So many festivals, so little fall
The season is short, so go on a power trip and catch two or three festivals each weekend. Here's where to go.
In this part of the world, fall is sweet but way too short.
All of the quaint little towns along rivers and in the bluffs have to pack their autumn festivals into the same six weekends, rolling out parades, pumpkin contests and oompah bands for all the leaf-peeping tourists.
The choices are paralyzing. Flea market or scarecrow contest? Pumpkin regatta or studio tour? Yodeling contest or dachshund races?
You can't do it all, but you can do a lot. Just go on a power trip — to two, even three festivals in one weekend.
If you want to cram in as many fall festivities as possible before cold weather arrives, here's our guide to the best place to be each weekend.
If you want to stay overnight, make reservations as soon as possible. And before setting out, call or check websites for festival highlights and plan around them.
Weekend after Labor Day: Southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities
The first time I went power tripping was the weekend after Labor Day, when Northfield holds its Defeat of Jesse James Days, the historic village of Mantorville holds Marigold Days and the Minnesota River college town of St. Pete holds the Rock Bend Folk Festival.
Don't miss the bank-raid re-enactments in Northfield, where the bad guys ride horses. In Mantorville, catch a melodrama. In St. Peter, kick back in the city park and listen to as much music as you want — it's free.
I hit them all on a day trip from the Twin Cities, and after three festivals and three towns, I felt as if I'd been gone three days. The best thing was that fall was just getting started.
And if we'd had more time, we could have stopped by the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, just up the Minnesota River from St. Peter.
Side trip: Just west of Minneapolis on Lake Minnetonka, James J. Hill Days in Wayzata is known for its dachshund races.
Third weekend of September: Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan
On the other side of Lake Michigan, start near the Illinois border in Racine, for the Party on the Pavement street festival on Saturday.
In Milwaukee, stop by the monthlong Oktoberfest at the Bavarian Bierhaus in Glendale for folk dancing, sing-alongs, yodeling and such typical German festival foods as spanferkel and rollbraten.
Don't miss the Great Pumpkin Regatta, where paddlers in hollowed-out pumpkins race across Cedar Creek, or the grape stomp.
And if you want to keep going, the Circle Tour of Lake Michigan is one of our favorite trips in fall as well as summer.
Side trip: Hop to the other side of Lake Michigan for three festivals: the Michigan Irish Music Festival in the port town of Muskegon, which includes Highland Games as well as music and dancing and the free South Haven Jazz Festival along the harbor in South Haven.
Fourth weekend of September: St. Croix and Mississippi river valleys
Just east of the Twin Cities on the St. Croix, the village of Afton holds Afton Art in the Park. After that, head south on St. Croix Trail, where apple orchards will be offering hay rides and trips through corn mazes.
Take time to drive up to Pikes Peak State Park, 500 feet above the river. The views are spectacular, and admission is free.
Fifth weekend of September: Driftless Area of Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois
First full weekend of October: River towns of northwest Illinois
Also in Oregon, the Olde English Faire returns, featuring castle tours, medieval merriment, jesters and Vikings.
On the Fox River in the western Chicago suburb of St. Charles, it's Scarecrow Weekend. And in the northern suburb of Highwood, which calls itself Pumpkin Town USA, visit the Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival and Skeleton Invasion.
Second weekend of October: River towns of Minnesota
Third weekend of October: southern Wisconsin
While you're there, take an hour or two to hike in Devil's Lake State Park just south of Baraboo, which often is at peak fall color this weekend.
Farther south, you can catch one of the season's last Oktoberfest on Saturday in Elkhorn, not far from Lake Geneva. Near Racine, Union Grove gets out the catapults for its Pumpkin Chuckin Fest on Saturday.
At dusk, drive over to Eagle and Old World Wisconsin for the spooky Legends and Lore program. It's held on the first three Fridays and Saturdays of the month.
Fourth weekend of October: Twin Cities
This is the weekend before Halloween.
In south Minneapolis, BareBones Puppet Theatre holds its annual Extravaganza on the Midtown Greenway, featuring music, dance, stilt-walking, fire and song. It will be Friday through Sunday evenings as well as Halloween itself.