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

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.


Fourth weekend in March

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.

Dancers circle the maypole during Maifest in Amana.


Dancers circle the maypole during Maifest in the Amana Colonies.

Second weekend in April

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Fourth weekend in April

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.

Guitarists at a Mexican fiesta.

© Hoskovec Photo

Guitarists play at Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul.

First weekend in May

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.

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.

Second weekend in May

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.

Costumed folk dancers twirl during Tulip Time in Pella, Iowa

© Beth Gauper

In Pella, Iowa, the Tulip Time festival attracts more than 100,000 visitors.

Third weekend in May

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.

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

Last updated on May 1, 2014

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