MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for winter

Homes for the holidays
For Christmas tours, historic mansions up the ante on opulence.
Wildlife reality show
Web cams open a window into lives of eagles, bears and other wild things.
15 great late-fall getaways
It's the mellowest time of the year, when hotel rates drop with the leaves.
Where eagles land
Near winter gathering spots, towns capitalize on the birds' popularity by throwing festivals.
November girlfriend getaways
In the slow season, women head out to have fun with their friends.
Classic Minnesota lodges
The passage of time burnishes the appeal of historic lake resorts.
Best of winter
Here are 20 great ways to savor the chilly season.
Great holiday festivals
In November and December, check out Santa, Scrooge and shopping markets.
Near escapes in Wisconsin
Water parks or waterfalls? Here are 10 places to go for a great winter getaway.

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FastPlans/Merry holidays in Minneapolis

The State Theatre on Hennepin in Minneapolis.

In downtown Minneapolis, holiday festivities stretch from Loring Park to the Hennepin Theatre District, Nicollet Mall and the riverfront.

Events to catch: Nov. 24-Dec. 24, free Holidazzle village in Loring Park, with fireworks on opening day and Saturdays.

What to do: See "A Christmas Carol'' at the Guthrie. See a Christmas play or ballet in the Hennepin Theatre District.

Nightlife: The Dakota music club at Nicollet and 10th schedules many holiday shows.

Details: See A jolly holiday in Minneapolis.

Past fast plans: FastPlans/Merry holidays in Minneapolis, Sampling in the Amanas, Shopping in Madison, Gales of November, Late fall in Red Wing

This weekend

Hike off turkey or visit a market.

A family hiking in a park.

Old World Christmas markets in Chicago, Naperville, Minneapolis, Excelsior, Monroe and Oconomowoc. Soak up the holiday atmosphere and buy cool gifts at these open-air markets. Nov. 24-26.

Free admission to every state park in Minnesota and Michigan. On Black Friday, hike off Thanksgiving dinner at all 75 Minnesota parks and all 103 Michigan parks. Nov. 24.

Holiday Homecoming in St. Charles, Ill. There's Lighting of the Lights and music Friday and free horse-drawn sleigh rides, movies and Santa visits Saturday, with the Electric Christmas Parade at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 24–25.

Holly Days in Egg Harbor, Wis. This Door County village offers horse-drawn wagon rides, a children's elf hunt and mistle dough contest and caroling. Nov. 24–25.

For more, see our Events Calendar.

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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A roof in the woods

In state and county parks and forests, visitors love their camper cabins.

A camper cabin in Lake Bemidji State Park.

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.

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20 great shopping towns

Few shoppers can resist these Shangri-Las of spending.

Shops on High Street in Mineral Point.

Some people may guess that lakes or bicycle trails are the chief attraction for travelers in the Upper Midwest. Other might say museums, state parks or stadiums.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. The No. 1 attraction in travel is . . . shops.

Shopping is sightseeing for a lot of people. On vacation, they shop not as they would at the local mall, but as if had all the time in the world to browse, stroll and sample.

As, in fact, they do. Legions of weekend hobby shoppers have fueled the rise of such boutique towns as Stillwater in Minnesota, Cedarburg in Wisconsin and Galena in Illinois.

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Winter adventure on a budget

At non-profit lodges, you can go to the dogs, or wolves, at bargain prices.

High ropes course at Wolf Ridge.

In winter, it's hard to find a lodge getaway that fits every budget.

Lodges that offer skiing on groomed trails, wood-fired saunas and home-cooked meals aren't cheap.

But if you'd like to try those things — and be greeted by a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies afterward — you have a friend in environmental learning centers.

These non-profit centers are the low-cost Club Meds of the north woods, offering all-inclusive weekend packages that include lodgings, meals and winter fun — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, even wolf-tracking and sled-dog mushing.

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Old World Christmas markets

Local versions of the traditional German Christkindlmarkt are a hit during the holidays.

Drinking Gluehwein at a Christkindlmarkt.

For 500 years, Germans have done their holiday shopping at open-air Christmas markets in town squares.

Named for the Christ child, the markets traditionally start on the first Sunday of Advent, with shoppers warming up with hot spiced wine while browsing at garland-draped timber kiosks.

It's a tradition worth importing, and that's what Chicago did in 1996 with its Christkindlmarket, where two-thirds of the vendors come from Germany.

It's become more popular every year, and now many other towns — from the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota to Wisconsin cheese country and the ethnic enclaves of Michigan — have markets of their own.

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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.

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