10 great ways to celebrate Valentine's Day

Feed romance in the forest, at an ice castle and, of course, in chocolate shops.

Candinas chocolates in Madison.
In Madison, Candinas chocolates are worth the splurge.

Valentine's Day is on a Tuesday this year, so on the weekend before, you ought to be ready to treat your swain or sweetheart to something fun.

It doesn't have to be an expensive dinner by candlelight with a fancy box of artisan chocolates . . . it could also be a hike by lantern or candlelight, with s'mores made over a fire.

Romance isn't what you buy; it's what you bring with you.

Here are some great and not particularly expensive ways to celebrate Valentine's Day in 2024.

Eat some chocolate

Researchers have found that eating chocolate is almost as good as being in love . . . or something like that.

In the historic northwest Illinois town of Galena, go on a Chocolate Lovers Stroll along Main Street on Feb. 10.

East-central Wisconsin is known as the " Wisconsin Candy Delta." The New York Times has mapped out a tour of chocolate shops in Appleton, Oshkosh, Green Bay, De Pere and Manitowoc, near or on Lake Michigan.

That's a lot of driving. For a shorter trip, take a self-guided tour of the chocolateries of Madison.

Candlelight in the forest

Nothing is more romantic than a stroll or glide through a forest by the light of luminaries. There's always a bonfire or fire pit, so score extra points by bringing a baggie of s'more ingredients.

The candlelight ski at Gooseberry Falls State Park.
Skiers and snowshoers gather around the fire at a candlelight event.

There will be several places to do that over Valentine's Day weekend. On Feb. 17, ski or snowshoe one of the best candlelit loops at Gooseberry Falls State Park on the North Shore.

Several Wisconsin state parks also are holding events Feb. 17, including Willow River near Hudson and Rib Mountain in Wausau, and also the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Madison.

Shop by the light of ice lantern

In the arty southwest Wisconsin town of Mineral Point, visit art galleries and shops by the light of artist-created luminaries during the Ice Lantern Festival Feb. 3.

There's also a cupcake/cookie/hot chocolate bar as well as an ice bar for stronger treats.

Visit an ice playground

Professional ice artists have created the Winter Realms ice playground in Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin, with a snow cavern, ice tunnels, igloos, sleigh rides, tubing, ice slides and an ice volcano.

In the Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove, on the northwest edge of the Twin Cities, you'll find an LED-lit ice castle of stacked icicles, sculptures, tunnels, slides and even a spouting fountain. Tickets are cheapest when bought online.

Lighted ice castle.
An Ice Castle features LED-lit sculptures, tunnels, slides and a fountain.

There's another ice palace half an hour west of Minneapolis in Delano, with sleigh rides, sledding and fire shows.

Elsewhere, visit one of our favorite and free ice playgrounds, including the spectacular Eben Ice Caves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Scale a frozen waterfall

At nearby Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, some of the nation's best ice climbers will be scaling spectacular frozen waterfalls during Michigan Ice Fest, Feb. 7-11. There are workshops for beginners, too.

Tear down a hill on a tube

Remember how much fun sledding was when you were a kid? You can still do that, except you'll have even more fun shooting down today's professionally groomed and graded tubing chutes.

You don't even have to trudge back up the hill; there are conveyor lifts and magic carpets for that.

Tickets are good for two hours, and nearly everyone can find a tubing hill nearby.

If exhilaration isn't enough, add some atmosphere with an evening of glow tubing at Spirit Mountain in Duluth or The Rock Snowpark in Franklin, just south of Milwaukee.

Tour fireplaces and go on a sleigh ride

In the far northeast corner of Minnesota, see some of the coziest and most unique fireplaces in Cook County and warm up with a hot chocolate or mulled wine, too.

The tour is the whole month of February and part of the Feb. 3-14 Hygge Festival in Grand Marais, which includes romantic sleigh rides and guided hikes to frozen waterfalls. There's also a new Sauna Series with free community sauna sessions.

Book a cozy cabin

This is a classic idea, because there's nothing more romantic than canoodling in front of a crackling fireplace.

The problem is, it may be hard to find a place at the last minute. You can always look for cancellations, but another option is reserving a cabin for next year, when Valentine's falls on a Wednesday.

A cabin at Cascade Lodge in Minnesota.
A cozy cabin in the woods is the perfect place to practice Scandinavian-style hygge.

Pick one of our 20 perfect cabins or even a rustic camper cabin in the woods — there will be no heart-shaped whirlpool, but you'll have loads of privacy and atmosphere.

You can reserve them a year in advance in Michigan and Iowa and 120 days in advance in Minnesota.

And for instruction in the Scandinavian concept of "cozy," head for Grand Marais, at the northeast tip of Minnesota. It's holding a Hygge Festival Feb. 4-14, with sleigh rides, guided waterfall hikes and a tour of fireplaces.

See a show

In the Minneapolis theater district, enjoy the musical "Mamma Mia!'' Feb. 6-11 or the comedy "Love and Other Things That Ruined My Life,'' starting Feb. 15.

Or splurge on a Broadway traveling show in Chicago's Loop theater district, where you can see the comedy "Golden Girls'' Feb. 6-25 or the Bob Dylan musical "Girl From the North Country'' Feb. 13-25.

Capital's Bockfest in February.
Hoist a cold one at Capital's Bockfest.

Something to look forward to

If you wanted to buy a gift but didn't have time, just print out some tickets at home — perhaps to a food tour or a cooking class. After all, the way to the heart is through the stomach.

Consider a food tour in Chicago, or perhaps a cooking class or a class at one of the region's many folk schools.

This could really pay off: Your sweetie could come home knowing how to make truffles, sushi or a killer tiramisu.

If your sweetie is no gourmet but loves bacon and beer, snag tickets to the Winter Beer Dabbler in St. Paul on Feb. 24 or Bockfest at Capital Brewery in Middleton, Wis., also Feb. 24.

Or you can make a pig of yourself at Baconfest MKE in Milwaukee on Feb. 25.

Last updated on January 13, 2022.

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