Midwest Destinations to Visit with Kids in 2023

These Midwest destinations offer a fun getaway for families.

Do you want (no, need) to get away, but have no idea where to go? The Midwest offers so many destinations ­­— the hard part is trying to figure out where to go. We made it easier for you by picking some of the best family vacations that you can also double as a road trip.

For each destination, we provided a mini kid-friendly itinerary on what to do, places to eat and where to stay. Here are a few ideas to help you plan your next family vacation in 2023.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

 

Photo credit: Visit Lake Geneva

 

What to see

Where to eat

Where to stay

Des Moines, Iowa

Photo credit: Iowa Tourism Office

What to see

  • Visit the Historic Valley Junction, a gathering place that is home to a historic railroad district, vibrant shops, art galleries and dining. Stop by the Heart of Iowa Market Place to buy souvenirs, treats and special gifts that are all unique to The Hawkeye State. 
  • Explore Iowa’s Capital Country via the High Trestle Trail. This “rail trail” runs on a decommissioned railroad line across five cities and four counties, making it the perfect way to take in the scenery. Rent bicycles at Dave’s Back Alley Bikes, just steps away from a trailhead.
  • Play (and stay!) at Adventureland Resort. The resort offers kiddie rides, thrill rides, a water park, show and even more family fun. Day passes are available, but families who want to get the most out of their experience can spring for a family suite that includes a private patio just steps away from the pool area. 
  • Spend the afternoon at the Des Moines Children’s Museum. The museum offers a variety of events and programs, so be sure to check its website to find out what’s happening while you’re in town. 
  • Have a need for speed? Catch the sprint cars, stock cars and more at the Iowa Speedway, Knoxville Raceway Gallery or Boone Super Nationals
  • Make an educational pit stop at the Iowa State Capitol and learn about the state’s history while marveling at the marble grand staircase, intricate woodwork and domed ceilings of this century old building. 
  • If your little one enjoys rolling around on two, four or even eight wheels, take them to Lauridsen Skatepark, the largest open park in the nation. Just make sure you have all the proper safety gear before you hit the pavement! 
  • Head to Iowa’s wildest adventure, Blank Park Zoo, where there are outdoor, indoor and walkthrough viewing opportunities to see a variety of animals, from penguins and sea lions to African lions, tigers and more (oh my!). 
  • The Science Center of Iowa will fill your child’s mind with wonder. If you’ll be visiting before the end of April 2023, be sure to check out The World’s Largest Dinosaurs exhibit. 

Where to eat

Where to stay 

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

 

Photo credit: Elkhart Lake Tourism

 

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.
  • 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

What to see

  • Hike or bike the scenic trails at Casper Bluff that offer amazing views of the Mississippi River on more than 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 more than 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. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the goats and treats can be fed to the goats along the trail. During winter, they offer snowshoe rentals to add to the experience. When spring rolls around, guests can be treated to a one-on-one session with baby goats.
  • Take a stroll through Galena’s charming downtown with boutiques and eateries.
  • Skiers and boarders will want to hit up Chestnut Mountain with 19 runs that are ideal for all skill levels. During the warmer months, the Alpine Slide is open for fun.
  • Find ice skating, snowshoeing, and other winter activities at Eagle Ridge’s Nordic Center.
  • Enjoy nature while exploring Galena Country by horse. Shenandoah Riding Center offers trail rides for all levels.

Where to eat

Where to stay

Door County, Wisconsin

Photo credit: Cheryl Eugenio

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, take 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.
  • 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 Country, Meleddy 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. The Cana Island Lighthouse just introduced a new visitor and interpretive center on Cana Island.
  • Head to Anderson Dock, also known as The Hardy Gallery, an old dockside warehouse where visitors and residents have been making their mark by signing their name on the building. Definitely a fun spot for photos!

Where to eat

Where to stay 

Saugatuck, Michigan

Photo credit: Cheryl Eugenio

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.
  • Relax and cruise down the Kalamazoo River on the paddlewheel boat, Star of Saugatuck Cruise
  • 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.
  • Challenge each other at Saugatuck Mini Golf, a new 18-hole mini golf course with a nice mix of challenging and easy for all ages.
  • Love animals? The Critter Barn offers a fun and educational petting zoo experience.

Where to eat

Where to stay 

Fox Cities, Wisconsin

Photo credit: Tim Sweet

 

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, including the Indian Mound Trail or the Red Bird Trail, which begins at the family campgrounds. 
  • 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), and a hands-on learning session on the process of making maple syrup.
  • Add the Heckrodt Wetland Preserve, a 76-acre nature reserve, for an easy kid-friendly hike with an opportunity to play. After taking a stroll on the boardwalks, reward the kids with time at the awesome nature play area, the Wild Space.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Learn the secrets of Houdina, an Appleton native, at the cool History Museum at the Castle.
  • Explore the area by bike (rent from family-owned The Appleton Bike Shop or The Recyclist.) Try the 3.2-mile loop on the Lake Trail, which includes railroad trestle and pedestrian bridges.
  • Kids can be kids at the two-story Building for Kids Children’s Museum located right in the heart of downtown. Find water and imaginative play, art opportunities, and more!
  • Murals and art are located everywhere in Appleton. Follow the Fox Trot Trail that highlights Appleton’s rich history and the beautiful Fox River.

Where to eat

Where to stay

St. Louis, Missouri

Photo credit: St. Louis Aquarium

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.
  • Hang out at the 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • With more than 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 are 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 an six-seater dune buggies.
  • Take a guided tour with Big Muddy Adventures down the Mississippi River. Choose from canoes (including their signature Quapaw Canoe company-designed and hand-built voyageur canoes), kayaks and paddle boards.
  • Birds and bison? Stop by the Wild Bird Sanctuary to learn about some of the rescued residents. Combine the trip with Lone Elk Park (located just a few minutes away) to spot wild bison and elk roaming around. Both attractions are totally free.

Where to eat

Where to stay   

Southern Illinois

 

Photo credit: Enjoy Illinois 

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 the Rim Rock Trail.
  • Take a horseback ride with Lake Glendale Stables on 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, including a huge statue of the hero himself and a museum dedicated to all things Superman.
  • When you need a break from hiking, the alpacas at Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch are sure to be the perfect diversion.

Where to eat

Where to stay

Traverse City, Michigan

Photo credit: Traverse City Tourism

What to see

Where to eat

Where to stay

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Photo credit: Mission Point Resort

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.
  • 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. If you can’t stay here, you can pay the entrance fee of $10 to see the hotel’s fabulous interior and access its expansive grounds.
  • The Mackinac Island Carriage Tours are 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.
  • Lounge in an Adirondack chair and soak in the views at Mission Point Resort’s Great Lawn. Stop by bright and early to see one amazing sunrise.

Where to eat

Where to stay

Minneapolis/Northwest Minneapolis, Minnesota

Photo credit: Mall of America and Meet Minneapolis

 

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.
  • Families love the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Younger kiddos can explore a town area made just for them.
  • 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 sculpture, the 11-acre park highlights the city’s greenspace and culture.
  • Water Works at Mill Ruins Park is the newest spot for families to gather. Find the Nature Play Lab, a playground by the garden, plenty of green space and views of the waterfall, as well as walking and bike paths.
  • 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.
  • Elm Creek Park Reserve is a hot spot for winter activities: Try fat biking, tubing and skiing with Maple Grove Cycling. 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

Photo credit: Cheryl Eugenio

What to see

  • A hike through the Hocking Hills State Park is the main attraction 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. 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 Hocking Hills Canopy Tours, kids can participate in ziplining, traverse bridges and a sky tunnel.
  • Explore Lake Logan by pontoon boat or paddle boat.
  • If you love all things quirky, a stop at the Pencil Sharpener Museum is a must!

Where to eat

Where to stay

Omaha/Nebraska City, Nebraska

Photo credit: Nebraska Tourism
  • 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.
  • 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 ages 4 and up can enjoy TreeRush Adventures, an adventure park filled with 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.
  • 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.
  • Stop and smell the roses at the beautiful Lauritzen Gardens, then take a stroll through the many curated gardens. Train fans will adore the model train railroad encircling miniature Omaha landmarks made out of natural materials.
  • 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.

Where to eat

Where to stay

Rapid City, South Dakota

Photo credit: Visit Rapid City

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’ll have no shortage of opportunities at getting a closer look.
  • 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

What to see

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a must-see spot with buffalo, wild horses and the Maltese Cabin. The rugged 70,000-acre park honors our “conservation president” with 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 of the past.
  • If you’re visiting during summer months you can’t miss watching the outdoor Medora Musical dedicated to Medora’s history.

Where to eat

Where to stay

Cleveland

Photo credit: Cheryl Eugenio

What to see

  • A trip to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is great for animal-loving families. See elephants cross, feed giraffes, and the watch the silly monkeys. Plan to spend the whole day here as there is a lot of ground to cover and tons of animals to see.
  • At the Greater Cleveland Aquarium take a walk through the 175-ft long glass-enclosed tunnel and come face to face with sharks, stingrays and other fishy friends. The 11,000-gallon Touch Pool is sure to be a hit with the kids.
  • See where A Christmas Story House was filmed. During the hour-long tour, learn tidbits about the movies, peruse the house and the grounds, and see the museum.
  • Science lovers will feel at home at the Great Lakes Science Center. The NASA Glenn Visitor Center located at the Science Center is home to the actual 1973 Skylab 3 Apollo Command Module as well as a real moon rock from Apollo 15.
  • Hike and explore one of the Midwest’s National Parks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. With so many waterfalls, caves and caverns, you won’t believe you’re in the Midwest. Some notable trails include Brandywine Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and The Ledges.

Where to eat

Where to stay

Indianapolis

Photo credit: Cheryl Eugenio

What to see

  • Art and nature lovers will be in heaven at Newfields with plenty of art and nature to see including the original Love statue by Robert Indiana. During the warmer months, they even offer a beer garden. Currently, The LUME Indianapolis Featuring Monet & Friends is showing.
  • Spend the entire day (trust me, you’ll need it) at the largest children’s museum in the world, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. They have everything kids love, like dinosaurs, trains and water play, as well as ample learning opportunities. If you want to get a work out in, the outdoor Sports Legend area is amazing and can easily fill up your day. Let this guide help you plan your day here.
  • Cruise around on a shuttle tour around the iconic 2.5-mile oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and get a chance to “kiss the bricks.” Continue the experience afterwards and head to the museum to find cars, trophies and other memorabilia.
  • Sculptures galore at the free Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park including Funky Bones and a neat tree branch swing. Take a hike around the lake in search of the cool yellow benches that also double as art.
  • Jam on at Rhythm Discovery Center where guests are encouraged to make music with drums and other percussion instruments.
  • Explore the canal located right in the middle of downtown. At White River State Park, you can rent a surrey bike and cruise around the canal or better yet take it to the water in a paddle boat and paddle away. While exploring, you can enjoy the many murals throughout or even a pit stop at the super cool Colts Canal Playspace.
  • Also located within the White River State Park, the Indianapolis Zoo welcomes animal lovers. Don’t miss a chance to watch orangutans roam around at the world’s largest orangutan center. Enhance your visit with special animal encounters like feeding a flamingo, a bird or a giraffe.
  • Spend the day exploring Hamilton County just outside Indy. Here you’ll find Conner Prairie, a Smithsonian-affiliated outdoor history museum, that allows you to imagine life as it was back in the day (and take a tethered hot balloon ride!) or hop on a train ride on the Nickel Plate Express and chug through the forest. Visit during the fall to see the beautiful changing colors of leaves. Check their schedule for fun themed events. If you love kayaking, get on the water and take a relaxing kayak ride down the scenic White River with White River Canoe Company.

Where to eat

Where to stay


 

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