MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Sugarbush safari

Running sap is cause for celebration in the maple forest.

Tapping a maple tree at Fort Snelling.

© Minnesota DNR

At Fort Snelling State Park in the Twin Cities, naturalist Kao Thao taps a maple tree.

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.

It's still a lot of work; it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. But most people think real maple syrup is worth the effort.

In the awkward time between winter and spring, the promise of maple syrup also gives people a good reason to get outdoors and into the woods.

Festivals across the region offer tours of the sugarbush, nature walks and, often, music and games in addition to tapping tutorials and pancake breakfasts with syrup.

Here are some of the best events in 2017.


Starting Feb. 26, the Three Rivers Park District in the western Minneapolis suburbs offers dozens of sap-to-syrup programs at Richardson Nature Center in Bloomington; Eastman Nature Center in Dayton; Cleary Lake in Prior Lake; Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista; and Lowry Nature Center in Victoria.

Make your own in Minnesota state parks. In the Twin Cities, Fort Snelling's "Maple Syruping in your Backyard'' programs in March are very popular. They're March 5, 11-12, 18-19 and 25-26.

Whitewater State Park near St. Charles has "Maple Syruping for the Whole Family'' programs Feb. 25 and March 4, 11 and 18.

Register in advance; many programs fill quickly.


A sugar shack at Norskedalen near La Crosse.


Syrup cooks in a sugar shack at Norskedalen, near La Crosse.

Many festivals start early in the day. Costs generally are $5-$10, including breakfast.

March 4-5, Maple Syrup Festival at Cedar Heights Elementary near Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa. There's a pancake breakfast and visits to the sugar shack. 

March 4-5 and 11-12, Festival of the Sugar Maples at Coral Woods Conservation Area in Marengo, Ill. Hike out to the sugar shack and see how maple syrup is made, then sample.

March 5, 12, 19 and 26, Sugarin' Off Pancake Breakfasts at River Bend Nature Center in Racine, Wis. After a big breakfast, go into the woods to see and learn about sap collection and syrup production.

March 11-12, Maple Sugaring Spring Fever at the Naper Settlement in Naperville, Ill. Find out how early settlers tapped trees and turned sap into syrup, tour the historic buildings and join dancing to live music.

March 11 and 18, Pancake Breakfast and Open House near Viroqua, Wis. In lovely Vernon County, southeast of La Crosse, Kickapoo Gold maple-syrup producer is holding two benefit events, with a sugarbush tour and horse-drawn wagon rides. 

March 18, Maple Fest at Red Oak Nature Center in Aurora, Ill. Naturalists take visitors into the forest to tap a maple, see how syrup is boiled and taste results.

March 18, Maple Syrup Festival at Eastman Nature Center in Dayton, Minn. Tour the sugarbush, collect sap, dash through a sap obstacle course and make candy.

March 18, Maple Syrup Through History at The Landing in Shakopee, Minn. Travel by horse-drawn trolley to visit the sugarbush and syrup makers of the past at this living-history complex in the southwest Twin Cities.

March 18-19, MapleFest Weekend at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, Minn.  The arboretum in this southwest suburb of Minneapolis will hold sugarbush tours and a breakfast, and admission is included.

March 18, Maple Syrup Fest at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro, Minn. Join a naturalist to tap a tree, collect sap and have a treat.

Children watch maple sap flow.

© Minnesota DNR

Children watch maple sap flow.

March 18, Maple Syrup Day at Audubon Center of the North Woods near Sandstone, Minn. Have a pancake brunch, learn how to tap maple trees and turn sap into syrup at this center just off Interstate 35 in eastern Minnesota.

March 18-19, Maple Syrup Festival at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Tap a tree, collect syrup, watch it boil and eat a pancake breakfast, with music.

March 19, Maple Syrup Sunday at Ledge View Nature Center near Chilton, Wis. At this center near Lake Winnebago, guests help find the maple tree, tap it, and collect sap. 

March 19, Maple Fest at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp & Retreat Center in Lake Geneva, Wis. This historic camp on the lake offers a pancake breakfast, maple syrup tours, children's games and a craft fair.

March 19, Maple Syrup Festival at Baker Park Reserve in Maple Plain, Minn. Tap, collect and boil sap and enjoy syrup with pancakes.

March 25, Maple Syrup Festival at Lowry Nature Center in Carver Park Reserve in Victoria, Minn. Tap, collect and boil sap and  enjoy syrup on ice cream.

March 25, Maple Sap, Sugar and Syrup Demo near Onamia, Minn. Staff at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post show traditional and modern methods of producing syrup.

March 25-26, Maple Sugar Days at Wehr Nature Center in Franklin, Wis. Hike to the sugarbush for a tour at this center in the southern suburbs of Milwaukee.

March 25 and April 1, Maple Syrup Festival at St. John's Arboretum in Collegeville, Minn. Collect, cook and enjoy hot maple syrup over ice cream at St. John's University. There are horse-drawn rides, too.

March 26, Maple Syrup Fest at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in the Madison suburb of Monona, Wis. A family-friendly event with tapping and syrup-making demonstrations.

April 1, Maple Syrup Festival at MacKenzie Center near Poynette, Wis. This center between the Wisconsin Dells and Madison includes a pancake breakfast, guided tours of the sugarbush, demonstrations of tapping and syrup-making, intrepretive talks about how Indians and pioneers made syrup, old-time music and horse-drawn wagon rides.

This area is a hot spot for Wisconsin naturalists. Not far away, you'll find John Muir's childhood home, Aldo Leopold's shack and the International Crane Foundation.

For details, see Pilgrimage to the Baraboo Hills.

April 1, Maple Syrup Fest in Phelps, Wis. In the northeast corner of Wisconsin, tour the sugarbush, tap trees, make maple taffy in the snow and shop at an arts and crafts fair.

April 8, Maple Syrup Saturday at Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton, Wis. Go for a tour of the sugarbush and have a pancake breakfast.

April 8, Maple Syrup Festival in Vergas, Minn. Tour the sugar house, eat pancakes and go on a 5K run.

April 28-30, Maple Syrup Festival in Vermontville, Mich. It's the 75th year for this festival southeast of Grand Rapids, which features music, games, an arts and crafts show, Friday fireworks and a grand parade at 2 p.m. Saturday.

April 29, Taylor County Maple Fest in Medford, Wis. This festival at the fairgrounds includes a breakfast, maple-syrup baking contests, cooking demonstrations and crafts plus music, children's activities and door prizes.

Last updated on February 17, 2017