MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest


Cruising around Excelsior

On the Twin Cities' fringe, a historic lake-resort town still draws day-trippers.

On the western fringes of the Twin Cities, the wealthy have staked out Lake Minnetonka.

Nearly all of its 125 miles of shoreline are privately owned, and the summer cottages built by vacationing flour millers and businessmen — Pillsbury, Northrop, Bell, Loring, Peavey — have morphed into mansions.

But on the southeast corner of the sprawling lake, one town retains vestiges of the Victorian age, when steamboats ferried vacationers around the lake and day-trippers arrived on electric streetcars.

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Following the tall ships

Sloops and schooners still sail on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

On the Great Lakes, everyone loves to see a multi-masted schooner, white sails flapping in the breeze.

They're always the favorite guests at festivals, especially on Lake Superior, which usually sees only freighters.

On Lake Michigan, these magnificent replicas of 19th-century schooners and sloops are more common, offering tours and day sails from their homes when they're not appearing at festivals.

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Cruising into fall

For lovely views of the hues, try a float on a boat.

As wooded shorelines erupt in fall colors, narrated river cruises become especially popular. That's easy to understand — why not kick back and let the scenery come to you?

On the most scenic part of the Mississippi, pontoons glide past 500-foot bluffs and into backwaters. In the Upper Peninsula, they pass a national lakeshore.

On the Dalles and in the Dells, paddlewheelers, launches and amphibious Ducks give passengers plenty to look at. 

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Cruising to a lighthouse

In summer, excursion boats give visitors a chance to see historic beacons.

By definition, lighthouses aren't easy to visit.

Most are between a rock and a hard place, out of the way and on the edge of a fickle inland sea.

“When the government came here after 1843, they were afraid the Native Americans would be hostile, but they quickly found out the only thing hostile was Lake Superior,'' said our captain on a cruise to the Copper Harbor Lighthouse in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula.

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At sea in Door County

From Sister Bay, a tall ship and a double decker take tourists for a ride.

There's a lot of water in Wisconsin, but only one place that's surrounded by it: the northern Door Peninsula.

It's really an island, since the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal connects Lake Michigan to the slightly more tranquil waters of Green Bay. From there, the peninsula is lined by beaches, limestone cliffs, lighthouses and picturesque villages.

All of the views are good, but the best are from a boat.

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Sightseeing by sea

On Lake Superior, excursion boats allow tourists to explore Duluth's harbor and the shoreline around Split Rock.

In Duluth, tourists can see two small yellow boats puttering about Duluth's harbor amid tall ships, freighters, sailboats and kayaks.

They're 18-foot electric boats owned by Canal Park Boat Rentals, and they can be rented by anyone who'd like to explore the harbor or inspect giant freighters at the terminals where they're loading grain, coal or taconite.

“They're wonderful because it's quiet,'' says owner Tom Althaus. “A lot of people think electric boats are slow, but they go about the same speed as sailboats or the big boats, and you can talk as you go.''

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