MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Group travel

Along for the glide

On rivers, guided paddle trips offer a one-way ticket with nonstop scenery.

There's no better way to see nature's loveliest landscapes than on a river, the original highway.

The same rivers that carried hunters, explorers and traders now carry us, the sightseers. Paddling along, we see the same things they did: otters, eagles, fish and deer, plus lovely flora and endless sky.

Best of all, you never see the same thing twice.

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Join the club

When you travel with a group, you'll make friends and save money.

Collectively, no one knows more about traveling in the Upper Midwest than its outdoors clubs.

Club members organize dozens of excursions year-round — hiking, paddling, skiing — and they know all the best places. Once, I thought I'd made a real discovery — High Point Village, an appealing little resort with 10 miles of hiking and skiing loops around  the foot of Timm's Hill, Wisconsin's highest point.

It turned out the Twin Cities-based North Stars Ski Touring Club already had found it and reserved it for one of their trips.

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Cabins for a crowd

When groups travel, they divide costs and multiply benefits.

Contrary to common wisdom, the best deals in travel aren’t too good to be true.

The key is to travel with a group. Gather 20 people, and you can bring per-person costs way, way down — we're talking $20, $10, even $5 for an overnight stay.

Where? State-park lodges, environmental-learning centers, church retreats and youth camps.

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Trekking the Superior Hiking Trail

You can backpack, day hike, stay in lodges or go with a group on Minnesota's premier path.

To a novice, Minnesota's Superior Hiking Trail presents a bewilderment of possibilities.

There are 310 miles of trail between Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth and the Canadian border. Some are in the city, some deep in forest. Many stretches include spectacular views of Lake Superior, but others (gasp!) are a little boring.

People come from all over the nation to hike this beloved trail, and some take three or four weeks and do the whole thing. But there are many ways to hike the trail.

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Planning a family reunion

It's tough to please everyone, but the rewards are huge.

I applaud anyone who takes on the job of planning a family reunion.

When more than a few branches of a family are involved, planning a reunion requires the strategic skills of a general, the diplomacy of an envoy and the social agility of an emcee.

In other words, plan carefully, because it's hard to make everyone happy.

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Playground in the woods

At Deep Portage, adults take a tip from the kids.

As adults, we sometimes forget how great it is to be a kid.

People give you toys to play with. They show you new games and explain things in interesting ways. They feed you freshly baked cookies and s'mores.

Kids take it for granted. But I didn't one January, when I got to stay at Deep Portage Learning Center, in the woods north of Brainerd.

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Adventures in renting

Thanks to VRBO, a no-frills group lives beyond its means on a trip up north.

If you’ve always wanted a second home – or a third, or a fourth – now is the time to acquire one, at least for a weekend.

People who snapped up beach houses and country retreats during the real-estate boom now are renting them out, trying to pay the mortgage.

But renting a vacation house straight from the owner was popular even before the bust: Why not see how the other half lives?

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Follow the leader?

On a guided trip, drop a bundle or a bit the choice is yours.

Want to save money on trips? Then, step away from the fancy catalog.

Glossy pages of snow-capped mountains and medieval castles are eye candy for travelers. But the prettier the brochure, the more eye-popping the prices.

Luxury excursions are like Jaguars and Jimmy Choo shoes. We covet them, we window-shop for them, but only a few of us can afford them.

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Hikes with benefits

For exercise as well as edification, tag along with an expert.

Out in the forest, solitude can be overrated.

Occasionally, we all need silence. But you may have more fun if you play follow the leader.

When I go on a hike, especially if I don't know the area well, I like to tag along with naturalists. Thanks to them, I've learned all kinds of interesting things.

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