Last Updated on January 7, 2023
Planning a summer trip and wondering where to go? Discover some of the best vacation spots in the Midwest for a perfect summer getaway. From beach destinations to cities to cross off your bucket list to scenic state parks and everything in between, the Midwest features a plethora of great places to visit during a summer break and plenty of fun activities.
Whether you’re planning a romantic summer getaway, a road trip with friends, or a family vacation, you’ll find the perfect Midwest summer vacation destinations for you and your loved one listed below!
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
- Chicago, Illinois
- Grand Rapids, Minnesota
- Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
- Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Boundary Waters, Minnesota
- Custer, South Dakota
- Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
- Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
- Okoboji, Iowa
- Cottonwood Falls, Kansas
- Oakley, Kansas
- Mackinac Island, Michigan
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
- Table Rock Lake, Missouri
- Valentine, Nebraska
- Lake Metigoshe State Park, North Dakota
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By Catrina from 24 Hours Layover
With miles of beautiful river walks, stunning lakeshore beaches, and an incredible skyline, Chicago is the perfect summer destination in the Midwest as there are so many things to do here!
Head to the iconic stainless steel sculpture Cloud Gate known affectionately as The Bean – one of the best places to take pictures in Chicago! And make sure to spend some time strolling along the Chicago Riverwalk – one of the most beautiful places in Chicago! Take a boat ride out to Lake Michigan and enjoy fabulous views of the skyline or head to Michigan Avenue for a spot of shopping.
A short stroll from Chicago’s skyscrapers takes you to North Avenue Beach and miles of beaches along Lake Michigan. This is the perfect place to relax in summer and go for a dip to cool down!
Another lovely relaxing place to visit in summer is Lincoln Park. The Nature Boardwalk here is a beautiful peaceful urban oasis and you can find The Honeycomb here – a unique wooden pavilion and through its arch, you can see the Chicago skyline!
For thrill-seekers and those who want to get indoors to escape the heat, head up to The Skydeck to see Chicago from the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower! This is the highest observation deck in the USA! There are glass paneled boxes here that protrude out from the building: stand in one of these ledges and look down 1,353 feet at the city below – the views are incredible!
For accommodation, stay in downtown, close to Michigan Avenue ‘The Magnificent Mile’ where all the action is. The Gwen is a lovely hotel in a very convenient location.
Chicago Travel Tip – Get the City Pass to get access to 5 popular attractions and save time and money!
Grand Rapids, Minnesota
By Kassidy from Kassidy’s Journey
While most people think of Michigan when they hear of the city of Grand Rapids, they’re definitely missing out on the city in Minnesota! Grand Rapids, Minnesota is a beautiful city in the northern half of the state that is home to some of the best lakes in the state.
During the summer, it turns into one of the best places for outdoor recreation and vacationing, because of the warm weather, activities to take part in, and of course, the lakes.
When you visit Grand Rapids, one of the best things to do is recreate on Pokegama Lake. Whether it’s swimming, boating, kayaking, or something else, there’s something for everyone on the water. There are also several resorts on the lakeshore that offer great places to stay.
If you’re looking for somewhere a bit smaller to get on the water, check out a few of the mine pit lakes nearby, such as Tioga Pit, which are beautiful teal pits of water.
The Forest History Center is a great place to bring little ones to learn about logging and the area’s nature. Tioga Recreation Area offers up some of the best mountain biking in the state, and there are ATV trails all around the city.
During your visit, book a stay at Hotel Rapids, a newly renovated boutique hotel with a bistro located right in the lobby. If you want more privacy and access to a kitchen, consider renting a vacation home, some have direct lake access.
Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
By Alyssa from An Apple a Plane
The deep blue waters of Lake Michigan make waves against the sandy shores of Indiana Dunes National Park. Officially achieving national park status in 2019, consider crossing this destination off your list on a midwest summer getaway!
Indiana Dunes is amazing for family and friends of all ages, there is something to do for travelers of all sorts. Make it a beach getaway, hike incredible trails, climb up and slide down sand dunes, or combine it all! Even history buffs will enjoy the Century of Progress homes from the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. Vibrant, unique homes sit above the sandy shoreline in Beverly Shores, Indiana just minutes away from the national park.
Incredible Indiana Dunes hiking trails include the 3 Dune Challenge and Dunes Succession trail. It is magical and scenic to view Lake Michigan from up above. Most of the hikes lead visitors to beach access before, during, or after the hike. Summer is high season at Indiana Dunes, so plan your trip in advance if possible!
Other local activities include an international garden, lighthouse, camping, and local small-town shops.
Consider either camping at the national park or state park campgrounds, or staying at the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson in Portage, Indiana with an indoor pool. You’ll also find plenty of lakefront cottages and cozy vacation rentals in the area.
Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
By Jenn from Those Johnson Boys
Although you may envision flat land when thinking about the Midwest, it won’t take you long to see that Hocking Hills State Park isn’t your typical Midwestern landscape. Just about an hour southeast of Columbus, Ohio, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a whole new world when exploring the area.
Hocking Hills includes multiple hiking trails with varying lengths and difficulty (including handicap-accessible trails), making it easy for everyone to immerse themselves in nature and enjoy the beauty around them. With each hike, you’ll be surrounded by huge rock formations, towering trees, and beautiful waterfalls.
Visiting Hocking Hills in the summer is the perfect time to enjoy outdoor activities thanks to the warm weather. If you’re looking for adventure, you can go ziplining, kayaking, or rock climbing. If relaxing is more your speed, check out the local wineries and breweries or stargaze at the John Glenn Astronomy Park.
While there are hotels in nearby towns, you won’t regret staying in the heart of Hocking Hills during your visit. The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls is located near many of the hiking trails and offers unique lodging options. You can even order a to-go lunch from the restaurant there to bring along on your hike, so you can really take time to enjoy yourself out on the trails.
By Geeves Joy from Real Girl Review
If you want to get away from the hoopla and discover a place you haven’t already seen hyped up a million times online, you’ll want to head to Cleveland, which is one of the most underrated cities in all of America.
You wouldn’t think a midwestern city could compete against metropolis giants like New York, Chicago, Boston, and LA and yet, Cleveland holds its own, set across the magnificent backdrop of Lake Erie, with three major league sports teams, delicious foodie finds, and plenty of well-known and hidden gems to make your head spin.
Stroll the city passed Fountain of Eternal Life, catch a game at the Cleveland Browns Stadium, explore grocery store wonder Heinen’s, then have lunch at Collision Bend Brewery, right on the water. When you’re ready to give your feet a break, hop on a day cruise, grab a drink, sit back and let the boat do all the work for you.
Other worthy sites to see are the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and A Christmas Story House & Museum where the Christmas classic was filmed. If you’re a football fan, take a fun drive to the Pro Football Hall of Fame which is an hour outside the city in Canton, Ohio.
For a trendy hotel in the center of the city, stay at Hotel Indigo, which offers a relaxing outdoor patio and a sleek bar for cozy and convenient cocktails for guests after their day out on the town.
Boundary Waters, Minnesota
By Stephanie from The Unknown Enthusiast
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is located in northern Minnesota (and actually goes into Canada as well!) and is a perfect summer destination in the Midwest if you like the outdoors and a bit of adventure.
What makes canoeing in the Boundary Waters such a unique experience is the nature of the landscape. The entire area is practically covered with lake after lake after lake. So, when you do a Boundary Waters canoe trip, you’re paddling across a lake (which can vary from quite small to incredibly large), then at the other side, you unload your gear onto your back, put your canoe over your head, and portage your things across land to the next lake. As the system of lakes is incredibly vast, over 1 million acres, there are infinite routes you can take to explore the lakes.
Plus, you need a permit to visit the Boundary Waters (permits are limited), and designated campsites are very spread out, so the area stays calm and pristine, and you’ll hardly see another person.
After you’re done canoeing for the day, you can go swimming in the crystal clear water, go for a hike, explore a waterfall, go cliff jumping, observe the wildlife, go stargazing, and just relax and enjoy the quiet, calm nature.
Custer, South Dakota
By Candice from CS Ginger
Custer, South Dakota, is located in the heart of the Black Hills. There are so many fun things to do in Custer, SD for visitors to enjoy. Custer is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the Midwest.
A visit here would not be complete without exploring the nearby Mount Rushmore National Memorial, where you can view the iconic granite sculptures depicting George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Another fun attraction is Crazy Horse Memorial which honors Native American culture and celebrates freedom.
If you’re looking for outdoor activities, you should visit Custer State Park. This 71,000-acre park has scenic hikes along Sylvan Lake, and Little Devil’s Tower Trail, horseback riding through Wind Cave National Park, or fishing on Stockade Lake. There are plenty of ways to explore this stunning region.
The city itself also has plenty to offer visitors with its many great restaurants and shops located around downtown Custer. Sample local favorites like bison burgers and ice cream at The Custer Wolf – Food & Drink before browsing the cute boutiques like A Walk In the Woods Gallery & Gifts or Dave’s Rock Shop.
When planning your trip to Custer, it is important to bring appropriate clothing since temperatures can vary widely throughout the day, particularly during summer months, when days can be hot while nights are cool. Finally, make sure to book a hotel room or vacation rental in advance since accommodations fill up quickly during peak season. Check out The Lodge at Palmer Gulch for its comfortable rooms and stunning views or Custer State Park Resort.
No matter what type of adventure you seek this summer season, Custer, South Dakota, offers stunning scenery and activities that will keep you busy all weekend long. You won’t want to miss out on the many great adventures that surround Custer. Start planning your getaway now so that you can experience all that this incredible city has in store!
Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Starved Rock is a highly underrated location near central Illinois, only a 2-hour drive away from Chicago. Picture flowing waterfalls through sandstone canyons and miles of hiking trails. Doesn’t sound like Illinois, right? This hidden gem is worth the visit on your summer trip to the Midwest United States.
Summer is high season at the state park, so plan accordingly when visiting on the weekend. The visitor center parking lot tends to be extremely crowded by 10:00 am.
After rainy days, visitors can expect to see flowing waterfalls at many of Starved Rock’s canyons. Even when there is no rain, the towering sandstone canyons are certainly a site to see and worth the hike. Most hikes can be accessed from the visitor center parking lot, but there are many smaller parking lots closer to waterfall lookouts that involve only a 10-minute walk.
Grab a map from the visitor center upon parking to figure out which trails you may want to combine.
If you have extra time, consider exploring Matthiesen, another state park 10 minutes drive from Starved Rock. Other things to do in the area include visiting small-town shops and exploring local museums.
Consider packing a tent for Starved Rock Campground, or staying at Starved Rock Lodge for a more expensive array of cabins and hotel rooms, and an indoor pool.
Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
By Paulina from Paulina on the Road
With famous red sandstone sea caves, breathtaking views, and a vast legacy, Apostle Islands is recommended to visit as it is heaven for its visitors. There are amazing places to visit and a lot of things to do in the Apostle islands during a Midwest summer vacation. Let’s take a tour of the heavenly place.
One of the best things to do in the Apostle islands is camping. If you want to catch a glimpse of sea caves and sandy beaches, consider going to Sand Island or Oak island.
You can take a cruise to explore the islands. The tours are of 2.5 hours, and they will take you around shipwrecks, sea caves, and some of the best lighthouses in Wisconsin. If you’re into hiking, Apostle Islands is the best spot for you, don’t miss The Loop Trail and Lakeshore Trail.
Another way to explore is to take a ferry from Bayfield to Madeline Island. Go for a Bayfield heritage tour. When you are there, don’t miss out on the Ghost Walking Tour. Listen to local ghost stories and witness the spots of weird and unexplained happenings.
Go fruit picking at the orchards. Many of them also sell jams, ciders, jellies, and honey. Lost Creek Falls is also among the top sights. Visit the three coastal areas- Cornucopia, Herbster, and Port Wing on the South shore.
Seagull Bay, Cobblestone Inn & Suites, and Bayfield Inn are some of the best places to stay. Try out the authentic cuisine at Copper Trout or Pier Plaza Restaurant. You can visit Greenleaf Restaurant to taste the local and global dishes.
One of the best summer destinations in the Midwest, located at the heart of Iowa’s resort region, Okoboji features five lakes with pristine water and over 70 miles of shoreline. It’s the perfect destination for outdoor activities such as hiking, boating, and camping.
At every corner, you’ll find areas to enjoy the lakes, go for a swim, rent kayaks, or just hang out at the beach. Pikes Point State Park and Gull Point State Park are two popular places on the lake shores. You can spend a day road-tripping along the lakes, or visit a new one each day.
Families can enjoy the rides and games at Arnolds Park Amusement Park and tour the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum, among many other kid-friendly attractions.
There’s also plenty of nighttime entertainment during summer, from open-air concerts to lakeside restaurants and bars to theatre shows at the Okoboji Summer Theatre.
The area offers all sorts of accommodation options from lake-side camping at one of the state parks to kid-friendly resorts to charming inns. The Oakwood Inn is one of the best-rated inns in town and is ideal for couples, friends, and families. Rooms can accommodate up to 4 people, most have a spa bath and a balcony with garden views, and breakfast is included. You’ll also find plenty of nice vacation rentals, some right on one of the lakes.
Cottonwood Falls, Kansas
Located in the Great Plains in the scenic Flint Hills, on the banks of the Cottonwood River, Cottonwood Falls is a small Kansas town that makes for a perfect summer getaway in the Midwest. Explore the town’s charming downtown, learn about its rich history, and go out to enjoy the stunning scenery.
In town, you can visit the Roniger Memorial Museum, the Chase County Historical Society & Museum, and the Flint Hills Gallery.
The nearby Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve offers plenty of hiking trails and a few historic buildings you can tour. There are plenty of areas to go for a swim not far from town, head to Chase State Fishing Lake and hike the short Chase Lake Falls Trail.
You can also spend a day driving the 47-mile Flint Hills National Scenic Byway along charming small towns and incredible views of the native grasses and flowers of the tallgrass prairie.
Located between Denver and Topeka, Oakley is a great summer destination for adventurous people wanting to explore the wilderness of west Kansas. The town is surrounded by stunning natural sights and cultural attractions, making it an ideal base to wander off, planning day trips to popular spots nearby.
Start by booking a room at the affordable Kansas Country Inn where you’ll find rooms that can accommodate up to 4 people, an outdoor seasonal pool, and complimentary breakfast. If you’re looking for more privacy and comfort, check out the vacation rentals in the area, some are set in gorgeous and secluded natural areas.
When you’re ready to head out, start driving along the Western Vistas Historic Byway, lined with unusual rock formations, fossils, and prairie. Stop at small towns such as Winona, Wallace, or Scott City to visit museums and historic sights. There are many natural attractions worth checking out as well like Castle Rock Badlands, Lake Scott State Park, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, and Monument Rocks Natural Landmark.
You can see the map with the full list of attractions here.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island is one of the best summer vacation spots in the Midwest United States. This popular island sits right in between the upper and lower peninsula of Michigan and offers visitors stunning views of surrounding Lake Huron as well as plenty of fun activities.
Park your car at the Mackinac Island Ferry docks (cars are not allowed on the island) and enjoy an short ferry ride to the island.
Spend your vacation enjoying the beach and water activities, hiking at Mackinac State Park, and admiring the Victorian architecture at places like the Victorian Grand Hotel before visiting The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum to admire work from various local artists.
If you have extra time, take a trip to Fort Holmes or go on a scenic kayak tour to explore the island from the water.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, consider booking a room at one of the independently owned bed and breakfasts on the island, like the well-rated and popular Inn on Mackinac, or book a lakefront vacation rental.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Located on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is known for its huge sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan and encompasses South and North Manitou islands as well. Summer is the best time to visit the area and enjoy all that it has to offer.
Don’t miss the Dune Climb, where you can run up and slide down the steep sand. Another great activity on the lakeshore is tubing or canoeing the rivers. Both the Platte River and Crystal River offer tours for various ages. On a Platte River tubing adventure, you can float all the way to a beach on Lake Michigan.
Most of the hiking trails are not especially difficult, so they’re perfect for hiking with the whole family, don’t miss the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail passing through stunning vistas and 19th-century farmsteads.
The area is also known for its wineries and a vacation there is the perfect occasion to go on a wine-tasting tour.
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. 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.
Table Rock Lake, Missouri
A great summer destination if you’re looking for a beach getaway in the Midwest, Table Rock Lake State Park is an ideal vacation spot for people wanting to enjoy the outdoors. Whether you just have a weekend or a full week vacation, you’ll find plenty of things to do within the park, with a perfect blend of relaxation and outdoor activities.
Apart from swimming and spending the day at the beach, you’ll find several water activities like boating, kayaking, canoeing, parasailing, water skiing, or diving. There are also plenty of hiking and bird-watching opportunities.
You’ll find plenty of accommodation options around the lake from campgrounds and lodges to luxurious resorts and cozy bed and breakfasts. The Cabins at Green Mountain by Wyndham in Branson is a great choice with plenty of great amenities. Otherwise, check out the many vacation rentals available in the area.
This charming small town in Nebraska is the getaway to some of the most stunning landscapes in the Midwest as it’s located right next to the Niobrara National Scenic River. The Niobrara river features a unique mix of amazing cliffs, rock formations, waterfalls, diverse plants and animals, and ancient fossils.
Summer is the best time to enjoy all the water activities the river has to offer, hop onboard a small boat, rent a kayak or canoe, or tube down the peaceful flows while enjoying the scenery. There are three main access points from which you can launch a boat: Ft. Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Falls State Park, and Brewer Bridge.
You can also easily find hiking trails in the area, for all abilities, and visit some waterfalls.
In town, you can stay at the Harmony Inn & Suites offering free breakfast, a playground, and spacious rooms, some with a kitchen. Alternatively, you can rent this gorgeous log cabin with views of the river in a secluded area yet close to river outfitters, enjoying stunning views from the wrap-around porch and all the comfort of home.
Lake Metigoshe State Park, North Dakota
Adventurous couples and families will love spending their Midwest summer vacation at Lake Metigoshe State Park. Nestled in the scenic Turtle Mountains, on the shores of Lake Metigoshe, the park features over 12 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails and can be visited year-round. The many small lakes found within the park offer fun opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, and birding, with the park being called home by many bird species rarely seen anywhere else.
The park offers several campgrounds as well as lodges and cabins, they even have a yurt by the lake. Make sure to book early as space is limited.
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