10 great ways to celebrate New Year's

You can put on a party hat or be festive in the forest.

In Chicago's theater district, the restored Ford Center/Oriental Theatre hosts touring shows.

View all images

If you want a good way to greet the new year, plan a great getaway.

The traditional plan is to look around for a party or show. Pretty much any big hotel will have a New Year’s celebration with party hats, loud music and cocktails.

But you also can hike by candlelight, ride an indoor Ferris wheel or watch a torchlight parade on a ski slope.

If you want to celebrate in a big city but you can't spend a lot of money, consider staying home on New Year's Eve and starting your getaway on New Year's Day. The more luxurious the hotel, the more the price will drop — often, by more than half.

With your savings, you can buy a fancy dinner and tickets for a touring Broadway show.

Here are other good ways to spend New Year's Eve (and Day).

Twin Cities by candlelight

If you rather be outdoors than inside, light up the night at one of three parks and an arboretum on New Year's Eve. They're canceled in 2020.

At the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers near the airport, Fort Snelling State Park usually offers a candlelight walk plus marshmallow roasting, free with vehicle permit. 

In the southern St. Paul suburb of Eagan, Lebanon Hills Regional Park usually holds a  New Year's Eve party with candlelight snowshoeing and ice skating plus sledding, s'mores and a ball drop. 

And in the southern Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, Wood Lake Nature Center  holds an annual Candlelight and Ice celebration on New Year's Eve, with luminary-lined trails, marshmallow-roasting and crafts and games.

Zoo critters in Chicago and Racine

There are lots of posh (and expensive) parties in Chicago, but an evening at the Lincoln Park Zoo, which already is decked out with 2.5 million lights, sounds like more fun and costs a lot less. 

The ZooLights display is up through Jan. 3. Reserve tickets in advance.

Or, just across the border in Wisconsin, take in the Wonderland of Lights display at the Racine Zoo, through Jan. 3.

Schussing and champagne

Many alpine-ski resorts plan New Year’s Eve festivities. 

On Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Blackjack Mountain holds a New Year's Eve Party with a torchlight parade and fireworks.

There will also be a torchlight parade and fireworks at Granite Peak in Wausau, Wis.

Holiday lights in Madison

Take the kids to the free Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Olin Park; it's open through Jan. 3.

New Year's in Chicago

Because Chicago has so many hotel rooms to fill, it's one of the few places where prices don't really go up for New Year's Eve (and there are good deals for New Year's Day). 

Normally, there's a big selection of touring Broadway shows, and a Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier, closed until spring 2021. It features more than 24 slides and carnival rides, including an indoor Ferris wheel, plus a climbing wall and indoor ice-skating rink. At midnight on New Year's Eve, there's a fireworks show.

Usually, there's also a big fireworks show at midnight along the Chicago River.

For more, see Chicago stories.

Big drops in Wisconsin and Michigan 

In the eastern Wisconsin town of Plymouth, near Sheboyan, there's a family-friendly Cheese Drop, with free cheese hors d'oeuvres, live music and a champagne toast. It's virtual this year.

In Sister Bay in Door County, there's a cherry drop, canceled in 2020.

Across Lake Michigan, there's a good old-fashioned ball drop in Ludington, canceled, and a cherry drop up the coast in Traverse City, virtual this year.

A quiet cottage

If you’re not wild about wild parties, rent a cabin or cottage and make your own party with a crackling fire and cocktails. There's usually plenty of availability, especially for Jan. 1-3. 

Every tourism web site lists vacation rentals, but Airbnb and VRBO makes it easy to see everything that's available; just plug in the dates you want.

For more, see Finding a cozy cabin and 20 perfect cabins.

State-park camper cabins and guesthouses in Minnesota state parks are very popular for New Year's Eve. 

New Year's Day in Door County

Door County has lots of rooms for the summer crowds, so you can always find a good inn or B&B for New Year's Eve. 

At noon, there's a Polar Bear Plunge in Jacksonport, canceled. Then run over to downtown Egg Harbor, where everyone is invited to march in the New Year's Day Parade at 1 p.m. 

For lodgings, see Where to stay in Door County.

First Day Hikes in four states

Across America, state parks are hosting First Day Hikes, with walks guided by naturalists and a festive atmosphere provided by bonfires and hot chocolates. If there's snow, many parks provide snowshoes.

On New Year's Day, there are usually naturalist-guided First Day Hikes (or snowshoe) in state parks in MinnesotaWisconsin and Iowa. This year, they're self-guided.

In Michigan, there will be virtual First Day Hikes on New Year's Day.


Similar Stories

  1. Great ways to celebrate Valentine's Day
    Feed romance in the forest, at an ice castle and, of course, in chocolate shops.
  2. 10 great ways to celebrate the Fourth of July
    You'll find parades, powwows, picnics, patriotic music and, always, fireworks.
  3. 15 great late-fall getaways
    It's the mellowest time of the year, when hotel rates drop with the leaves.
  4. Foot to the floor in Elkhart Lake
    In this eastern Wisconsin resort town, unleash your inner speed demon.
  5. The gift of fun
    Here are 10 presents that travelers can enjoy all year long.
  6. Wright in Mason City
    An Iowa town that embraced the famous architect has reopened his last hotel.
  7. 10 splurges in Door County
    If you've been pinching pennies, here are some fun ways to reward yourself.