Northern Exposure: Some Wisconsin festivals, attractions to discover

1) Milwaukee Irish Fest, (Milwaukee, Aug. 14-17, Henry W. Maier Festival Park; irishfest.com): One of the largest Irish festivals in the country with 20 stages/areas for live entertainment (more than 100 acts), as well as a marketplace, dancing pavilion, red hair and freckles contest, food, dancing, shopping. The lakefront fest also features a Scotland Music Showcase, celebrating all things bagpipes, ballads and more.

2) Indian Summer Festival (Sept. 5-7, Henry W. Maier Festival Park; indiansummer.org): Wisconsin’s largest American Indian Festival, this year’s Horse Nation Celebration showcases American Indian ponies and horses, traditional villages from the Menominee, Oneida and Ojibwelive tribes, live entertainment, music, Contest Pow Wow, Olympic amateur boxing, lacrosse, Native American arts & crafts, and kids’ activities.

3) Mexican Fiesta (Milwaukee, Aug. 22-24, Henry W. Maier Festival Park; mexicanfiesta.org ): The annual festival celebrates the sounds, culture, and taste of Mexico. Food, Mariachi, dancing, arts & crafts, kids’ activities, Aztec ceremony and more.

4) Green County Cheese Days, (Monroe, Sept. 19-21; cheesedays.com): This year marks the 100th anniversary of the festival, which celebrates cheesemaking, dairy farming and Swiss cultural traditions. Since 1846, Swiss immigrants and local have been churning out wedges, blocks and wheels of American, Limburger and Swiss cheeses, with more than 50 varieties for purchase/sampling during the festival. Also on tap: old time copper kettle cheesemaking demonstrations, cheese carving, cheese pairings, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, deep-fried cheese curds, cheesecake on a stick, and Limburger “sliders,” a cow milking contest, parade, kids activities, live entertainment on three stages (including traditional Swiss alphorns) and yodelling.

5) Wisconsin State Fair (Through Aug. 10, West Allis/Milwaukee; wistatefair.com): If you’ve never been to the Wisconsin State Fair, it’s a classic. There are 30 stages with live entertainment every day, plus pig races, carnival rides, 700 merchants, milking demonstrations, more than 200 food vendors (Anybody for deep-fried chocolate chip cookie bites?), culinary competitions, educational program showcases and more. And of course, it’s an agricultural showcase first, so be sure to visit all the different barns where you can get up-close to a variety of farm animals.

6) National Mustard Day (Aug. 2 , Parmenter and Hubbard streets, Middleton; mustardmuseum.com): Even if you’ve visited the museum before, this 24th annual celebration of the “Super Condiment” is worth checking out. More than 6,000 varieties of mustard are showcased along with live muic, “Mustard Games,” food, the Dane County Farmer’s Market are also part of the fun.

7) Lake Geneva Venetian Festival, (Aug. 13-17, Library Park, Lake Geneva; www.lakegenevajaycees.org): Sponsored by the Lake Geneva Jaycees since 1962, the five-day festival features a boat parade, water ski show, fireworks display, carnival, live entertainment, craft fair and a fireworks show at 9 p.m. Aug. 17 on Geneva Bay.

8) Cedarburg Wine and Harvest Festival, (Sept. 20-21, Cedarburg; cedarburgfestivals.org): The historic and quaint Cedar Creek Settlement lined with antique stores, coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques hosts its 42nd annual fest filled wtih live music, arts & crafts, foo courts, grape stomping, a “giant pumpkin” weigh-off competition, scarecrow contest, farmers market, and tours of the Cedar Creek Winery.

9) The NEW Zoo Adventure Park(Brown County Reforestation Camp land, Green Bay; newzoo.org): Located adjacent to the NEW Zoo, this new adventure park features dual “racing” zip lines (you can reach speeds of 35-40 mph!), the Aerial Adventure Course (16 different challenges) and the Climbing Tower (3-sided, 40-foot tower). You can add to the family fun by visiting the zoo as well, home to 90 different species of animals (more than 200 creatures in all) in a variety of habitats. Open seven days a week, 365 days a year.

10) House on the Rock(Dodgeville; thehouseontherock.com): We’d be remiss if we didn’t remind folks of this natural wonder. Opened in 1959, this complex of gardens, rooms, houses designed by Alex Jordan Jr. is open through mid-November each year. A sprawling twist of forested trails and waterfalls, the world’s largest carousel, thousands of antiques add to the allure. The 218-foot long “Infinity Room” (which extends unsupported more than 156 feet above the valley below) is perhaps the most breathtaking part of the estate.

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