.

Is it a Jacuzzi or a latrine? A four-course breakfast or a fire ring?

The answer is not so obvious. If the choice also includes starry skies, silence and snow-laden pines, many folks would take a camper cabin over a fancy inn, even if they have to use vault toilets and cook over a fire.

Minnesota's camper cabins are so popular many people reserve them as soon as reservations open, 120 days in advance.

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Escape to Minnesota's North Shore

For stressed-out city folks, the shore of Lake Superior is hallowed ground.

Ten thousand years ago, the melting of Minnesota's last glacier transformed a placid beach into a rugged coast.

It's a 150-mile stretch of wild beauty, lined by piles of jagged black basalt, cobblestone beaches and the mouths of dozens of rivers, tumbling down from the old beaches of Glacial Lake Duluth.

Seven state parks follow their winding gorges, marked by rapids and waterfalls, and the Superior Hiking Trail crosses them on its way from Duluth to the Canadian border.

This is Minnesota's breathing space, to which tourists return like spawning salmon, year after year, or whenever we need to fill our lungs with brisk Lake Superior air.

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A feast of festivals

Here's an eater's guide to small-town fests, from strawberries to sauerkraut and kolacky to sweet corn.

As soon as rhubarb leaves unfurl and morels pop out of the ground, towns across the region begin their salutes to the local specialty.

It starts with Norwegian lefse on Syttende Mai and continues to Finnish pasties, German pretzels, Czech kolacky, Danish pancakes and American pie.

There will be music and parades and all kinds of goofy contests — rhubarb-stalk throwing in Lanesboro, a rutabaga shot put in Calumet — but mostly, there will be a lot to eat.

If you've ever said, "I could eat a hundred of those!" you'll get your chance this summer. Here are some of the premier places to pig out in 2022.

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Sightseeing by bicycle

Join a multi-day tour and see the best of Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota by bicycle.

There's nothing like traveling the countryside on a bicycle.

From a bike seat, you hear the murmur of wind through field and forest, and you actually notice the sky and its clouds, as mesmerizing as a lava lamp.

You can ride on your own, but it's more fun to join one of the many cross-state rides organized by bicycle clubs and charities.

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