We get, you need a getaway. If you live in the Midwest, or plan on visiting, there are so many cool and fun travel options for parents and kids. If a family weekend getaway is in order, let the internet (and Scary Mommy) be your friend. No need to travel to exotic lands — explore the many Midwest family vacations spots where the shores of the Great Lakes reach five different states. Beyond the Great Lakes, the Midwest is covered with rivers, inland lakes and absolutely stunning greenery offering boundless outdoor adventures. Looking for an urban retreat? The Midwest is home to some of the nations most exciting cities (hello Chicago!) with deep culture, adrenaline pumping attractions (ever heard of Kings Island) and some of the best Children’s Museums and Zoos in the country!
Even if it’s only for a few days, here are some of the best spots you and your family will love. Because sometimes, we all deserve a retreat away from real-life (yup, kids included — it’s not like they’re enjoying remote learning in 2020 more than you are).
The best family-friendly weekend getaways in the Midwest:
Spark curiosity in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Who needs to visit a museum when you can stay in a fully restored Frank Lloyd Wright house that is actually on the national register of historic places for about $220 a night. The historic light-filled house features 3 bedrooms and a sleeping porch to accommodate up to 9 guests. If you are still inclined to visit a museum, head 3 miles to Harley Davidson Museum where you can sit on and start different motorcycles or digitally design your own. The fully hands on waterfront Discovery World Center uniquely focuses on freshwater sciences and technology featuring an aquarium, interactive exhibits, and learning labs for all ages. This lake shore city has more than a weekend’s worth of family activities from catching a Brewer’s games or a Sprecher’s Brewery and Soda Pop Tour to visiting the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and relaxing on the 15-acre Bradford Beach.
Situated on a ridge overlooking Medora in the North Dakota Badlands, this cozy villa is surrounded by sprawling vistas with only deer and chipmunks as neighbors (yet just a 15- minute walk into town and about $250 per night). Tiny Medora offers big fun with the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and the boot-scootin’ Medora Musical which is always live and outside at the Burning Hills Amphitheater. Swing by town to learn about President Roosevelt’s legacy of conservation before heading to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (which is totally bike, horseback, car, and hiker friendly) to experience the simple beauty of the Badlands. Just a short hours drive away in Regents is the famed Enchanted Highway, a 32-mile stretch of two lane highway that features the world’s most expansive collection of larger-than- life scrap metal sculptures — a not to be missed experience.
Enjoy lake life relaxation with all the excitement of a resort at the Still Waters Resort on Table Rock Lake. The all lakefront condo resort (where prices start at around $100 per night) has accommodations from studios to 6 bedroom condos for any size family to comfortably stay. With 3 swimming pools, waterslides, a mini golf course, kayaks, paddle boards, volleyball courts and more all included with your stay, there isn’t much reason to leave the resort. But when you do, head over to the Silver Dollar Water and Amusement Park less than three miles away. Enjoy an evening of family entertainment at one of Branson’s live shows or walk through history at the Titanic Museum.
Home to over 10,000 animals and famed Zoology Conservationist Jack Hanna, the 583 acre Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is reason enough to make Columbus our family getaway destination. Make sure to book an open air safari at the Wilds where giraffes roam free and bring your swimsuits to cool off at the Zoombezi Water Park. Stroll the sidewalks of the famed Easton Town Center where shopping, nightlife, and dining merge next to the Marriott Courtyard Columbus Easton (where a night’s stay starts around $125). The full service hotel features an indoor pool and most importantly is just steps away from the LegoLand Discovery Center where you can build the day away.
Discover the breathtaking beauty of expansive pine trees, limestone cliffs, and flowing waterfalls in the Black Hills National Forest. Enjoy the seasonal beauty of Black Hills all year long at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge where visitors mountain bike, snowshoe, fly fish, and even tour the canyons on moonlit snowmobile rides. When ready for an adventure beyond the canyon, dig into the past with a guided tour of the Broken Boot Gold Mine, hit the slopes at Terry Peak, or see Mount Rushmore National Monument in person (just a scenic hour car ride away).
Take a family weekend trip to the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Door County is a narrow peninsula (just 10 miles wide) sandwiched between Green Bay and Lake Michigan with tons to do and see. The expansive 300 miles of shoreline is home to 10 lighthouses, 5 state parks, and 30 beaches that have tons of all season outdoor activities. But exploring the peninsula’s picturesque coastal towns famous for community shrimp boils, art galleries, a not-be-missed maritime museum, and of course, cherry pie, is the real treat. The family- friendly Eagle Harbor Inn Bed & Breakfast overlooks the bay with private playgrounds and in-room kitchenettes averaging about $250 per night. Door County main streets continue to bustle all the winter with ice fishing and winter hiking. But the February Fish Creek Winter Festival is a real winter highlight with loads of hot chocolate to warm visitors on their candle-lit hikes through the ice carvings on display.
Close to the two-family vacation no brainers (a zoo and a children’s museum), The Omaha Marriott Downtown is the perfect vacation hub for the family (and prices start at just around $125 per night). Considered one of the nation’s top zoos, The Henry Dorly Zoo & Aquarium is known for the immersive habitats and interactive experiences (like stingray beach) that allow visitors to get up close to their animal residents. Mom, be sure to check out yoga in the aquarium for a unique Zen moment away from the kiddos. Let your littles learn and explore through the award- winning Omaha Children’s Museum or check out the Durham Museum in the renovated Omaha train station, don’t miss the 1940s soda fountain for authentic malts. Zip and climb away all that extra energy at TreeRush Adventures ropes course and zipline in nearby Fontenelle Forest if the kids still have energy to burn.
No cars allowed on the historic Mackinac Island, where visitors are met at the ferry by bike rentals galore and horse-drawn carriages. Rock the afternoon away overlooking the Mackinac Harbor on the whitewashed porch of the Island House Hotel. With 94 guest rooms starting around $400 in season, the Island House Hotel features 2 restaurants and an indoor pool. Just steps away from The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and the must-see Fort Mackinac, where the kids will love firing the real life cannon (just make sure to make a reservation). Rent bikes for the family (they even have tandem bikes and baby seats at some rentals) and work off all that fudge you inhaled at Ryba’s touring the limestone bluffs and scenic vistas of the Mackinac Island State Park, which encompasses much of the Island.
You could spend your weekend getaway shopping at the world’s largest indoor mall with the fam. Or you can watch colors come to life at the Crayola Experience, laugh through a 4D movie at the Lego Discovery Center, and scream down the Spongebob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge at Nickelodeon Universe inside the Mall of America. Fill up at one of the 50 dining options before visiting the sea lions at the Sea Life Aquarium. And when your family is tired of mall life, travel the 1.2 miles from the Mall of America to the Great Wolf Lodge. The ultimate indoor waterpark resort will make a splash with kids of all ages. Back on dry land, kids can conquer the climbing wall, bowl a strike at the ten paws alley, or tackle the Howlers Peak Ropes Course. The all-suite resort offers lodge themed rooms and water park weekend getaways across the midwest in locations like Traverse City, Kansas City, and Sandusky.
Winding through Minnesota and Wisconsin, the shores of the St. Croix River Valley have been welcoming Midwest weekend family visitors to its picturesque towns for ages. Nestled into a small Stillwater apple orchard, the rustic red barn 3- bedroom vacation rental (about $70 per night and just over an hour drive from the twin cities) is the perfect hub for your family weekend visit to the St. Croix River Valley. Travel back in time with a vintage train ride through the valley (the fall color tours are especially popular) or dine down the river on a St. Croix River Cruise. Outdoor enthusiasts love the expansive Interstate State Park where swimming and hiking around gorges is just as popular as snowshoeing and cross country skiing. If you get the opportunity to visit the St. Croix River Valley in winter, make sure to check out the Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival and the October Autumn Fest.
Next to an active train line in a converted 1914 freight station, Riley’s Railhouse Bed and Breakfast is a train lover’s dream come true. Sleep in an old rail car, watch trains roll past, and peruse the Riley private collection of railway antiques and memorabilia. For more rail fun, walk through the Taltree Arboretum to check out its award- winning Railway Garden. When ready for a train-break, feel the sand between your toes at the Indiana Dunes National Park after a swim in Lake Michigan. Catch a show with the family (both the local 4th Street Theater and the 49er Drive-in will keep the family entertained ’till bedtime) before heading to a tasting at the Running Vines Winery.
For non-stop urban family fun look no further than Chicago. Shop the Magnificent Mile, hit up the windy city art scene (the Art institute of Chicago is free for kids under 14) or cheer on the Bears at famed Soldier Field. Check into the Renaissance Chicago Downtown overlooking the Chicago River. This upscale contemporary hotel will delight the design lover and is fully equipped with an indoor heated pool for the kids. Grab an obligatory Millenium Park Bean selfie which is just blocks away before catching a bird’s eye view of the city from the top of the Navy Pier ferris wheel (you will be shocked by how big Lake Michigan actually is). No visit to Chicago is complete without a taste of Chicago deep dish pizza from Giordano’s, before or after you visit the Adler Planetarium and Field Museum of Natural History.
The premier midwest ski resort with its whopping 58 downhill slopes (28 lit so you can hit the slopes under the stars), multiple kid-friendly carpet lifts, and 25 km of cross country ski trails, Crystal Mountain is the perfect midwestern winter weekend getaway for any family. Kids can’t ski? Send them to ski school while you enjoy a Nirvana Stress Relief Massage in the 11,000 foot, state of the art Crystal Spa. Of course activities on the mountain are endless — did we mention Fat Tire Biking? But when there isn’t snow on the ground the Crystal Mountain is open to hikers and trail bikers, with outdoor yoga and even a 38-hole championship golf course. When you are ready to come down the mountain, Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City (known for its annual Cherry Festival, wineries, and amazing food) are just a short drive away.
Wichita’s bustling festival calendar attracts family weekend visitors throughout the year. With a spring, summer, or fall festival almost every weekend why not plan your visit to Wichita around the annual Blocktoberfest (beer, food, and games for the kids), the alfresco Autumn & Art Fair, or Wichita’s most famous event the June Riverfest. Follow the water to the riverfront Drury Plaza Hotel (starting around $150 per night) which is smack dab in the middle of downtown Wichita for easy access to all the festival locations and must see stops like the Cowtown Museum (bringing life in the 1870s to life), the Keeper of the Plains Monument, the Exploration Place Science Museum, and the Botanical Gardens.
Show your race car lovers the real thing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When you are ready to slow down the pace, head over to the five floors of interactive exhibits at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (which is the world’s largest). Dig for dinos in the Dinosphere or play among the legends in the Outdoor Sports Experience. Stay at the unique Fort Harrison State Park Inn for about $150 per night, which sits inside the Fort Harrison State Park and is just 9 miles away from the Children’s Museum. Hit the 18-hole golf course or tour the park on horseback with the family, all of which the Inn can help you arrange.
A family weekend in Frankenmuth Michigan (known as the little Bavaria of the Midwest) pretty much requires a stay at the German-themed Bavarian Inn of Frankenmuth. The Inn itself is enough to entertain the kids with an arcade, indoor mini golf course, a kid’s play area and 4 indoor pools (one of which is only for kids). It’s Christmas all year long in Frankenmuth, especially at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland where your kids will love picking out an ornament in this bigger-than-Costco superstore. Swing a few clubs at the Fortress Golf Club or browse the old world cobblestone paths of the Riverplace Shops. Take a moment to honor all our military heroes and peruse the medals of honor collection and flight gear at Michigan’s Military & Space Heroes Museum. Top off the Michigan Bavarian experience filling hungry bellies at the famous Zehnder’s, which has been serving families its special fried chicken dinner for over 160 years.
Live the laidback lake life at this Brainerd Lakes Region waterfront log cabin. Generations of families have been drawn to the great fishing, family water sports, and lakes galore — 450 of them to be exact. Shorelines are dotted with rustic main streets, state parks, hiking trails, and kitschy Paul Bunyan fun (check out the last from the past Paul Bunyan Land). Nestled on the shores of popular Gull Lake stay in this rustic 3 bedroom waterfront cabin which has a private beach and playground — so Mama can relax, too. With u-pick local farms, color tours, and outdoor winter adventures (dog sledding anyone?) the Brainerd Lakes Region is the perfect weekend family getaway in the lovely Midwest.
Get your kicks on Route 66 and bring the fam for a trip down the great American highway. Grab vintage diner and gas station memorabilia at the Route 66 Visitor Center before checking out all the classic cars at the Route 66 Car Museum. Step back into the 1950s with all of today’s tech (hello WiFi and Cable TV) at the super comfortable and centrally located Route 66 Best Western Rail Haven, where rooms start at around $100 per night. Take a break from all the vintage kitsch and head underground with a tram ride through the Fantastic Caverns — one of the natural wonders of the US. Don’t forget to wander through the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden before diving into the educational Wonders Of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium (which was voted American’s best aquarium).
Nothing says getting nature like a treehouse cabin at the Natura Treescape Resort. This unique Wisconsin Dells property features a natural water park lagoon and sleeping quarters to accommodate any family’s needs from tiny houses and full treehouse cabins to standard guest rooms with bunks for the littles (prices start as low at $50 per night depending on time of year and accommodations). While visiting the Dells of the Wisconsin River, discover 14,000-year- old sandstone rock formations and private islands during a Dells Army Duck Ride. Get a little shopping and noshing done at the Bavarian village (don’t miss the giant Glockenspiel). And of course no visit to the Dells would be complete without a trip to the 51 water slides at Noah’s Ark Waterpark — the largest waterpark in the country
Cincinnati is overflowing with culture. It’s actually hard to choose where a family should start between the Cincinnati Museum Center, the Newport Aquarium, and MLB Reds Hall of Fame. Not to mention the outdoor play havens of the Smale Riverfront Park and Botanical Gardens. But really, what’s tempting is to skip the culture in downtown Cincinnati and head to 20 minutes from downtown to Mason, Ohio to Kings Island Theme Park. Scream your way down the brand new Orion Rollercoaster or introduce your littles to junior roller coasters on the Great Pumpkin Coaster or the Woodstock Express. Cool down from the roller coaster thrills at the adjacent Soak City waterpark. When the day is done, gather the family around the outdoor fire pit at the newly constructed Marriott Courtyard Cincinnati Mason (perfectly situated between the downtown Cincinnati culture and the Mason thrills) to recount the all your family getaway adventures.
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