MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Trip Hints

Favorites for winter

Great holiday festivals
In November and December, check out Santa, Scrooge and shopping markets.
Fun in the fast lane
Need speed? Here's where to ski or snowboard in the Upper Midwest.
Chicago at Christmas
During the holidays, this glittering, festive town becomes the City of Broad Smiles.
Staying warm in winter
If you know what to wear, dealing with cold weather is a breeze.
Old World Christmas markets
Local versions of the traditional German Christkindlmarkt are a hit during the holidays.
Choosing snowshoes
You can make, buy or simply try the different models at state parks and nature centers.
The coolest days of winter
Ditch the indoors for one of these great festivals.
Milwaukee at Christmas
During the holidays, this city shimmers like Cinderella.

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FastPlans/Sample the Amanas

Pouring fruit wines in Amana.

Once upon a time, people in Iowa's Amana Colonies lived simply. Now, people go there to indulge.

These tidy, once-communal villages in east-central Iowa, near Cedar Rapids, are famous for their family-style restaurants, wineries, brewery and shops. During the holiday season, tourists descend on the villages to buy gifts — quilts, pottery, chocolates.

What to do: Shop and sample wines. Tour the Amana Heritage Museum on Saturdays. See "A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol'' at the Old Creamery Theatre Company or "Assorted Nuts!'' at Iowa Theatre Artists Company.

Events to catch: Dec. 5-7, Prelude to Christmas.

Information: For more, see Truly Amana and Eating in the Amana Colonies.

Past fast plans: Shopping in Madison, Escape to the Dells, Gales of November, Exploring Northfield, Fall in Door County

This weekend

After turkey day, holidays start in earnest.

Santa and his sleigh.

Old World Christmas markets. European-style holiday fairs come to Minneapolis, St. Paul, Excelsior and New Ulm in Minnesota, Chicago and Oak Brook in Illinois, Monroe in Wisconsin and Holland in Michigan. Nov. 27-30.

Holly Days in Egg Harbor, Wis. This Door County village offers horse-drawn wagon rides, a children's elf hunt and mistle dough contest and caroling. Nov. 28–29.

Lighting & Electric Parade in St. Charles, Ill. There's Lighting of the Lights and music Friday and free horse-drawn sleigh rides, movies and Santa visits Saturday, with the Electric Christmas Parade at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 28–29.

Holiday Stroll in Red Wing, Minn. This Mississippi River town offers horse-drawn carriage rides, roasted chestnuts, carolers and live penguins and reindeer. There's a lighted parade at 7 p.m. Nov. 28.

For more events, see our Events Calendar.

On the wine trail

In November, taste the fruits of the harvest on winery road trips.

Wine tasting at a vineyard.

As fall winds down on forest trails, the season is just gearing up on wine trails, where groups of wineries invite folks to take a little drive, sample the wares and maybe take home a few bottles.

Since wineries tend to be in very scenic areas, that’s not such a bad idea. And in November, many offer special events to put buyers in the holiday spirit.

Here are wine trails in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan that have planned events in fall 2014.

Read story and trip tips

Gales of November

Along the North Shore, early-winter winds evoke visions of shipwrecks.

View of Gold Rock Point in Lake Superior

In November 1905, the people of Minnesota saw Lake Superior at its most malevolent.

As dozens of ships left Duluth-Superior Harbor in the calm after a violent storm, an even worse storm hit, with blinding snow and winds of more than 60 mph.

The 4,840-ton steel steamer Mataafa turned back and, just as it was about to slip into the harbor entry, was lifted by a giant wave, upended and smashed into first one concrete pierhead, then the other.

Another wave whirled the 430-foot boat around and grounded it 600 feet off the beach, where mountainous waves cleaved its stern from its bow.

Read story and trip tips

Warming up to winter

Plan now for fun cold-weather weekends.

An ice bar.

It looks as if winter has settled in for good — time to have fun with it.

Here at MidwestWeekends, we actually like winter, and we'll give you 20 reasons why.

Winter doesn't last that long, once the holidays are over, so it's best to plan now. Get yourself some snowshoes or learn how to cross-country ski, then reserve a weekend at a cozy lodge where you can ski or snowshoe from your door.

Plan a getaway around one of the popular candlelight events or a big festival. If you're a beginning downhill skier or boarder, check out learn-to-ski bargains. Or snap up Wisconsin's Skiing Wisconsin Coupon Book, $99, good for lift tickets at 13 hills (Michigan's $219 White Gold Card, good at 33 hills, already is sold out).

Still not sold on the cold? Winter also is a good time to cocoon in a cabin or stay at an hotel or resort where everything is under one roof.

Great shopping towns

Few shoppers can resist these Shangri-Las of spending.

Shops on High Street in Mineral Point.

Some people may guess that lakes or bicycle trails are the chief attraction for travelers in the Upper Midwest. Other might say museums, state parks or stadiums.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. The No. 1 attraction in travel is . . . shops.

Shopping is sightseeing for a lot of people. On vacation, they shop not as they would at the local mall, but as if had all the time in the world to browse, stroll and sample.

As, in fact, they do. Legions of weekend hobby shoppers have fueled the rise of such boutique towns as Stillwater in Minnesota, Cedarburg in Wisconsin and Galena in Illinois.

Read story and trip tips

Homes for the holidays

For Christmas tours, historic mansions up the ante on opulence.

Mayowood decorated for the holidays.

Two centuries ago, Minnesota and Wisconsin were ripe for the picking.

Iron ore lay under forests of tall white pine, fertile farmland lay under prairie grasses, and rivers teeming with beaver led to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

It all turned into money when ambitious men arrived, gathering up the goodies like kids on Halloween. They logged, they mined, they traded and they shipped. The men who made the biggest fortunes did it all, plowing their first round of profits into railroads, land and banking.

Then, they built houses.

Read story and trip tips

A yen for yurts

Cozy camping huts have come to the Midwest from Mongolia, with love.

A yurt in the Porcupines.

Yurts are popping up all over the Midwest, from Michigan to Iowa and now, to Minnesota state parks.

Seven new yurts have joined 88 camper cabins in Minnesota parks and recreation areas. Two are in Afton State Park on the St. Croix River, near St. Paul.

Two are in Glendalough State Park in west-central lakes country, near Battle Lake. And three are in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, the mountain-biking destination between Brainerd and Mille Lacs.

Why yurts? They rent for the same price as camper cabins, $50-$65. But the round, canvas-sided huts are much cozier, especially in winter, when they're heated by wood stoves.

Read story and trip tips

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