So many festivals, so little fall
The season is short, so go on a power trip and catch two or three festivals each weekend. Here's where to go.
© Cedarburg CVB
In Cedarburg, paddlers race hollowed-out pumpkins across Cedar Creek.
In this part of the world, fall is sweet but way too short.
All of the quaint little towns along rivers and in the bluffs have to pack their autumn festivals into the same six weekends, rolling out parades, pumpkin contests and oompah bands for all the leaf-peeping tourists.
choices are paralyzing. Flea market or scarecrow contest? Pumpkin regatta or studio tour? Yodeling contest or dachshund races?
You can't do it all, but you can do a lot. Just go on a power trip — to two, even three festivals in one weekend.
If you want to cram in as many fall festivities as possible before cold weather arrives, here's a guide to the best place to be each weekend in 2019.
If you want to stay overnight, make reservations as soon as possible. And before setting out, call or check websites for festival highlights and plan around them.
Weekend after Labor Day: Southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities
The first time I went power tripping was the weekend after Labor Day, when Northfield holds its Defeat of Jesse James Days, the historic village of Mantorville holds Marigold Days and the Minnesota River college town of St. Peter holds the Rock Bend Folk Festival.
© Beth Gauper
At many fall festivals, kids get to decorate pumpkins.
Don't miss the bank-raid re-enactments in Northfield, where the bad guys ride horses. In Mantorville, catch a melodrama. In St. Peter, kick back in the city park and listen to as much music as you want — it's free.
I hit them all on a day trip from the Twin Cities, and after three festivals and three towns, I felt as if I’d been gone three days. The best thing was that fall was just getting started.
Side trip: Just west of Minneapolis on Lake Minnetonka, James J. Hill Days in Wayzata is known for its dachshund races. Also in the Twin Cities: the zany Flugtag in St. Paul and the down-home Monarch Festival on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis.
Second weekend of September: Michigan side of Lake Michigan
Hang onto summer with a trip to the balmy shores of Lake Michigan. On the Michigan side, the Michigan Irish Music Festival in the port town of Muskegon includes Highland Games as well as music and dancing.
In nearby Grand Haven, the Salmon Festival celebrates the annual migration of salmon as well as leaf peepers.
Third weekend of September, Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan
On the other side of Lake Michigan, start near the Illinois border in Racine, for the Party on the Pavement street festival.
It includes folk dancing, sing-alongs, yodeling and such typical German festival foods as spanferkel and rollbraten.
© Beth Gauper
Northfield reenacts an infamous raid during Defeat of Jesse James Days.
Don't miss the Great Pumpkin Regatta, where paddlers in hollowed-out pumpkins race across Cedar Creek, or the grape stomp.
Fourth weekend of September: St. Croix and Mississippi river valleys
Just east of the Twin Cities on the St. Croix, the village of Afton holds Afton Art in the Park. After that, head south on St. Croix Trail, where apple orchards will be offering hay rides and trips through corn mazes.
Take time to drive up to Pikes Peak State Park, 500 feet above the river. The views are spectacular, and admission is free.
© Beth Gauper
The La Crosse Oktoberfest crew whoops it up during the parade.
First weekend of October: Southeast Iowa and northwest Illinois
Second weekend of October: Driftless Area of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois
The glaciers slid around this area, leaving a lumpy quilt of hills, ridges and coulees.
© Beth Gauper
James J. Hill Days features a dachshund dash.
Just east of La Crosse, Norskedalen will hold its dramatic Civil War Immersion weekend in Coon Valley.
Around Reedsburg, Fermentation Fest includes programs on making beer, cheese, bread and other fermented favorites.
Half an hour farther west in Princeton, Civil War re-enactors stage battles at the Shadows of the Blue and Gray historical festival.
Third weekend of October: Southeast Wisconsin
You can catch the season's last Oktoberfest in Elkhorn, not far from Lake Geneva.
Southwest Wisconsin also makes a good destination. The popular Fall Art Tour winds through picturesque nooks and crannies in and around the towns of Baraboo, Dodgeville, Mineral Point and Spring Green.
While you're there, take an hour or two to hike in Devil's Lake State Park just south of Baraboo, which often has good fall color this weekend.
Last updated on September 3, 2019