18 Top-Rated Midwest Vacations
We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()
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.
1. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Ducks, which tour on both the land and water.
The Wisconsin Dells has family-friendly tourist 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
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
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
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
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
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.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Duluth, MN
13. Mount Rushmore & Rapid City, South Dakota
A Mount Rushmore vacation in South Dakota is one of the most iconic American holidays for residents and international visitors alike. You could base yourself in Rapid City and make the trip to Mount Rushmore, located less than 20 miles away.
A day trip or several to Mount Rushmore should be planned out to make the most of your time. The national park has over two million visitors a year, and there is a lot to see, so it does require a bit of visitor strategy.
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial surrounded by the Black Hills is the centerpiece of your visit, so it is worth starting at the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center to learn basic background about the monument, its purpose, and preservation.
You can take a self-guided tour of the area or take part in scheduled ranger talks on-site. To avoid large crowds, plan your visit in May, September, or October, and try to arrive before 9:30am or after 3:30pm.
Spend the other part of your vacation in Rapid City, where you can experience the history of the Black Hills with a trip on the Black Hills Central Railroad, visit historic sites important to the Native American Culture, or hike in the Black Hills National Forest.
Rapid City has a number of other tourist attractions, including the Museum of Geology and a thriving arts district. Be sure to walk through downtown to see the City of Presidents, and try to identify some of the life-sized bronze statues of U.S. Presidents.
14. Cleveland, Ohio
Ohio's second-largest city, which sits on the shores of Lake Erie, makes for a great Midwest getaway for those who love sports, music, arts, and cities that have repurposed industrial areas into modern public and entertainment spaces.
A visit to Cleveland starts with some of the most notable attractions, like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland Museum of Art, Great Lakes Science Center, and the Cleveland Botanical Garden.
You are sure to find sporting events happening in town on almost any given week with so many teams that call Cleveland home. From professional sports like the Major League Baseball Cleveland Guardians, National Football League Cleveland Browns, and National Basketball Association Cleveland Cavaliers, be sure to pack your logo gear for the excitement that fills the city on game days.
It is fun to explore Cleveland's diverse ethnic neighborhoods and soak up the culture that defines each. Start at the historic West Side Market, located inside an early 1900s market house, with more than 100 vendors selling meats, cheese, baked goods, and specialty products.
Cleveland has multicultural neighborhoods to visit, like the Clark-Fulton area with a Hispanic and Latino population, Little Italy, or the Broadway-Slavic village. For shopping, go to the historic Arcade Cleveland, and for a night of entertainment, head to the iconic Warehouse District for a variety of restaurants and nightlife.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Hotels in Cleveland
15. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee is a city that is full of surprises, making it even more exciting to visit once you discover all of its hidden highlights. Start your Milwaukee visit with a stroll through downtown and through the RiverWalk District and the Historic Third Ward.
You will find the heart of the social scene in the small eateries and along the streets. Stop by the Milwaukee Public Market, which is one of the most bustling places to visit in the city and where you can find unique goods, from spices to gifts.
Look closely around town at the sides of buildings and pedestrian areas for an abundance of Instagram-worthy public art that makes for a fun and whimsical stroll through town.
Plan to visit the beautiful Milwaukee Art Museum, a notable waterfront landmark on the shores of Lake Michigan. The building itself is an art piece, with a vaulted glass ceiling stretching 90 feet into the air, designed to look like wings.
The Harley-Davidson Museum is another must-visit Milwaukee attraction, with a walk through time of this iconic American brand. See the evolution of Harley-Davidson's more than 100-year history, then stop for a hearty meal at the Motor Restaurant at the museum.
Milwaukee has a number of quirky things to do, too, like the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, which is worth an hour or two of your time. You've likely heard the term "cheesehead" associated with Milwaukee, even if you do not know much about the city. It refers to the iconic cheesehead hat worn by fans of NFL team the Green Bay Packers.
You can book a factory and production tour of The Original Cheesehead Factory, or just stop by the small storefront to peruse every type of cheesehead merchandise and try on the famous foam hat.
Take advantage of the Milwaukee River, which runs through town, by booking a kayak tour that also encompasses history about the city, or take a river cruise at night to see the artsy and illuminated city scene from a new perspective.
Read More: Best Hotels in Milwaukee, WI
16. Ohio's Amish Country
The largest Amish population in the United States is in Ohio, in the northern part of the state, which is one of the most peaceful and memorable Midwest vacations that you can experience. Holmes County is a great place to base yourself in a quaint bed and breakfast in Millersburg, Charm, Berlin, Walnut Creek or Sugarcreek.
Take a drive along the backcountry roads and see a slower pace of life as Amish families work in the fields and hang laundry on the line to dry. Take your time, as you will be sharing the road with horses and buggies carrying Amish families to the markets. Amish country is famous for its small shops that sell Amish-made furniture, baskets, and baked goods.
Depending on the time of the year, you can pick apples at local orchards, plan a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the winter on a family-run farm, or simply drive through the many connected villages to admire the Swiss and German influence on this quiet Amish settlement.
One of the most popular things to do in Amish Country is visit Heini's Cheese Chalet or one of the many nearby cheese factories that offer tours and tastings. Go hungry because you will have plenty to sample as you experience one of the other delights of Amish Country: the food. Walnut Creek Cheese is a must-visit in Walnut Creek. While it serves as a local grocery store, it is a mecca of bulk food buying opportunities, from spices to cheese for low prices.
The best days to visit Amish country are any day but Sunday, as they strictly observe the day of rest, and nothing is open.
17. Branson, Missouri
Branson, Missouri is probably best known for its abundance of live entertainment. It makes for an exciting getaway and a great family-friendly destination in the heart of the Ozarks. Given the diversity of things to do in Branson, from outdoor excursions to live shows and attractions, you can split your time to get a well-rounded experience and flavor of the city.
Branson has more than 100 live entertainment options that cater to all age ranges, from comedy and dinner shows to vocal concerts and guest appearances by world-class musicians.
While the lively center of Branson is one of its main draws, your getaway should include getting outdoors in the Ozark Mountains, which surround the city. There are hundreds of miles of trails to hike, and you can camp under the stars, and fish at Table Rock Lake, Bull Shoals Lake, or Lake Taneycomo.
There are plenty of family-friendly attractions in the Highway 76 Entertainment District and the Silver Dollar City amusement park. Branson is an easy Midwest getaway to customize, with a range of options to fill your itinerary, and lodging in the area from motels and B&Bs to cabins, luxury resorts, and vacation condominiums.
18. Omaha, Nebraska
If your interest is getting away from it all, there is no better way to do that than with a visit to Nebraska, where the charm of stillness is its therapeutic gift. You can base yourself in Omaha, and plan day trips from here or just stay to enjoy the arts, tourist attractions, and hearty food that the city has to offer.
Plan to spend part of your getaway exploring all the things to do in Omaha, starting at the Lauritzen Gardens, which has 100 acres of botanical gardens and dedicated areas like a rose section and Victorian garden.
It makes sense to select a few of the historical sites and museums for some background on the location, like The Durham Museum, located inside Omaha's historic train depot, and the Art Deco Joslyn Art Museum, which features marble from around the world on the interior and exterior of the building.
You cannot visit Omaha without seeing the 3,000-foot pedestrian bridge just known as "Bob" for the bobbing sensation that you feel while walking across it. Bob is a fun stop because it's a centerpiece in Omaha and connects both Nebraska and Iowa, so you can stand in two states at the same time. Bob definitely offers great photos for social media.
Your getaway would not be complete without taking advantage of the spectacular stargazing that exists in Nebraska. The closest spot is at Zorinsky State Park, which has 1,000 acres of woods and low lights and is open year-round for stargazing. Another location is the Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, located just 30 minutes outside Omaha, where you do not even need a telescope to see major constellations in the dark skies outside the city.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Hotels in Omaha, NE
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
Exploring 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.