When most people think of the Midwest, they are likely to think of cattle pastures and cornfields. Little do those people know that the Midwest is full of booming metropolitan cities and tourist towns filled with entertainment and topped with breathtaking views.
The Midwest consists of the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.
Whether you are native to the Midwest and know about all it has to offer, or you have never been to the Midwest, you are sure to find perfect family weekend getaways in the Midwest. Take a look at our comprehensive list below.
If you’re looking for great recommendations on things to do whilst in the area, why not check out our guide to the best zoos in the Midwest.
- 13 of the Best Family Weekend Getaways in the Midwest
- Are You Ready for These Family Weekend Getaways in the Midwest?
- Other places to consider for your family weekend getaway
13 of the Best Family Weekend Getaways in the Midwest
From the southernmost parts of Missouri to the tip-top of Minnesota, the Midwest is full of weekend lake destinations, mountainside resorts, and bustling cities. Don’t let the myth that there is nothing to do in the Midwest keep you from an unforgettable family vacation.
However, be careful not to wander too far out of these weekend destination spots. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the middle of a cow pasture or crop field for the authentic Midwestern experience.
Here are 13 of the best family weekend getaways that you’ll never forget!
St. Louis sits on the Missouri and Illinois border with parts of the city in both states. Known as the “Gateway to the West,” the city has a unique skyline that welcomes guests traveling west with the 630-foot arch that draws attention from those entering the city.
The Gateway Arch is one of the most iconic and well-known parts of the city as there is no other like it in any major city. While the Gateway Arch does attract tourists from all over the world, it is not the only draw to the city.
Like any other large city, St. Louis boasts a wide variety of activities the whole family can enjoy. One of The Lou’s more sought-after entertainment destinations is the St. Louis Zoo. Not only is the zoo free to enter, but it also has approximately 18,700 animals spanning 90 acres. About 3 million guests visit the St. Louis zoo per year, making it a highly sought-after destination.
After visiting the zoo, take the kids to the Science Center for another free entertainment activity before heading to Busch Stadium for a world-class baseball experience. If you enjoy adding a historical piece to your family vacation, visit the City Museum, where the kids and adults can stay entertained. If you’d like to see where the 1904 World’s Fair took place, take a stroll around Forest Park.
The success of family vacations weigh heavily on the lodging choices, and this is especially true when staying in a city as safety is a crucial factor. For an affordable stay that is safe and close to the action is Hampton Inn & Suites St. Louis at Forest Park.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Also known as Tree Town, Ann Arbor, Michigan, is the fifth-largest city in Michigan. It is in large part due to the transfer of the University of Michigan from Detroit to Ann Arbor in 1837. Because rapid growth rates of the city began when the university moved, it is challenging to visit Ann Arbor and not show your school pride by taking in a UMich athletic game.
If college athletics aren’t your family’s forte, there are plenty of other activities and historical sites to see around the city that will keep you and your family entertained. Explore the great outdoors by paddle boarding on the Huron River in the summer or cross-country skiing in the wintertime. You can also visit hiking trails and golf courses in the neighboring town of Ypsilanti.
One of the aspects that makes Ann Arbor unique is how the many forms of art incorporate into its culture. There are a plethora of art galleries and museums scattered across the city where you can get a taste of what sets Ann Arbor apart.
Along with the physical forms of art, Ann Arbor offers theatrical and musical art from performances by performers ranging from locals to internationals. Visit the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre to get a taste of what the area has to offer.
Branson, Missouri, is one of the southernmost towns in Missouri and is known as a family vacation destination for families. With entertainment from the likes of The Beatles impersonators to mountainside roller coasters, families of all age groups can enjoy what Branson has to offer.
It’s not a complete trip to Branson without visiting the 1800s themed amusement park known as Silver Dollar City. At Silver Dollar City, you will find all employees dressed in attire that you would find in the 1800s and a plethora of timely craft shops and restaurants. But don’t worry, if the vintage craft shops and BlueGrass entertainment don’t suit your fancy, you can hop across the sidewalk and ride one of the 31 roller coasters on the property.
If theme parks aren’t on your family’s radar, visit the State Park Marina to rent a pontoon and take it out on Table Rock Lake for a day full of sunshine and relaxation. After a long day on the lake or at Silver Dollar City, drive into town and walk along The Branson Landing, where you will find all the shops you need, including Bass Pro Shops and a place to grab a bite to eat all while enjoying a lakeside walk along Lake Taneycomo.
While SDC, Table Rock Lake, and the numerous shows scattered around town are what draws families to Branson, one of the main attention grabbers to the area is Big Cedar Lodge, a world-class wilderness resort that attracts guests from all over the world.
Bass Pro Shops founder, Johnny Morris, is the owner of Big Cedar Lodge, which is located just south of Branson in Ridgedale, Missouri. Don’t let a run-down hotel ruin your family vacation to Branson. Instead, stay at Big Cedar Lodge for an experience your family will thank you for.
The Windy City is one of the most breathtaking cities in the Midwest, let alone the United States. Lake Michigan flows through the city, along the base of the highrises and under roadway bridges giving it a unique feel.
While on your Chicago vacation, visit the iconic tourist stops in the city like The Bean, Navy Pier, and Willis Tower. At the top of Willis Tower, you can wait in line to walk out on one of the sky decks where you are walking on glass and can see the streets of Chicago 1,353 feet below. If the thought of peering down onto Chicago while standing on glass doesn’t excite you, you can instead walk around the top of the tower without worrying about falling through the glass floor.
Don’t forget to stop by the Garrett Popcorn Shop on the Navy Pier or other locations scattered in the city and purchase some Chicago-style popcorn. The sweet caramel corn mixed with salty cheddar is a unique experience for your taste buds that originated at Garrett Popcorn.
You can’t visit Chicago without trying some Chicago-style pizza at Giordano’s. With several locations around Chicago, Giordano’s rules the streets of Chicago as Italian founders Efran and Joseph Boglio made their Mama’s “Italian Easter Pie” Chicago famous.
If you’re looking for a metropolitan, Midwestern vacation experience, take your family to Chicago and explore the water-filled city and enjoy some Chicago food staples.
If you’re searching for a Midwestern vacation that involves water, you must visit Wisconsin Dells. Wisconsin Dells gets its name from the Dells of the Wisconsin River that feature sandstone formations along the banks of the river. Also known as, The Dells and “The Waterpark Capital of the World,” this south-central Wisconsin town incorporates nature and modern tourism for a unique family weekend getaway.
The best way to take in all the natural beauty Wisconsin Dells offers is a scenic boat tour. This authentic Dells experience takes you via boat through the scenic waterways at a leisurely pace so you can inspect the layered sandstone banks. If you’re looking for a more romantic tour, take a sunset dinner cruise complete with live entertainment and a sunset over the majestic waters.
A faster-paced Dells experience consists of trout fishing at B&H Trout Fishing & Bait Shop, winter sports at Cascade Mountain Ski, Snowboard & Snow Tube, and hiking at Devil’s Lake State Park. If your family is full of thrill-seekers, try Bigfoot Zipline Tours or the Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park.
Wisconsin Dells is full of natural beauty and modern tourist attractions. Take your family on a weekend vacation to The Dells for a fun-filled and relaxing getaway.
Surrounded by cornfields in every direction, the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, is sure to give you and your family the Midwestern experience. The capital of the state, Lincoln, is the second most populated city in Nebraska and is named after President Abraham Lincoln.
The list of things to do in Lincoln is endless as family activities are plentiful. If you have a car lover in your family, visit the Museum of American Speed, where you will find various displays, including show cars, luxury cars, and drag race cars. You can also view galleries of famous car models including, Model T and Model A & B.
Lincoln also has the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, which is the perfect afternoon family activity. Stop by the zoo to interact with the wildlife including, cheetahs, giraffes, penguins, and alligators. The International Quilt Museum is a unique experience that is a midwestern staple.
Educate yourself on the different patterns and traditions involved in quilting, and even interact with the quilt artists during the events that take place at the museum. With multiple activities and available resources, people of all ages are welcome to learn about what all quilting entails.
It’s not a vacation getaway unless you experience some local food offerings. The Green Gateau is a local restaurant that serves a different menu for lunch, brunch, and dinner. One of the favorite dinner menu items is the Steak Philly Wrap, complete with sirloin steak tips and grilled vegetables. They also offer a menu with family meals for four people, which is perfect for a small family looking to get the most for their money.
Even though the surrounding farmland hides it, Lincoln, Nebraska, has a wide variety of family destinations that are perfect for your weekend getaway.
Straddling the Kansas and Missouri border, Kansas City has a rich jazz history and is known for its KC BBQ. As with any other city, there is an abundance of activities waiting for you and your family to enjoy to ensure you create lasting memories.
The American Jazz Museum in downtown Kansas City pays homage to the jazz that built the city, with credits going to the jazz masters like Charlie Parker, Count Basie, and Big Joe Turner. The jazz museum holds memorabilia, album covers, rare photos, personal items of some of the greatest jazz artists that help tell the stories of these remarkable people.
Along with the historical jazz presence in Kansas City, you will find some of the best BBQ in the United States. While we don’t know the secret ingredient that makes KC BBQ special, we do know that the BBQ produced by Kansas City has a sweeter taste and thicker consistency than most. Some of the best BBQ joints in KC include Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Q39, and Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue.
After your tummy is full of sweet BBQ goodness, head on over to Children’s Mercy Park to watch Sporting KC, the city MLS team, in their soccer-specific stadium. You can also try Arrowhead Stadium to take in a game with the reigning super-bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Maybe the professional sports scene isn’t for your family. If so, try Zip KC for an adrenaline-filled zipline tour or the Boulevard Drive-In for a drive-in movie experience. Kansas City is full of fun-filled activities you and your family are sure to love.
The Black Hills, South Dakota
The Black Hills are an impressive mountain range in western South Dakota. These hills hold endless history as this area played a pivotal role in their culture. When gold surfaced in the Black Hills in 1874, a rush of settlers swarmed the area as part of a gold rush.
Contrary to popular belief, the Black Hills of South Dakota are not black. They get their name from the ponderosa pine trees known as Paha Sapa, translated to “Hills That Are Black.” When viewing the hills from a distance, they may appear black, but that is simply the shadows the ponderosa pine trees cast on the hills.
Besides taking in the natural beauty of Badlands National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota, there is an abundance of family activities to keep everyone in your group entertained for the weekend.
Visit the Jewel Cave National Monument to explore the world’s third longest cave. If you prefer to stay above ground, take the kids to Rush Mountain Adventure Park to take a cruise down the Rushmore Mountain Coaster. After receiving all the thrills you can take for the day, take in some local entertainment at the Fort Hays Old West Town and Dinner Show.
Rich with history and breathtaking scenery, the Black Hills of South Dakota is a Midwestern weekend getaway you won’t regret taking.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island in Michigan is one of the more unique weekend getaway options for families in the Midwest. One of the aspects that sets the island apart from other Midwest destinations is that there are no vehicles allowed on the island.
That’s right. If you plan on getting around the island, grab your best walking tennis shoes or rent a bicycle. Or, if you plan on getting the Mackinac Island experience, make reservations for a horse and carriage ride. You can even explore the outskirts of the island by water with a boat tour or kayak rental.
Another unique part of the island is that you won’t find any chain hotels for lodging. Stay in a one-of-a-kind room at one of the island’s family-owned resorts, condos, cottages, hotels, or Airbnb for a truly unique experience.
Explore what the island offers by biking or walking to one of the many Mackinac Island Fudge shops for a delicious treat. Once known as the center of the world’s fur trade, the island now attracts visitors from all over the world for its delectable fudge and unique way of life.
After putting in the manual labor to explore the island, relax at one of the spas with a peaceful pampering session. Spas on the island offer services like facials, massages, manicures, and pedicures, along with saunas and steam rooms for the ultimate relaxation experience.
Hocking Hills, Ohio
The picturesque beauty of The Hocking region in Ohio is a compelling enough reason to take a weekend trip with your family to Hocking Hills, Ohio. The area is known for its sandstone outcroppings, majestic waterfalls, tall hemlocks, and steep gorges.
While visiting the area, you are sure to find wildlife roaming about from the early mornings to late evenings. The undergrowth contains ferns, shrubs, and rare wildflowers. If you’re a budding botanist, these are some of the rarest plants in the state, and they are all available for your observation at Hocking Hills State Park.
As previously mentioned, the rock formations are a prime draw to the area, with the most memorable figure being the Blackhand sandstone. Due to natural occurrences, the sandstone cemented together, forming a spectacular observation destination.
Immerse yourself in the luxury and beauty of Hocking Hills by staying at the Hocking Hills Treehouse Lodge. Here, a family of twelve can enjoy a hot tub, outdoor fire pit, direct TV, and the ambiance of the surrounding woods. Don’t pass up the opportunity to experience this true Midwest destination.
Lake of the Ozarks
Get ready for some lake time fun when you and your family spend the weekend at Lake of the Ozarks. Located in the heart of Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks is a premier Midwestern destination where you are bound to have a good time.
With your typical lake activities around every corner like boating, kayaking, canoeing, jet-skiing, etc., finding a spot to rent water sports equipment is a breeze. After a day of soaking up the sun on the lake, take on the surrounding towns for a laid-back dining experience. You will also find an impressive nightlife scene on Lake of the Ozarks, where the adults can enjoy a drink and live entertainment.
Lake of the Ozarks also offers a plethora of seasonal events in the surrounding towns and venues such as Osage Beach, Old Kinderhook Resort, and Stark Caverns. No matter the season you and your family are searching for a weekend getaway, you must check out the event lineup for a unique experience.
Lakeside resorts and condos line the lake, ensuring all tourists have a lakeside view during the entirety of their weekend getaway at the lake. Check out Margaritaville Lake Resort or The Lodge of Four Seasons Golf Resort, Marina & Spa for a luxurious yet activity-driven home base.
The Kansas Flint Hills
After traveling through the flatlands of Kansas, you may find yourself in the east-central part of the state, where flatlands no longer describe the area. The Flint Hills of Kansas is one of the world’s most extensive tallgrass prairies and may change your preconceptions of the state.
Also known as Bluestem Pastures or Blue Stem Hills, this region of Kansas is named after the flint present in the bedrock on the surface of the ground. Because of the abundance of rock in the soil, early settlers couldn’t farm this land, which turned it into pasture land for cattle.
The Flint Hills of Kansas is a Midwestern tourist staple in today’s era, providing both beautiful scenery and historical relevance. Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kansas, is the perfect place to take your family to learn about the history of the Flint Hills and the role they played in the development of the surrounding towns.
After getting your fill of Flint Hill history, grab a bite to eat at Colbert’s in Manhattan, continuing to explore the area by visiting the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Turn in for the night at Windmill Inn in Chapman for a unique lodging option.
Kansas doesn’t have to be boring. The rich history of the state mixed with the rolling prairies is a sight to see and the perfect weekend getaway in the Midwest.
Galena, Illinois, is a historic Midwest town that should be on everyone’s bucket list to visit. This quaint little town embraces its historic background but is sure to put a modern spin that only Galena knows how to do.
Finding itself along the banks of the Mississippi River, Galena is full of outdoor activities such as biking, boating, and bird watching, with skiing, ice skating, and sledding being popular winter activities. No matter the outdoor activity your family decides to embrace, breathtaking views of the rolling hills surrounding the small town will welcome you.
Shopping is not in short supply, as the 19th-century downtown streets of Galena boast over 100 privately owned shops. The unique shopping experience Galena offers ensures you find what you need and support local businesses as you visit each storefront.
The dining experience this small town offers is bound to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters as options range from steakhouse restaurants to restaurants that serve homestyle dishes. For a unique dining experience, visit Fried Green Tomatoes and enjoy an Espresso Steak alongside a glass of fine wine.
Your family will not be disappointed with a weekend trip to the riverside town of Galena, Illinois, where there is an activity for everyone in your family.
Are You Ready for These Family Weekend Getaways in the Midwest?
The Midwest is full of thriving cities and unique, rural towns. Don’t let the misconception that the Midwest is all cornfields and cattle keep you from experiencing the unique Midwestern experience for yourself. Whether you’re looking for a busy weekend with lots to do or seeking a peaceful getaway in nature, the Midwest is the perfect destination for your family.
With large cities like Kansas City, Lincoln, and St. Louis hidden amongst the rural towns and farmland, you are sure to find all sorts of exciting sights and activities that you and your family will be talking about for years to come.
Visit the Flint Hills of Kansas and experience the prairie land or spend some time on Mackinac Island in Michigan for a unique atmosphere that you can only experience on the island.
No matter what brings you to the Midwest, a weekend getaway with incredible views and historical influences is sure to refresh you and your family for the week to come.
Other places to consider for your family weekend getaway
If you’re considering other destinations for your weekend away with the kids, take inspiration from our other handy guides below!
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