Milk Days in Harvard, Ill. In this town just south of Lake Geneva, Wis., there's a milk-drinking contest, milking demonstrations, cow-chip lotto, bed races, a parade at 1 p.m. Saturday and fireworks. May 31–June 2.
Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival in Little Chute, Wis. This Fox Cities fest includes cheese-curd eating, cheese-carving and cheesecake contests and a 10:30 a.m. Saturday cheese parade. May 31–June 2.
Grand Old Day in St. Paul. For this big street fair, Grand Avenue is divided into "districts'': entertainment, family fun, sporting and home and garden. A parade starts at 9:30 a.m. from Grand and Dale. June 2.
Irish Festival in Oshkosh, Wis. This festival in Riverside Park on the Fox River includes Irish music, food and dancing. May 31–June 2.
Fort Michilimackinac Pageant in Mackinaw City, Mich. This free pageant at
Colonial Michilimackinac (pictured) features a cast of more than 400 reenactors plus 18th-century fashion shows, voyageur
contests, kids' games and a 1 p.m. Saturday parade. May 25–27.
North Iowa Band Festival in Mason City, Iowa. There's a carnival, craft show and car cruise, but don't miss the 10 a.m. Saturday band parade in the town made famous by "The Music Man.'' May 23–27.
World's Largest Brat Fest in Madison, Wis. There's music on four stages, the world's largest touring grill, the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, carnival rides and Sunday fireworks. Admission is free. May 24–27.
For more festivals, see our Events Calendar.
In the good old days, the only plant people had to watch out for was poison ivy.
Now, there's wild parsnip, the evil sister of Queen Anne's lace. A native of Europe and Asia, it has spread like wildfire across Wisconsin and southern Minnesota, and fire is what it feels like on exposed skin.
"Most people get a nasty, nasty rash from it," says Karla Kinstler Bloem, naturalist and director of Houston Nature Center in southeast Minnesota. "It's not like nettles or poison ivy; this is like a chemical burn. If you get it bad enough, it can scar you for life."
It's actually a sunburn, caused by plant chemicals that, when energized by ultraviolet light, destroy cells and skin tissue.
In mild cases, the skin simply reddens.
Here in the Upper Midwest, hikers have their pick of great trails — the Superior Hiking Trail, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail and hundreds of state and county trails.
On National Trails Day, you can try out a new one. Along Lake Superior, the Superior Hiking Trail Association is leading a five-mile hike on the newest section of trail between Duluth and Two Harbors.
In southwest Wisconsin, the rangers of Trempealeau National Wildlife
Refuge are hosting a bird hike, bike ride and canoe paddle. On the Red Cedar State Trail (pictured) in Menomonie, the Friends group is
offering a wildlife photography hike, raptor presentation and bike checks.
The first weekend in June is a good time to try something new in Wisconsin.
June 2 is open-house day in Wisconsin state parks. Since
non-residents pay $10 for a daily pass, it's a good time to visit.
At Big Foot Beach in Lake Geneva, there's a fishing clinic for kids, including lunch and prizes. At Harrington Beach on Lake
Michigan, there's a pancake breakfast.
The second weekend in June is a good time to try something new in Minnesota.
Many parks are holding special events, such as bird and flower hikes and geocaching and fishing programs.
There will be a fur-trade encampment at Wild River, a beginner's canoeing program at the new Lake Vermilion, an amazing Get Outdoors Day race at Itasca, a Family Outdoor Fair at Whitewater and Outdoor Adventure Day at Jay Cooke.
In early June, the state parks of Wisconsin and Minnesota want to show you a good time.
In 2013, June 2 is open house in Wisconsin parks, with free admission, and June 1 is National Trails Day; use of Wisconsin trails is free both days. In Minnesota, June 8 is open house in Minnesota parks and also National Get Outdoors Day.
There's a lot going on — try out kayaks, learn archery, go on a guided hike or tour a lighthouse. Fishing is free on the same weekends, and admission to some historic sites is free or discounted.
It's time to head up north for swimming, boating, relaxing . . . and eating.
The Minnesota lakes country between Brainerd and Walker isn't known for great restaurants, but that may be because only locals know the best places.
Luckily for you, MidwestWeekends knows the locals who know the best places. It turns out that this popular area has top chefs who could work anywhere but choose to live where others can only vacation — go figure.
It's that time of year again.
If you're wondering how the Vikings, Packers or Bears will do this year, you can get a preview by watching the players gear
up for the season at training camps, which start next week.
Make a day of it, because all of the camps offer festivities, games of skill, giveaways, autograph sessions for kids and even
fireworks. Admission is free.
Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis.: The Packers, whose camp Sports Illustrated calls one
of the best and most fan-friendly (kids bring bikes that players ride, often toting the kids, to the field), practice across from Lambeau Field July 26-28, July 30-Aug. 3 and
Aug. 5-7, 11-14, 19-21 and 26-28.
For at least half a century, white men in blackface have been considered tasteless. But white men in red face? They were part of a popular outdoor pageant that brought busloads of tourists to a small town in southwest Minnesota.
But "Song of Hiawatha'' was performed for the last time in 2008, not because locals considered it an anachronism, but because it was too much work.
"It's in the middle of summer, and it's gotten hard to find people willing to participate,'' said lifelong Pipestone resident Eugene Hanson. "I hate to see it go.''
The audience had fallen off, too. Many younger people never have heard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and fewer still can appreciate an 1855 poem that's set to the meter of a Finnish epic, based on third-hand Ojibwe legends, filled with Christian imagery and bloated by Victorian romanticism.
This time of year, everyone in Minnesota starts thinking about going to the North Shore, and everyone wants that perfect place to stay.
I first went to the North Shore in August 1981, without a reservation (you can’t do that anymore), and lucked into Fern Creek cabin (pictured) at Koeneke’s Shoredge resort, just beyond Lutsen.
It had hand-sewn curtains, a tiny kitchen and tiny bedrooms with walls that didn’t quite go up to the ceiling. But it was surrounded by poplars and had a picture window facing the lake, a swing out front and a rocky shoreline perfect for bonfires.
That's my idea of a perfect place to stay, though I know it's not everyone's. I stopped by recently and caught Karen Bergly of Plymouth, Minn., whose mother’s family has been running the summer-only resort since 1953.
June is the cruelest month for bugs.
Mosquitoes hatch everywhere there's standing water (pictured, the 6-foot skeeter in Effie, Minn.). Black flies bedevil campers in the Boundary Waters and along Lake Superior, especially in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Ticks are crawling all over the place.
Black flies are hardest to avoid, since they attack the face and are nearly invisible. Either buy a head net, stay in a
breezy place or wait until they go away.
The common wisdom is they'll be gone by the Fourth of July. But it's not the only time they come out. Once, in late July, we
were staying at the Big Bay Point Lighthouse B&B near Marquette, and the flies were so bad you couldn't be outside.
Now that warm weather has arrived, we can have some fun cooling down.
We can go whitewater rafting on the St. Louis River near Duluth without a wetsuit. We can relax into the potholes above Illgen Falls and turn the the Baptism River into a spa.
If we're desperate, we can run from the sand beach on Duluth's Park Point into Lake Superior. No one ever said that felt like bathwater.
Now, however, I've found the best cool-down of all — snorkeling. Why didn't I think of it before?
Already tired of mosquitoes? Head for southeast Minnesota.
That's karst country, where porous limestone lies just under the surface and rain sinks into fast-moving underground streams that are chilled to 48 degrees when they run through the many cave systems. Trout like it, but mosquitoes don't. There's no standing water, so there's nowhere for them to breed.
That makes camping virtually mosquito-free at Forestville/Mystery Cave, Whitewater and Beaver Creek Valley state parks. Deb Erickson, office manager at Forestville, says people used to camping on Minnesota's North Shore are pleasantly surprised and often ask why there are so few mosquitoes.
"All the parks are like that in southeast Minnesota,'' she says. "It's kind of strange, but very wonderful.''
On a trip to Milwaukee this month, I found that nothing stays the same — except the things people can’t do without.
In Lake Mills, just off I-94 east of Madison, I was surprised to see Ephraim Faience Pottery in a newly restored 1890s cream-brick building on Water Street. I’d been coveting its graceful, handmade Arts and Crafts pieces for many years but was resigned to simply admiring the shelves of vases and pitchers until I saw that I could buy one at half price.
So, thanks to a barely discernible bottom crease, I got my very own Heartland vase for $144. Seconds and irregulars are
available only at the Lake Mills gallery.
“I buy bottom cracks all the time,’’ said manager Barbara Voss. “That way, I don’t have to feel so bad if the cat does cream it.’’
There’s good news for bicycle tourists looking for a new stretch of trail to try.
This month, a troublesome 1½-mile stretch of the Mesabi Trail in northern Minnesota (pictured) finally was completed between Taconite and Marble, giving riders 74½ nonstop miles of beautiful asphalt.
The rolling trail, which does not follow a rail corridor, takes riders past turquoise mine-pit lakes, through rock cuts and to the door of nearly every Iron Range attraction. For more, see Rolling through the Iron Range.
Near Bemidji, an 11½-mile section of the Paul Bunyan State Trail has been paved. Now, bicyclists can ride 7½ miles along the east shore of Lake Bemidji from Lake Bemidji State Park, then on two miles of city streets to connect with the new stretch, which winds through the woods to Guthrie.
You won't have to look far for fireworks and festivities over the Fourth of July weekend, because every town worth its salt
But some of the best are the smallest. For an old-fashioned celebration, go to Madeline Island in Wisconsin for A Day on the Green. At 10:30 a.m., there's a home-grown parade that ends with historical figures giving patriotic speeches at the museum. An art fair, barbecue and fireworks follow. July 4.
Near Milwaukee, an Old World Fourth of July at Old World Wisconsin includes a band concert, old-fashioned games and visits with re-enactors who portray the role of African-American soldiers in the Civil War. July 4.
In the western Minneapolis village of Excelor, the Minnesota Orchestra plays at the Lake Minnetonka Fourth of July at Excelsior Commons, followed by fireworks. There's also a kids' parade and Popsicle social and a sandcastle-building contest.