Great ways to celebrate Valentine's Day

Feed romance in the forest, at an ice castle and, of course, in chocolate shops.

In the west suburbs of Minneapolis, Elm Creek Park Reserve has multiple lanes for tubing.

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Valentine's Day is on a Sunday this year, so at the end of the work week, you ought to be ready to treat your swain or sweetheart to something fun.

It doesn't have to be an expensive dinner by candlelight with a fancy box of artisan chocolates . . . it could also be a hike by lantern or candlelight, with s'mores made over a fire. 

Romance isn't what you buy; it's what you bring with you.

Here are some great and not particularly expensive ways to celebrate Valentine's Day.

Eat some chocolate

Researchers have found that eating chocolate is almost as good as being in love . . . or something like that.

In the historic northwest Illinois town of Galena, go on a Chocolate Lovers Stroll along Main Street on Feb. 13.

 In Appleton, Wis., Death by Chocolate is a progressive tasting along College Avenue; this year, you'll get your chocolate in a To-Go box.

Appleton is part of what the New York Times calls the "Wisconsin Candy Delta.'' It's mapped out a tour of chocolate shops in the east-central Wisconsin towns of Appleton, Oshkosh, Green Bay, De Pere and Manitowoc, near or on Lake Michigan.

That's a lot of driving, so you could also take a self-guided tour of the chocolateries of Madison.

Candlelight in the forest

Nothing is more romantic than a stroll or glide through a forest by the light of luminaries. There's always a bonfire or fire pit, so score extra points by bringing a baggie of s'more ingredients.

There will be several places to do that over Valentine's Day weekend. On Friday, ski  at Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville, Wis.

On both Friday and Saturday, Prairieview Education Center in Crystal Lake, Ill., holds a candlelight event.

On Saturday, there's lantern-lit gliding in Tahquamenon Falls State Park near Newberry, Mich.

Visit a state park for free

Admission is free to Minnesota state parks on Feb. 13 and Michigan state parks Feb. 13-14. In Michigan, Feb. 13-14 also is Free Fishing Weekend.

Tear down a hill on a tube

Remember how much fun sledding was when you were a kid? You can still do that, except you'll have even more fun shooting down today's professionally groomed and graded tubing chutes. 

You don't even have to trudge back up the hill; there are conveyor lifts and magic carpets for that. 

Rates start at $8 for two hours, and nearly everyone can find a tubing hill nearby

If exhilaration isn't enough, add some atmosphere with an evening of glow tubing at Spirit Mountain in Duluth or The Rock Snowpark in Franklin, just south of Milwaukee.

Visit an ice castle

Professional ice artists have created a fantasy playground in Lake Geneva, Wis.

It's an LED-lit ice fantasia of stacked icicles, sculptures, tunnels, slides and even a spouting fountain. Tickets are cheapest when bought online.

Elsewhere, visit one of our favorite ice playgrounds, including the spectacular Eben Ice Caves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 

Book a cozy cabin

This is a classic idea, because there's nothing more romantic than canoodling in front of a crackling fireplace. 

The problem is, it may be hard to find a place at the last minute. You can always look for cancellations, but another option is reserving a cabin for next year, when Valentine's falls on a Sunday.

Pick one of our 20 perfect cabins or even a rustic camper cabin in the woods —there will be no heart-shaped whirlpool, but you'll have loads of privacy and atmosphere.

You can reserve them a year in advance in Michigan and Iowa and 120 days in advance in Minnesota. 

And for instruction in the Scandinavian concept of "cozy," head for Grand Marais, at the northeast tip of Minnesota. It's holding a Hygge Festival Feb. 5-14 in 2021, with snowshoe hikes and lodging specials.

Something to look forward to

If you wanted to buy a gift but didn't have time, just print out some tickets at home — perhaps to a food tour or a cooking class. After all, the way to the heart is through the stomach.

Consider a food tour in Chicago, or perhaps a cooking class or a class at one of the region's many folk schools

This could really pay off: Your sweetie could come home knowing how to make truffles, sushi or a killer tiramisu.

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