So many festivals, so little fall
Want to go on an autumn power trip? Here are the best places to be each weekend.
© Beth Gauper
Kids decorated pumpkins at Autumn Harvest Fest in the Dells.
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.
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.
If you want to cram in as many fall festivities as possible before cold weather arrives, here's a guide to the best places to be each weekend.
If you want to stay overnight, make reservations as soon as possible. And before setting out, call or check websites for festival highlights and plan around them.
Weekend after Labor Day/Southern Minnesota
The first time I went power tripping was the weekend after Labor Day, when Northfield holds its Defeat of Jesse James Days, the historic village of Mantorville holds Marigold Days and the Minnesota River college town of St. Peter holds the Rock Bend Folk Festival.
Don't miss the bank-raid re-enactments in Northfield, where the bad guys ride horses. In Mantorville, catch a melodrama. In St. Peter, kick back in the city park and listen to as much music as you want it's free.
I hit them all on a day trip from the Twin Cities, and after three festivals and three towns, I felt as if Id been gone three days. The best thing was that fall was just getting started.
© Cedarburg CVB
In Cedarburg, paddlers race hollowed-out pumpkins across Cedar Creek.
Side trip: Just west of Minneapolis on Lake Minnetonka, James J. Hill Days in Wayzata is known for its dachshund races.
Third weekend of September/Lake Michigan
Hang onto summer with a trip to the balmy shores of Lake Michigan. On the Michigan side, start in Grand Haven with the Salmon Festival, which celebrates the annual migration of salmon as well as leaf peepers.
Just up the shore, the Michigan Irish Music Festival in the port town of Muskegon includes Highland Games as well as music and dancing.
On the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan, start in Glendale, on the northern edge of Milwaukee.
The monthlong Oktoberfest put on by the Bavarian Soccer Club and United German Societies in Heidelberg Park is the oldest in the Midwest. It includes folk dancing, sing-alongs, yodeling and such typical German festival foods as spanferkel and rollbraten.
Don't miss the Great Pumpkin Regatta, where paddlers in hollowed-out pumpkins race across Cedar Creek, or the grape stomp.
Fourth weekend of September/St. Croix River Valley
In fall, the small towns that line the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin are a favorite destination. This weekend is a particularly good time to go.
In Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, there's a Pothole Exploration Tour Sunday. Across the river in St. Croix Falls, Chateau St. Croix and Dancing Dragonfly wineries both are holding fall festivals.
© Beth Gauper
Kids climb on a hay castle at a fall festival.
Farther down the river, the village of Afton holds Afton Art in the Park. After that, head south on St. Croix Trail, where apple orchards will be offering hay rides and trips through corn mazes.
First weekend of October/Mississippi River Valley
Down at the riverside, it's the first of two weekend Flea Markets Under the Bridge in Marquette. A hop farther, it's the Fall Arts and Crafts Fest in McGregor, a quirky little town tucked at the foot of the bluffs.
Take time to drive up to Pikes Peak State Park, 500 feet above the river. The views are spectacular, and admission is free.
© Beth Gauper
In northern Illinois, St. Charles holds Scarecrow Fest.
Second weekend of October/Door Peninsula
With all its orchards, Door County is impossibly scenic in fall, and its fall color tends to hang on longer than most places.
Galena is known as an adult destination, but this weekend there
are games and prizes for kids, too.
Third weekend of October/Wisconsin coulee country
Just to the south, the big Fall Art Tour winds through the most picturesque nooks and crannies of southwest Wisconsin. Its in and around the towns of Baraboo, Dodgeville, Mineral Point and Spring Green.
And take an hour or two to hike in Devil's Lake State Park just south of Baraboo, which often has good fall color this weekend.
Last updated on September 16, 2016
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter
Get our weekly stories, tips and updates delivered a day early directly to your Inbox. Wondering what you'll get? Take a look at our newsletter archive.