ChocolateFest in Burlington, Wis. This big festival features a battle of the chefs, the Project Yum-way candy-wrapper design contest and chocolate-eating contests, plus a crafts fair and carnival. May 2528.
World's Largest Brat Fest in Madison. There's music on four stages, plus kids' games, a sports zone, carnival rides and Sunday fireworks. Admission is free. May 2528.
CelebrAsian Asian Heritage Festival in Des Moines. This festival at Western Gateway Park features martial arts, lion dancers, chopstick races and a fashion show. May 2526.
Chicago Gaelic Park Irish Festival in Oak Forest, Ill. In this south Chicago suburb, there's music on five stages, plus a petting zoo, hurling, theater, Irish dog and pony exhibits and red hair, freckle and bonnie baby contests. May 2528.
Eyes to the Skies Festival in Lisle, Ill. This large festival on the west edge of Chicago features daily hot-air balloon launches, glows and fireworks shows, plus children's activities and a craft fair. July 13.
Sawdust Days in Oshkosh, Wis. This festival in Menominee Park, next to Lake Winnebago, celebrates the logging era, when Oshkosh was known as Sawdust City. It includes a historic village, flea market, carnival, fireworks and music on four stages, including Sabor-a-Mexico. June 30July 4.
Iowa City Jazz Festival in Iowa City, Iowa. This downtown festival features a Culinary Row, Fun Zone for kids and Sunday fireworks in addition to music. July 13.
Ribfest in Naperville, Ill. Headliners include 3 Doors Down in Knoch Park, where there's also magic shows, kids' games, food and fireworks on the last evening. July 13.
The second weekend in June is a good time to try something new in Minnesota.
Many parks are holding special events, such as archery, bird and flower hikes and geocaching and fishing programs.
There will be a concert at Itasca, a raptors program at Wild River, a Family Outdoor Fair at Whitewater, a River Adventures Day at Jay Cooke and Kids Day at Kathio.
The summer is winding to a close, and you've used up all your vacation and money, too.
What to do? Go on a day trip, of course.
It's amazing how many fun things you can fit into one day, once you get out of the city: Visit wineries, take paddlewheeler cruises, ride bicycle trails, tour lighthouses, find interesting shops.
For Minneapolis, see 10 great day trips from the Twin Cities.
In summer, you don't have to spend very much to have a great vacation.
You don't even have to know much. Sign up for one of Minnesota's I Can Camp! programs, and a family of six pays just $40 for one night in a state park and $60 for two nights instruction, tents and gear included.
Wisconsin has a lot of music festivals where families can camp on the grounds. Tickets include performances and more corn feeds, kickball, canoeing, even fireworks.
This year, we found so many cheap trips that we had to split them into separate stories.
June is the cruelest month for bugs.
Mosquitoes hatch everywhere there's standing water. Black flies bedevil campers in the Boundary Waters and along Lake Superior, especially in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Ticks are crawling all over the place.
Black flies are hardest to avoid, since they attack the face and are nearly invisible. Either buy a head net, stay in a breezy place or wait until they go away.
The common wisdom is they'll be gone by the Fourth of July. But it's not the only time they come out. Once, in late July, we were staying at the Big Bay Point Lighthouse B&B near
Marquette, and the flies were so bad you couldn't be outside.
You won't have to look far for fireworks and festivities over the Fourth of July weekend, because every town worth its salt has them.
But some of the best are the smallest. For an old-fashioned celebration, go to Madeline Island in Wisconsin for A Day on the Green. At 10:30 a.m., there's a home-grown parade that ends with historical figures giving patriotic speeches at the museum. An art fair, barbecue and fireworks follow. July 4.
Near Milwaukee, an Old World Fourth of July at Old World Wisconsin includes a band concert, old-fashioned games and visits with re-enactors who portray the role of African-American soldiers in the Civil War. July 4.
In the western Minneapolis village of Excelor, the Minnesota Orchestra plays at the Lake Minnetonka Fourth of July at Excelsior Commons, followed by fireworks. There's also a kids' parade and Popsicle social and a sandcastle-building contest.
At MidwestWeekends, we love anything that makes us veer off the highway and say, "Wow, what the heck is that?''
We call these things Roadside Distractions, and we always take a photo and find out the story behind them. Then we share it. But first, we like to find out who else has seen them.
Where can we find this pair of entertainers?
Here in the Upper Midwest, hikers have their pick of great trails the Superior Hiking Trail, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail and hundreds of state and county trails.
On National Trails Day, you can try out a new one. Along Lake Superior, the Superior Hiking Trail Association is leading a five-mile hike on the newest section of trail between Duluth and Two Harbors.
In southwest Wisconsin, the rangers of Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge are hosting a bird hike, bike ride and canoe paddle. On the Red Cedar State Trail (pictured) in Menomonie, the Friends group is offering a wildlife photography hike, raptor presentation and bike checks.
It's time to head up north for swimming, boating, relaxing . . . and eating.
The Minnesota lakes country between Brainerd and Walker isn't known for great restaurants, but that may be because only locals know the best places.
Luckily for you, MidwestWeekends knows the locals who know the best places. It turns out that this popular area has top chefs who could work anywhere but choose to live where others can only vacation go figure.
For at least half a century, white men in blackface have been considered tasteless. But white men in red face? They were part of a popular outdoor pageant that brought busloads of tourists to a small town in southwest Minnesota.
But "Song of Hiawatha'' was performed for the last time in 2008, not because locals considered it an anachronism, but because it was too much work.
"It's in the middle of summer, and it's gotten hard to find people willing to participate,'' said lifelong Pipestone resident Eugene Hanson. "I hate to see it go.''
The audience had fallen off, too. Many younger people never have heard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and fewer still can appreciate an 1855 poem that's set to the meter of a Finnish epic, based on third-hand Ojibwe legends, filled with Christian imagery and bloated by Victorian romanticism.
This time of year, everyone in Minnesota starts thinking about going to the North Shore, and everyone wants that perfect place to stay.
I first went to the North Shore in August 1981, without a reservation (you cant do that anymore), and lucked into Fern Creek cabin (pictured) at Koenekes Shoredge resort, just beyond Lutsen.
It had hand-sewn curtains, a tiny kitchen and tiny bedrooms with walls that didnt quite go up to the ceiling. But it was surrounded by poplars and had a picture window facing the lake, a swing out front and a rocky shoreline perfect for bonfires.
That's my idea of a perfect place to stay, though I know it's not everyone's. I stopped by recently and caught Karen Bergly of Plymouth, Minn., whose mothers family has been running the summer-only resort since 1953.
Now that warm weather has arrived, we can have some fun cooling down.
We can go whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River near Duluth without a wetsuit. We can relax into the potholes above Illgen Falls and turn the the Baptism River into a spa.
If we're desperate, we can run from the sand beach on Duluth's Park Point into Lake Superior. No one ever said that felt like bathwater.
Now, however, I've found the best cool-down of all snorkeling. Why didn't I think of it before?
Already tired of mosquitoes? Head for southeast Minnesota.
That's karst country, where porous limestone lies just under the surface and rain sinks into fast-moving underground streams that are chilled to 48 degrees when they run through the many cave systems. Trout like it, but mosquitoes don't. There's no standing water, so there's nowhere for them to breed.
That makes camping virtually mosquito-free at Forestville/Mystery Cave, Whitewater and Beaver Creek Valley state parks. Deb Erickson, office manager at Forestville, says people used to camping on Minnesota's North Shore are pleasantly surprised and often ask why there are so few mosquitoes.
"All the parks are like that in southeast Minnesota,'' she says. "It's kind of strange, but very wonderful.''
On a trip to Milwaukee this month, I found that nothing stays the same except the things people cant do without.
In Lake Mills, just off I-94 east of Madison, I was surprised to see Ephraim Faience Pottery in a newly restored 1890s cream-brick building on Water Street. Id been coveting its graceful, handmade Arts and Crafts pieces for many years but was resigned to simply admiring the shelves of vases and pitchers until I saw that I could buy one at half price.
So, thanks to a barely discernible bottom crease, I got my very own Heartland vase for $144. Seconds and irregulars are available only at the Lake Mills gallery.
I buy bottom cracks all the time, said manager Barbara Voss. That way, I dont have to feel so bad if the cat does cream it.
Theres good news for bicycle tourists looking for a new stretch of trail to try.
This month, a troublesome 1½-mile stretch of the Mesabi Trail in northern Minnesota (pictured) finally was completed between Taconite and Marble, giving riders 74½ nonstop miles of beautiful asphalt.
The rolling trail, which does not follow a rail corridor, takes riders past turquoise mine-pit lakes, through rock cuts and to the door of nearly every Iron Range attraction. For more, see Rolling through the Iron Range.
Near Bemidji, an 11½-mile section of the Paul Bunyan State Trail has been paved. Now, bicyclists can ride 7½ miles along the east shore of Lake Bemidji from Lake Bemidji State Park, then on two miles of city streets to connect with the new stretch, which winds through the woods to Guthrie.