MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Great spring festivals

It's a good time to indulge in brews, birding and blooms.

Trolls wave in Westby's Syttende Mai parade.

© Beth Gauper

Trolls wave in Westby's Syttende Mai parade.

In the Upper Midwest, it's hard to know when spring starts.

On St. Patrick's Day, revelers may parade in sun or sleet; you have to be prepared for both. In the north woods, ski slopes hold spring luaus, carnivals and egg hunts, and skiers had better slather on the sun block or they'll burn.

March is the month for expos antiques, autos, gardens, golf, pets and sports and for tastings of beer, wine and cheese. Birding festivals start in April, and in May the flowers start popping out and festival season starts in earnest.

Here are the best festivals for spring 2017.

For more on birding festivals, see Birding in spring.

For maple-syrup festivals, see Sugarbush safari.

For ethnic festivals, see Celebrating roots.

For beer festivals, see Best brew fests.

For events year-round, see the Events Calendar.

Second weekend of March

In traditionally Irish St. Paul, the annual noon parade runs along Fourth Street to Rice Park; the parade in Madison is at 1:30 p.m. and runs from Capitol Square.

In Milwaukee, the big St. Pat's parade starts at noon, starting at Third and Wisconsin downtown and followed by music, dancing and pipes and drums at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center.

In Chicago, they really do dye the river green. Watch the dye job from the Michigan Avenue or Columbus Drive bridges, then watch the noon St. Pat's Day parade through Grant Park.

In Wisconsin, there are also parades in Prairie du Chien, Racine and Sturgeon Bay and in Plymouth, River Falls and the usually Swiss capital of Monroe.

In Minnesota, there are parades in Crosslake and St. Peter.

For more, see Toasting St. Pat.

Oneota Film Festival in Decorah, IA This free festival showcases documentary films and includes dance performances and an Ethnic Arts Festival on the campus of Luther College. March 9–12.

Canoecopia in Madison, WI It's the world's largest paddlesports expo, according to host Rutabaga, with dozens of demonstrations, workshops and presentations plus discounts on boats and gear. Bike-O-Rama, with discounts on bicycles and gear, is next door. At Alliant Energy Center. March 10–12.

Balloon Rally in Cable, WI Hot-air balloonists give rides for charity, weather permitting, and there's an evening balloon glow. There's also a snowshoe race. Hosted by Lakewoods Resort. March 10–12.

St. Patrick's Day parade in Milwaukee, WI The big parade starts at noon, starting at Third and Wisconsin downtown and followed by music, dancing and pipes and drums at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center. March 11.

St. Patrick's Day Parade in Chicago, IL In Chicago, they really do dye the river green. Watch the dye job at 9 a.m. from the Michigan Avenue or Columbus Drive bridges, then watch the noon parade through Grant Park. March 11.

Celtic Fest in Moorhead, MN This free festival at the Hjemkomst Center includes two entertainment stages, heritage programs, arts and crafts, interactive booths and Celtic food and treats. March 11.

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi. March 11–12.

St. Patrick's Day parade in Madison, WI The parade is at 1:30 p.m. and runs from Capitol Square. March 12.

Dog Days of Winter Fun in Gunflint Trail, MN In the Central Gunflint, the Trail Center is hosting a sled-dog derby, skijoring races, snowman-building contest and snow sculptures. Unfortunately, it's been canceled due to snow conditions. March 12.

St. Patrick's Day Parade and Irish Fest in New London, WI This town west of Appleton becomes "New Dublin'' for the week, with festivities that include a big Grand Parade at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed with Irish music, food and marketplace under a heated big-top tent. March 13–18.

Dancers circle the maypole during Maifest in Amana.

©

Dancers circle the maypole during Maifest in the Amana Colonies.

Third weekend in March

St. Patrick's Day Parade and Irish Fest in New London, WI This town west of Appleton becomes "New Dublin'' for the week, with festivities that include a big Grand Parade at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed with Irish music, food and marketplace under a heated big-top tent. March 13–18.

St. Patrick's Day parade in St. Paul, MN In this traditionally Irish city, the noon parade runs along Fourth Street to Rice Park. March 17.

St. Patrick's Day Festival in Emmetsburg, IA In northwest Iowa, this is the state's Irish capital, and it celebrates with many festivities, including a parade at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. March 17–19.

St. Urho Days in Menagha, MN This Finnish town near Park Rapids celebrates its grasshopper-skewering saint with a St. Urho look-alike contest and a 12:20 p.m. parade, followed by barstool races, human foosball and Viking bowling. March 17–18.

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi. March 18–19.

Fourth weekend in March

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi. March 25.

First weekend in April

Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, WI See 150 independent films from Wisconsin and around the world in seven theaters in and around State Street. March 30–April 6.

Maple Syrup Festival in Poynette, WI The MacKenzie Environmental Center, between the Wisconsin Dells and Madison, offers a pancake breakfast, guided tours of the sugarbush, demonstrations of tapping and syrup-making, intrepretive talks about how Indians and pioneers made syrup, old-time music and horse-drawn wagon rides. April 1.

Maple Syrup Fest in Phelps, WI In the northeast corner of Wisconsin, tour the sugarbush, tap trees, make maple taffy in the snow and shop at an arts and crafts fair. April 1.

Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, IA Dozens of musicians, artists and writers perform and read at downtown venues. On Friday evening, there's a literature crawl. Performers include Margaret Cho, Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird and Saeed Jones. April 4–9.

Second weekend in April

Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, WI See 150 independent films from Wisconsin and around the world in seven theaters in and around State Street. March 30–April 6.

Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, IA Dozens of musicians, artists and writers perform and read at downtown venues. On Friday evening, there's a literature crawl. Performers include Margaret Cho, Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird and Saeed Jones. April 4–9.

Roots and Bluegrass Festival in River Falls, WI Hear music at half a dozen venues in the downtown of this western Wisconsin college town. April 7–9.

World War I Encampment in Rockford, IL A living-history encampment at Midway Village, with reenactors portraying soldiers from the United States, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, marks the 103nd anniversary of the start of World War I. April 8–9.

Easter Egg Hunt in St. Paul, MN Children ages 2-7 can hunt for eggs on the lawn of the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue. Visitors can win prizes, get a small snack and look around the first floor of the mansion. Reserve in advance. April 9.

Third weekend in April

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN More than 250 films from more than 60 countries are shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre on the Minneapolis riverfront and at other venues. April 13–29.

Midwest Music Fest in La Crosse, W Dozens of musical groups in all genres play in museums, galleries, cafes and arts centers across town. There are arts workshops for children, too. The second part of the festival is April 28-29 in Winona, Minn. April 14–15.

Egg Day in Milwaukee, WI There will be crafts, face-painting, bubble art and treats at the Hop-to-it Bunny Hunt, plus a parade at the Milwaukee County Zoo. April 15.

Easter Egg Hunt in St. Paul, MN Children ages 2-7 can hunt for eggs on the lawn of the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue. Visitors can win prizes, get a small snack and look around the first floor of the mansion. Reserve in advance. April 15.

A reveler at Milwaukee's St. Pat's Day parade.

© Donald S. Abrams

Milwaukee's big St. Patrick's Day parade draws revelers from around the region.

Fourth weekend in April

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN More than 250 films from more than 60 countries are shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre on the Minneapolis riverfront and at other venues. April 13–29.

Julien Dubuque Film Festival in Dubuque, IA See 70 films and a silent-film showcase. There's a red-carpet awards show Saturday. April 20–23.

Ibsen Festival in Lanesboro, MN Festivities in this southeast Minnesota hamlet revolve around Commonweal Theatre and production of an Ibsen play. There will be Scandinavian food, art, film, music and walking tours. April 21–23.

Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, WI There's a Friday-night rodeo, blacksmith championships, stagecoach rides, Texas trick riders, music and performances, including the Wisconsin Mounted Police Team. At Alliant Energy Center. April 21–23.

U.S. Grant's Birthday in Galena, IL The former home of the Civil War general celebrates his 195th birthday with free admission to the Grant Museum, an artillery encampment, Main Street walking tours with Gen. Grant, a pie auction, a spy trial and appearances by President and Mrs. Lincoln. April 21–23.

Dairy State Cheese & Beer Festival in Kenosha, WI There's cheese and beer from around the state plus live music at the Brat Stop. April 22.

Earth Day Birding Festival in Hastings, MN This festival at Carpenter Nature Center includes bird-banding demonstrations, a raptor class and guided birding trips. Reservations are required. April 22.

Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival in La Crosse, WI Sample cheese and more than 200 beers and 45 wines at the Oktoberfest grounds. April 23.

Fifth weekend in April

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN More than 250 films from more than 60 countries are shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre on the Minneapolis riverfront and at other venues. April 13–29.

Spring Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis, MN A spring kickoff for outdoor enthusiasts, with presentations on outdoor adventures and destinations and a gear sale and auction of used canoes and kayaks. April 28–30.

Minnesota Horse Expo in St. Paul, MN There's a parade of breeds daily at noon, free horse, pony and carriage rides and a rodeo Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon. At the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. April 28–30.

Bluff Country Studio Art Tour in Northeast IA/Southeast, MN Take a spring drive through southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa and visit artists in and around Winona, Lanesboro, Spring Grove and Harmony in Minnesota and Decorah in Iowa. April 28–30.

Mid West Music Fest in Winona, MN More than 75 musical groups in all genres play in museums, galleries, cafes and arts centers across town. There are arts workshops for children, too. There's also a Midwest Music Fest April 14-15 in La Crosse. April 28–29.

Behind the Arts Studio Tour in Racine and Kenosha, WI Visit more than 85 artists at 45 studios, in Racine on Saturday and in Kenosha on Sunday. On Friday evening, there's a Preview Party. April 28–30.

St. Paul Art Crawl in St. Paul, MN Tour the studios of more than 300 artists in 17 buildings in the Lowertown and downtown neighborhoods. April 28–30.

Taylor County Maple Fest in Medford, WI This festival at the fairgrounds features maple syrup in a breakfast, a baking contest, a cooking demonstration and crafts plus music, children's activities and door prizes. April 29.

Homegrown Music Festival in Duluth, MN More than 100 musical acts will perform in venues around the Twin Ports, and there also will be film, visual arts and craft beer. April 30–May 7.

Traverse City Chocolate Festival in Traverse City, MI Sample wares of the region's finest chocolatiers, listen to music and shop at the City Opera House. April 30.

Costumed folk dancers twirl during Tulip Time in Pella, Iowa

© Beth Gauper

In Pella, Iowa, the Tulip Time festival attracts more than 100,000 visitors.

First weekend in May

Homegrown Music Festival in Duluth, MN More than 100 musical acts will perform in venues around the Twin Ports, and there also will be film, visual arts and craft beer. April 30–May 7.

Festival of Nations in St. Paul, MN Enjoy food, music, crafts and dance from 90 different ethnic groups at the downtown RiverCentre. May 4–7.

Pella Tulip Time in Pella, IA This big Dutch heritage fest features daily historical tours, a craft market and afternoon and evening parades. May 4–6.

100-Mile Garage Sale in Lake Pepin, This big garage sale is a good excuse to make the scenic, 70-mile drive around this wide spot in the Mississippi (the sales extend south to Winona). May 5–7.

Dutch Days Festival in Fulton, IL This Mississippi town, across from Clinton, Iowa, celebrates its heritage with Dutch dancing, windmill tours, street scrubbing and a 3 p.m. Saturday parade. May 5–6.

Mushroom Festival in Mesick, MI This northwest Michigan town is morel central in May, celebrating the spring hunt with a carnival, carriage rides, flea market, duck races and a parade at noon Saturday. May 5–7.

Kids & Kites Festival in Chicago, IL This festival at Montrose Harbor in Lincoln Park includes free kite kits for kids, games and a candy drop from kites. May 6.

Tulip Time in Holland, MI More than 6 million tulips bloom during this festival, which features a Dutch market, dancers, trolley tours, big-name performers and three parades, ending with the Muziekparade, with 40 bands and 40 floats. May 6–14.

Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul, MN This fiesta on the West Side (just south of downtown) features a parade, low-rider car show and lots of food, music and dancing. May 6.

Maifest in Amana, IA There's a lot going on in this former communal society in eastern Iowa — a 10 a.m. Saturday parade, polka music, keg-tapping, food-sampling, artisan demonstrations and pony rides. May 6–7.

Earth Arts Spring Art Tour in Upper St. Croix Valley, WI Visit artists at 28 studios and sites in and around St. Croix Falls, Osceola and Amery. May 6–7.

Open House Racine County in Racine, WI Tour more than 40 interesting places for free, including the Racine Art Museum, the grounds of Wind Point Lighthouse, the Wustum Museum of Fine Arts, the Racine mayor's office, the Journal Times, Earthcare Suri Alpacas in Burlington and historic churches, inns and fire stations.   May 6.

May Day Parade and Festival in Minneapolis, MN This earthy, lighthearted Sunday-afternoon event in south Minneapolis' Powderhorn Park features the giant puppets of Heart of the Beast Theatre and a people's parade to the park.   May 7.

Guitarists at Cinco de Mayo.

© Hoskovec Photo

Guitarists play at Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul.

Second weekend in May

Tulip Time in Holland, MI More than 6 million tulips bloom during this festival, which features a Dutch market, dancers, trolley tours, big-name performers and three parades, ending with the Muziekparade, with 40 bands and 40 floats. May 6–14.

Spring Festival & Folk Fest in Gays Mills, WI This Kickapoo Valley village in southwest Wisconsin offers a rodeo and Maypole dancing and crown-making, a ceili dance, fiddle bee and Saturday-night concert. May 12–14.

Horicon Marsh Bird Festival in Horicon, WI This large festival in east-central Wisconsin is around a large marsh often called the Everglades of the North. There are bird hikes, bird-banding demonstrations, pontoon-boat tours, canoe and kayak tours, bus tours and a round-the-clock Big Sit, in which participants try to identify as many birds as possible. Register early for field trips. May 12–15.

Cinco de Mayo in Darlington, WI This southwest Wisconsin town celebrates with mariachi music, a salsa contest, a soccer tournament and children's activities. May 13.

A Viking ship float in Spring Grove.

© Torsten Muller

A Viking ship is part of the Syttende Mai parade in Spring Grove, Minn.

Third weekend in May

National Morel Mushroom Festival in Boyne City, MI This town on the east end of Lake Charlevoix is all about morels in May, with a guided mushroom hunt, a competition with prizes, drawings for free morels and The Taste of Morels, with morsels provided by local restaurants. May 17–21.

Tulip Festival in Orange City, IA The popular festival in this Dutch town in northwest Iowa celebrates its 77th anniversary with dance, music, street scrubbing and parades at 2:15 and 6 p.m. daily. May 18–20.

Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes, MN This festival in northwest Minnesota is near the convergence of prairie with northern pine forest and eastern hardwood forest. Space in field trips to local refuges fills quickly. May 18–21.

Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival in Ashland, WI Based out of the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center, activities include bird-banding, hikes and expeditions, hatchery tours and kayaking tours of estuaries. May 18–20.

Syttende Mai in Stoughton, WI The festival in this town south of Madison, which celebrates Norwegian constitution day, is the largest in North America and probably the world. It features Norwegian dancing, Viking games, fjord horses, a canoe race, an arts fair and a big parade at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. May 19–21.

Syttende Mai in Westby, WI This Norwegian town, southeast of La Crosse, holds a bicycle tour, troll hunt, rommegrot-eating contest, old-time music, children's tractor pull and a big parade at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. May 19–21.

Art-A-Whirl Studio and Gallery Tour in Minneapolis, MN More than 500 artists take part in this tour of 60 locations in the northeast Minneapolis arts district.   May 19–21.

DubuqueFest in Dubuque, IA This downtown arts festival includes dance, music on two stages, storytelling, food and children's activities. May 19–21.

Trout Days in Preston, MN This town on the Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail celebrates spring with a car show, sumo wrestling, bungee run and parade. May 19–21.

Morel Mushroom Festival in Muscoda, WI This town along the Wisconsin River calls itself the Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin. There's a Sunday parade plus a car show, fireworks, helicopter rides, a chainsaw-carving show and microbrew tasting. May 20–21.

Stand Still Parade in Whalan, MN In this village on the Root River State Trail, just east of Lanesboro, it's the spectators who do the parading. There's music, food and games. May 20.

BBQ, Blues & Bluegrass in St. Joseph, MI This town on Lake Michigan welcomes summer with craft beer, barbecue and five blues bands. In Whirlpool Centennial Park. May 20.

Great Lakes Kite Festival in Grand Haven, MI On the Lake Michigan beach at Grand Haven State Park, watch kite ballets, kiteboarding demonstrations and kites as big as school buses. There's also an inflatable obstacle course for kids. May 20–21.

Blessing of the Fleet Festival in Baileys Harbor, WI Tour fishing boats, meet local fishing legends and watch a boat parade. There will also be a Scottish-terrier rally, music and arts and crafts. May 20–21.

Duluth Dylan Festival in Duluth, MN The town in which Bob Dylan was born celebrates the singer's 76th birthday with a Blood on the Tracks train ride, a singer-songwriter contest, a bus tour, films, music and a trivia contest.       May 21–28.

For events from Memorial Day weekend on, see Great summer festivals.


Last updated on April 17, 2017