MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Great spring festivals

It's a good time to indulge in brews, birding and blooms.

Three prairie chickens courting.

Beth Gauper

Watching prairie-chicken courtship from blinds is the highlight of the Prairie Chicken Festival in central Wisconsin.

In the Upper Midwest, it's hard to know when spring starts.

On St. Patrick's Day, revelers may parade in sun or sleet; you have to be prepared for both. In the north woods, ski slopes hold spring luaus, carnivals and egg hunts, and skiers had better slather on the sun block or they'll burn.

March is the month for expos — antiques, autos, gardens, golf, pets and sports — and for tastings of beer, wine and cheese. Birding festivals start in April, and in May the flowers start popping out and festival season starts in earnest.

Here are the best festivals for spring 2014.

For more on birding festivals, see Birding in spring.

For maple-syrup festivals, see Sugarbush safari.

For ethnic festivals, see Celebrating roots.

For beer festivals, see Best brew fests.

For events year-round, see the Events Calendar.

Second weekend of March

International Festival of Owls in Houston, MN This southeast Minnesota town offers owl prowls, hooting contests, pellet dissection, live-owl programs and children's activities. March 7–9.

Canoecopia in Madison, WI It's the world's largest paddlesports expo, according to host Rutabaga, with dozens of demonstrations, workshops and presentations plus discounts on boats and gear. Bike-O-Rama, with discounts on bicycles and gear, is next door. At Alliant Energy Center. March 7–9.

Mush for a Cure in Gunflint Trail, MN This event begins with a "sourdough start'' -- mushers wait inside sleeping bags for a shotgun blast, then race to put on boots and hook up teams for a fun run. Everyone wears pink, including the dogs, and a party follows. There are also human sled-dog races, sky lanterns and skijoring. March 7–8.

Balloon Rally & Snowshoe Championships in Cable, WI Hot-air balloonists give rides for charity, weather permitting, and athletes compete in the Braveheart Midwest Snowshoe Racing Championships. There's a balloon glow in the evening. Hosted by Lakewoods Resort. March 7–9.

Artigras in Green Bay, WI This fine arts festival in Shopko Hall includes artist demonstrations, children's activities, dance, jazz and classical music. March 8–9.

Celtic Fest in Moorhead, MN This free festival at the Hjemkomst Center includes two entertainment stages, heritage programs, arts and crafts, interactive booths and Celtic food and treats. March 8.

Winter Powwow in West Allis, WI This traditional powwow with drumming, singing and food is the winter version of Indian Summer Festival. At Wisconsin State Fair Park. Grand entries are 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. March 8–9.

Tour Duluth in Duluth, MN A free tour of Duluth's excellent cross-country trails for skiers of ages and abilities, hosted by the Duluth XC Ski Club. A potluck follows. March 8.

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi. March 8–9.

Trolls wave in Westby's Syttende Mai parade.

Beth Gauper

Trolls wave in Westby's Syttende Mai parade.

Third weekend in March

In traditionally Irish St. Paul, the annual noon parade runs along Fourth Street to Rice Park on March 17; the parade in Madison is at 1:30 p.m. March 16 and runs from Capitol Square.

In Milwaukee, the big St. Pat's parade starts at noon March 15, starting at Third and Wisconsin downtown and followed by music, dancing and pipes and drums at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center.

In Chicago, they really do dye the river green. Watch the dye job at 10 p.m. from the Michigan Avenue or Columbus Drive bridges, then watch the noon St. Pat's Day parade through Grant Park.

In Wisconsin, there are also parades in Prairie du Chien, Racine and Sturgeon Bay and in Plymouth, River Falls and the usually Swiss capital of Monroe.

In Minnesota, there are parades in Crosslake and St. Peter.

For more, see Toasting St. Pat.

Ghost Ships Festival in Milwaukee, WI This trade show, at the Crowne Plaza Milwaukee Airport Hotel, is devoted to Great Lakes maritime history and scuba diving. The exhibit hall is free and open to the public. March 14–15.

St. Patrick's Day parade in Manitowoc, WI The parade in this Lake Michigan port town begins at 6:30 p.m. and features St. Patrick himself. Fireworks follow. March 14.

St. Patrick's Day parade in Milwaukee, WI The big parade starts at noon, starting at Third and Wisconsin downtown and followed by music, dancing and pipes and drums at the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center. March 15.

St. Patrick's Day Parade in Chicago, IL In Chicago, they really do dye the river green. Watch the dye job at 10 a.m. from the Michigan Avenue or Columbus Drive bridges, then watch the noon parade through Grant Park. March 15.

St. Patrick's Day Festival in Emmetsburg, IA In northwest Iowa, this is the state's Irish capital, and it celebrates with many festivities, including a parade at 1:30 p.m. March 15.

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi. March 15–16.

St. Patrick's Day parade in Madison, WI The parade is at 1:30 p.m. and runs from Capitol Square. March 16.

St. Patrick's Day parade in St. Paul, MN In this traditionally Irish city, the noon parade runs along Fourth Street to Rice Park. March 17.

St. Patrick's Day Parade and Irish Fest in New London, WI This town west of Appleton becomes "New Dublin'' for the week, with festivities that include a big Grand Parade at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed with Irish music, food and marketplace under a heated big-top tent. March 17–22.

 

Fourth weekend in March

St. Patrick's Day Parade and Irish Fest in New London, WI This town west of Appleton becomes "New Dublin'' for the week, with festivities that include a big Grand Parade at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed with Irish music, food and marketplace under a heated big-top tent. March 17–22.

Celebrate Easter in Cambridge, WI This town between Madison and Milwaukee holds an Easter Bonnet parade at 10:15, followed by an Easter egg hunt. March 22.

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi. March 22–23.

Fifth weekend in March

Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, IA Dozens of musicians, artists and writers perform and read at downtown venues. On Friday evening, there's a literature crawl. April 1–6.

First weekend in April

Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, IA Dozens of musicians, artists and writers perform and read at downtown venues. On Friday evening, there's a literature crawl. April 1–6.

Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, WI See 150 independent films from Wisconsin and around the world in seven theaters in and around State Street. April 3–10.

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN More than 200 films from 70 countries are shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre on the Minneapolis riverfront. April 3–19.

Roots and Bluegrass Festival in River Falls, WI Hear music at half a dozen venues in the downtown of this western Wisconsin college town. April 4–6.

Maple Syrup Festival in Poynette, WI The MacKenzie Environmental Center, between the Wisconsin Dells and Madison, offers a pancake breakfast, guided tours of the sugarbush, demonstrations of tapping and syrup-making, intrepretive talks about how Indians and pioneers made syrup, old-time music and horse-drawn wagon rides. April 5.

A Viking ship float in Spring Grove.

Torsten Muller

A Viking ship is part of the Syttende Mai parade in Spring Grove, Minn.

Second weekend in April

Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison, WI See 150 independent films from Wisconsin and around the world in seven theaters in and around State Street. April 3–10.

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN More than 200 films from 70 countries are shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre on the Minneapolis riverfront. April 3–19.

U.S. Grant's Birthday Celebration in Galena, IL There's a lamplight tour of Grant's home with Gen. and Mrs. Grant, strolling Civil War reenactors, a Confederate kidnapper trial and a pie auction. April 11–13.

Ibsen Festival in Lanesboro, MN Festivities in this southeast Minnesota hamlet revolve around Commonweal Theatre and its world premiere of an adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher of Ibsen's "Brand.'' There will be Scandinavian food, art, film, music and walking tours. April 11–13.

Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, WI There's a Friday-night rodeo, blacksmith championships, stagecoach rides, Texas trick riders, music and performances, including the Wisconsin Mounted Police Team. At Alliant Energy Center. April 11–13.

Prairie Chicken Festival in Wisconsin Rapids, WI There's pre-dawn viewing of prairie-chicken courtship from blinds, bird-banding, guided birding tours and a Boomin' Brewery Bash. April 11–13.

Dairy State Cheese & Beer Festival in Kenosha, WI A celebration of cheese and microbrews at the Brat Stop. April 12.

Brew & Vine Festival in Tinley Park, IL There's beer, wine and food tasting at the Convention Center in this south Chicago suburb. April 12.

Soldier Field Spring Egg-Stravaganza in Chicago, IL The stadium opens at 9 a.m., and the candy grab for kids 10 and under is at 10 a.m. There also will be face painting, balloon artists and inflatables. April 12.

World War I Encampment in Rockford, IL A living-history encampment at Midway Village, with reenactors portraying soldiers from the United States, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. April 12–13.

Behind the Arts Studio Tour in Racine and Kenosha, WI On Sunday, visit more than 75 artists at 45 studios in Racine and Kenosha. On Saturday evening, there's a free Preview Party in Kenosha. April 12–13.

Third weekend in April

Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in Minneapolis, MN More than 200 films from 70 countries are shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre on the Minneapolis riverfront. April 3–19.

Egg Day in Milwaukee, WI There will be crafts, face-painting, bubble art and treats at the Hop-to-it Bunny Hunt, plus a parade at the Milwaukee County Zoo. April 19.

Easter Egg Hunt in St. Paul, MN Children ages 2-7 can hunt for eggs on the lawn of the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue. Visitors can win prizes, get a small snack and look around the first floor of the mansion. Reserve in advance. April 19.

Victorian Easter Egg Roll in Shakopee, MN Make a basket, decorate a wooden egg and join a bunny hop relay or egg-and-spoon race at the Landing heritage park on the Minnesota River, in this southwest Minneapolis suburb. April 19.

Spring Egg Hunt in Bloomington, MN At Normandale Lake Park, there's a Fun Walk at 9:30 a.m., live music, a giant Easter Bunny and an 11 a.m. egg hunt with prizes for children up to 8 years old. April 19.

Earth Day Birding Festival in Hastings, MN This festival at Carpenter Nature Center includes bird-banding demonstrations, a raptor class and guided birding trips. Reservations are required. April 19.

Julien Dubuque Film Festival in Dubuque, IA See 70 films, including a 25th anniversary showing of "Field of Dreams'' and a silent-film showcase. Actress Abigail Breslin is appearing at the Thursday launch party, and there's a red-carpet awards show Saturday. April 23–27.

Dancers circle the maypole during Maifest in Amana.

Dancers circle the maypole during Maifest in the Amana Colonies.

Fourth weekend in April

Julien Dubuque Film Festival in Dubuque, IA See 70 films, including a 25th anniversary showing of "Field of Dreams'' and a silent-film showcase. Actress Abigail Breslin is appearing at the Thursday launch party, and there's a red-carpet awards show Saturday. April 23–27.

Mid West Music Fest in Winona, MN More than 75 musical groups in all genres play in museums, galleries, cafes and arts centers across town. There are arts workshops for children, too.   April 24–26.

Spring Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis, MN A spring kickoff for outdoor enthusiasts, with presentations on outdoor adventures and destinations and a gear sale and auction of used canoes and kayaks. April 25–27.

Minnesota Horse Expo in St. Paul, MN There's a parade of breeds daily at noon, free horse, pony and carriage rides and a rodeo Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon. At the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. April 25–27.

Bluff Country Studio Art Tour in Northeast IA/Southeast, MN Take a spring drive through southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa and visit artists in and around Winona, Lanesboro, Spring Grove and Harmony in Minnesota and Decorah in Iowa. April 25–27.

Art Attack in Harbor Country, MI The eight Lake Michigan towns between the Indiana border and Warren Dunes State Park offer gallery receptions, artist demonstrations, theater, music and wine tasting. April 25–27.

Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival in La Crosse, WI Sample beers from 20 to 25 breweries. Tickets go on sale March 14. It's 2-6 p.m. at the Oktoberfest grounds. April 26.

Taylor County Maple Fest in Medford, WI This festival at the fairgrounds features maple syrup in a breakfast, a baking contest, a cooking demonstration and crafts plus music, children's activities and door prizes. April 26.

Homegrown Music Festival in Duluth, MN More than 100 musical acts will perform in venues around the Twin Ports, plus film, visual arts and beer. April 27–May 4.

A reveler at Milwaukee's St. Pat's Day parade.

Donald S. Abrams

Milwaukee's big St. Patrick's Day parade draws revelers from around the region.

First weekend in May

Homegrown Music Festival in Duluth, MN More than 100 musical acts will perform in venues around the Twin Ports, plus film, visual arts and beer. April 27–May 4.

Festival of Nations in St. Paul, MN Food, music, crafts and dance from 90 different ethnic groups at the downtown RiverCentre. May 1–4.

Pella Tulip Time in Pella, IA This big Dutch heritage fest features daily historical tours, a craft market and afternoon and evening parades. May 1–3.

100-Mile Garage Sale in Lake Pepin, It's a good excuse to make the scenic, 70-mile drive around this wide spot in the Mississippi (the sales extend south to Winona). May 1–4.

Dutch Days Festival in Fulton, IL This Mississippi town, across from Clinton, Iowa, celebrates its heritage with Dutch dancing, windmill tours, street scrubbing and a 3 p.m. Saturday parade. May 2–3.

Cinco de Mayo in Chicago, IL In the Little Village neighborhood, there's nonstop music plus arts, food and family activities. At noon on Sunday, a parade starts at the intersection of Cermak Road and Wood Street, near the National Museum of Mexican Art. May 2–4.

Kids & Kites Festival in Chicago, IL This festival at Montrose Harbor in Lincoln Park includes free kite kits for kids, games and a candy drop from kites. May 3.

Tulip Time in Holland, MI More than 6 million tulips bloom during this festival, which features a Dutch market, dancers, trolley tours, big-name performers and three parades, ending with the Muziekparade, with 40 bands and 40 floats, at 2 p.m. May 10. May 3–10.

Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul, MN This fiesta on the West Side (just south of downtown) features a parade, low-rider car show and lots of food, music and dancing. May 3.

Maifest in Amana, IA There's a lot going on in this former communal society in eastern Iowa — a 10 a.m. Saturday parade, polka music, keg-tapping, food-sampling, artisan demonstrations and pony rides. May 3–4.

Mayfest & Polish Fest in Chicago, IL This fest at the Copernicus Center celebrates Polish Constitution Day and features polka dancing, a pierogi-eating contest, music on two stages and a kids' stage with magic and games. May 3.

May Day Parade and Festival in Minneapolis, MN This earthy, lighthearted Sunday-afternoon event in south Minneapolis' Powderhorn Park features the giant puppets of Heart of the Beast Theatre and a people's parade to the park.   May 4.

Second weekend in May

Tulip Time in Holland, MI More than 6 million tulips bloom during this festival, which features a Dutch market, dancers, trolley tours, big-name performers and three parades, ending with the Muziekparade, with 40 bands and 40 floats, at 2 p.m. May 10. May 3–10.

Spring Festival & Folk Fest in Gays Mills, WI This Kickapoo Valley village in southwest Wisconsin offers a rodeo and Maypole dancing and crown-making, a ceili dance, fiddle bee and Saturday-night concert. May 9–11.

Mushroom Festival in Mesick, MI This northwest Michigan town is morel central in May, celebrating the spring hunt with a carnival, carriage rides, flea market, duck races and a parade at noon Saturday. May 9–11.

Horicon Marsh Bird Festival in Horicon, WI This large festival in east-central Wisconsin is around a large marsh often called the Everglades of the North. There are bird hikes, bird-banding demonstrations, pontoon-boat tours, canoe and kayak tours, bus tours and a round-the-clock Big Sit, in which participants try to identify as many birds as possible. Register early for field trips. May 9–12.

Guitarists at a Mexican fiesta.

Hoskovec Photo

Guitarists play at Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul.

Third weekend in May

Tulip Festival in Orange City, IA The festival in this Dutch town in northwest Iowa draws 100,000 with dance, music, street scrubbing and parades at 2:15 and 6 p.m. daily. May 15–17.

Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes, MN This festival in northwest Minnesota is near the convergence of prairie with northern pine forest and eastern hardwood forest. Space in field trips to local refuges fills quickly. May 15–18.

Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival in Ashland, WI Based out of the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center, activities include bird-banding, hikes and expeditions, hatchery tours and kayaking tours of estuaries. May 15–17.

MorelFest in Boyne City, MI This town on the east end of Lake Charlevoix is all about morels in May, with a guided mushroom hunt, a competition with prizes, drawings for free morels and The Taste of Morels, with morsels provided by local restaurants. May 15–18.

Syttende Mai in Stoughton, WI The festival in this town south of Madison, which celebrates Norwegian constitution day, is the largest in North America and probably the world. The big Norwegian parade is at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. May 16–18.

Syttende Mai in Westby, WI This Norwegian town, southeast of La Crosse, holds a bicycle tour, troll hunt, rommegrot-eating contest, old-time music, children's tractor pull and a big parade at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. May 16–18.

Art-A-Whirl Studio and Gallery Tour in Minneapolis, MN More than 500 artists take part in this tour of 60 locations in the northeast Minneapolis arts district.   May 16–18.

DubuqueFest in Dubuque, IA This downtown arts festival includes dance, music on two stages, storytelling, food, children's activities and an Old House Enthusiast's Old Home Tour. May 16–18.

Great Lakes Kite Festival in Grand Haven, MI On the Lake Michigan beach at Grand Haven State Park, watch kite ballets, kiteboarding demonstrations and kites as big as school buses. There's also an inflatable obstacle course for kids. May 16–18.

Syttende Mai in Spring Grove, MN In Minnesota, Norwegians settled first in this town in bluff country. There's Norwegian food, music and dance, and a big parade at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. May 16–17.

Morel Mushroom Festival in Muscoda, WI This town along the Wisconsin River calls itself the Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin. There's a parade at 2 p.m. Sunday, plus a car show, fireworks, helicopter rides, a chainsaw-carving show and microbrew tasting. May 17–18.

Stand Still Parade in Whalan, MN In this village on the Root River State Trail, just east of Lanesboro, it's the spectators who do the parading. There's music, food and games. May 17.

Norwegian Constitution Day Parade in Park Ridge, IL Syttende Mai festivities in this near-west suburb of Chicago start in Hodges Park at noon, with the parade starting at 1 p.m. at Talcott and Cumberland streets. May 18.

For events from Memorial Day weekend on, see Great summer festivals.



Last updated on May 1, 2014
sign up for our free newsletter

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.