17 Socially-Distant Midwest Destinations to Visit with Your Family

Do you want (no, need) to get away, but still want to stay socially distant? Jump in the car and opt for a road trip. These Midwest destinations help provide a safe getaway for tourists. Check out these vacation ideas below to plan your next family vacation in 2021.

Read more: Things to Do with Kids This Spring in Chicagoland

Note: We’re updating our website as quickly as we can, but changes may occur due to COVID-19. Please double check before heading out for the most updated information on safety precautions, travel advisories and any last-minute closings. Stay safe!

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Drive from Chicago: 90 minutes

What to see:

  • At Lake Geneva Canopy Tours, go on a zip lining adventure. Challenge yourself on the high ropes course with 16 suspended obstacles. Masks required for zip lining.
  • Take a hike at Big Foot State Beach Park or the pet-friendly Four Seasons Nature Preserve.
  • Believe in magic? Even if you don’t, the tricks performed by illusionist Tristan Crist Magic Theatre will make you a believer. Masks are required, limited capacity and empty seats are placed between groups.
  • Watch horses perform at The Dancing Horses Theatre. If time allows, see a bird show that features Echo the Singing Parrot from America’s Got Talent or go on a behind-the-scenes tour. Seats are spaced away from others.
  • Did you know you can go on a safari in Lake Geneva? Instead of a guided one tour aboard a wagon, Safari Lake Geneva now offers a drive-through experience with plenty of feeding opportunities. Opens May 1 with online reservations required.
  • During the winter, get your skiing and snowboarding on safely at The Mountain Top at Grand Geneva or check out the winter wonderland Ice Castles (masks required) with its breathtaking icicle displays.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Photo Credit: Elkhart Lake Tourism

Drive from Chicago: Two hours and 30 minutes

What to see:

  • Get on the water! If swimming and boating is on the agenda, Elkhart Lake is the place to be with a variety of activities including pontoon cruises, kayaks, paddle boards and boats, canoes and fishing boats.
  • Since Elkhart Lake is a small village with quaint residential areas, you’ll feel safe cruising the streets on bike with youngsters in tow. Head to 4 Miles of Fitness at Road America to get exercise while you experience the internationally recognized Road America Road Course.
  • Go for a hike and explore the nature trails at June Vollrath Park or the Ice Age Trail heads.
  • With a history steeped in car racing, you’ll want to see the need for speed yourself. Catch a race or event at Road America. Better yet, sign up for one of their exciting programs like Karting Adventure, Geocaching Adventure and Off Road Adventure.
  • See what a stagecoach inn looked like during the 1850s at the Wade House. History comes to life through costumed, guided tours and events. While you’re here, see Wisconsin’s largest collection of carriages.
  • Grab a map and drive through the roads that were once part of two race circuits in the area. Imagine the world’s top sports car drivers zipping through the corners and over the hills once traveled. Fourteen historical markers commemorate the big names of Elkhart Lake’s open road racing years of 1950-1952.
  • Henschel’s Indian Museum and Trout Farm, located on an archeological dig site, contains a collection of Indian copper, pottery and other artifacts dating back to 8,000 B.C. Masks are required in museum.
  • Try disc and foot golf at Marsh Park and Road America.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Galena, Illinois

Photo Credit: Illinois Office of Tourism

Drive from Chicago: 2 hours and 45 minutes

What to see:

  • Hike or bike the scenic trails at Casper Bluff that offers amazing views of the Mississippi River on over 85 acres atop Mississippi River bluffs. While here, spot Native American archaeology. For panoramic views of town, head to Horseshoe Mound Preserve. Kids will love the Children’s Adventure, five riddles that follow two twins and their adventures.
  • Enjoy the scenic beauty of Apple River Canyon State Park. Encompassing over 300 acres, the park offers hiking, fishing, kayaking and even waterfalls.
  • Go on a unique hike … with goats. For an experience like no other (with an incentive to get your steps in) trek it to Hoof It – Galena where you can hike with these fun little fellows for an hour. Goats are leashed at first, then once out on the trail, they are free to wander among us. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the goats and treats can be fed to the goats along the trail. Reservations and masks are required.
  • Take a stroll through charming Galena’s downtown with boutiques and eateries.
  • Skiers and boarders will want to hit up Chestnut Mountain with more than 25 rails and 19 runs perfect for all skill levels. During the warmer months, the Alpine Slide is open for fun. Masks and hand coverings are required.
  • Enjoy nature while exploring Galena Country by horse. Shenandoah Riding Center offers trail rides for all levels. They are reduced group sizes and staggered start times to reduce/eliminate waiting times for groups.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Door County, Wisconsin

Photo Credit: Cheryl Eugenio

Drive from Chicago: 3 hours and 40 minutes

What to see:

  • If the kids love to interact with farm animals like milking goats, watching chicks hatch or feeding corn to cows, then a visit to The Farm is the perfect excursion. For a lesson in agriculture, peruse the gardens on site.
  • The outdoors beckon at Peninsula State Park offering beaches, hiking trails and a nature center. If you love hiking with a view, Cave Point County Park is a must! With front row views of Lake Michigan crashing against the cliffs and carved limestone, this is quite an adventure for the family. To get close to the cliffs and caves only seen by water, taking a kayak tour with Door County Kayak Tours.
  • Dedicated to the maritime history of the area, The Door County Maritime Museum provides an interactive and educational experience. Learn about the numerous wrecks and recoveries in the area, and the history of shipbuilding and World War II history at Sturgeon Bay. Masks are required.
  • Visit nearby Washington Island via Washington Island Ferry to skip rocks on the water, stop and smell the lavender fields at Fragrant Isle, or enjoy a nature hike. For outstanding views of Lake Michigan climb 186 steps to the top of Lookout Tower. A visit to the one-of-a-kind Schoolhouse Beach is a must. Instead of sand, you’ll find limestone rocks and sand castles are replaced with kids skipping and stacking stones and simply splashing in the water.
  • When summer rolls around, nothing is more synonymous with Door County than cherry picking. Choose from Lautenbach’s Orchard CountryMeleddy Cherry Orchard and Soren’s Valhalla Orchards.
  • You can’t go to Door County without experiencing a fish boil. The tradition calls for boiling locally caught whitefish in a huge kettle over an open fire. Head to Rowleys Bay Restaurant , Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil, and White Gull Inn in Fish Creek.
  • Eleven lighthouses reside in the area. Cana Island Lighthouse may be one of the more popular ones. To access the island, visitors must walk across the water by foot or ride the tractor. For amazing views, be sure to climb the tower’s 97 steps to the top. Save the date for a Lighthouse Festival weekends to go on even more tours. On May 1, the Cana Island Lighthouse will introduce a new visitor and interpretive center on Cana Island.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:                       

Saugatuck, Michigan

Photo Credit: Cheryl Eugenio

Drive from Chicago: 3 hours

What to see:

  • Horseback riding is offered year-round at Wild West Ranch. In the winter, get on a sleigh ride.
  • Climb the 300 steps up Mount Baldhead and relish the views provided by Mother Nature.
  • Year round fun for the family is always available at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Choose from cross country skiing, hiking and dune riding. Check out Landshark’s for all your rental needs.
  • For fun in the sun you can’t beat Oval Beach. In the winter, there are ice volcanoes and ice balls that form.
  • Take an exhilarating ride on the dunes with Dune Rides. Small groups are permitted at a time. Timed entry via reservations.
  • Relax and cruise down the Kalamazoo River on the paddlewheel boat, Star of Saugatuck Cruise. Timed reservations and capacity limits.
  • For the coolest thing you’ll do on water, rent a donut boat with Retro Boat Rental.  Bring your favorite people, some tunes (they provide a Bluetooth speaker) and your swimsuits. You’ll want to stop by one of the beach areas and take a dip.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:      

Hamilton County, Indiana

Photo Credit: Cheryl Eugenio

Drive from Chicago: 3 hours

What to see:

  • Conner Prairie, a Smithsonian-affiliated outdoor history museum, lets you imagine life as it was back in the day. Plus, you can take a tethered hot balloon ride.
  • Get on the water and take a relaxing ride down the scenic White River with White River Canoe Company.
  • Explore Hamilton County via bike on the Monon Trail, a former train route turned into a paved pedestrian. It spans north to Westfield, Indiana and connects south to Indianapolis. An added plus? Plenty of coffee and ice cream shops along the way!
  • Choo choo! Get on the Nickel Plate Express and chug through the forest. Visit during the fall to see the beautiful changing colors of leaves.
  • Little ones will love visiting Noblesville for a stop at the 900-acre Strawtown Koteewi Park, home to trails for horseback riding, hiking, archery and more.
  • Take a stroll down Main Street in Carmel and search for the 17 life-life statues that dot the area. Love art? There are plenty of murals to find in Hamilton County.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Fox Cities, Wisconsin

Fox Cities, Wis.; Photo Credit: Tim Sweet

Drive from Chicago: 3 hours and 10 minutes

What to see:

  • High Cliff State Park offers wide open spaces — all 1187 acres of it! Take a scenic hike overlooking one of the Midwest’s largest freshwater inland lakes, Lake Winnebago. Choose from any of the seven historic trails from its sacred Indian Burial Ground trail to its Limestone Cliff trail.
  • Combine nature and education at Bubolz Nature Preserve. Here you can explore the 725 acres of habitat and take seasonal guided tours. Winter fun includes candlelit ski and snowshoe hikes (rentals available), learning about the process of making maple syrup in a hands-on way. Reservations are needed for guided tours. For indoor programs, masks required.
  • Walk the halls of the historic Hearthstone House Museum, the first home in the world to be incandescently illuminated by water-powered Edison light bulbs. Exploring this house is like taking a step back in time with its Queen Anne Victorian architecture and furniture. Expect reduced capacity and masks are required.
  • With Lake Winnebago, the Fox River, and many more waterways, it’s easy to paddle your worries away from the comfort of your kayak or canoe.  Look to The Fox River Kayaking Company for all your rental needs.
  • The Children’s Canopy Walk at Heckrodt Wetland Reserve will sure to be a kid’s favorite with a slide, rope bridge, and raptor nest.
  • Explore the area by bike (rent from family-owned The Appleton Bike Shop or The Recyclist.) Try the 3.2 mile Loop the Lake Trail consisting of railroad trestle and pedestrian bridges.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

  • Located in the heart of the downtown Fox Cities, the beautiful Copperleaf Hotel & Spa, a boutique hotel known for its European style and luxurious comforts/amenities is pet-friendly so the entire family can tag along.  If you like working out while on vacay, you’ll love the Peleton bikes!
  • For a little (or a lot) of Victorian charm, check out Franklin Street Inn Bed and Breakfast. It allows you to have privacy and distance, but still gives the comforts of home.
  •  Stay in style at this Downtown Modern Loft in Historic Paper Mill. Located by the river and bike trails, outdoor activities are just a hop and a skip away.

St. Louis

St. Louis Aquarium

Drive from Chicago: 4 hours and 30 minutes

What to see: 

  • With more than 13,000 creatures and six innovative galleries, the St. Louis Aquarium pays homage to the local region by focusing on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Masks are required for ages 9 and up. Advance tickets also required.
  • Hang out at the St. Louis Union Station. Instead of steaming locomotives, you’ll now find The St. Louis Wheel, a 200-foot high observation wheel. You’ll also find a carousel, mini golf, maze and ropes course. All rides are sanitized in between uses.
  • The City Museum is a must stop for families. Consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, the museum has no shortage of Instagram-worthy opps. Attendance is limited and masks are required for ages 9 and up.
  • Visit the iconic Gateway Arch with its new museum. To truly experience the Arch, head up to the top in a tram and take in the beautiful views. Explore the rest of the grounds including the historic Old Courthouse. Masks are required at Gateway Arch with limited attendance.
  • During the warmer months, stop at Kiener Plaza, the square in front of the Old Courthouse, featuring a fountain garden with a splash pad, a children’s play garden, and picnic tables.
  • The Saint Louis Zoo is not one to be missed … plus, it’s totally free! Watch sea lions frolic around as you walk, or take a walk on the wild side and spot some elephants. Face coverings are required for ages 9 and up. Reservations also required.
  • Surround yourself with the flowers at Missouri Botanical Garden. Take a stroll through the various gardens including a Chinese Garden, Woodland Garden, rose garden, and more. Stop and reflect at one of the largest Japanese gardens in North America. Advance tickets recommended.
  • With over 70 outdoor sculptures located on 105 acres, it’s easy to social distance at Laumeier Sculpture Park.
  • Enjoy a fusion of sculpture and landscape architecture at Citygarden.
  • Adventure seekers will be happy to learn there more than 1.5 miles of zip lines Adventure Valley. Their attractions include an 1,100-foot “super-zip” that travels 50 mph and rides in a six-seater dune buggies.
  • Take a guided tour with Big Moody Adventures down the Mississippi River. Choose from canoes (including their signature Quapaw Canoe company-designed and hand-built voyageur canoes), kayaks and paddle boards. COVID-19 guidelines include reduced group sizes, temperature checks and masks encouraged.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:                                                               

Southern Illinois

Photo Credit: Enjoy Illinois

Drive from Chicago: 5 hours

What to see:

  • Nature lovers will be in their element when exploring the Shawnee National Forest. Must-sees in the area include Garden of the Gods, the cave at Cave In Rock and Rim Rock Trail.
  • Take a horseback ride with Lake Glendale Stables through the trails offering scenic views of the forest, streams, waterfalls, caves and more.
  • Rent a kayak on and get on the water at Pounds Hollow Lake.
  • Calling all superhero fans – a stop to see Superman’s hometown of Metropolis is a must with photo ops galore throughout town including a huge statue of the man himself and a museum dedicated to all things Superman (masks required).

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Ohio’s Amish Country

Photo Credit: Cheryl Eugenio

Drive from Chicago: 6 hours

What to see:

  • You can easily social distance in a treehouse. At, The Mohicans Treehouse Resort, you’ll enjoy a much needed relaxing getaway and a luxurious glamping experience in the trees with the family with nine unique treehouses available.
  • Enjoy the simple pleasures in life as you visit Ohio’s Amish community. Stroll through the quaint stores, enjoy the food (try the fried pie!), or feed the animals at The Farm at Walnut Creek.
  • Get hiking and explore many of the hiking trails at Mohican State Park.
  • Zip line at Tree Frog Canopy Tours. Masks required and reservations needed.
  • Explore Loudonville, the “canoe capital of Ohio.” More outdoor adventures include horseback riding, swimming, and fishing.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Traverse City, Michigan

Photo Credit: Traverse City Tourism

Drive from Chicago: 5 hours

What to see:

  • Drive through the tip of the peninsula (passing by a dozen wineries) all the way to Mission Point Lighthouse. Scope out the other lighthouses in the area: the Grand Traverse Lighthouse on the Leelanau Peninsula and Point Betsie Lighthouse in Benzie County.
  • Dune it up by conquering the Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. During the winter, bring your sled and zip down! You also can’t go wrong by cruising Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
  • Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the World and host of the National Cherry Festival. If you can’t make it, no worries. Find all things cherry at Cherry Republic. Don’t leave without cherry wine or cherry sour patches!
  • Cruise on the Tall Ship Manitou, a replica 1800s schooner that takes you around Traverse City’s beautiful bays. Masks are required. Seating assigned.
  • Visit The Dennos Museum Center to see one of the largest collections of Inuit art in the country along with rotating exhibits. COVID-19 guidelines include limited capacity and masks required.
  • Kids can learn about maritime life at the Great Lakes Children’s Museum. Reservations required. Limited capacity. Masks required for guests ages 3 and up.
  • Explore Traverse City by bike. The paved Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trail makes it easy as it stretches east-west across the city. Find restaurants and attractions for stops along the way.
  • Skiing and snowboarding on your list? Crystal Mountain and Shanty Creek Resorts beckon with excellent downhill tracks for every skill level. Masks required indoors.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Photo Credit: Mission Point Resort

Drive from Chicago: 6 hours (and 20-minute ferry ride)

What to see:

  • At Fort Mackinac, you’re free to roam the barracks, hospital, bathhouse and other historical structures at this military outpost.  Check the schedule for live cannon blasts and live demonstrations like rifle firing or musical concerts. Masks required.
  • Since the island is mostly closed off to vehicles, exploring by bike is one of the best and memorable things to do. Visitors have the option of riding the relatively flat 8-mile bicycle trail circling the island or biking the island’s hilly interior paths.
  • Right off the ferry, you’ll find Main Street, the hub of activity on Mackinac Island. Follow the sweet smell to any of the fudge shops for a sample, or peruse the many souvenir and boutique shops.
  • Visit Doud’s Market, Michigan’s oldest family-owned grocery store, for necessities, a picnic lunch, or even regional wines and beers.
  • A visit to Mackinac Island is not complete with stopping by America’s Summer Place, Grand Hotel. Even if you can’t stay here, there’s an entrance fee of $10 to see the hotel’s fabulous interior and have access to explore the grounds. Masks required indoors.
  • The Mackinac Island Carriage Tours is a great way to familiarize yourself with the island and in under two hours you’ll quickly understand why people fall in love with it.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Minneapolis/Northwest Minneapolis, Minnesota

Photo Courtesy of Mall of America and Meet Minneapolis

Drive from Chicago: 6 hours and 10 minutes

What to see:

  • With an indoor amusement park, the Crayola experience and an aquarium, the Mall of America is much more than a mall. Other activities include mini-golf, climbing through an adventure course, driving go karts, and of course, shopping. Masks required.
  • Families love the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Younger kiddos can explore a town area made just for them. Masks required for those 5 and up. Advance reservations needed. Limited two hour visits.
  • Cross the Stone Arch Bridge for fantastic views of St. Anthony Falls as well as city views.
  • Get ready for selfies galore at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Home to the Spoonbridge and Cherry, the 11-acre park highlights the city’s greenspace and culture.
  • Head to the great outdoors to Theodore Wirth Regional Park and the Trailhead just a few miles outside downtown Minneapolis. Both are open year-round with plenty to do for families of all ages.
  • Need more nature? Visit Minnehaha Regional Park for a spectacular view of a 53-foot waterfall. During the winter, find it beautifully frozen.
  • For a unique ice-skating experience, head to Maple Grove’s Central Park for Minnesota’s first ice-skating trail. Reservations required.
  • Elm Creek Park Reserve is a hot spot for winter activities: Try fat biking, tubing and skiing with Maple Grove Cycling. Advance online reservations required. During the warmer months, find an archery range, hiking and biking trails, and a swim pond.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Hocking Hills, Ohio

Drive from Chicago: 6 hours and 25 minutes

What to see:

  • A hike through the Hocking Hills State Park is the main star here. With more than 10,000 acres of unbroken forest with miles and miles of hiking trails featuring soaring cliffs, stunning waterfalls and deep recess caves, this is undoubtedly a nature lover’s dream.
  • The area is a dark sky region and the John Glenn Astronomy Park is one of the many free experiences the area offers families. Take advantage of the free programs offered that allow families to check out high-powered telescopes and learn about astronomy.
  • Outdoor adventures await such as horseback riding, off-road Segway and canopy tours. At The Dragonfly, kids can participate in ziplining, traverse bridges and a sky tunnel.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Omaha/Nebraska City, Nebraska 

Photo Credit: Nebraska Tourism

Drive from Chicago: 6 hours and 45 minutes to 7 hours and 20 minutes

What to see:

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium has the largest indoor aquarium in a zoo, North America’s largest indoor rainforest and the world’s largest indoor desert. Reserve tickets online. Masks required for ages 5 and up.
  • Take a breather at Fontenelle Forest, a 1400-acre forest featuring hiking trails and a nature center. With a stroller-friendly boardwalk, this is a perfect way to enjoy nature with littles. Kids 4 and up can enjoy TreeRush Adventure Park, climbing and zip lining fun with bridges, zip lines and swings made from wood, cable and rope.
  • Explore First National’s Spirit of Nebraska Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Park, featuring more than 100 large bronze statues (weighing between 400 pounds and six tons) telling the pioneer’s westward journey.
  • Squeeze in a little history at The Durham Museum. Housed in an old art deco train station in downtown Omaha, the museum has lots of hands-on history exhibits for kids. Reserve tickets online. Masks required for those 5 and up.
  • Besides offering free general admission, the Joslyn Art Museum has other perks for families. Their interactive space Arts Works provides nine hands-on activity stations for kids.  Timed-ticket reservations required. Masks required for ages 5 and up.
  • Stop and smell the roses at the beautiful Lauritzen Gardens, then take a stroll through the many gardens. Train fans will adore the model train railroad encircling miniature Omaha landmarks made out of natural materials. Masks required for ages 5 and up.
  • Spread out at the 250-acre Arbor Day Farm, a national historic landmark that is home to the preservation orchard and Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure. The highlight here is a Treetop Village, complete with 11 treehouses, bridges and a 50-foot slide.
  • Located across the street from Arbor Day Farm, find the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, home to a 52-room mansion and arboretum. Stroll the grounds and surround yourself by the beauty of flowers and greenery.
  • Check out the River Country Nature Center, a wildlife center where families can observe Nebraska’s diverse environmental areas, along with a variety of exotic and local wildlife.

Where to eat:

 Where to stay:

Rapid City, South Dakota

Photo Credit: Visit Rapid City

Drive from Chicago: 13 hours and 14 minutes

What to see:

  • In the spring, see the 1,300-head herd of bison and the newborn babies at Custer State Park. If you truly want a different perspective, book a trip with Buffalo Safari Jeep Rides for an off-road experience in a custom-built open-air vehicle.
  • You can’t miss saying hello to the presidents at the awe-inspiring Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
  • Drive through the loop at Badlands National Park for jaw dropping scenery that includes Mars-like buttes, canyons and bluffs. With plenty of hiking trails, you have opportunity after opportunity to get a closer look.
  • Take a stroll and learn a little bit about history along downtown’s City of Presidents, a collection of bronze statues of our nation’s leaders.
  • With hands-on activities, the Journey Museum also has impressive exhibits on Lakota Native American culture as well as various programs for children. And yes, they have dinosaurs!
  • Need to stretch your legs? Head to the kitschy yet super fun attraction Dinosaur Park. Consisting of seven larger-than-life dinosaurs, you can walk the trails, climb on the dinosaurs and take all the pictures. Another plus? The location is right on a ridge overlooking Rapid City.
  • Find fossil replicas at the active dig site, Mammoth Site of Hot Springs.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:

Medora, North Dakota

Photo Credit: North Dakota Tourism

Drive from Chicago: 14 hours

What to see:

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a must-see with buffalo and wild horses and the Maltese Cabin. The rugged 70,000-acre park honors our “conservation president,” Outdoor opportunities for all levels include hiking, mountain biking and fantastic scenic views.
  • You can’t visit the Wild West without a horseback ride. Medora Stables offers a chance to do just that.
  • North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame gives you a look at western heritage.
  • The Chateau de Mores State Historic Site has History Live! presentations to hear from local residents in the past.
  • If you’re visiting during summer months you can’t miss watching the outdoor Medora Musical dedicated to Medora’s history. Groups will be spaced out.

Where to eat:

Where to stay:


Follow Chicago Parent on Instagram.


This article was published on Jan. 21, 2019. It has been updated with the most recent information. 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -

LATEST STORIES

7 A+ Teacher Appreciation Week Gift Ideas

Teachers deserve some serious recognition.

Win a Flowerscape Coloring Book

Enter for your chance to win by Tuesday, June 1, 2021.

Project-Based Learning That Reflects the World

Brought to you by Baker Demonstration School.


- Advertisement -