Best Midwest US Vacation Ideas

From the amber waves of grain to sophisticated cities, the Midwest offers many vacation opportunities for families. Here's where to bring your kids in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

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Chicago, IL

Chicago Gate at Millennium Park
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The Windy City offers lots of fun for families. Navy Pier has multiple family attractions (including a Ferris wheel and a Children's Museum), as does Lincoln Park (with its free zoo and children's zoo, beach, and nature museum) but these two top tourist areas are just the start. Visit the Shedd Aquarium, American Girl Place, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and much more.

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Door County, WI

Door County, Wisconsin, with Kids
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Often called "the Cape Cod of the Midwest," charming and laid-back Door County is known for its rugged Lake Michigan coast and fishing villages-turned-resort towns. It's said that no matter where you are, you're not more than 10 minutes from the water. 

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Traverse City, MI

Traverse City, Michigan, with Kids
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The unofficial capital of Michigan's beautiful Lower Peninsula, Traverse City is known for its boutique shops, wineries, cherries, and lovely beaches. As a bonus, you'll find some more great beaches and high dunes nearby at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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Badlands National Park, SD

Badlands National Park

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

The dramatic Badlands landscape in South Dakota contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds, once home to ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat. The park’s 244,000 acres protect a mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today.

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Wisconsin Dells, WI

Noah's Ark Water Park

Wisconsin Dell (pop. 4,000) is the indoor water park capital of the world and a huge destination for outdoor water parks, too. Over 20 resorts offer an indoor water park to their guests; some sell passes to outsiders too. A number have outdoor facilities in summer also. Wisconsin Dells has lots of outdoor recreation in summer, as well, and cross-country skiing in winter-time.

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Galena, IL

Galena, Illinois, with Kids
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About three hours from Chicago, the main street of adorable Galena exudes small-town America charm. Fun for families ​includes paddleboarding on the Galena River, zooming down the alpine slide and zip line at Chestnut Mountain Resort, and taking a journey back in time at the Apple River Fort.

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Ohio State Park Lodges

Maumee State Park Lodge with Kids
Ohio State Park Lodges

Looking for an affordable Midwest beach getaway this summer? A stay at one of the Ohio State Park Lodges might be just the ticket. Located in parks throughout the central and northern regions of the Buckeye State, the lodges offer a surprising array of beach experiences on lakes, rivers, and reservoirs.

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Boyne Mountain, MI

Boyne Mountain for Family Vacations
Boyne Mountain

Boyne Mountain is a four-seasons recreation area in northern Michigan, with skiing in winter and summertime boating and fishing on lakes and Lake Michigan, along with hiking, biking, zip lining and more. Add to this mix the Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark, which is billed as Michigan's largest.

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Sandusky, OH

Sandusky OH with Kids
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About an hour from Cleveland, Sandusky may not be as famous as, say, Orlando, for family getaways, but with some 10 million visitors a year, it is still immensely popular, thanks mainly to Cedar Point Amusement Park. Lately, a cluster of resorts with indoor water parks has been extending the fun times through the non-summer months.

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Branson, MO

Branson MO with Kids
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This popular Ozarks town is known for its live country music shows and a respectable array of fun family attractions, including Silver Dollar City theme park, the Branson Scenic Railway, Titanic Museum, and the Dixie Stampede. First time in Branson? Get oriented with a land-and-water tour aboard the Ride the Ducks amphibious trucks that drive on land and float on water. It's a unique way to see Branson, and kids love it.

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Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee with Kids
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Family getaways to Milwaukee offer plenty to keep kids busy and feed their imaginations with family-friendly museums, a zoo, and many foodie attractions. A guaranteed highlight for younger kids under age 10 is the Betty Brinn Children's Museum, while older kids will love the 120,000-square-foot Discovery World Center for Public Innovation, a science museum brimming with high-tech exhibits that are interactive and educational.

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Blue Harbor Resort: Sheboygan, WI

Blue Harbor Resort with Kids
Blue Harbor Resort

Built in the style of a grand old beach hotel, Blue Harbor Resort sits on Lake Michigan in the Harbor Center district of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. There is a kids activity center, themed suites, Lake Michigan beaches, and -- the big draw for families -- its very own indoor waterpark.

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- Edited by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher