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FastPlans/Exploring La Crosse

A carriage in La Crosse.

The biggest asset of this three-college town is its location, right on the Mississippi River in southwest Wisconsin's coulee country. 

Getting there: Why not take the train? From the west, Amtrak's Empire Builder arrives at 10:47 a.m.; from the east, at 7:11 p.m.

What to do: Take a cruise on the paddlewheeler La Crosse Queen. Drive up Grandad Bluff for a panoramic view of the town. Bike the La Crosse River State Trail.

Events to catch: Aug. 24-26, Great River Folk Festival. Aug. 31-Sept. 3, Bicycle Festival, with free tours for all ages and social events.

Details: See Cruising La Crosse.

Cooling off on the lake in Duluth

Aerial Lift Bridge as seen from Skyline Parkway in Duluth.

When the rest of the Upper Midwest broils, this Lake Superior city basks in cool breezes. 

What to do: From Canal Park, watch ore boats. Check out the town's swimming holes. Hike the Superior Hiking Trail. Visit Glensheen mansion. 

Events to catch: Aug. 10-12, Bayfront Blues Festival and Day Out With Thomas the Tank Engine.

Details: See  Duluth 101 and Duluth rocks!

Paul Bunyan in Bemidji

Paul Bunyan and Babe stand beside Lake Bemidji.

In Bemidji, it's all about Bunyan. The northern-Minnesota town was first to create a giant Paul, in 1937, and it's the northern trailhead of the Paul Bunyan State Trail.

What to do: Bike around the lake. Take a pontoon tour at Lake Bemidji State Park.

See the musical "Hairspray'' at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, Aug. 1-5 and 8-11. Buy a plaid ear-flap hat from Bemidji Woolen Mills. Rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard at the Outdoor Program Center on the lake.

Events to catch: Aug. 1-4, Dragon Boat Festival.

Details: For more, see Bemidji's behemoths.

Traveling by boat in 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.

Details: For more, see Land of big water.

Exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula

Copper Harbor Lighthouse can be reached only by water.

In summer, Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula is beautiful and cool, yet quiet even at the peak of tourist season.

It doesn't have many "attractions,'' yet there's so much to see — soft pink-sandstone beaches, old mining towns, 10 lighthouses. In late July, blueberries ripen along roads and bear sightings are likely.

What to do: Explore the beaches between Bete Grise and Gay. Kayak the Keweenaw Water Trail. Talk to the living-history interpreters at Fort Wilkins State Park. Go to a concert at the Calumet Theatre

Events to catch: July 27-29, Civil War Encampment at Fort Wilkins. Aug. 18, Pasty Fest in Calumet. 

Details: For more, see Digging the Keweenaw.