Even if it looks like winter outside, you can count on maple trees to know otherwise.
In late February, their sap starts to run, and that's "the sweet good-bye of winter,'' writes naturalist John Burroughs.
Indigenous people were first to tap trees, inserting hollow reeds, letting the sap drip into troughs and boiling it down over a wood fire. The process isn't much different today, except most people use metal taps, plastic tubing and buckets to catch the sap.
It's still a lot of work; it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. But most people think real maple syrup is worth the effort.
In the awkward time between winter and spring, the promise of maple syrup also gives people a good reason to get outdoors and into the woods.
Festivals across the region offer tours of the sugarbush, nature walks and, often, music and games in addition to tapping tutorials and pancake breakfasts with syrup.
Here are some of the best events in 2021.
Maple Tree Sap Tapping for Amateurs and for Families at Riveredge Nature Center near Saukville, Wis. In two sessions on Feb. 27, learn how to tap a maple, collect and boil sap, and finish and bottle syrup.
Maple Tree Tapping at Carpenter Nature Center near Hastings, Minn., March 7-13. Reserve a time slot in advance.
Register in advance; many programs fill quickly.
Many festivals start early in the day. Costs generally are $5-$10, including breakfast. This year, most events require advance registration.
March 6-7, 13-14, 20-21 and 27-28, Sugar Shack Tours at Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Visit the Sugar Shack and learn how to make maple syrup.
March 6-8 and 13-15, Festival of the Sugar Maples at Coral Woods Conservation Area in Marengo, Ill. Hike out to the sugar shack and see how maple syrup is made, then sample. Register for a free time slot.
March 13, Maple Syrup Saturday at Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in Appleton, Wis. Go for a tour of the sugarbush and have a pancake breakfast.
March 20, Maple Fest at Red Oak Nature Center in Aurora, Ill. Naturalists take visitors into the forest to tap a maple, see how syrup is boiled and taste results.
March 20, Maple Syrup Festival at Wargo Nature Center in Lino Lakes, Minn. Learn how to make syrup, make maple crafts, go on a scavenger hunt and taste maple treats.
March 20, Maple Sugarin' Shindig at Riveredge Nature Center near Saukville, Wis. Learn how to tap a maple, watch demonstrations, enjoy music and games and visit the Sugarbush House.
March 20, Maple Syrup Festival at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Tap a tree, collect syrup, watch it boil and have a drive-through pancake breakfast.
March 20-21, Michigan Maple Weekend in southern Michigan. Visit sugar bushes to see how sap is harvested and made into syrup and candies.
March 20-21, Maple Syrup Weekend at Osprey Wilds Environmental Center (formerly Audubon Center of the North Woods) near Sandstone, Minn. Have a pancake brunch, learn how to tap maple trees and turn sap into syrup at this center just off Interstate 35 in eastern Minnesota. Register by March 18.
March 26, Maple Madness at Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary southeast of Spooner, Wis. At this program for schoolkids and their families, tap trees and make maple candy and a maple seed craft.
March 27, MapleFest at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, Minn. The arboretum in this southwest suburb of Minneapolis usually holds sugarbush tours and a breakfast, with admission included. This year, the breakfast is to-go, but there's a free on-line syrup-making course.
March 27, Maple Sugar Days in Franklin, Wis. At Wehr Nature Center near Milwaukee, visit an old-time sugaring camp, learn how to tap your own maple tree and boil sap, and go home with syrup and a craft kit for kids.
March 27-28, Michigan Maple Weekend in northern Michigan. Visit sugar bushes to see how sap is harvested and made into syrup and candies.
March 29, Maple Syruping in Duluth. In the University of Minnesota-Duluth's Bagley Nature Area, tap maples, collect sap and learn how to make your own syrup.
April 3-4, Michigan Maple Weekend in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Visit sugar bushes to see how sap is harvested and made into syrup and candies.
April 10, Maple Syrup Fest in Phelps, Wis. In the northeast corner of Wisconsin, tour the sugarbush, tap trees, make maple taffy in the snow and shop at an arts and crafts fair.
April 10, Maple Syrup Festival in Vergas, Minn. Tour the sugar house, eat pancakes and go on a 5K run.
April 18, Maple Fest at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp & Retreat Center in Lake Geneva, Wis. This historic camp on the lake usually offers a pancake breakfast, maple syrup tours, children's games and a craft fair. This year, it's an outdoor market.
April 24-25, Maple Syrup Festival in Vermontville, Mich. It's the 81st year for this festival southeast of Grand Rapids, which features music, games, an arts and crafts show and, usually, Friday fireworks and a grand parade.