MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Environmental centers

Sugarbush safari

At nature centers, learn how to tap maple trees and sample the sweet results.

Even if it looks like winter outside, you can count on maple trees to know otherwise.

In late February, their sap starts to run, and that's "the sweet good-bye of winter,'' writes naturalist John Burroughs.

Indigenous people were first to tap trees, inserting hollow reeds, letting the sap drip into troughs and boiling it down over a wood fire. The process isn't much different today, except most people use metal taps, plastic tubing and buckets to catch the sap.

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Winter lodge adventures on a budget

At non-profit centers, you can try something new ice fishing, dog mushing, wolf tracking and everything is included.

In winter, it's hard to find a lodge getaway that fits every budget.

Lodges that offer skiing on groomed trails, wood-fired saunas and home-cooked meals aren't cheap.

But if you'd like to try those things — and be greeted by a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies afterward — you have a friend in environmental learning centers.

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Minnesota's environmental learning centers

A weekend at an ELC is fun for all ages, and a bargain to boot.

In Minnesota, a weekend at an environmental learning center is the best bargain you'll find anywhere.

There's more to do than at any luxury resort: yoga, high-ropes courses, climbing walls, ski trails, nature hikes, canoeing, skiing and snowshoeing on wooded campuses that include lakes and trails.

At Laurentian on the Iron Range, you can mush your own dog team. Near Lanesboro, Eagle Bluff is renowned for gourmet food and wine.

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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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Escape to Eagle Bluff

A center near Lanesboro welcomes families for weekends filled with nature and good food.

It was a beautiful fall weekend in Lanesboro, and the streets of this picturesque town in Minnesota’s bluff country were packed with sightseers and bicycle tourists.

They were browsing in gift shops. They were sampling at the winery. They were bicycling on the Root River State Trail.

In fall, Lanesboro is the darling of day-trippers and weekenders. My children and I love it, too. They spent 15 minutes with me in the arts center, I spent 15 minutes with them in the Indian crafts shop, and then we went in-line skating on the paved trail, across the trestle bridge and along the limestone bluffs.

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