In the Upper Midwest, travel can be competitive.
Many festivals are so big and so fun that everyone wants to go. If you do, too, you'll have to act fast to stay ahead of the crowds.
And sometimes, you also need to know when not to visit a certain area. Planning to take the kids on a field trip to Chicago's famous museums? If you settle on Aug. 2-5, when 300,000 music fans will be in town for the rock festival Lollapalooza, you won't be able to find a hotel.
When winter seems to be lasting forever, you just want to get away.
Of course, thats not so easy to do if youre buried in snow. Then you may have to get away a lot closer . . . maybe to the hotel around the corner.
Until then, here are some great winter getaways, each with lots to do and see.
There's a reason why winter is the favorite season of many photographers it's gorgeous.
You've seen this region's icicle-draped sea caves, volcanic Great Lakes waves and dancing northern lights on social media. Now get out there and enjoy the scenery yourselves.
Snowshoe up frozen river canyons, barrel through the woods behind a team of huskies and go to bock festivals at breweries. Learn to ice fish, track wolves and look for bald eagles.
We always get a little frantic in fall, trying to make the most of a too-brief window of opportunity.
Fall is the best time for a lot of things: hiking, after frost has knocked off the bugs; road trips, when the countryside is at its loveliest; and wildlife-watching, when birds and beasts are on the move.
Plus, it's gorgeous. Most people try to catch the reds and oranges of maples at peak, but tamaracks, tallgrass and oaks keep things glowing through October.
This year, winter fizzled so fast some of us didn't get a chance to whine about it. For once, we have lots of time to enjoy spring before summer arrives.
Go on a spring drive, see fiddlehead ferns unfurl and surround yourself with that delicate shade of chartreuse that seems to tint the air green.
Kayak on cattail-lined creeks, stalk morel mushrooms and watch Dutch dancers clogging on the street.
The first times I went up to Minnesotas North Shore, I did the same thing everyone else does: See Gooseberry Falls. Take pictures of Split Rock Lighthouse. Hike Oberg Mountain.
Thats North Shore 101.
Like most tourists, I rushed right through Two Harbors, completely missing its lighthouse and ore docks. I spent a lot of time watching boats on Duluths Canal Park but didnt make it up to Skyline Parkway.
Americans have a love-hate relationship with their tourist traps. Theyre so uncool . . . but so irresistible.
What makes something a tourist trap? Its a place thats so cheesy you have to see if its really as cheesy as it looks. A place so iconic youve seen a million pictures of it. A place plugged by thousands of highway billboards.
Mostly, its a place everyone else has seen so you have to, too. We cant help ourselves, especially when it comes to anything thats odd or oversized.
Wouldn't it be great to spend a year enjoying yourself in the 12 best possible places?
Broadcast journalist Charles Kuralt once gave himself that dream assignment: Spend one month apiece in your favorite places in the United States, "at just the right time of the year.''
He devoted July to Ely, the northern-Minnesota gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.
As if we didnt have enough pressures in our lives, now we have 1,000 Places to See in U.S. and Canada Before You Die'' as well as the best-selling "1,000 Places to See Before You Die.
I've been to some of the places listed in those books, but I'll never see them all in my lifetime. Ill have a fine time reading about them, though. Then Ill toss some clothes in a bag and be perfectly happy on my orbits around Lake Superior and the Mississippi.
Our own back yard, while not always glamorous, contains some wonderful places, and you actually have a good chance of seeing them all in your lifetime.
Before Valentines Day, and as winter drags on, everyone starts thinking about romantic getaways.
Well, we already have a story about romantic places to stay, and beyond that, who can say what romance is?
Especially since romantic often is code for expensive. We think romance has very little relationship to expenditure; weve found it in tents and camper cabins as well as luxurious inns. Its everywhere, if you look for it.
There are certain towns that are so adorable and have so much that appeals to tourists that you just have to call them show towns.
They're real towns, of course, but they're always on their best behavior because tourists are always watching, and many have evolved in lockstep with tourism.
There's no question about what goes on the top of this list Galena, Ill. This 1850s lead-mining boom town snoozed for a century before it was rediscovered and turned into a playground for weekenders, especially from Chicago.
You probably think summer is a time to relax and enjoy the nice weather.
Wrong! It's the time to pick up the pace and make up for the months we sat around thinking about what we could be doing hiking, biking, camping if only we lived in Arizona or Florida.
By May, those places are sweatboxes and our time in the sun has arrived. Weve got Lake Superior at our doorstep, rivers and lakes everywhere and the best bicycle trails in the nation. So go!
Some nifty little towns just haven't made the A list or any list, so far (See Chasing the Top 10).
That means now is a good time to explore them, before the other tourists flock in.
Tops on this list is Viroqua, a southwest Wisconsin town that caught the eye of expatriates from Madison long ago but recently has become more tourist-friendly with the opening of Main Street Station.
Patricia Schultzs best-selling book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die was grand entertainment for armchair travelers. Its unlikely that many people read the book, then ran off to raft the Mangoky River in Madagascar or bask on the beaches of Bora Bora. But she let us dream about it.
The New York writer's next book, however, was about places to which people might actually go and about places they know. It's called
1,000 Places to See in the U.S. and Canada Before You Die.''
She couldnt visit every place she chose, so she relied on the help of friends and relatives, other travel writers, the Internet and tourism bureaus.
On Top 10 lists, nothing breeds success like success.
A little town that's anointed one of America's Loveliest Villages in a book one year is likely to be a magazine's Best Getaway the next and a newspaper's Great Escape the year after that.
Usually, the designation falls out of the sky, like pennies from heaven.
When it comes to small towns, there really is such a thing as love at first sight.
In 2000, Joy Gieseke was traveling to Madison from her economic-development job in Kansas when she stopped for a few hours in Mineral Point, Wis. She went about her business, but eight months later, she started looking for a job there, found the chamber position open and grabbed it.
"I don't know why Mineral Point hit me so hard," Gieseke says. "I had never heard about it before, but I stumbled across it and couldn't get it out of my mind. I've stumbled across a lot of little towns and just thought, well, that was cute.