Midwest vacation spots for families

20 Best Vacation Spots in the Midwest for Families

Last Updated on September 22, 2022

Planning a family trip in the Midwest and wondering where to go? Discover some of the best vacation spots in the Midwest for families. From city getaways and small towns to state parks and outdoor destinations, you’ll find the perfect Midwest kid-friendly destination.

These Midwest vacation spots for families feature plenty of fun things to do with kids of all ages, many entertainment options, and hotels that cater to children.

Keep on reading to discover the best family-friendly destinations in the Midwest!

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Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Dells, Midwest Getaway for Families

By Kylie from Between England and Iowa

A fun Midwest vacation spots for families is the Wisconsin Dells in Wisconsin. It calls itself the “water park capital of the world“. With many different attractions to choose from, both indoors and outdoors, the Wisconsin Dells is a great year-round destination.

The Kalahari and the Wilderness Resort are home to two of the best indoor water parks in the Wisconsin Dells. The Wildness has the largest indoor wave pool in the USA! Hotel guests can enjoy complimentary access to the on-site water parks included in the room rate. 

There are many other things to do in the Wisconsin Dells, from zip-lining to go-kart tracks, mini golf, and river cruises. Wizard Quest in the Downtown area, is perfect for testing teamwork skills with an interactive scavenger hunt through an immersive magical universe.

Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to places to eat as many restaurants are themed.  The Grateful Shed Truckyard has a collection of food trucks in a converted Greyhound Bus depot. Buffalo Phil’s Grille has a large lego city and food is delivered to tables via a miniature railway.

The best way to visit the Wisconsin Dells is with a car. Madison is the closest major city which is 1 hour away and Milwaukee is 1 hour 50 minutes.

Custer, South Dakota

Custer, South Dakota

By Candice from CS Ginger

A great vacation destination in the Midwest for families is Custer, South Dakota. Custer is just outside Mount Rushmore in the stunning Black Hills. where you’ll find many great opportunities for family-friendly activities and fun outdoor activities to enjoy.

The highlight of Custer is Custer State Park. It is the state’s largest and first state park. This is a great place to go hiking, swimming, camping, and looking for wildlife. While in the park, be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife like mountain goats and the begging burros.

The Needles Highway Scenic Drive is a fun ride.

Kids will enjoy swimming at Sylvan Lake.

Another highlight in the area for families is Mount Rushmore. It is the most visited attraction in South Dakota. Kids can earn a junior ranger badge here and learn about how Mount Rushmore was made. Be sure to walk the Grand View Terrace trail for great views of the memorial.

Wind Cave National Park is another fun thing to do in the area if your kids are into underground caves. This national park is one of the most complex cave systems, with about 150 miles of passage. Tours of the cave last about 60 minutes.

The closest airport to Mount Rushmore and Custer, SD is the Rapid City, South Dakota airport. The airport is about 1 hour away from downtown Custer. It is best to have a rental car when exploring this area. Public transportation and taxis are limited.

Rock Crest Lodge & Cabins is a fantastic place to stay with your family. They have larger cabins that will sleep up to six people, perfect for larger families. There is an outdoor pool and free continental breakfast.

Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hockin Hills, Ohio

By Linda from Midwest Explored

One of the best destinations in the Midwest for families has to be Hocking Hills State Park near Logan, Ohio. 

To get here, just take I-70 east to Columbus and the park will be a short drive away from here along US-33. 

After all, it covers 2,373 acres of land and comes outfitted with over 25 miles of well-defined hiking trails that will take you to incredible caves, stunning waterfalls, and awesome rock formations. 

So, embark on a fun hike along the Rock House hiking trail, the Cedar Falls hiking trail, or the Conkle’s Hollow Hiking Trail. All are great things to do in Hocking Hills for families since they are easy to follow and pretty well-suited for the entire family. 

Next, splurge on a Hocking Hills Canopy Tour. In fact, this exciting aerial activity will allow your kids to soar through the air as they make their way through eight zip lines, various sky tunnels, and at least three cool bridges. 

Then, afterward, enjoy a round of Adventure Golf at Rempel’s Grove before rewarding yourself with a sweet treat at nearby Treehouse Treats and Treasures. 

Finally, spend the night at the quirky but family-friendly Ravenwood Castle. It’s a lovely, 3-star, family-friendly accommodation where guests can savor complimentary breakfast inside a medieval-themed castle that everyone will love. You’ll also find plenty of cabins you can book near the park.

Medora, North Dakota

By Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

Medora, North Dakota is one of the most charming small towns in the Midwest and a great place to visit with kids. The small tourist destination is the gateway town for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

With rustic, Old West architecture and lots of fun things to do, adults and kids alike will enjoy exploring the town and the nearby national park, which is one of the few places in the United States where wild horses roam.

The town has several family-friendly attractions, like a North Dakota-themed miniature golf course, a thrilling point-to-point zipline, an optical illusions museum, and a western-style park for little ones. 

Additionally, there are lots of easy hiking trails in Theodore Roosevelt National Park that are perfect for families and novice hikers. Wind Canyon and Buck Hill are just a couple of short hikes that offer sweeping views of the badlands with minimal effort (or grumbling from kids)!

For an authentic Wild West experience, stay at the Rough Riders Hotel located in the heart of the small town. You’ll also find a couple of comfortable vacation rentals in town.

Kids will particularly love dining at Badlands Pizza, which offers the option of having your pizza made with vegan cheese.

For the best experience, you’ll want to visit Medora during the peak summer months. Many businesses in the town are seasonal and begin to close in late September or October. 

Indianapolis, Indiana

Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis

By Pamela from Our Adventure is Everywhere

As the state capital and the largest city in Indiana, Indianapolis is a fantastic destination for a fun family getaway in the Midwest!

Although there are many kid-friendly things to do in Indianapolis, no trip with children to the city would be complete without a visit to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. With four stories chock full of family fun, you can spend an entire afternoon exploring and enjoying the exhibits.

If you have kids who love cars, include a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. As the home of the Indianapolis 500, Indy knows cars, and you’ll get to see the speedway, a ton of race cars, and learn a bit more about racing.

Finally, an afternoon watching an Indianapolis Indians game (Triple AAA baseball team) is a fun family activity. The stadium is right downtown with a lovely view of the skyline and the atmosphere is very family-friendly.

It’s easy to get into Indianapolis via the Indianapolis Airport, but you will need a car to get around. If your plan is to spend time downtown, a few hotel options include the super convenient Marriott, or for a unique experience, you can book a room in a remodeled 1920’s Pullman Train Car at the Crowne Plaza located at Union Station.

The Old Spaghetti Factory located downtown is always a family favorite restaurant – especially if you eat in one of the trolley cars! If your kids are older and have a more sophisticated palate, splurge on a meal at the iconic St. Elmo’s Steakhouse.

Although Indianapolis is a great place to visit any time of the year, if you plan on a baseball game, or spending time outdoors, plan to visit Spring through Fall to avoid the snow and ice Midwestern winters can bring.

St. Louis, Missouri

St Louis, Midwest Family vacation spot

By Caitlin from Twin Family Travels

St. Louis, Missouri is one of the best vacation spots in the Midwest for families. 

The most iconic attraction is the Gateway Arch. You can ride the tram to the top, take a look around the museum underneath, and enjoy the park-like setting around the arch.

Another fun thing to do is take a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River. 

St. Louis has quite a few places designed to entertain kids. The City Museum is a must when in town. It is a multi-story playspace with indoor and outdoor activities including a 10-story slide and a Ferris wheel on the roof. The Magic House and the St. Louis Science Center both offer interactive educational exhibits. 

St. Louis has a number of attractions that allows you to get outdoors and even enjoy some art. Admire the flowers and serene gardens at the Missouri Botanical Garden, let the kids get dirty at Nature Playscape in Forest Park, splash around at the downtown Citygarden, and walk along the art trail at Laumeier Sculpture Park.

Downtown is the best place to stay for first-time visitors. It is close to many of the top attractions and great restaurants. The Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis at the Arch is a wonderful family option. It is extremely close to the arch. The hotel also provides breakfast, an early evening meal, and popcorn in the lobby. 

St. Louis has a large variety of restaurants. Fitz’s Root Beer will definitely be a hit with the family. They serve classic American food as well as ridiculously delicious shake concoctions. 

St. Louis has an international airport. You will need a car to get around the city. You can visit St. Louis any time of year. Fall and spring temperatures are perfect for exploring the outdoor attractions around St. Louis. 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee Art Museum

By Lisa Garrett from Waves and Cobblestones

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is one of the best family-friendly destinations in the Midwest.  It’s located on the shore of Lake Michigan and is easy to access via the General Mitchell International Airport, located just fifteen minutes from downtown Milwaukee.

There are many fantastic things to do in Milwaukee with kids. Milwaukee is home to many major league sports teams, so take the family out to a ball game. Enjoy watching the Brewers play baseball or the Bucks on the basketball court.

There are many family-oriented museums to educate and entertain, including Discovery World, Milwaukee’s science and technology museum. Families with younger children can visit the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, featuring hands-on exhibits aimed at children ten and under. And children of all ages will get a kick out of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, with over 10,000 bobbleheads from around the world.

Spend some time outdoors and check out Milwaukee’s iconic Riverwalk, which has lots of great public art including the life-sized Bronz Fonz statue. Dip your toes into the waters of Lake Michigan at Bradford Beach, or rent a swan-shaped paddleboat at Veteran’s Park.

Stay at the vintage Plaza Hotel, their two-queen suite has plenty of space for the whole family, with two beds, two bathrooms, and even a full kitchen. 

Visit the Milwaukee Public Market for vegan burgers, smoothies, and ice cream at the quirky On the Bus restaurant (look for the ’71 VW bus).

The best time to visit Milwaukee is late spring through autumn, although summer days can be on the humid side, so keep hydrated!

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Samantha from PA on Pause

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, on the western side of the mitten, offers many kid-friendly activities and great beaches, making it one of the best vacation spots in the midwest for families.

Sleeping Bear Dunes is about 40 minutes from Traverse City, MI, and about 3 hours from Grand Rapids, both of which have airport access. You’ll definitely need a rental car to get around. Even the 2 mainland campgrounds in Sleeping Bear are separated by 17 miles.

There are so many things to do in Sleeping Bear Dunes for families with kids of all ages. Visit during the summer to take advantage of the beautiful beaches.

Kids will love the Dune Climb, running up and sliding down the steep sand.

Another great family activity on the lakeshore is tubing or canoeing the rivers. Both the Platte River and Crystal River have tours for various ages. On a Platte River tubing adventure, you can float all the way to a beach on Lake Michigan.

Overall, most of the hiking trails are not especially difficult, so they’re perfect for hiking with the whole family.

While camping at one of the campgrounds is a great experience, there are some hotels in the area, too. 

Hotel options are somewhat limited in and near Sleeping Bear Dunes, and you won’t find large chains nearby. Stay at the Hotel Frankfort, just south of Sleeping Bear in the town of Frankfort. This unique 17-room hotel has an onsite restaurant and other dining options are easily within walking distance.

You’ll also find several lakeshore cottages for rent nearby.

If your family is exploring the northern side of the lakeshore, stop in at the Cherry Public House for lunch. Most dishes have cherries incorporated in some way in a unique and fun atmosphere. On your way south, stop at the Shipwreck Cafe in Empire for delicious sandwiches on fresh-made rolls and woodfire pizzas.

Sandusky, Ohio

Marblehead Lighthouse, Sandusky, Ohio

By Nikki of She Saves She Travels

If you’re looking for an awesome vacation destination for your family in the Midwest, look no further than Sandusky, Ohio. Located just an hour west of Cleveland, four hours east of Chicago, and two hours southeast of Detroit, Sandusky is in northern Ohio, right on Lake Erie.

One of the best things to do in Sandusky Ohio for families is to visit the amusement parks. Cedar Point is the 2nd oldest operating amusement park, offering rides for every age. Spend a day – or more – at Kalahari resort and waterpark, which is a comfortable 84 degrees year-round, and the outdoor experience is open during the summertime.

Families will also love the neighboring islands of Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island, Ohio. Put-in-Bay will remind you of a tropical paradise so fun that you’ll forget you’re not at the ocean! Kids will love the crystal caves, lighthouses, and downtown park.

Head to Kelleys Island for outdoor adventures, including seeing massive glacial grooves carved centuries ago, and hit the beach for a relaxing afternoon on the lake.

Summer is a great time to visit Sandusky, as it’s when the city really comes alive. The neighboring islands are very seasonal, so October – April you won’t find much open. Visiting in May or September may provide the best mix of pricing and activities open.

Staying in or near downtown Sandusky is recommended. Conveniently located near the harbor and amusement parks, Holiday Inn Express & Suites is great for families. Or find a vacation rental with more bedrooms for larger groups.

Fargo, North Dakota

Hjemkomst Museum, Moorhead

By Anwar from Beyond My Door

While many people know the city from the movie of the same name, there is actually quite a lot happening with a lot of great things to do in Fargo.

Visitors should be sure to check out some of the amazing museums in the city. The Plains Arts Museum displays incredible Native American and Contemporary artwork and often has free activities for kids and families. The Fargo Air Museum has plenty to do for kids and aviation buffs and particularly caters to families with interactive exhibits.

One of the most interesting museums is the Hjemkomst Center in neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, which traces the building and sailing of a Viking Ship from Minnesota to Oslo along with a replica of a traditional Stave church that can be toured as well.

For those looking for more active activities, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking in the area or kayaking on the red river.  And downtown, the Red River Market is a great place to wander, sample local businesses, and get a quick bite to eat.

There’s certainly no shortage of places to stay in the city. The Jasper Hotel is great for families and is located right next to many of the city’s attractions in the downtown area. However, there are certainly options available at all price points. You can also book a vacation rental in town.

There’s a great food and coffee scene in the city. For one of the best meals, check out Luna restaurant which is both a coffee shop as well as a farm-to-table restaurant. 

Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, MO

By Vicky of Buddy The Traveling Monkey

One of the best destinations in the Midwest for families is Kansas City, Missouri. It’s a big city, with a small town feel. And there’s plenty to see and do.

A top attraction that the whole family will enjoy is the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. The museum has over 51,000 toys in their collection!

Union Station is another fun stop. It has beautiful architecture, but inside there are also a ton of fun attractions. There’s a science center, planetarium, extreme screen theater, and traveling exhibits.

If you’re looking for free things to do while in town, head to the Money Museum. There you can examine a collection of over 500 historic coins, try to lift a gold bar, and lay your eyes on $40,000,000!

There are also a lot of unique places to eat in Kansas City. For a kid-friendly tasty meal, visit Beer Kitchen. And if you need a little extra caffeine to keep exploring, visit Messenger Coffee Company.

Kansas City is easy to get to, with its own International Airport (MCI). It’s also a perfect stop on a Midwest road trip as it’s intersected by various highways.

A great place to stay during your visit is the La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Kansas City Beacon Hill. It is centrally located, includes breakfast, and has free parking.

Chigaco, Illinois

Lou Mitchell's Chicago

By Brodi from Our Offbeat Life

Chicago is a wonderful Midwestern city for families to visit because there are so many things to do there. From the world-class museums to the lakefront parks with playgrounds, there are a wide variety of activities for all ages to enjoy. There are even broadway shows and river tours to enjoy! 

One of the more creative activities in Chicago to enjoy as a family is eating breakfast at the start of historic Route 66 before heading over to Skydeck 360 to enjoy panoramic views of Chicago’s skyline. 

Lou Mitchell’s restaurant has been a Chicago staple since it opened in the early 1900s. It serves tasty and filling diner food and is incredibly kid-friendly!

Whether you fly, drive, or take a train, getting to Chicago is easy. There are a number of interstate highways that pass through the Windy City and Amtrak has a hub right downtown in the Loop. 

Plus, Chicago is the only US city with two international airports that connect to the downtown area by a public transit line. O’Hare is accessible from downtown by the Blue Line and Midway connects via the Orange Line.

Book your stay at the Peninsula Hotel on Michigan Avenue and make sure to take a swim in its historic indoor swimming pool!

Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

Devils Backbone Shawnee National Forest

By Jessica from Unearth The Voyage

Shawnee National Forest is one of the best destinations in the midwest for families that love exploring the outdoors. Shawnee National Forest spans 289,000 acres of Southern Illinois and has a ton of great things to do with kids.

One of the most kid-friendly activities to do is visit Garden of the Gods. Garden of the Gods is a gorgeous recreational area that has unique rock formations, stunning views, and easy hikes that are great for the whole family.

Kids will love to climb among the rocks and explore the area. Just make sure you keep an eye on your kids when hiking here as there are a lot of steep drop-offs!

Another great area to visit in Shawnee National Forest with kids is Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area. This is another beautiful hiking area but it also has a couple of fun swimming holes that are great for the whole family to cool off in the summer months. 

Because Shawnee National Forest is so big, it’s advised to make sure you plan out your trip according to which area you want to see. Many of the top places to visit can be more than an hour’s drive away from each other. The closest major city to the forest is Evansville, Kentucky. From there you will need to rent a car to get around and see the sites in the area. 

The best time to visit Shawnee National Forest is either in the spring or fall. It can get pretty hot in this area during the summer which can make hiking not very enjoyable. There aren’t any major cities in the area which means there are not many hotels to choose from. Although, there are plenty of cabin rentals in the area. One of the best cabins is this cute micro cabin that is in a great location and has wonderful reviews.  

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Japanese Garden at Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids

By Jillian Michelle from Adventure Dragon

One of the best destinations in the Midwest for families is Grand Rapids, Michigan. The city is beautiful any time of the year, and there’s so much to do downtown.

At Meijer Gardens, you can stroll through an eight-acre Japanese garden and watch thousands of butterflies fly freely in their annual butterfly exhibit. You can also visit the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, where kids can see a live beehive or build a robot.  

During summer, the weather is perfect, so families typically head to the beach. Temperatures average between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year, making it an ideal city to enjoy the outdoors without getting too hot or too cold!

Since Grand Rapids is located just 25 miles east of Lake Michigan, there are many different beaches to choose from. Grand Haven is a popular choice and has a really pretty lighthouse on the pier.

Michigan is also known for its many orchards and farms. In Grand Rapids, you can head to Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery. Kids will love being able to pick their own apples and cherries from their 125 acres of orchards. There’s also a restaurant on site, so once you’re done picking fruits, you can head over to their dining room to have some lunch and fresh-baked pies.

Summer or fall is definitely the best time to visit Grand Rapids, but if you choose to visit during winter, you can attend the city’s annual World of Winter Festival. This free event has over 80 ice sculptures that kids will love, including ones of beloved characters like Batman, Yoda, and Wonder Woman.

To reach the city, fly into the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Downtown Grand Rapids is just a quick, 20-minute drive from there. Stay at the Amway Grand Plaza. It’s one of the most well-known hotels in Grand Rapids, and they know how to treat families well.

If you’re looking for the perfect Midwest destination for families, definitely consider Grand Rapids for your next family vacation!

Dubuque, Iowa

Dubuque, Iowa - Unsplash

Dubuque makes a great Midwest getaway destination for families looking for a blend of outdoor activities and kid-friendly entertainment options.

In town, make sure to visit Betty Jane’s Homemade Candies and the National Farm Toy Museum, and stroll around the historic district.

Another must-see, right in town, is the Fenelon Place Elevator where you can ride a wooden cable car to a panoramic view over the Mississippi River and Dubuque. It’s known as the world’s shortest and steepest scenic railway, dating back to the 1880s. Open April through November.

For some indoor fun, head to the Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark.

For something fun, drive to the Field of Dreams Movie Site. The century-old Dyersville farm can be visited and even offers guided tours and fun events. On some Sundays during summer, ghosts are there to play interactive games with kids.

Make sure to take a 45-minute guided tour of the stunning and famous Crystal Lake Cave (be ready for your shoes to get muddy and wet).

A great place to stay for families in Dubuque is the comfortable Hotel Julien Dubuque. The hotel is conveniently located in the downtown area and offers family rooms, an indoor pool, and an on-site restaurant.

You can also book a vacation rental for added comfort and access to a kitchen.

Wichita, Kansas

Wichita

Located in Kansas’ south-central region, Wichita is the state’s largest city yet has a small-town feel. With plenty of fun things to do with kids of all ages, it’s the perfect Midwest destination for families.

There are several museums around town that feature hands-on and interactive exhibits. Exploration Place focuses on science, plus they have a Kansas in Miniature exhibit featuring animated models depicting 1950s Kansas.

At Old Cowtown Museum, you’ll find out how life used to be during the 19th century with old buildings and costumed guides. Nearby, make sure to take a stroll at Botanica Wichita and discover some of their themed gardens.

Don’t miss the Egyptian mummies and the T. Rex skeleton at the Museum of World Treasures.

For some outdoor fun and water activities if you are visiting during summer, take a day trip to El Dorado State Park, where you’ll find swimming beaches, hiking and biking trails, playgrounds, and restrooms.

You’ll find plenty of vacation rentals in town, or you can book a stay at the kid-friendly Hilton Garden Inn Wichita Downtown.

Duluth, Minnesota

Lake Superior

Located on Lake Superior, Duluth is an ideal vacation destination for families featuring plenty of kid-friendly activities and fun things to do.

One of the best things to do in Duluth is to enjoy Lake Superior and all the activities it offers. Around the lake, you can hike, bike, swim, kayak, visit lighthouses and caves… You can also plan a road trip along Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive.

In town, you shouldn’t miss the Aerial Lift Bridge – there are only two of this kind around the world! For some educative fun, head to the Duluth Children’s Museum where you’ll find many hands-on and entertaining exhibits.

The Leif Erikson Park & Duluth’s Rose Garden is another must-see in town. It offers great views of the lake and over 3000 rose bushes! It’s a perfect place to go for a stroll and plan a picnic.

Nearby, Spirit Mountain is a great year-round mountain resort where you can enjoy skiing and other winter activities during the snow season, and hiking/biking during summer, as well as the rides at Adventure Park.

You’ll find plenty of vacation rentals in town and around the lake – or book a room at the kid-friendly Pier B Resort with views of the lake and a swimming pool.

Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska

Fort Robinson State Park

Outdoorsy families will love spending their vacation in Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska. Featuring incredible scenery, easy hikes, compelling Old West history, and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife, the park will enchant kids and adults alike.

The park is rich in history, make sure to check out the museum first to learn more about the Indian Wars. Then go on an open-air Jeep ride among the buttes trying to spot herds of buffalos and longhorns.

You should also check out the nature tours aboard the Fort Robinson Express for some family fun and to explore the park further.

The park offers 60 miles of hiking trails and 20 miles of mountain biking trails for all fitness levels. You’ll easily find a couple of kid-friendly trails. For something more relaxing drive the Smiley Canyon scenic drive.

You’ll find several lodges and campgrounds within the park, just make sure to book ahead.

Check out some of our other travel guides for families>>

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Best vacation spots in the midwest for families
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Best vacation spots in the midwest for families

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