MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for summer

Tubing a lazy river
Lolling on the water, it's easy to play it cool.
Packer country
Like Oz, Green Bay glows green and gold.
Cheap Chicago
Here are 10 tips to make a trip to the Windy City easy to afford.
Twin Cities history ride
On a scenic loop from Minnehaha Park to downtown St. Paul, bicyclists see how it all started.
Celebrating roots
No matter where you're from, there's a heritage festival for you.
Circling Lake Superior
A trip along its gorgeous shores provides everything a tourist's heart could desire.
Party in Milwaukee
Summer is one long festival in this unsung city on Lake Michigan.
Grand sand
Along Lake Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are a playground for all ages.

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FastPlans/Exploring Voyageurs

A boat speeds past an island on Rainy Lake in Voyageurs Nati

Summer is the time to explore Minnesota's only national park, which is mostly water. You can explore by park-service pontoon, rented launch, houseboat, kayak or canoe.

What to do: Take a Rainy Lake boat tour to gold mines or a historic fish camp. Take a Kabetogema Lake boat tour to Kettle Falls Hotel. Explore Rainy Lake in a rented motorboat or houseboat.

Explore by canoe with a naturalist. Hike one of nine trails. Learn about the park at three visitors centers.

Information: Download the park newspaper. For more, see Land of big water.

Past fast plans: Exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula, Breezy in Bayfield, Staying cool in Grand Marais, Winona festivals, Riverfront fun in Minneapolis

This weekend

Walk with Vikings or ride a balloon.

Young dancers at Nordic Fest.

Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa. It's the 51st year of this friendly, authentic, very fun and very large festival of Scandinavian culture. The parade is at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. July 27–29.

National Balloon Classic in Indianola, Iowa. This giant hot-air balloon festival includes daily flights, rides for the public, music, night glows, fireworks and a parade. July 28–Aug. 5.

German Fest in Milwaukee. Look for dachshunds, dirndls and lots of oompah music at this big party at Henry Maier Festival Park on Lake Michigan. July 28–30.

Taste of Wisconsin in Kenosha, Wis.This free harborfront festival features locally produced specialties as well as cooking demonstrations, gardening workshops and music on three stages. July 28–30.

For more, see our Events Calendar.

One in 1,000

Somewhere in lakes country, there's a resort with your name on it. Here's how to find it.

Gordon Lodge on North Bay.

After many years of traveling around this region, I can answer nearly every travel question except one: “Can you give me the name of a good lake resort?’’

No, I can’t. Only you and your therapist know what you consider a good lake resort.

Staying at a north-woods lake resort is not like staying at a Marriott. There may be chipmunks living under your cabin, and fish that nibble your legs when you wade. Squealing children may run past your window while you’re trying to read.

You may find these things alarming. For you, there are resorts with all-day children’s programs, pools, and new townhouse units on manicured grounds.

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Great beaches of lakes country

In cities as well as forests, it's not hard to find a place to play.

The beach at Rock Island State Park.

Around here, you don't need oceans for a beach vacation.

We have thousands of lakes, plus inland seas on shoreline that often is called the Fourth Coast. Lake Michigan's shores are a veritable Riviera, and even rocky Superior has some noteworthy stretches of sand.

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30 great campsites

These spots have what campers want: location, location, location.

A group campsite on the Namekagon River.

There's nothing like finding the perfect campsite.

I look for them wherever I go, and when I was at Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, one of the most popular campgrounds in Wisconsin, I found it: Campsite 435.

It's framed but not enclosed by trees, has a lovely view of Crystal Lake and is on the edge of its sand beach. It's near the shower house and not too close to latrines, easy to reach but not heavily trafficked and off a paved bicycle trail to nearby towns.

A family from Rhinelander had reserved it for an August weekend, less than two weeks before they arrived.

“This is our first family camping trip,'' said Cora Eckrich. “We got here and I thought, 'Really? This is awesome.' Now I think we're going to be spoiled – is it ever going to be as good as this one?''

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Touring Mackinac Island

On a scenic web of trails, visitors see another side of a celebrated spot.

Victorian houses on Mackinac Island.

In the straits between lakes Michigan and Huron, you can find more than one Mackinac Island.

The best-known first was advertised as "the Fairy Isle of Mackinac," and it's not quite rooted in reality. It has a tuxedo shop but no hardware store, a Victorian house called Brigadoon and a fan club that gathers every October in vintage clothing to revere the year 1912.

You get to that island in a horse-drawn surrey, driven by a liveryman in a top hat.

Then there's the day-tripper island, chockablock with ice-cream and fudge shops. You see that one from wagons on tours narrated by college students.

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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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Kayaking the Apostles

The wild 21-island archipelago around Wisconsin's Bayfield Peninsula is the preserve of paddlers.

Kayakers at the Sand Island sea caves.

The sky was clear, the wind was still and Lake Superior was as placid as a lily pond.

It was a miracle that wouldn't last. 

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