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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 Yearís celebration with party hats, loud music and cocktails.

But you also can hike by candlelight, ride an indoor Ferris wheel 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 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 and ice skating plus sledding, s'mores and a ball drop, $8. It sells out, so buy tickets 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, $4.

ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

© Lincoln Park Zoo

The ZooLights display at the Lincoln Park Zoo is free.

Zoo critters in Chicago and Racine

There are lots of posh (and expensive) parties in Chicago, but Zoo Year's Eve at the Lincoln Park Zoo, which already is decked out with 2.5 million lights, sounds like more fun and costs a lot less. 

Tickets for the adults-only party are $12-$23 and include a DJ, games, ice carving, carousel rides, cash bars and giveaways. The free ZooLights display is up through Jan. 5.

Or, just across the border in Wisconsin, take in the last night of the Lantern Festival at the Racine Zoo.

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.

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 will be s'mores, a torchlight ceremony and fireworks.

Circus arts for children in Madison

Kids have all the fun at Madison Family Eve: They can try circus arts as well as martial arts, and there's juggling, magic, LEGO robotics, a craft area and bounce houses. It's from 4-7:30 p.m. at Monona Terrace.

Madison Family Eve has a circus theme.

© Destination Madison

Kids can learn circus arts at Madison Family Eve.

If the kids still have energy, take them to the free Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Olin Park; it's open through New Year's Day.

Carnival rides 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, including "Hamilton." 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.

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

For more, see Chicago stories.

A cherry drops in Sister Bay.

© Travel Wisconsin

A cherry drops in the Door County town of Sister Bay.

Big drops in Wisconsin and Michigan 

In the eastern Wisconsin town of Plymouth, near Sheboyan, there's a family-friendly Cheese Drop, with free cheese hors d'oeuvres, live music and a champagne toast. 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.

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 Airbnb and VRBO makes it easy to see everything that's available; just plug in the dates you want.

A rental cottage in Beaver Bay.

© Beth Gauper

A vacation rental in Beaver Bay, Minn., overlooks Lake Superior.

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. 

New Year's Day 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. 

At 9 a.m. on Jan. 1, there's a guided First Day hike in Newport State Park, and at 10 a.m., there's one at Peninsula 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.

First Day Hikes in four states

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 11 state parks in Minnesota, 14 in Wisconsin and 49 in Iowa, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of its state parks in 2020.

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


Last updated on December 31, 2019