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15 Best Family Vacations in the Midwest

The Midwest is comprised of states like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. This region doesn’t often rank at the top of most travelers’ lists when thinking about exciting places to take a trip with the family, but it’s time to think again. In the middle of the good ole United States resides historic towns, picturesque beaches, and exciting adventures, from zip lining to thrill rides—even a certain mall named after the country resides here. So if you’ve had enough of the same getaways, pack your bags and set out for these top family destinations in the Midwest.

Chicago, Illinois The Bean in Millenium Park
Credit: The Bean in Millenium Park by © Lisa Mckown | Dreamstime.com

Chicago, Illinois

There are lots of things for families to do in Chicago, from visiting Shedd Aquarium and the Lincoln Park Zoo to catching a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and taking a spin on the Centennial Wheel at the Navy Pier. You’d have to spend a significant amount of time to do it all in this city where you’re unlikely to ever hear the kids say they’re bored. Looking for a free activity? Maggie Daley Park is one of the best in the country. The 20-acre park enjoys a spectacular backdrop of the city’s skyscrapers near Lake Michigan and includes a playground with unique slides, climbing towers, saucer swings, mini-golf, and more.

Indianapolis, Indiana Indianapolis, Indiana
Credit: Indianapolis, Indiana by © Sean Pavone | Dreamstime.com

Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis is famous for its speedway that hosts the Indianapolis 500, but this city offers a lot more than racing. It’s home to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – the world’s largest children’s museum, covering an astounding 500,000 square feet with something for everyone in the family. The interactive exhibits are focused on the physical and natural sciences, world cultures, history, and art. Plus, there are rare dinosaur fossils, and you can even find out what it would be like to work and live in space. A new 7.5-acre outdoor area encourages activity through various sports, including pedal car racing, golf, soccer, baseball, hockey, and football. But that’s not all – other highlights include the Indianapolis Zoo, and White River State Park, a great place for riverside strolls and bike rides or boating.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park Resort
Credit: Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park Resort by Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park Resort

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

The “Waterpark Capital of the World,” Wisconsin Dells is a family favorite when it comes to vacations all year round. There are both indoor and outdoor parks here with lots of water slides. Wilderness Resort is the largest waterpark resort in the country with four outdoor and four indoor waterparks, golf, arcades, and more. The biggest indoor waterpark can be found at Kalahari, which includes a massive indoor theme park, escape, and virtual reality rooms. At Mt.Olympus, there are theme parks, waterparks, go-karts, batting cages, and more. River cruising along the steep, scenic bluffs is popular too.

Hocking Hills, Ohio Hocking Hills State Park
Credit: Hocking Hills State Park by bigstock.com

Hocking Hills, Ohio

Located in southeastern Ohio, the Hocking Hills region spans several towns and is renowned for its state parks, forests, nature preserves, waterfalls, gorges, caves, and sandstone cliffs. There are miles and miles of hiking trails for exploring it all, and the kids will love the chance to see caves like Man’s Cave with an interesting story about a hermit who once lived there. Ash Cave is a large cavern with a natural sandbox to play in and a waterfall. At Lake Logan, you can rent a paddle boat in the shape of a black swan or rubber duck to float around, and Hocking Hills Canopy Tours offers thrilling zipline rides.

Deadwood, South Dakota Deadwood, South Dakota
Credit: Deadwood, South Dakota by © Pierre Jean Durieu | Dreamstime.com

Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood is a fun place to relive the days of the Wild West, a destination many people are familiar with thanks to the HBO series with the same name. In the 1870s, thousands were drawn here with the hopes of striking it rich or making money off those who did. Wild Bill Hickok was one of them, famously shot in the back during a poker game in the summer of ’76. In 1989, legalized gambling returned, transforming the town into a popular destination for tourists with a wide range of attractions to explore. You can pan for gold, watch a shootout reenactment on Main Street, and tour the magnificent Mount Adams House, a Queen Anne-style mansion turned museum. After dark, enjoy all sorts of entertainment, including live music.

Kansas City, Missouri Kansas City, Missouri
Credit: Kansas City, Missouri by © Sean Pavone | Dreamstime.com

Kansas City, Missouri

One probably doesn’t typically envision spending a day of vacation touring barbecue restaurants, but you definitely should in Kansas City, as they are known for tender, tangy meats. The Original KC Barbecue Tour not only takes passengers to the best places to munch but hosts also toss in a bit of historic sightseeing. Kansas City is brimming with kid-friendly activities, from sea life displays to the LEGOLAND Discovery Center. Cool airplanes, steamboats, and history museums will let parents sneakily educate the kids while everyone is having a blast. But Kansas City is also known for its present and past musical scene, in addition to quite a few striking fountains.

Mackinac Island, Michigan Mackinac Island
Credit: Mackinac Island by © Michael Deemer | Dreamstime.com

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Sitting in the electric-hued waters of Lake Huron, Mackinac Island is pleasantly separated from the modern world. Refined inns and grand hotels are frozen in time, exuding the polished charm of the good old days. Cars are nowhere to be seen, so the family will have to get some fresh air by traveling via bike or on foot to get to the array of restaurants, from Italian chop houses, barbecue joints, and high-end dining to simple cafes. Military history is strongly present, so a day of educational exploration is an option. But any scenery tour, whether by kayak, paddleboard, or on foot, will allow visitors to witness stunning rock formations, wildlife, caves, and lighthouses. But above all else, you have to try the impressive selection of fudge at places like Sanders Candies, which also sells killer fudge ice cream.

Keystone, South Dakota Mount Rushmore, Keystone
Credit: Mount Rushmore, Keystone by bigstock.com

Keystone, South Dakota

Located within the natural scenery of the Black Hills, Keystone is home to one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States – Mount Rushmore. With Rapid City within the area, there’s an abundance of hotels and things to do. Zipline through the woods, embark on a four-hour gold panning tour along the river, explore the extensive mining history, or navigate caves and fly down a gravity-driven coaster at Rush Mountain Adventure Park. While there’s no shortage of lodging, finding a peaceful rental cabin might be the most relaxing option for the family.

Branson, Missouri Branson, Missouri

Branson, Missouri

Home to rolling mountains accented with lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, Branson offers plenty of family-friendly things to do. It’s the perfect escape for adventurous outdoor families who wants to fly 170 feet in the air on the Vigilante Extreme Ziprider, while also appealing to those who want to kick back. One day you could spend attending the numerous theaters offering acrobatic shows and Broadway musicals, then the next could be centered around museums that will highly intrigue the kids. One features toys from past generations to the present day, while the massive Titanic boat establishment houses millions of dollars of real artifacts from the wreckage. Then you have western fun at Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Silver Dollar City filled with rides, boutique shopping, and lodging like the Welk Resorts Branson Hotel with a lagoon-style indoor pool with a winding water slide.

Galena, Illinois Galena, Illinois
Credit: Galena, Illinois by Chuck Kime via Flickr

Galena, Illinois

Like diving into the past, Galena is focused on age-old buildings from the pre-civil war era and even was called home by our 18th president. Don’t be fooled, the modern day has been tied into this charming Midwest town set along the scenic hills, and aside from priceless museums and parks, there’s skiing, ghost tours, candy shops, and some pretty awesome popcorn and root beer. If someone can watch the kids, mom and dad can sneak away for winery and distillery tastings.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Credit: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore by © Mkopka | Dreamstime.com

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

Islands aren’t the first thing to come to mind when thinking of Wisconsin, but off the mainland, floating in Lake Superior are curious morsels of land. The edges of the state and the 21 islands comprise the national lakeshore area. Big Bay State Park is nestled in Madeline Island, where there are a few lodging options like Ferry Landing Suites, Island Inn, and Inn on Madeline Island. But across the ferry way are a cluster of places to stay on the mainland. Guests can hop onboard boat tours for a day of exploring rocky beaches, mysterious caves, and wildlife, which are all surrounded by pristine blue water. Hiking trails throughout the parks graze the shoreline and are both picturesque in the summer and winter.

Marquette, Michigan Aerial view of Historic Marquette harbor light house park in Michigan upper Peninsula
Credit: Aerial view of Historic Marquette harbor light house park in Michigan upper Peninsula by © Snehitdesign - Dreamstime.com

Marquette, Michigan

Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Marquette has a rich history and picturesque downtown, but the biggest draw is its scenery and outdoor adventure. There are many pretty lighthouses throughout the area, and it’s surrounded by 300 miles of forest, cascading waterfalls, and miles and miles of trails for hiking and biking. The Harlow Lake Recreational Area offers both with a postcard-perfect lake view. While it’s gorgeous year-round, it’s a popular Midwest destination in autumn with a blanket of vibrant gold, orange, and red hues.

Dubuque, Iowa Dubuque, Iowa
Credit: Dubuque, Iowa by Dirk DBQ via Flickr

Dubuque, Iowa

Located on the Mississippi River, Dubuque is a phenomenal spot for an outdoor vacation. The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium sits near the flowing waters and serves not only as an interesting place to see marine life but also as a place to learn about science and history via artifacts. Spend days traversing the scenic Riverwalk or delve simultaneously into nature and history at the Mines of Spain Recreation Area, where hiking trails lead to scenic overlooks. Botanical gardens, the mysterious Crystal Lake Cave, and various boat tours allow families to always have the opportunity to get outside in Dubuque. But on rainy days, visit the popcorn shop or one of the other cozy eateries. In the winter, Sundown Mountain becomes the perfect place to ski, with the versatility of terrain for all levels of expertise.

Omaha, Nebraska Omaha, Nebraska
Credit: Omaha, Nebraska by Visit Omaha

Omaha, Nebraska

In Omaha, families can enjoy many free activities like walking across Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge to stand in two states at one time, stroll around the Old Market, and visit the ArtWorks at Joslyn Art Museum. There are many other things to do that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, like the Durham Museum that once served as the city’s main train station. Kids can explore the restored train cars and enjoy a beverage from the old-fashioned soda fountain. Fontenelle Forest is a great place to hike or go ziplining, and the Omaha Children’s Museum is entertaining with its interactive science and art stations. The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is ranked among the best in the country, with everything from gorillas, zebras, and red pandas to sharks.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Credit: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota by © Benkrut | Dreamstime.com

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Tucked in the bottom west corner of North Dakota are these scenic prairies and painted canyons where the former president once called home—his cabin, Maltese Cross, still sits intact. Medora, a small town in the Badlands, houses many of the highlight features of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, including the 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive, which is a great way to get an overview. Little cowboys and girls will love soaking into the western feel of Medora, while Rough Riders Hotel and Badlands Motel both sit within the heart of all the history, like museums and significant sites. Theodore’s Dining Room is a part of the rustic yet elegant Rough Riders Hotel and is a refined place to enjoy Western cuisine.

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