MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for summer

A feast of festivals
At small-town shindigs, get your fill of strawberries and sauerkraut, kolacky and sweet corn.
Pizza on the farm
In Wisconsin and Minnesota, dinner guests flock to the countryside for ultra-fresh ingredients and idyllic settings.
Grand sand
Along Lake Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are a playground for all ages.
Summer on stage
In vacation towns, plays and musicals offer a midsummer's-night diversion.
Celebrating roots
No matter where you're from, there's a heritage festival for you.
Four seasons of Grand Marais
On Minnesota's North Shore, this photogenic village always is ready for its close-up.
Chicago as you like it
Beaches or museums, baseball or music? This fun-loving metropolis makes it hard to decide what to do first.
Michigan's great lake cabins
In the only state that borders three Great Lakes, the best places to stay are in state parks.

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FastPlans/Summer in Winona

Inline skater on trail in Winona

In the corner of southeast Minnesota, Winona has an enviable spot on the loveliest stretch of the Mississippi River Valley.

Not only is it scenic, it's a college town, with lots of theater, concerts and coffeehouses.

Events to catch: June 22-July 31, Great River Shakespeare Festival. June 25, Dixieland Jazz Festival. June 25-July 17, Minnesota Beethoven Festival.

What to do: Use canoes, kayaks and paddleboards at Lake Lodge Recreation Center on Lake Winona (pictured). Tour the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Visit Garvin Heights Vineyards and see the view. Visit the nearby Pickwick Mill.

Details: See Afloat in Winona.

Past fast plans: Fun in Minneapolis, Summer in Chicago, Lanesboro outdoors, Walking Lake Geneva, Door County spring

This weekend's festivals

Look to skies for balloons and rockets.

Eyes to the Skies Festival.

Eyes to the Skies Festival in Lisle, Ill. This large festival on the west edge of Chicago features daily hot-air balloon launches, glows and fireworks shows, plus children's activities and a craft fair. July 1–3.

Sawdust Days in Oshkosh, Wis. This festival in Menominee Park, next to Lake Winnebago, celebrates the logging era, when Oshkosh was known as Sawdust City. It includes a historic village, flea market, carnival, fireworks and music on four stages, including Sabor-a-Mexico. June 30–July 4.

Iowa City Jazz Festival in Iowa City, Iowa. This downtown festival features a Culinary Row, Fun Zone for kids and Sunday fireworks in addition to music. July 1–3.

Ribfest in Naperville, Ill. Headliners include 3 Doors Down in Knoch Park, where there's also magic shows, kids' games, food and fireworks on the last evening. July 1–3.

For more events, see our Events Calendar.

Watching a water-ski show

Spend a perfect summer evening watching flips, dance lines and pyramids.

Water skiers in New London, Minn.

Watch a water-ski show, and you'll want to climb into your Thunderbird and go get a chocolate malted.

There's something deliciously retro about spending a balmy summer evening listening to '50s party music and the roar of marine engines as spangled, sun-bleached teen-agers fly by.

A corny comedy routine is part of the show, but it's the tricks that keep the crowd enthralled: double flips, dance lines and pyramids that can go up to five tiers.

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America's freshwater Riviera

On Lake Michigan's gorgeous beaches, everyone can find a spot in the sun.

The beach at J.W. Wells State Park.

It’s funny that some people in the Upper Midwest spend their summer vacations on the beaches of Cancun or Cape Cod, because the best beaches in the world are in their own back yard.

Lake Michigan is America’s freshwater Riviera, a nearly unending strand of sand that looks like Florida without the high-rise condos. It’s clean, blue and pleasantly cool, with water temperatures in the 60s, and in most places it looks just like the ocean.

Add in candy-striped lighthouses and even more ice-cream stands, and you’ve got the makings of a great beach holiday — a cheap one, too, if you're on a budget.

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10 great ways to celebrate the Fourth of July

You'll find parades, powwows, picnics, patriotic music and, always, fireworks.

Fireworks on Mackinac Island.

Over the Fourth of July holiday, every town worth its salt holds a celebration.

There are band concerts, parades with antique cars and cute kids dressed in red, white and blue: It's all good.

Yet some celebrations are a little more special than others. And this is a special year if you love our neighbours to the north: Canada Day is on Friday and the Fourth of July is on Monday, so you can bookend your weekend with two sets of fireworks. 

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One in 1,000

Somewhere in lakes country, there's a resort with your name on it. Here's how to find it.

Gordon Lodge on North Bay.

After many years of traveling around this region, I can answer nearly every travel question except one: “Can you give me the name of a good lake resort?’’

No, I can’t. Only you and your therapist know what you consider a good lake resort.

Staying at a north-woods lake resort is not like staying at a Marriott. There may be chipmunks living under your cabin, and fish that nibble your legs when you wade. Squealing children may run past your window while you’re trying to read.

You may find these things alarming. For you, there are resorts with all-day children’s programs, pools, and new townhouse units on manicured grounds.

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Camping without roughing it

Here are 15 state parks close to all the comforts: restaurants, shops, golf courses, even nightlife.

The beach and lighthouse at Holland State Park.

Even if you camp, you don't have to rough it.

A lot of state parks have plenty of woods, water and wildlife, but they're also just a short bike ride or walk away from the finer things in life — say, a pizza parlor or ice-cream stand.

Nearby restaurants make packing easy because you can leave the pots, dishes, soap and firewood home. Even if you like cooking over a fire, it's still nice to go out for a treat.

Here are 15 parks in five states where you won't be too far from some of your favorite things.

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Following the tall ships

Sloops and schooners still sail on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

The Spanish galleon El Galeon Andalucia.

On the Great Lakes, everyone loves to see a multi-masted schooner, white sails flapping in the breeze.

They're always the favorite guests at festivals, especially on Lake Superior, which usually sees only freighters.

On Lake Michigan, these magnificent replicas of 19th-century schooners and sloops are more common, offering tours and day sails from their homes when they're not appearing at festivals.

Most of the tall ships are non-profit and devoted to teaching early American history and training future sailors. Many offer passage between ports as they sail to festivals.

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