MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Favorite places

Best of spring

With the early arrival of warm weather, there's time to tiptoe through the tulips.

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.

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Serious reservations

Here's a guide to the lodgings, campsites and permits you should nail down now for travel in 2017.

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. 3-8, when 300,000 music fans will be in town for the rock festival Lollapalooza, you won't be able to find a hotel.

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Best of winter

Here are 20 great ways to savor the chilly season.

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.

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Best of fall

The chase is on as autumn colors start to coat the countryside.

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.

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Secret spots of the North Shore

You’ve seen Split Rock and hiked Oberg. What next? Here are 10 great places the crowds tend to overlook.

The first times I went up to Minnesota’s North Shore, I did the same thing everyone else does: See Gooseberry Falls. Take pictures of Split Rock Lighthouse. Hike Oberg Mountain.

That’s 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 Duluth’s Canal Park but didn’t make it up to Skyline Parkway.

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10 tourist traps to love

These roadside attractions dole out equal portions of schlock and awe.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with their tourist traps. They’re so uncool . . . but so irresistible.

What makes something a tourist trap? It’s a place that’s so cheesy you have to see if it’s really as cheesy as it looks. A place so iconic you’ve seen a million pictures of it. A place plugged by thousands of highway billboards.

Mostly, it’s a place everyone else has seen — so you have to, too. We can’t help ourselves, especially when it comes to anything that’s odd or oversized.

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Near escapes in Wisconsin

Water parks or waterfalls? Here are 10 places to go for a great winter getaway.

When winter seems to be lasting forever, you just want to get away.

Of course, that’s not so easy to do if you’re 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.

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A year of best places

Here are the choicest spots to be during each month of the calendar.

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.

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100 best places to vacation

Here's one traveler's life list for trips in the Upper Midwest.

As if we didn’t 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. I’ll have a fine time reading about them, though. Then I’ll 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.

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Near escapes in Minnesota

Skiing or skyways? Here are 10 places for a great winter getaway.

Before Valentine’s 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; we’ve found it in tents and camper cabins as well as luxurious inns. It’s everywhere, if you look for it.

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Best shopping towns for weekenders

Cute, compact, accommodating — these are good spots for girlfriend getaways.

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.

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Best of summer

The season is short, so have as much fun as you can.

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. We’ve got Lake Superior at our doorstep, rivers and lakes everywhere and the best bicycle trails in the nation. So go!

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Best up-and-coming towns to get to know

They've been on the sidelines, but now they're ready for their closeup.

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.

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A thousand times, go

With "1,000 Places,'' daydream believers in the Upper Midwest get another life list to work on.

Patricia Schultz’s best-selling book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die’’ was grand entertainment for armchair travelers. It’s 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 couldn’t visit every place she chose, so she relied on the help of friends and relatives, other travel writers, the Internet and tourism bureaus.

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Chasing the Top 10

Darling town, oh so small/Who's the fairest of them all?

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.

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Best little towns that charm the tourists

These 10 favorite destinations have personality to spare.

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.

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