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FastPlans/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 "Young Frankenstein'' at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. 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. 4-7, Dragon Boat Festival.

Details: For more, see Bemidji's behemoths.

Pedaling and paddling in Lanesboro

A bicyclist pedals on the Root River State Trail.

In summer, this hamlet in Minnesota's southeast corner kicks into high gear as bicyclists, paddlers and trout fishermen stream into its many inns and B&Bs.

The beautiful Root River State Trail jump-started Lanesboro's renaissance in the 1980s, but now tourists also come for the theater and art.

What to do: Bicycle the 42-mile Root River State Trail or 18-mile Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail. Canoe or kayak the Root River. Fish for trout. See a play at Commonweal Theatre.

Details: For more, see The belle of bluff country.

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. Take an excursion train along the lake.

Events to catch: July 17, Bayfront Reggae & World Music Festival. July 24, Festival by the Lake. July 31, All Pints North Summer Brew Fest.

Details: See  Duluth 101 and Duluth rocks!

Staying cool in Grand Marais

People walking on the Grand Marais breakwall.

On Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior, this village of 1,400 is more cosmopolitan than many towns 20 times its size — it has a performing-arts center, a folk school, an art colony and galleries and restaurants that could hold their own in much bigger cities.

What to do: Walk to Artists' Point. Skip rocks. Take a class from North House Folk School. Hike at nearby Cascade River State Park. Hunt for agates at Cutface Creek Wayside.

Details: For more, see Four seasons of Grand Marais.

Music and theater in Winona

Inline skater on trail in Winona

In the corner of southeast Minnesota, Winona has an enviable spot on the loveliest stretch of the Mississippi River Valley.

Not only is it scenic, it's a college town, with lots of theater, concerts and coffeehouses.

Events to catch: June 23-Aug. 1, Great River Shakespeare Festival. June 27-July 15, Minnesota Beethoven Festival

What to do: Use canoes, kayaks and paddleboards at Lake Lodge Recreation Center on Lake Winona (pictured). Tour the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Visit Garvin Heights Vineyards and see the view. Visit the nearby Pickwick Mill.

Details: See Afloat in Winona.