In the Midwest, late summer days are spent at state parks, state fairs, and exploring hidden gems. Families savor their final lull before the back to school blitz and snap photos to add to the family den. While college students plan their final weekend getaways to Renansansive festivals, Instagram-worthy backdrops and outdoor concerts. However different the travel plans may be — one thing remains the same: all of us slip away to soak up the last moments of summer.
Minnesota: Scenic byways, state fairs and lake days
From “The Great Minnesota Get-Together” to silent retreats into nature’s wonders, many people discover new favorite places and events this month. Consider scheduling time to do these five activities that locals love.
1. Drive the Great River Road
Spanning 565 miles, 43 communities, 20 counties, three tribes and six unique destination areas, providing public access to and promoting exploration of America's Great River. Travel the southern portion of the Great River Road from the Twin Cities to Winona to discover charming small towns, picturesque state parks and undiscovered gems along the Mississippi River route. Hike the Barn Bluff overlook in Red Wing, Lake City, or get up-close and personal with bald eagles in Wabasha or experience the Bard at The Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona.
2. Experience a 'sea of prairie grasses'
Put Blue Mounds State Park on the calendar for unforgettable prairie backdrops including the Sioux quartzite cliff, rising 100 feet from the plains and roaming bison herd. Adventurous groups can sign up for the grazing bison tour. (Groups looking for a more mild animal to admire can opt for prairie birdwatching.)
3. Revel at the majestic Winnewissa waterfall
Travel to Pipestone National Monument (near Pipestone) to learn about the American Indian tradition of quarrying pipestone to make into sacred pipes. This practice is still active today, making it the only site in the National Park System where resources can be removed from the grounds.
4. See a starry night at Voyageurs National Park
Located in north-central Minnesota and straddling the Canadian border, this is our nation’s only 218,000-acre freshwater-based national park. While the interior of this unique national park is accessible only by water for much of the year, visitors have a variety of watercraft options to explore Voyageurs' four large lakes, the Ash River, 26 smaller interior lakes, vast numbers of secluded bays, hundreds of islands and more than 650 miles of beautiful shoreline.
5. Fish at the Walleye Capital of the World
The Northwest Angle and Lake of the Woods. The NW Angle is the northernmost point in the continental U.S. and one of our nation’s geographic oddities. This breathtaking lake is over 317,000 acres of active fishing water. The fishery here is self-sustaining and healthy. Not into fishing? It's worth a visit for the sandy beaches or panoramic water and forest views by day or the Milky Way scenes by night.
If you've spent your early summer outside and you're ready for the vivacious energy of crowds, food, fun, and entertainment, then put these three events on your calendar.
1. WE Fest
Thursday, Aug. 1-Sunday, Aug. 4
Detroit Lakes, Minn.
At the beautiful Soo Pass Ranch, the largest country music festival in the U.S. brings together Grammy winners like Keith Urban and LeAnn Rimes with country music icons Brooks and Dunn. With two stages, attendees can catch their favorites and discover new artists. See a full schedule of music acts at wefest.com/lineup. The weekend is filled with music camaraderie as many attendees choose to camp at one of the grounds for the whole weekend — whether you are interested in more of the low-key VIP, family-friendly grounds to more of the lively Viking or Oatfield grounds for young adults. If camping isn't your thing, purchase a one-day ticket and stay a hotel or Airbnb in a nearby town like Detroit Lakes or Pelican Rapids.
Tickets: Weekend or single-day general admission starts at $110 while Reserved seating starts at $250 for the weekend. If camping additional tickets will need to be reserved at $120 or $300 for a VIP space.
Find more information at wefest.com.
2. Minnesota State Fair
Thursday, Aug. 22-Monday, Sept. 2
One of the largest state fairs in the nation, this 12 days of fun feature concerts from acts like Hootie and The Blowfish. Dirks Bentley, Trace Adkins and Clint Black. New to the fair this year are foods like the Carnitas Taco Cone, Breakfast Potato Skin and Blueberry Key Lime Pie. Families can check out the new "Angry Birds Universe" in the North End Event Center. This exhibition gives fair fans of all ages the chance to explore art and science concepts through unique, hands-on interactive experiences.
Tickets: Pre-fair discount admission tickets are just $12 and are valid for any age guest (age 5 and up) on any day of the fair. Children ages 4 and under are always free. Pre-fair admission tickets are available online now through Aug. 21 at mnstatefair.org/tickets/admission-tickets. Regular admission prices range from $13 for kids and senior citizens to $15 for adults.
3. Minnesota Renaissance Festival
Aug. 17-Sept. 29 (All day on Friday and Saturdays)
In its 49th season, this Renaissance Festival has grown to be largest in the United States with an annual attendance of more than 300,000 people. Experience authentic food, art, and reenactments from the renaissance. Don't miss a local favorite of the Bold North Vikings Invasion weekend — Aug 17-18 —featuring a longbow competition, Uff Da Hot Dish Eating Contest, and a tattoo competition.
Tickets: Gate admission range between $15.95 for children to $24.95 for adults. Seniors receive a discount for $22.95 for one-day tickets. Slight discounts are available when purchasing advanced tickets online or opting for a two-day adult pass for $38.95 at the gate. Purchase tickets online at renaissancefest.com/ticket-outlets/buy-tickets-2.
Find more information at renaissancefest.com.
When visiting any of these places or attractions, travelers can visit exploreminnesota.com to discover places to go, stay, eat and more, in addition to following Explore Minnesota and use the statewide travel hashtag #OnlyinMN on social media.
North Dakota: Legendary views and musical memories
Before the hectic fall schedules begin, many people travel to North Dakota’s national parks or take leisurely strolls in diverse communities at their annual fairs and events.
“Today’s travelers and trailblazers find inspiration in the legends of the past, the diverse landscape, endless outdoor experiences and the vibrant, diverse communities across North Dakota,” says Kim Schmidt, North Dakota Tourism's Division communications manager.
Consider opting outside to these unforgettable spots.
1. Discover woodlands along the Pembina Gorge
In the Rendezvous Region of Walhalla, this gorge encompasses one of the largest uninterrupted blocks of woodlands in North Dakota of approximately 12,500 acres and the longest segment of an unaltered river valley in the state. Hike the various trails to discover rare plant and animal species.
2. Sit in the International Peace Garden
This garden is both inspirational and memorial featuring sweeping views across formal gardens to distant lakes and forested hills. But visiting the Garden involves a border crossing into Canada. The Peace Garden advises in its publicity to bring with you a passport or government-issued ID with a copy of birth certificate. Minors should have a birth certificate. Lodging is available in Bottineau, Dunseith, Rugby and Rolla. Best make reservations; the area can be crowded on summer weekends. The Garden itself has camping, but no motels.
3. Hike the Wind Canyon Trail
Visit his popular trail within Theodore Roosevelt National Park to experience the natural beauty of North Dakota. This short, relatively flat trail offers great views of the Little Missouri River. Keep a lookout, you may see wild horses or bison.
4. Bike the Maah Daah Hey trail
This epic 144-mile nonmotorized, single-track trail starts at the United States Forest Service’s Burning Coal Vein Campground 30 miles south of Medora and ends at the CCC campground 16 miles south of Watford City. The route is filled with the majesty of the Badlands and "Old West" establishments to relax with a cold drink after a long day on the trail.
5. Find a sunflower field
Sunflower fields are in their prime in August and also provide the perfect backdrop for photos. Usually, you won't have to go far to find a field but they are never in the same place twice. Growers rotate crops as a way to manage and maintain soil health and fertility. What is a wheat field this year, may be a sunflower field next year. Although, a short drive on a gravel road will often result in finding a field in full bloom.
While North Dakota may have the reputation of quiet and quaint towns, vibrant annual celebrations often bring large crowds and unique attractions. Put these three events on your calendar for family fun.
1. Medora Musical
Various dates through Sept. 7
Every year, the Medora Musical is "the rootin'-tootinest, boot-scootinest show in all the Midwest." This year see the hilarious "Todd Oliver and His Talking Dog Irving" or the lively "Carl & Greta's Cowboy Sing-Along." Date and times vary.
Tickets: Adults pay up to $15 while students, ages 7 to 17 will pay $7. Although prices do vary depending on the show and time.
Find more information at medora.com/do/entertainment/medora-musical.
2. Capital A’Fair
Saturday, Aug. 3 – Sunday, Aug. 4
One of the area's largest summer art fairs held on the Capitol Mall features more than 130 artisans from across the country. Music, great food and performing groups contribute to its festive mood.
Tickets: Admission is free but bring cash to purchase delicious food and unique art.
Find more information at bismarck-art.org.
3. Downtown Street Fair
Friday, Aug. 23 – Saturday, Aug. 24
The Fourth Annual Downtown Street Fair features artists, musicians, entertainers, kids games, and food vendors lining the streets of downtown. End each night with a special event like the Hugo's Concert Series featuring Eric Paslay at 8 p.m, on Aug. 24.
Tickets: Admission is free, but be ready to treat yourself to fair food or start your Christmas shopping earlier at the variety of vendor booths.