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.


© R. Kennedy

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 Yearís 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 ó often, by more than half.

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

Here are 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 and an arboretum 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.

Big drops in Wisconsin and Michigan

Cottage at Cove Point.

© Beth Gauper

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

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. In Sister Bay in Door County, there's a cherry drop.

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

Schussing and champagne

Most alpine-ski resorts plan New Yearís 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 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. 

After the 8 p.m. fireworks at the marina in Sister Bay, the town will hold a new Cherry Drop countdown with music.  

At 9 a.m. on New Year's Day, there's a guided First Day hike in Newport State Park. At noon, 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. 

For lodgings, see Where to stay in Door County.

Lanterns in Eau Claire

In this western Wisconsin college town, you can make your own paper lantern and march with it in the Lantern Parade at 6 p.m. 

The Light Up Eau Claire downtown festival also features live music and fireworks at midnight. For an extra fee, there's also a gala and a rooftop party.

Horse-drawn carriage in Chicago.

© Beth Gauper

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

A quiet cottage

If youíre 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.

Thrills and 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.

There's also a big fireworks show at midnight along the Chicago River.

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 (or snowshoe) in 10 state parks in Minnesota, six in Wisconsin and 25 in Iowa

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

Last updated on December 27, 2018