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12 Top-Rated Midwest Vacations

Written by Anietra Hamper
Jun 23, 2020

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One of the best features when considering a Midwest vacation is that these states experience all four seasons, so the scenery and experiences are different every time you go. While major cities like Indianapolis and Chicago are top places to visit in the Midwest, some of the best vacation spots are in the more subdued destinations, like Mackinac Island in Michigan or the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.

Depending on the time of year you want to plan a vacation, you can consider places that offer ski resorts and scenic byways or simple sunsets and spring break getaways. What makes a Midwest vacation even better is the convenience of getting to most of the cities since they are centrally located in the United States.

Choose the ideal place to visit with our list of the best Midwest Vacations.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island, Michigan

One of the most magical vacation experiences in the Midwest is on Mackinac Island in Michigan. There is a quiet charm on the island, as no vehicles are allowed. Vacationers are transported to the resorts by horse and carriage, and during their stay, they get around on foot or by bicycle.

There is a vintage vacation elegance on the island, with the Victorian architecture of the homes and the beautiful Grand Hotel, which sits on top of the hill.

Your vacation begins with the ferry ride from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island across Lake Huron, and whether you spend your day hiking through the Mackinac Island State Park, kayaking along the shoreline and Arch Rock, or just kicking back to watch the sunset from an Adirondack chair, you can put your wristwatch away and feel comfortable on vacation time.

If you want to add some sightseeing into a few days, you can arrange for a horseback ride around the island and visit Fort Mackinac, a historic military outpost. The best experiences on the island happen by just exploring on your own, past the intricately manicured gardens and the lilac trees. You can book a sunset cruise or fireworks cruise on the Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry on summer weekends.

2. Chicago, Illinois

Lincoln Park and downtown Chicago at dusk
Lincoln Park and downtown Chicago at dusk

The great city of Chicago in Illinois is one of the best vacation spots in the Midwest because there are so many things to do. The Windy City is filled with culture, music, arts, and of course that famous deep dish pizza. You can theme each day of your vacation to cover the best that Chicago has to offer.

Two of the top places to visit during your Chicago vacation are Millennium Park and Navy Pier. Millennium Park is part of Grant Park, which is where you are likely to catch a summer concert or festival during your stay. The historic Navy Pier has so much to see, from gardens and restaurants to a performing arts center. You can take a ride on the 150-foot Ferris wheel for one of the best views of the city. If this is a family vacation, the kids will enjoy the Chicago Children's Museum located at Navy Pier.

To catch some of the arts scene in the city plan a day to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, and catch a live show at one of the theaters in the city, like the Chicago Theatre, CIBC Theatre, or the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

No vacation to Chicago is complete without some time to shop along Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile. The upscale retailers and shops make for an exciting day filling your shopping bags with new finds.

Add in a day of adventure hitting two of Chicago's most ambitious attractions: 360 Chicago, located on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building, is not for those who are afraid of heights. The observation deck gives you a great view of the city, with a tilt feature that leans you 1,000 feet over the Chicago skyline.

The Willis Tower SkyDeck is the other high-rise attraction worth seeing. As you ride up to the SkyDeck on the 103rd floor of what was once the world's tallest office building, you will be 1,353 feet off the ground and see into the landscape for nearly 50 miles.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chicago: Best Areas & Hotels

3. Door County, Wisconsin

Fall in Door County, Wisconsin
Fall in Door County, Wisconsin

The Door County peninsula of Wisconsin, most identifiable as the "thumb" of the state, is one of the best vacation ideas in the Midwest because of the variety of things to do and for the number of towns that you can visit in a short period of time. Door County has 19 small towns along the 66-mile peninsula, which is bordered by Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other.

You can stay in a place like Egg Harbor or Sister Bay and spend your vacation days going to the other communities to experience the family-owned cherry orchards, biking, or taking a ride on the Door County Trolley to see some of the area's highlights. Outdoor enthusiasts can spend every day hiking in one of the five state parks in Door County. One of the best and largest is Peninsula State Park.

The water is a main draw in Door County, with more than 300 miles of coastline, so plan a few days to experience some of the beaches and kayaking opportunities, where you can see shipwrecks and sea caves.

For a fun day trip, take the ferry to Washington Island, where you can see lavender fields and Schoolhouse Beach with its unique all-rock shoreline.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Door County, WI

4. Put-in-Bay, Ohio

Aerial view of Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial and Put-in-Bay
Aerial view of Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial and Put-in-Bay

One of the best Midwest spring break ideas is Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island in Ohio. The island is off the northern Ohio coast in Lake Erie and has gained a reputation as one of the best getaways in the Midwest. The island calls to spring breakers every year, who hop on the Jet Express ferry from Sandusky or Port Clinton and head to the small island, which is big on fun.

For the younger crowd, your vacation will likely center around Put-in-Bay's social scene. There is a cluster of restaurants and activities in the center of town where vacationers congregate.

As you head out from the main drag, things get quieter around the South Bass Island state park and the other side of the island. You can rent kayaks and Jet Skis and get out on the Lake Erie waters, or just enjoy hanging out, which is what most visitors do here.

Families will find plenty of things to do in Put-in-Bay, too. It's wise to start with a tour of the island on the Tour Train to get a lay of the land. You can get on and off the train as you like and see some of the top attractions, like the Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial and Perry's Cave Family Fun Center.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Put-in-Bay

5. Kansas City

The Scout statue overlooking the Kansas City skyline
The Scout statue overlooking the Kansas City skyline

A Kansas City vacation is one of the best vacation ideas if you are looking to get the most bang for your buck. The city straddles both Missouri and Kansas, so it is possible to visit both states in the same trip.

Start in Missouri with some of the best of Kansas City, including free activities in town, like the Crown Center, which has great shopping and restaurants and is the international headquarters for Hallmark Cards.

Make your way to the Money Museum (also free), which has interactive exhibits, like a 27-pound gold bar. Walk the city and see how many of the 200 fountains you can spot and see why Kansas City is known as the City of Fountains. While you are on the Missouri side, be sure to take in a bite of famous Kansas City barbecue, a jazz performance, and a Kansas City Chiefs football game featuring the 2020 Super Champions.

The Kansas side of your vacation might be a day trip or several days to cover some of the best attractions on this side of the river. The Kansas City Speedway is a must-experience, where you can take in a NASCAR race or get in a car with the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Another day can be spent at the Zip KC Zip Line Park, which is an adventure park with zipline tours. You can round out your quick visit to Kansas at the T-Rex Café, which is a fun and educational dining experience.

Accommodation: Best Hotels in Kansas Ctiy, MO

6. South Dakota Ski Resorts

Ski resort in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Ski resort in the Black Hills of South Dakota

If a Midwest winter vacation is what you are looking for, then you might consider some of the ski resorts in South Dakota. The Terry Peak Ski Area near Lead and Deadwood is where many winter vacationers go, as it is a family-friendly destination in the Black Hills. There are 29 trails for every ski level, and a terrain park. There are also cross-country ski trails through the dense pine forests.

Great Bear Ski Valley near Sioux Falls is another option. It is a year-round recreation park that has skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in the winter. There are 14 downhill skiing trails, a tubing park for families, and groomed trails for cross-county skiing and snowshoeing. Lessons and rentals are available, so all you have to do is show up.

South Dakota is great for other winter recreation besides downhill skiing. It is one of the top places to visit in the U.S. for snowmobiling, with more than 1,500 miles of trails in the state. Just outside Spearfish, you can find 350 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and lodging.

7. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Cliffs viewed from a boat tour in the Upper Wisconsin Dells
Cliffs viewed from a boat tour in the Upper Wisconsin Dells

The Wisconsin Dells is one of the best midwestern family vacations because of its attractions, and it is considered the water park capital of the world. With top water parks like Kalahari, Noah's Ark Water Park, and Great Wolf Lodge, it is great to vacation at one of these resorts, where you have the option of staying in or heading out.

The Wisconsin Dells is the kind of midwestern vacation that brings back forever memories with unique experiences, like riding in the Original Wisconsin Duck Boat, which tours on both the land and water.

The Wisconsin Dells has family-friendly attractions, like the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and the Rick Wilcox Magic Theater and illusion show.

To enjoy some of the natural side of the Wisconsin Dells spend at least one day outdoors at the Wisconsin Deer Park, or hike and zipline near Lake Delton.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Wisconsin Dells

8. St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri

Plan a road trip through St. Louis along Route 66 in Missouri. You will see the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch and other historic sites along the famous highway. Spend a few days with a loose agenda to make your way around to some of the drive-ins, diners, filling stations, and old signage that exists along the St. Louis section of Route 66. You will find an extra adventure by figuring out the various alignments of Route 66 that go through the city.

For the rest of your vacation, you can settle into the city and experience some of the best attractions, like the Missouri Botanical Garden and the City Museum. You will want to spend several days exploring the Forest Park area, where many of the attractions are free. The park is the location of the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Science Center, Missouri History Museum, and the City Art Museum.

If you plan a summer vacation, be sure to spend one evening at Busch Stadium and catch a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.

Accommodation: Best Hotels in St. Louis

9. Indianapolis, Indiana

Monument Circle in Indianapolis
Monument Circle in Indianapolis

Indiana's capital city of Indianapolis is one of the best Midwest vacations because there is a fun energy and so many options to fit into one visit.

For families, vacations will likely center around the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children's museum in the world, with exhibits that range from dinosaurs to an immersive Sports Legends Experience.

Couples vacationing in Indianapolis will enjoy the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Indy 500 events in the spring are the prime times to visit, but even outside the race activities, the speedway has year-round experiences like a museum and other races.

While you can fill your agenda with attractions, you might want to plan some down time to enjoy White River State Park, which is an expansive green space in the middle of the city with a three-mile walking path, shops, and restaurants.

If you need a little more outdoor time, you can head to the Eagle Creek Park and Nature Preserve, where you can kayak, hike, fish, and zipline. There is also a golf course in the park.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Hotels in Indianapolis

10. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Aerial view of the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Aerial view of the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

The Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri is one of the best outdoor vacation spots in the Midwest. If you stay in one of the resorts or cabins in the area, you will be surrounded by water and forest and be able to fill your days with many outdoor activities.

The Lake of the Ozarks State Park is the largest in Missouri - you can find 85 miles of shoreline, several public beaches, hiking, bird-watching, biking, and boating.

A couple of days can be used to explore one or all of the four cave systems in lake of the Ozarks: Bridal Cave, Stark Caverns, Ozark Caverns, and Jacob's Cave. While there are thousands of caves in the region, these caves have been adapted for safe trekking.

If you want to get in a scenic game of golf, there are three courses around the lake. For a nice evening out before the bonfire and stargazing, you can catch a performance at the Ozarks Amphitheater, which adds a nice entertainment option while enjoying Missouri's natural outdoor scene.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts at Lake of the Ozarks

11. Traverse City, Michigan

View of the waterfront in Traverse City
View of the waterfront in Traverse City

A vacation in Traverse City, Michigan is great for a true escape. It is a laid-back area with spas and golf courses and scenic back roads. You can spend some time enjoying the luxury resorts and the beautiful scenery near Grand Traverse Bay and then get out to enjoy the natural outdoor playgrounds in the area.

Head to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for a day and hike the famous dunes or go for a swim in Lake Michigan. You will want to spend another day in downtown Traverse City, where you can go shopping in small boutiques and peruse the antique shops and quaint art galleries.

The Lake Michigan sunsets are spectacular from Traverse City, so plan to spend a few nights enjoying farm-to-table fare at one of the waterfront restaurants.

12. Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth, Minnesota

The Lake Superior port city of Duluth, Minnesota is a terrific Midwest vacation because it encompasses the best experiences from the Great Lakes, the scenic outdoors, and a charming city.

A Duluth vacation is ideal for those looking to enjoy time outside and searching for a quieter getaway. There are thousands of acres of parkland and hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the city. The Lakewalk is a good place to start in downtown Duluth, as the 7.3-mile walkway follows the shoreline of Lake Superior.

Anglers can try some of the 16 designated trout streams around Duluth and hire a guide to learn or improve fly fishing techniques. You can spend time on the water with a guided kayak tour along the north and south shores or rent a fat bike or paddleboard. You will want to plan a window of your itinerary to visit Canal Park and watch the ships come in and out of port.

Since the scenery in Duluth is so spectacular, you might want to spend a day driving along the Skyline Parkway, which is a 25-mile Scenic Byway with the best views of the city and Lake Superior. You can make a day of it by stopping to enjoy the overlooks and parks along the way.

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imageExploring More of the Midwest: If you want to extend your vacation in any of the midwestern states, you can stay in any of our recommended cities and schedule additional time from there. There are some great places to visit in Ohio and Illinois, with attractions and activities to fill a vacation. If you are looking for some Midwest outdoor experiences, you might enjoy visiting waterfalls in Wisconsin, riding on mountain bike trails in Minnesota, and swimming near some of the great beaches in Michigan.

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