MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Spring scenery

Minnesota's spring mecca

In May, Whitewater State Park is the place to find trout, morels and wildflowers.

In May, there's no better place to be than a park in the bluffs of southeast Minnesota.

Of course, May is beautiful everywhere. But Whitewater State Park has the best array of spring wildflowers, the best morel-mushroom hunting and the best trout fishing — or if it's not the best, at least there's none better.

"I wish we could have a year of Mays,'' longtime naturalist Dave Palmquist likes to say.

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20 great spring drives

When weather warms, the urge to hit the road is irresistible.

It's a beautiful spring day — finally. The trees are budding, the birds are chirping. What do you do?

Road trip! Somehow, the call of the highway is especially strong in spring. We want to feel the wind on our face and see something new and unusual.

There's a lot to do along the way: Walk through bluebells, spot birds, visit artist studios, sample cheese, watch a parade.

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20 great spring hikes

The scenery along these lovely trails will put a spring in your step.

What's so great about hiking in spring? That's easy – there's so much to see.

Move your feet in any direction and you'll run across wildflowers, waterfalls and, best of all, sweeping views that last only until the trees leaf out.

Head out before summer makes its brash appearance, with walls of greenery and fleets of bugs.

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Searching for morels

When days get warmer, fungus hunters get ready to root out the much-sought treat.

Deep down, every morel hunter believes in divine providence.

There's nothing so providential as baskets overflowing with morels, and the taste is so divine hunters dream about it all winter. In spring, they offer a fervent prayer to the mushroom gods: May the fungus be among us.

Morels do taste heavenly. But it's the hunt that's so addictive — it's fun to find something for free that's so expensive in stores and restaurants, and it's fun to beat the odds by finding something so notoriously elusive.

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15 great trails to ride in spring

On a bike, get out to see what's new in the countryside or city.

In spring, everything moves so fast you need wheels to see it all.

Two wheels are perfect, because bicycle trails are little nature corridors in spring. Warblers zoom back and forth, nabbing twigs for nests, and wildflowers bloom on sunny edges.

You'll also want to check out new trails and see what's new along favorite trails.

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At SNAs, step off the beaten path

To get a piece of quiet, visit one of many state natural areas.

One spring, I hit the nature-lover's jackpot, almost without trying.

Exploring a septet of Minnesota's scientific and natural areas, or SNAs, I found more pasque flowers in bloom than I'd ever expected to see in a lifetime.

I saw a panorama of the Mississippi as the Dakota would have seen it 200 years ago. I walked under the budding canopies of old-growth forests and listened to choruses of courting frogs.

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Wallowing in wildflowers

In 12 tried-and-true spots, you'll find a profusion of blooms.

When delicate spring wildflowers appear, it means winter finally is over.

No wonder we love them so much. But they're ephemeral — here today, gone tomorrow.

So if you want a good dose of them, head for a place where you know they'll be.

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Best of spring

When warm weather arrives, it's time to tiptoe through the tulips.

This year, winter stuck around for so long that it seemed as if spring never would come. Now, the challenge is to get out there and enjoy spring in the short window before summer gets here. 

What to do? Go on a spring drive, see fiddlehead ferns unfurl and surround yourself with that delicate shade of chartreuse that seems to tint the air green.

Kayak on cattail-lined creeks, stalk morel mushrooms and watch Dutch dancers clogging on the street.

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Sugarbush safari

At nature centers, learn how to tap maple trees and sample the sweet results.

Even if it looks like winter outside, you can count on maple trees to know otherwise.

In late February, their sap starts to run, and that's "the sweet good-bye of winter,'' writes naturalist John Burroughs.

Indigenous people were first to tap trees, inserting hollow reeds, letting the sap drip into troughs and boiling it down over a wood fire. The process isn't much different today, except most people use metal taps, plastic tubing and buckets to catch the sap.

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Spring bird festivals

After a long winter, birders welcome the return of feathered friends.

By April, the harbingers of spring are on the move.

"The spring migration is well underway!'' comes the report from wildlife refuges. "Eagles and swans, Canada geese, robins, sparrows, sandhills cranes have arrived!''

Where there are birds, there are birders — and bird festivals. Those are especially nice for beginners, who don’t yet have the skills to find and identify birds.

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Outdoors in the Kickapoo Valley

In Wisconsin's coulee country, a green zone is known for morels, apples, wildflowers and a winding river.

In the coulees of southwest Wisconsin, a lush green zone draws anyone who craves a heady dose of nature.

It starts in spring, when trilliums bloom along Rustic Roads, morel mushrooms pop out on hillsides and water rushes down the crooked Kickapoo River.

It's not close to any city, but people find their way. Norwegians were first to be drawn to its deep, narrow valleys, like miniature fjords.

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Spring in Door County

On this Wisconsin peninsula, a vast array of wildflowers rewards those weary of winter.

Goldthread and gaywings. Bogbean and trailing arbutus. In Wisconsin's Door County, it's enough to make a naturalist hyperventilate.

Cherry blossoms and daffodils are the showiest spring flowers on this tourist playground between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. But it's the wildflowers, many of them rare, that provide the most joyous proof that spring has arrived.

On sandy ridges, the first flower spotted often is the once-common trailing arbutus, whose waxy white blossoms emerge in April.

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Birding by rail

On Wisconsin's Chippewa River, a little train rolls into a bird-watcher's Eden.

If you don’t know a birder, you might think they have a severe case of attention-deficit disorder.

They tend to stare off into space. They often stop talking mid-sentence. It’s hard to finish conversations with them.

But their enthusiasm for nature is contagious. And in spring, birders know all the best places to go.

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Wildflowers of the North Shore

On the shores of Lake Superior, delicate blooms mark the return of warmth.

In spring, not that many people go to the North Shore to see the flowers.

They’re small, and the rest of the scenery is big and distracting — roaring waterfalls, jagged cliffs and that mesmerizing inland sea that fills the horizon.

If you do look down, you’ll find them huddled in cracks on lava flows, tucked along hiking trails and in boggy patches along streams. They’re dainty, but many are fairly unusual — butterwort as well as bluebells, rock clematis along with columbine.

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Road trip: Wildflowers of the Mississippi Valley

A spring quest leads to Minnesota bluff country and Wisconsin river towns.

In May, the woods are full of people on the hunt.

Some are stalking morel mushrooms. Others are trying to bag a turkey or spot a rare warbler.

The rest of us are content to chase wildflowers. For one thing, we’re guaranteed success.

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Chasing cherry blossoms

In spring, Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula is a sight for sore eyes.

After a long winter, the sight of cherry blossoms is tonic for the soul.

In northern Michigan, cherries love the gravelly soil of the Old Mission Peninsula —and so do tourists.

This area has a friendly rivalry with Wisconsin's Door Peninsula, also warmed by the waters of Lake Michigan and known for cherries and vineyards.

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Itching for spring

It's coming, in all its glory. Here's what to watch for and where to go.

When the snow is gone, the fun begins.

Most of us would be happy to see something, anything, that’s green. But there’s no reason to wait for that before going outdoors.

Early spring is the best time to hunt for agates on Great Lakes beaches, where winter storms have tossed up a new batch of rocks. If you wait until July, when most tourists arrive, they’ll be picked over.

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Spring in Traverse City

Prowl through the locavore haunts of this Lake Michigan beach town.

In Traverse City, spring is when you get to do all the things you planned in summer before you got seduced away by sand and surf.

I'd seen the enticing shops, theaters and tasting rooms on other visits and planned to check them out “some time.''

Some time arrived Mother's Day weekend, when Traverse City was awash in color. So many pear trees were flowering downtown that the streets look frosted, and magnolia blooms were as big as popcorn balls.

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Birding with the pros

In spring, a symphony of trills and chirps draws hikers into the woods.

In April, birds return to the woods.

They're easy to hear, but not to see. Unlike spring wildflowers, birds don't stay put.

A flash of yellow likely is a warbler, but which kind — chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, magnolia, Wilson's? And those tweets, twitters and trills —  who's making them?

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Tiptoeing through the toothwort

With their cameras, nature-lovers try to capture the fleeting joys of spring.

Nothing is more exhilarating than the first days of spring, when the air practically vibrates with the pent-up vigor of growing things.

Warm sunlight filters down through budding forests, and the rich smell of humus wafts up from their floors. Then, amid the decaying leaves and grasses, we find the first spring ephemerals.

They gladden our hearts, those brave little blooms. But they come, and then they go.

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