MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Fast Plans / Where to go now

FastPlans/Tundra swans in Monticello

Trumpeter swans gather in Monticello.

The trumpeter swans have arrived in Monticello, Minn. From November through February, more than 2,000 trumpeter swans gather at a warm spot on the Mississippi River, just an hour west of the Twin Cities.

When to go: Jim Lawrence feeds the swans at 10:30 a.m. every day; get there early and watch them fly in.

What else to do: Shop at the nearby Albertville Premium Outlets. Ski, snowshoe or ice skate at nearby Lake Maria State Park.

Details: See Snow birds and Winter weekend in Monticello.

Dubuque's views

Steeples and bridges dominate the view of Dubuque.

People who think Iowa is flat are in for a surprise when they visit Dubuque, a Mississippi port built on seven hills.

What to do: Visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.  Hike or snowshoe in the Mines of Spain Recreation Area. Ski downhill at nearby Sundown Mountain

Events to catch: Jan. 16-17, Ice Fest at the River Museum.

Details: See Destination Dubuque.

Fun in Itasca

Skiers on the trails in Itasca State Park

In summer, tourists from all over the world make a beeline for Minnesota's Itasca State Park, where the Mississippi River starts its run for the Gulf.

But in the winter, it's very quiet . . . and very serene. It's a great time to see the park's beautiful old-growth pines under a cloak of snow.

What to do: Ski on 28 miles of trails. Snowshoe on five trails (or anywhere). Ice fish on Itasca Lake. See historical exhibits at the visitors center.

Where to stay: The rate for the Itasca Suites is reduced to $105. 

Details: For more, see Itasca in winter and The people's park.

Christmas in Chicago

Christmas shopping in Chicago.

During the holidays, this glittering city pulses with excitement. Skaters glide in Maggie Daley Park and shoppers cruise the Magnificent Mile. 

What to doIce skate on the ribbon in Maggie Daley Park. See the sculptures in Millennium Park. See "Christmas Around the World'' at the Museum of Science and Industry. See the ZooLights display at Lincoln Park Zoo, one of several light shows. Shop on the Magnificent Mile.

This year, reserve everything in advance.

Details: For more, see Chicago at Christmas.

Sampling in Iowa's Amanas

Pouring fruit wines in Amana.

Once upon a time, people in Iowa's Amana Colonies lived simply. Now, people go there to indulge.

These tidy, once-communal villages in east-central Iowa, near Cedar Rapids, are famous for their family-style restaurants, wineries, brewery and shops. During the holiday season, tourists descend on the villages to buy gifts — quilts, pottery, chocolates.

What to do: Shop and sample wines. Tour the Amana Heritage Museum on Saturdays. 

Events to catch: Dec. 4-6, Prelude to Christmas.

Information: For more, see Truly Amana and Eating in the Amana Colonies.