MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

10 great ways to celebrate New Year's

You can put on a party hat or be festive in the forest.

Horse-drawn carriage in Chicago.

© Beth Gauper

In Chicago's theater district, the restored Ford Center/Oriental Theatre hosts touring shows.

If you want a good way to greet the new year, plan a great getaway.

The traditional plan is to look around for a party or show. Pretty much any big hotel will have a New Year’s celebration with party hats, loud music and cocktails.

But you also can hike by candlelight, go for a sleigh ride or watch a torchlight parade on a ski slope.

If you want to celebrate in a big city but you can't spend a lot of money, consider staying home on New Year's Eve and starting your getaway on New Year's Day. The more luxurious the hotel, the more the price will drop — often, by more than half.

With your savings, you can buy a fancy dinner and tickets for a touring Broadway show.

Here are 10 other good ways to spend New Year's Eve (and Day).

Twin Cities by candlelight

If you rather be outdoors than inside, light up the night at one of three parks on New Year's Eve.

At the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers near the airport, Fort Snelling State Park offers a candlelight walk and ice-skating plus marshmallow roasting, free with vehicle permit.

In the southern St. Paul suburb of Eagan, Lebanon Hills Regional Park holds a  New Year's Eve party with candlelight snowshoeing, ice skating, animals, storytelling, magic and a ball drop, $10, $8 in advance.

And in the southern Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, Wood Lake Nature Center  holds a Candlelight and Ice celebration on New Year's Eve, with luminary-lined trails, marshmallow-roasting and crafts and games, $5.

For more fantastical lights, head for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in the western suburb of Chanhassen, where artist Bruce Munro has adorned the grounds with multi-colored and -patterned installations. There's even a special New Year's Eve celebration with a scavenger hunt, games and a movie.

Big drops in Wisconsin and Michigan

The southwest Wisconsin town of Prairie du Chien has a funny New Year’s Eve tradition: the Droppin’ of the Carp on St. Feriole Island, site of a fur post through which nearly every famous name in the region passed in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

A pinata during Carp Fest.

© Chamber of Commerce

The lowly carp is feted in Prairie du Chien.

There will also be music, a bonfire and fireworks at midnight. 

In the eastern Wisconsin town of Plymouth, near Sheboyan, there's a Cheese Drop, with free cheese wedges, s'mores, pudgie pies and bluegrass and blues music.

Across Lake Michigan, there's a good old-fashioned ball drop in Ludington and a cherry drop up the coast in Traverse City.

A big climb in Chicago

Chicago has a new New Year's Eve celebration called Chi-Town Rising, in which a giant star will rise 36 stories up the side of a hotel tower — because "Chicagoans don't drop the ball.''

There will also be music concerts and fireworks at midnight. It's along the Chicago River between Michigan and Columbus avenues.

Schussing and champagne

Most alpine-ski resorts plan New Year’s Eve festivities.

On Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Big Powderhorn Mountain holds a New Year's Eve Party with a torchlight parade and fireworks, and so does Lutsen Mountains on Minnesota's North Shore.

The party at Ski Brule, due east of Eagle River, Wis., includes a barbecue dinner, tubing and music as well as a torchlight parade and fireworks.

And at Afton Alps near the Twin Cities, there's a family-friendly party that includes contests, music and fireworks.

Party in Door County

Door County has lots of rooms for the summer crowds, so you can always find a good inn or B&B for New Year's Eve. 

Door County Trolley offers a Winter Wonderland tour Dec. 31 that calls on wineries for wine-tasting and includes a sleigh ride and a fireside lunch at the English Inn in Fish Creek, $60.

At noon on New Year's Day, there's a Polar Bear Plunge in Jacksonport. Then run over to downtown Egg Harbor, where everyone is invited to march in the New Year's Day Parade at 1 p.m.

Sturgeon Bay has a lot of great places to stay, restaurants and shopping. For more, see The door to Door County.

Cottage at Cove Point.

© Beth Gauper

On Minnesota's North Shore, a cottage overlooks Lake Superior.

A quiet cottage

If you’re not wild about wild parties, rent a cabin or cottage and make your own party with a crackling fire and cocktails. There's usually plenty of availability, especially for Jan. 1-3.

Every tourism web site lists vacation rentals, but VRBO makes it easy to see everything that's available; just plug in the dates you want.

For more, see Finding a cozy cabin and 20 perfect cabins.

State-park camper cabins and guesthouses in Minnesota state parks are very popular for New Year's Eve. And many B&Bs include private cottages.

Fireworks in Chicago

Because Chicago has so many hotel rooms to fill, it's one of the few places where prices don't really go up for New Year's Eve (and there are good deals for New Year's Day).

There's always a big selection of touring Broadway shows. But if you can't shell out $100 apiece, head over to Navy Pier for Winter WonderFest.

It features more than 24 slides and carnival rides, including an indoor Ferris wheel, plus a climbing wall and indoor ice-skating rink.

At midnight on New Year's Eve, there's a fireworks show.

Of course, you still can spend a lot of money at Navy Pier, with two big galas and  five dinner cruises.

For more, see Chicago stories.

Walking to welcome the new year

Across America, state parks are hosting First Day Hikes, with walks guided by naturalists and a festive atmosphere provided by bonfires and hot chocolates. If there's snow, many parks provide snowshoes.

On New Year's Day, you can join naturalist-guided First Day Hikes in nine state parks in Minnesota, 12 in Wisconsin and 26 in Iowa

In Michigan, there will be four Shoe Year's Hikes on New Year's Day.

Last updated on December 29, 2016