So many festivals, so little fall
Want to go on an autumn power trip? Here are the best places to be each weekend.
© Cedarburg CVB
In Cedarburg, paddlers race hollowed-out pumpkins across Cedar Creek.
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
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 day.
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.
First full weekend of September/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
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 I’d been gone three days. The best thing was that fall was just getting started.
© Beth Gauper
Kids climb on a hay castle at a fall festival.
Side trip: Two festivals are just west of Minneapolis on Lake Minnetonka: James J. Hill Days in Wayzata, known for its
dachshund races, and Apple Day in Excelsior
(Saturday only). Catch them both via a trip on the Steamboat
Second weekend of September/Lake Michigan from Grand Haven
Hang onto summer with a trip to the balmy shores of Lake Michigan. 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. If you want to keep going along the lake — and
the Circle Tour of Lake Michigan is one of our favorite trips — drive up to Traverse City for the Taste of Traverse City foodie fest.
Third weekend of September/Lake Michigan from Milwaukee
If you think accordions and beer steins say "fall,'' start your weekend 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.
Just west of Taylors Falls, stop by the Franconia Sculpture Park for the family-friendly Franconia Art & Music Festival. In town, Interstate State Park is offering a Pothole Exploration Tour Saturday and Sunday.
In Marine on St. Croix, it's Voyageur Encampment and Geocaching Weekend at William O'Brien State Park.
© Beth Gauper
In northern Illinois, St. Charles holds Scarecrow Fest.
Farther down the river, the village of Afton holds Afton Art in the Park. After that, head south to Afton State Park for a hike along the river. Along St. Croix Trail, 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.
And 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
Kids decorated pumpkins at Autumn Harvest Fest in the Dells.
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. It’s 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.
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