MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for winter

Great spring festivals
It's a good time to indulge in brews, birding and blooms.
Cheap Chicago
Here are 10 tips to make a trip to the Windy City easy to afford.
The best in snow tubing
With their multiple lanes, conveyor lifts and snow-making, these aren't your grandma's hills.
Classic Wisconsin lodges
In the north woods, golden oldies recall a vanished era.
Ice playgrounds
Along rivers and lakes, it's fun to hang out with Jack Frost.
Classic Minnesota lodges
The passage of time burnishes the appeal of historic lake resorts.
Planning a Circle Tour of Lake Michigan
For a great summer road trip, follow the shores of this Midwestern Riviera.

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FastPlans/Fun in Bayfield

Polar plunge during Winter Festival.

When snow covers the Bayfield Peninsula, attention turns from Lake Superior to the hills. That's where there are miles of trails for skiing, snowshoeing, mushing and sledding.

What to do: Ski downhill at Mount Ashwabay. Ski and snowmobile at Mount Valhalla. Go on a dog-sled trip. Hike the blufftop Lakeshore Trail above the ice caves near Cornucopia.

Events to catch: March 3-5, Winter Festival.

Details: For more, see Bayfield in winter.

Past fast plans: Gunflint prime time, Madison for kids, Fun around Ely, St. Paul carnival, Wausau winter

This weekend

Kiss a fish or race a minnow.

Kissing an eelpout in Walker.

International Eelpout Festival in Walker, Minn. It's fun just to wander (or drive) around Leech Lake during this event, which includes mechanical bull riding, bikini ice fishing and a beer pong tournament. Be sure to have some 'pout nuggets, which are as tasty as the fish is ugly. Feb. 23–26.

Grumpy Old Men Festival in Wabasha, Minn. There's always good eagle-viewing in this Mississippi River town, and during the festival, there will be an ice-fishing contest, polar plunge and minnow races. Feb. 25.

Bockfest at Capital Brewery in Middleton, Wis. This Madison-area brewery celebrates with the Running of the Blondes 1K race, a fish throw, music, costumes and, of course, beer. Tickets sell out, so buy early. Feb. 25.

International Festival in Madison. Dancers, musicians, storytellers and puppeteers representing traditions from around the world converge on the Overture Center for the Arts on State Street for this free festival. There's also food and a global bazaar. Feb. 25.

For more, see our Events Calendar.

Sugarbush safari

Running sap is cause for celebration in the maple forest.

Tapping a maple tree at Fort Snelling.

Even if it looks like winter outside, you can count on maple trees to know otherwise.

In late February, their sap starts to run, and that's "the sweet good-bye of winter,'' writes naturalist John Burroughs.

Indigenous people were first to tap trees, inserting hollow reeds, letting the sap drip into troughs and boiling it down over a wood fire. The process isn't much different today, except most people use metal taps, plastic tubing and buckets to catch the sap.

It's still a lot of work; it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. But most people think real maple syrup is worth the effort.

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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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Winter on Minnesota's Gunflint Trail

On the edge of the Boundary Waters, Nordic skiers find snow that sparkles into April.

Skiers glide on trails along the Gunflint's Flour Lake.

While people in cities to the south are looking for crocuses, folks on northeast Minnesota's Gunflint Trail are enjoying some of the best skiing of the year.

It's not that the Gunflint is so much colder. It's that there's so much snow it keeps itself refrigerated, like glaciers.

"We have a really good base,'' says Heather Telchow of Golden Eagle Lodge. "Even after these warm days, the snow is like brand new. I grew up in Faribault, and I'm used to it disappearing in a few days. But we don't lose snow like that up here. We keep it forever.''

Looking for a reprieve from spring slush? Head for the 57-mile Gunflint Trail, which dead-ends in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

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Wildlife reality show

Web cams open a window into lives of eagles, bears and other wild things.

An eagle nesting in the Twin Cities.

In the northeast Iowa town of Decorah, a pair of nesting bald eagles have become an international phenomenon.

Not only do they have a constant stream of live video, but avid watchers are snatching the best episodes and posting them on YouTube. 

The Raptor Resource Project posts links on its Facebook page, along with regular updates.

In January, the eagles court and get the nest ready. In mid-February, mom lays the eggs. In March, the eggs hatch, and in April and May, viewers can watch the eaglets grow.

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Owls, owls, everywhere

Bird watching at Stoney Point.

In the north woods, irruptions of owls make birders ecstatic.

When food is scarce in far-north forests, owls fly south to look for it, many along the shores of Lake Superior.

I don't have the patience to watch birds. But when they come right to me . . . who can resist?

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Rooms for romance

Here's where to go for the perfect getaway with your sweetie.

Bernard Schwartz house in Two Rivers.

When anniversaries, birthdays and Valentine's Day roll around, swains everywhere wonder where to take their sweethearts to celebrate.

Of course, it has to be somewhere romantic. But what's romantic? To many, it's the floral Laura Ashley look, with lots of lace, patterned wallpaper and antiques.

To others, it's a rustic cabin in the forest, minus the heart-shaped whirlpool but with loads of privacy and atmosphere.

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