10 great ways to celebrate New Year's

You can put on a party hat or be festive in the forest.

Horse-drawn carriage in Chicago.
In Chicago's theater district, the restored Ford Center/Oriental Theatre hosts touring shows.

If you want a good way to greet the new year, plan a great getaway.

The traditional plan is to look around for a party or show. Pretty much any big hotel will have a New Year's celebration with party hats, loud music and cocktails.

But you also can hike by candlelight, ride an indoor Ferris wheel or watch a torchlight parade on a ski slope.

If you want to celebrate in a big city but you can't spend a lot of money, consider staying home on New Year's Eve and starting your getaway on New Year's Day. The more luxurious the hotel, the more the price will drop — often, by more than half.

With your savings, you can buy a fancy dinner and tickets for a touring Broadway show.

Here are other good ways to spend New Year's in 2023.

Twin Cities by candlelight

If you rather be outdoors than inside, light up the night at one of two parks and an arboretum on New Year's Eve.

In the southern St. Paul suburb of Eagan, Lebanon Hills Regional Park holds a New Year's Eve party with candlelight snowshoeing and ice skating plus sledding, s'mores and a ball drop at 7:59 p.m.

And in the southern Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, Wood Lake Nature Center holds an annual Candlelight and Ice celebration on New Year's Eve, with luminary-lined trails, marshmallow-roasting and crafts and games.

And at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, combine a stroll through the Winter Lights display with a New Year's Eve party with music.

ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The ZooLights display at the Lincoln Park Zoo is free.

Glittering zoo critters in Chicago and Milwaukee

There are lots of posh (and expensive) parties in Chicago, but an evening at the Lincoln Park Zoo, which already is decked out with 2.5 million lights, sounds like more fun and costs a lot less.

The ZooLights display is up through Jan. 7. Reserve tickets in advance, $7-$10, free on New Year's Day. New Year's Eve is family-friendly, with a countdown every hour.

Or, across the border in Wisconsin, take a stroll through the mile-long Wild Lights animal display at the Milwaukee County Zoo followed by a Zoo Year's Eve party. Tickets are $16-$18, $18-$20 at the gate.

Schussing and champagne

Many alpine-ski resorts plan New Year's Eve festivities.

In north-central Wisconsin, there's always a torchlight parade and fireworks plus live music at Granite Peak in Wausau.

Holiday lights in Madison

Take the kids to the free Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Olin Park; it's open through Dec. 31.

New Year's in Chicago

Because Chicago has so many hotel rooms to fill, it's one of the few places where prices don't really go up for New Year's Eve (and there are good deals for New Year's Day).

There's a big selection of touring Broadway shows, including "Hamilton" and "Stomp." At Navy Pier, Light up the Lake features an indoor Ferris wheel, indoor ice-skating rink and kiddie train rides among light sculptures. At midnight on New Year's Eve, there's a fireworks show.

Another fireworks show will be from six bridges of the Chicago River, also at midnight.

For planning information, see Chicago stories.

A cherry drops in Sister Bay.
A cherry drops in the Door County town of Sister Bay.

Big drops around Lake Michigan

In the eastern Wisconsin town of Plymouth, near Sheboyan, there's a family-friendly Cheese Drop, with live music, cheese-tasting and a champagne toast.

In Sister Bay in Door County, there's a cherry drop, with early fireworks at 8 p.m.

Across the big lake, there's another cherry drop in Traverse City, followed by fireworks.

Down the Lake Michigan coast, there's a good old-fashioned ball drop in Ludington.

In South Haven, they drop 1,000 beach balls in the town center, followed by fireworks. There will also be rides on a 200-foot zipline, a DJ and light show and a free trolley.

In the Chicago suburb of Whiting, there's a pierogi drop, also with fireworks.

A quiet cottage

If you're not wild about wild parties, rent a cabin or cottage and make your own party with a crackling fire and cocktails. There's usually plenty of availability, especially for Jan. 1-3.

Every tourism web site lists vacation rentals, but Airbnb and VRBO makes it easy to see everything that's available; just plug in the dates you want.

A rental cottage in Beaver Bay.
A vacation rental in Beaver Bay, Minn., overlooks Lake Superior.

For more, see Finding a cozy cabin and 20 perfect cabins.

State-park camper cabins and guesthouses in Minnesota state parks are very popular for New Year's Eve.

New Year's Day in Door County

Door County has lots of rooms for the summer crowds, so you can always find a good inn or B&B for New Year's Eve.

At noon on New Year's Day, there's a Polar Bear Plunge in Jacksonport. Then run over to downtown Egg Harbor, where everyone is invited to march in the New Year's Day Parade at 1 p.m.

For lodgings, see Where to stay in Door County.

First Day Hikes in four states

Across America, state parks are hosting First Day Hikes, with walks guided by naturalists and a festive atmosphere provided by bonfires and hot chocolates. If there's snow, many parks provide snowshoes.

On New Year's Day, there are naturalist-guided First Day Hikes (or snowshoeing) in state parks in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and especially Iowa, where 24 state parks are offering guided hikes.

Last updated on December 18, 2021

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