MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for fall

Hawk heaven
On a ridgetop in Duluth, bird watchers keep eyes on the fall skies.
10 great outdoors towns
Want to get sweaty, dirty . . . and exhilarated? Here's where to go.
Wisconsin Dells in fall
For many, the scenery is best when the crowds are gone.
Minnesota's scenic byways
Hit the road for a glimpse of the state's most engaging spots.
Autumn in the studios
On fall art tours, treasure hunters strike gold (and orange and red).
One fall swoop
The roller-coaster hills and riverside bluffs of northeast Iowa yield a photo album of panoramas.
Best of fall
The chase is on as autumn colors coat the countryside.
15 great fall drives
Chase the colors through glorious autumn landscapes.
Autumn along the St. Croix
On fall days, this scenic river valley is dressed to impress.

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FastPlans/North Shore in fall

Fall colors on Oberg Mountain.

For Minnesotans, the stretch of Lake Superior they call the North Shore is hallowed ground. The cobblestone beaches, the dramatic river gorges and the panoramic views of a vast inland sea all make their hearts beat a little faster, especially in fall.

When to go: The last week of September in inland maple forest (pictured).

What to do: Hike the trails. Ride the Gitchi-Gami Trail. Have a picnic on Palisade Head. Skip rocks or hunt for agates on the beaches.

Go on guided hikes with the Superior Hiking Trail Association Sept. 20 and 27 and Oct. 4.

Events to catch: Sept. 26-Oct. 5, Crossing Borders Studio Tour.

Details: See Where to stay on Minnesota's North Shore and North Shore by the mile.

Past fast plans: Capital of cheese, Sample La Crosse, Fun in the Porkies, Exploring Voyageurs, Bemidji and Bunyan

This weekend

Yodel for cheese, wine and world cuisine.

The Dairy Queens of Green County.

Cheese Days in Monroe, Wis. It's the 100th anniversary of this big biennial festival, which includes cow-milking contests, yodeling, tours and a big parade at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Sept. 19–21.

Michigan Schooner Festival in Traverse City. See the Parade of Sail, a pirate treasure hunt, music and pirate chases between the cutter Champion and the Friends Good Will. Sept. 19–21.

Wine & Harvest Festival in Cedarburg, Wis. There's a pumpkin regatta, scarecrow contest, grape stomp, hay rides, juried arts fair and lots of food. Sept. 20–21.

World Food & Music Festival in Des Moines. Eat at 50 cultural cafes for $5 or less (or taste for $1), shop at the world marketplace or listen to musicians strolling the streets or on stage. Sept. 19–21.

For more events, see our Events Calendar.


Toasting Oktoberfest

These festive tributes to Bavarian tradition put the oompah into fall.

The Oktoberfest parade in Amana.

When fall arrives, we get a sudden urge to hoist a stein of beer, eat a grilled bratwurst and listen to red-cheeked men in little felt hats play the accordion.

Fall belongs to the Germans, who streamed into the Upper Midwest in the 1850s and still are the largest ethnic group in every state. Which is a good thing, because Germans like to have fun.

In October 1810, they had so much fun at the wedding of Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, held in a meadow near Munich, that they decided to do it every year.

Emigrants to America brought the tradition with them, along with their recipes for beer and sausage, and started hundreds of smaller Oktoberfests all across the Midwest.

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Cheap fall getaways

Here are 20 places to enjoy autumn colors without going into the red.

A waterfall on the Presque Isle River in the Porcupines.

Fall is the busiest travel season of the year — we all know the nice days are numbered, and we're going to try our darndest to make them count.

But with pretty much everyone heading out to look for fall color, especially on weekends, there are few bargains.

That's why those of us on a budget look to our old friends: the parks, the mom-and-pop motels, the environmental centers, the hostels, the outdoors clubs.

Here's our list of 20 great autumn trips for $100 or less per person, based on two

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So many festivals, so little fall

Want to go on an autumn power trip? Here are the best places to be each weekend.

Pumpkins decorated by kids.

In this part of the world, fall is sweet but way too short.

All of the quaint little towns along rivers and in the bluffs have to pack their autumn festivals into the same six weekends, rolling out parades, pumpkin contests and oompah bands for all the leaf-peeping tourists.

The choices are paralyzing. Flea market or scarecrow contest? Pumpkin regatta or studio tour? Yodeling contest or dachshund races?

You can't do it all, but you can do a lot. Just go on a power trip — to two, even three festivals in one weekend.

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15 great fall views

From these overlooks, see rolling waves of color light up the landscape.

The Porcupines' Lake of the Clouds in autumn.

In autumn, the pilgrims head for Holy Hill.

Some want to pay homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for whom the basilica was built in 1930. But many others just want to see the amazing view, which includes the Milwaukee skyline and surrounding Kettle Moraine State Forest, dappled with colors.

The basilica was built atop a kame — a mound filled with glacial rubble — that has one of the highest elevations in southeast Wisconsin and the highest in the 120-mile-long kettle moraine, where two lobes of the last glacier collided.

It's one of 15 great overlooks that are easy to reach on a lovely fall day.

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Pursuing the hues

With luck, leaf peepers can squeeze six weeks of color out of fall.

Rowing on the Mississippi.

As anyone who’s ever planned a fall trip knows, peak leaf color can be elusive.

Betting on a burst of spectacular color is like plugging nickels into a slot machine. To win, all of the figures have to line up: the right number of warm days and cool nights, the right levels of sugar produced, the right amounts of moisture.

Predictions always are chancy. In 2013, nearly every part of the north woods had had plenty of moisture, and fall started with warm, sunny days followed by crisp nights. Most experts predicted a great year.

Early- and mid-season color was mediocre, even muddy. But leaves clung to trees until late October, when maple trees in the south part of the region gave us one of the best and longest-lasting displays of reds, oranges and yellows in many years.

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Great grape stomps

At winery harvest festivals, compete with your feet.

A grape-stomp contestant in a barrel.

During harvest time in a vineyard, turning purple has nothing to do with the Minnesota Vikings.

Purple is what you'll be if you get into a wooden tub of grapes and try to turn them into juice with your bare feet. Vineyards don't get their juice that way anymore, but many still offer a grape stomp, and there's nothing goofier to do on an autumn day.

There are prizes for those who extract the most juice and those who show the most "style,'' so wearing a creative costume helps.

And some grape stomps feature an "I Love Lucy'' look-alike contest, in tribute to the famous 1956 episode in which the comedienne takes a job in an Italian vineyard and, of course, makes a mess of things.

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Riding the rails

On vintage-train excursions, the scenery is only part of the fun.

An excursion train stops in Two Harbors.

Thanks to volunteers who love locomotives, excursion trains live on.

These days, trains also are rolling entertainment venues, offering murder mysteries and beer tasting in addition to barbecue, pizza, brunch, happy hour and holiday trains.

In autumn, there are pumpkin trains and fall-color excursions, including one on the Milwaukee Road 261 steam locomotive, which will make a run from Minneapolis to Duluth and back Sept. 27-28.

The scenery is great year-round. Below are some of the best trains to ride.

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Bash on a bike trail

In fall, kick up your wheels at a small-town festival.

Pumpkin regatta in Cedarburg.

In September, when the air turns crisp, everyone starts thinking the same thing: Time to plan a weekend trip.

Autumn is a great time to try out a new bike trail, not only because of fall colors and invigorating weather but because so many small towns throw harvest festivals in September and October.

Since trails go right through towns, bicycle tourists are right in the middle of the action — but not the traffic jams.

Food always is the main draw, and there's nothing bicyclists like more than food. Grape harvests result in wine festivals and Oktoberfests in a river of beer, which also goes over pretty well.

So why not pair a bike ride with a fun little festival?

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