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FastPlans/Summer in Chicago

bicyclists along Chicago's Lakefront Trail

In summer, everyone wants to be in Chicago, and the price of hotel rooms skyrockets. But the entertainment is free once you get there, and it's easy to eat well for very little.

What to do: There's always something free going on at Millennium Park, Navy Pier and Grant Park, including world-class classical music at the Grant Park Music Festival, July 2-Aug. 21.

Events to catch: June 12-13, Old Town Art Fair.

Where to stay: See Where to stay in Chicago.

Details: For more, see Chicago as you like it and Cheap Chicago.

Walking around Lake Geneva

People walking around Geneva Lake.

In the southeast corner of Wisconsin, Lake Geneva has been welcoming wealthy Chicagoans for 150 years. They came, they built fabulous mansions, and now the rest of us get to gawk at them from a footpath that hugs all 20 miles of shoreline.

When to go: Now, when it's still fairly quiet. July and August are crowded, especially on weekends.

What to do: Walk around Geneva Lake; if you want to walk only the eight miles from Lake Geneva, an excursion boat will pick you up in Williams Bay. Shop downtown. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard

Details: For more, see Gawking in Lake Geneva.

Enjoying spring in Door County

Dwarf lake iris grow in Door County

In May, this Wisconsin peninsula on Lake Michigan is as gorgeous as ever, but you don't have to share it with crowds. Venture beyond the shops to the headlands, estuaries, beaches and parks.

What to do: See the rare wildflowers at Ridges Sanctuary. Hike or paddle in the Mink River Estuary. Bicycle in Peninsula State Park

Where to stay: Many inns offer spring specials through early June. For more, see Where to stay in Door County.

Information: See Spring in Door County and Outdoors in Door County.

Spring in Galena

A cannon in Galena.

Everybody loves Galena, the cute little "town that time forgot.'' And because everybody can be a lot of people, spring is the best time to enjoy it.

Tulips and daffodils bloom on the terraces, weather is mild and streets are not too crowded. And there's always lots to do in this northwest Illinois town.

What to do: Take a trolley tour. Shop on Main Street. Tour the Ulysses S. Grant Home

Details: See Galena getaway and Outdoors in Galena.

A John Muir tour in Wisconsin

Aldo Leopold's shack.

Celebrate John Muir's April birthday with a trip to the sand plains of central Wisconsin, where Muir and Aldo Leopold began to shape the conservationist ethic that made them famous.

What to doTour Aldo Leopold's famous shack (pictured), the only chicken coop on the National Register of Historic Places, and the nearby International Crane Foundation.

North of Portage, visit John Muir's boyhood home, now John Muir Memorial Park.

South of Baraboo, hike in Devil's Lake State Park and Wisconsin's first natural area, Parfrey's Glen.

Details: For more, see Road trip: Wisconsin's Muir Tour.