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10 great ways to celebrate Valentine's Day

Feed romance in the forest, at an ice castle and, of course, in chocolate shops.

Lighted ice castle.

© Debra Gagner

The Ice Castles in New Brighton, Minn., feature LED-lit sculptures, tunnels, slides and a fountain.

Valentine's Day is on a Friday this year, so at the end of the work week, you ought to be ready to treat your swain or sweetheart to something fun.

It doesn't have to be an expensive dinner by candlelight with a fancy box of artisan chocolates . . . it could also be a hike by candlelight with s'mores. 

Romance isn't what you buy; it's what you bring with you.

Here are 10 great and not particularly expensive ways to celebrate Valentine's Day in 2020.

Cuddle a puppy

You can get an early start on the day in Minneapolis, where puppy love will be in the air at the Meet Minneapolis Visitor Center, 505 Nicollet Ave. downtown. 

It's $5 for three minutes of heavy petting, and all proceeds go to Midwest Animal Rescue.

Cuddle hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 14, and we think you'll want to get there early.

Eat some chocolate

Researchers have found that eating chocolate is almost as good as being in love . . . or something like that.

Go whole hog in Appleton, Wis., on Feb. 15 with Death by Chocolate, a progressive tasting at restaurants, bars and coffeehouses along College Avenue. Two routes each have 15 stops.

Appleton is part of what the New York Times calls the "Wisconsin Candy Delta.'' It's mapped out a tour of chocolate shops in the east-central Wisconsin towns of Appleton, Oshkosh, Green Bay, De Pere and Manitowoc, near or on Lake Michigan.

That's a lot of driving, so you could also take a self-guided tour of the chocolateries of Madison.

Snow tubing at Elm Creek.

© Three Rivers Parks

In the west suburbs of Minneapolis, Elm Creek Park Reserve has multiple lanes for tubing.

Candlelight in the forest

Nothing is more romantic than a stroll or glide through a forest by the light of luminaries. There's always a bonfire or fire pit, so score extra points by bringing a baggie of s'more ingredients.

There will be lots of places to do that on Valentine's Day itself: Rush Creek Conservation Area in Harvard, Ill.; Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville, Wis.; Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, Minn. (includes skis, champagne and sweets); and Hayes Lake and Lake Bemidji state parks in Minnesota.

There are dozens more candlelight events on Feb. 15, including Wisconsin's Book Across the Bay from Ashland to Washburn, which adds bonfires, fireworks and live music to the mix.

Visit a state park for free

Admission is free to Minnesota state parks on Feb. 15 and Michigan state parks Feb. 15-17. In Michigan, Feb. 15-16 also is Free Fishing Weekend.

See a show

Share a laugh at a community-theater production of such romantic/comedic classics as "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change,'' playing at Duluth's Norshor Theatre Feb. 14-15.

Or splurge on a Broadway traveling show in Chicago's Loop theater district, where you'll hear "Love to Love You Baby'' at "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,'' playing Feb. 12-23. 

If your relationship is on thin ice, buy a couple of tickets to "Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus," Feb. 11-23 . . . it's cheaper than seeing a therapist. And during Chicago Theatre Week, Feb. 13-23, tickets to more than 120 shows are $15 or $20.

In Madison, the Kanopy Dance Company celebrates the love of Adam and Steve with "Love Is Love,'' Feb. 14-23 at the Overture Center.

The candlelight ski at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

© Paul Sundberg

The annual candlelight ski/snowshoe is Feb. 15 at Gooseberry Falls State Park on Minnesota's North Shore.

Tear down a hill on a tube

Remember how much fun sledding was when you were a kid? You can still do that, except you'll have even more fun shooting down today's professionally groomed and graded tubing chutes. 

You don't even have to trudge back up the hill; there are conveyor lifts and magic carpets for that. 

Rates start at $8 for two hours, and nearly everyone can find a tubing hill nearby

If exhilaration isn't enough, add some atmosphere with an evening of glow tubing at Spirit Mountain in Duluth or The Rock Snowpark in Franklin, just south of Milwaukee.

Visit an ice castle or scale a frozen waterfall

Professional ice artists have created fantasy playgrounds in Lake Geneva, Wis., and in the northern Minneapolis suburb of New Brighton.

Each one is an LED-lit ice fantasia of stacked icicles, sculptures, tunnels, slides and even a spouting fountain. Tickets are cheapest when bought online.

Elsewhere, visit one of our favorite ice playgrounds, including the Eben Ice Caves. 

At nearby Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, some of the nation's best ice climbers will be scaling spectacular frozen waterfalls during Michigan Ice Fest, Feb. 12-16. There are workshops for beginners, too.

Fly a kite

There are two kite festivals over Valentine's weekend. In Clear Lake, Iowa, at the Color the Wind Kite Festival Feb. 15-16, stunt fliers will perform routines choreographed to music.

Show kites at Clear Lake's Color the Wind.

© Kay Day

Show kites perform at the festival in Clear Lake, Iowa.

On Delavan Lake in southern Wisconsin, near Lake Geneva, you can make your own kite and take flying lessons at Lake Lawn Resort's Sky Circus on Ice Feb. 14-16. There will also be a snow slide, indoor and outdoor kite-flying performances and a snow-carving class.

Watch ski jumpers

The Winter Olympics in Beijing are coming up, so you may see future medalists at the Pine Mountain Ski Jumping Tournament Feb. 15-16 in Iron Mountain, Mich., just across the Wisconsin border.

The tournament is a Continental Cup event and attracts jumpers from around the world, including Austria, France, Germany, Norway, Poland and Slovenia.

A plus for new couples: It gets cold out there on the hill, so you'll have a good excuse to huddle together for warmth.

A cabin at Cascade Lodge in Minnesota.

© Cascade Lodge

A cozy cabin in the woods is the perfect place to practice Scandinavian-style hygge.

Book a cozy cabin

This is a classic idea, because there's nothing more romantic than canoodling in front of a crackling fireplace. 

The problem is, it may be hard to find a place at the last minute. You can always look for cancellations, but another option is reserving a cabin for next year, when Valentine's falls on a Sunday.

Pick one of our 20 perfect cabins or even a rustic camper cabin in the woods óthere will be no heart-shaped whirlpool, but you'll have loads of privacy and atmosphere.

You can reserve them a year in advance in Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa. 

And for instruction in the Scandinavian concept of "cozy," head for Grand Marais, at the northeast tip of Minnesota. It's holding a Hygge Festival Feb. 7-16, with a cabin concert and lodging specials.

Capital's Bockfest in February.

© Capital Brewing

Hoist a cold one at Capital's Bockfest.

Something to look forward to

If you wanted to buy a gift but didn't have time, just print out some tickets at home ó perhaps to an upcoming Bockfest, a Baconfest, a food tour or a cooking class. After all, the way to the heart is through the stomach.

In the Madison suburb of Middleton, Bockfest at Capital Brewery is Feb. 22,  and in New Ulm, Minn., Schellís Brewery's Bock Fest is March 7.

In Milwaukee, Baconfest MKE is Feb. 23. The Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines is March 7, and Baconfest Chicago is April 18.

Consider a food tour in Chicago, or perhaps a cooking class or a class at one of the region's many folk schools

This could really pay off: Your sweetie could come home knowing how to make truffles, sushi or a killer tiramisu.

Last updated on February 10, 2020