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FastPlans/Fall in Decorah

Phelps Park in Decorah.

In the bluffs of northeast Iowa, Decorah has a lot going for it: a spectacular location, a scenic bicycle trail, fine restaurants and craft breweries and a rich cultural scene rarely found in a town of only 8,000.

What to do: Bicycle the 11-mile Trout Run Trail loop. Hike the blufftop trail in Phelps Park (pictured). Canoe on the Upper Iowa River.

Details: For more, see A pocket of Norway.

Fall on Minnesota's North Shore

Fall colors on Oberg Mountain.

For Minnesotans, the stretch of Lake Superior they call the North Shore is hallowed ground. The cobblestone beaches, the dramatic river gorges and the panoramic views of a vast inland sea all make their hearts beat a little faster, especially in fall.

When to go: Right now through the last week of September in inland maple forest (pictured).

What to do: Hike the trails. Ride the Gitchi-Gami Trail. Have a picnic on Palisade Head. Skip rocks or hunt for agates on the beaches

Events to catch: Sept. 25-Oct. 4, Art Along the Lake: Fall Studio Tour.

Details: See Colors of the North Shore and North Shore by the mile.

Exploring La Crosse

Mississippi Queen in La Crosse Wisconsin.

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: Sept. 4-Oct. 4, Bicycle Festival, with free route maps and giveaways.

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. Take an excursion train along the lake.

Events to catch: Aug. 19 and 26, Free Wednesday Nights at Glensheen. Aug. 21 and 28, Movies in the Parking Lot at DECC.

Details: See  Duluth 101 and Duluth rocks!

Breezy in Bayfield

Bayfield's marina is filled with sailboats and yachts.

For more than a century, vacationers have been making their way to this hillside village on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Superior.

What to do: Cruise the Apostle Islands. Explore Madeline Island. Pick berries in the orchards above town. Walk the two-mile Brownstone Trail along Chequamegon Bay. Explore the mainland sea caves by kayak.

Details: For more, see Beloved Bayfield.