Gas prices for the July 4th weekend are the highest they've been in six years.

Twin Cities drivers usually catch a break in June as seasonal spikes in prices often top out around Memorial Day and then taper off. But gas averaged $3.57 per gallon Wednesday morning — 15 to 20 cents higher than a year ago and 70 cents more than in December — thanks, in part, to the political uncertainty in Iraq.

And prices aren't likely to drop significantly any time soon, says the Minneapolis AAA.

The only good news is Minnesotans are paying less than drivers in surrounding states.

In Wisconsin, gas costs an average of about 12 cents more per gallon, according to AAA. On Wednesday, you could pay as little as $3.49 per gallon in West Lakeland Township, on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River. The price jumped to $3.65 in River Falls, Wis., according to petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan.

Gas prices were generally higher in Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, too.

Still, the higher prices at the pump aren't keeping Minnesotans from heading Up North, to the lake or to the cabin.

Gigi Hassani was packing up the kids and heading to Park Rapids on Wednesday.

"This is probably the one and only time we're leaving town, due to gas prices," Hassani, 36, said after filling up at the Holiday station near 50th and France in Minneapolis. "But what can you do? I need gas, so I guess I need to pay whatever the going rate is."

Jamie Christianson, Minneapolis AAA spokeswoman, said the job market and economy are making people more willing to spend what it takes to get away. "The employment outlook has improved and people are willing to take on more debt for a much-needed vacation."

'Look, I'm going Up North'

Hotel prices also have risen by about 15 percent nationwide since last Independence Day, according to AAA. Yet, 5 million more Americans are expected to travel this week than a year ago.

"Look, I'm going Up North no matter what it cost," said Mary Wade, 77, who drove her Ford Escape this week from Austin, Texas, to her hometown of Minneapolis. She plans to visit Lake Itasca this weekend, then Duluth and Lake Superior.

"I've already driven 1,150 miles just to get here," she said. "At this point, I'm not going to worry about gas prices."

Russell Bremner, 82, agreed as he filled the tank of his Lexus and headed from the Twin Cities to Ten Mile Lake, near Hackensack, in north-central Minnesota.

"I don't pay attention to it," he said of gas prices. "Now, if it was $4 a gallon, I don't know if I'd be in such a hurry. But it's not, and I'm looking forward to this trip."

The national average for a gallon of gas was $3.68 Wednesday — about five cents higher than a gallon in Duluth.

High gas prices this time of year are not new. Last July 16, the average gas price in the Twin Cities was $3.69 — the highest in the past 12 months, said DeHaan, one of the experts supporting the Internet site Twin Cities gas prices had dropped to a 12-month low of $2.87 on Dec. 16, DeHaan said.

But as you stare at the bumper in front of you, remember that other cities' motorists would gladly trade places. Not only are gas prices generally lower in the Twin Cities than elsewhere in the region, Minnesota ranks favorably nationally, with gas costing more in nearly two-thirds of the other states. Greenville, S.C., had the lowest price Wednesday — $3.29 per gallon. Honolulu and Santa Barbara, Calif., were highest, at $4.32.

Urging caution

This week historically has been one of the busiest — and deadliest — holiday weeks on state roads. Last year, there were 562 crashes and seven fatalities on Minnesota roads during the July 4th week. Fifty-nine deaths were reported over the past decade during Independence Day week, with 34 due to alcohol-related crashes, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Since 2004, Minnesota has seen 4,585 Independence Day week crashes, 200 serious injuries and 5,324 drunken-driving citations, according to the State Patrol. Only Thanksgiving, with its often icy conditions, has a comparable number of holiday crashes in Minnesota.

Work zones don't make the drive any easier — and several in the Twin Cities will have closed lanes even while work is suspended for the holiday. In the Twin Cities, southbound Hwy. 169 has been closed in Edina and Hwy. 41 between Chaska and Shakopee is closed due to flooding.

"You live with it," Pat Dillman, 60, of Minneapolis, said of rising gas prices and other obstacles. "If you gotta get out of town, you don't have much choice."