Family Life Things to Do

Discover the Midwest -Top Family-Friendly Summer Vacations

This is the time of the year when a lot of families start thinking about where they’d like to vacation this summer. If you’re traveling solo or with your significant other, there’s really no limit to your destination choices – but having a family in tow means you need a plan. You don’t want to commit to a vacation that winds up being unsuitable for your entire brood.

America’s heartland has a treasure trove of family-friendly vacation spots, whether your ideal spot is a city full of cultural and culinary delights or a park where you can get away from it all. Grab the kids and pack the car, because here are some of the top family-friendly summer vacation spots in this charming region of the country:

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is a tremendously vibrant city, and it’s a great spot to visit when you have a family in tow, thanks to tons of family-friendly attractions. Start your adventure at the Navy Pier, where you can ride the iconic Ferris wheel, catch a show at the Chicago Children’s Theatre, or explore the interactive exhibits at the Chicago Children’s Museum

A trip to Chicago won’t be complete, of course, without a visit to the Shedd Aquarium. Here, your kids can marvel at aquatic creatures from around the world. For a brush with nature, head on over to Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the country (and free to the public since 1868). Millennium Park offers the perfect backdrop for family photos with its famous Cloud Gate sculpture (lovingly known as “The Bean”), and its sprawling open spaces are perfect for picnics and outdoor concerts.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin 

Known as the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” Wisconsin Dells is an ideal destination for families looking to make a splash. There are tons of indoor and outdoor waterparks, so “fun in the water” is a year-round affair. Noah’s Ark Water Park, the largest in the United States, boasts thrilling water slides, a lazy river and a wave pool that guarantee endless fun for the kids – and for adults as well. 

Beyond water parks, families can explore the scenic beauty of the Wisconsin River on a Dells Boat Tour, which showcases the region’s stunning sandstone formations and lush forests. If you want a different kind of adventure, visit the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, where science and entertainment collide with over 150 interactive exhibits that are certain to entertain inquisitive folks of all ages.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Ever wish you could just step back in time, escape the constant hustle and grind of the modern world and simply slow down? Mackinac Island might be just the salve that your soul needs.

Mackinac Island is car-free, with horse-drawn carriages and bicycles as the primary modes of transportation, creating a unique and relaxing atmosphere. Families can explore the island’s historical sites, such as Fort Mackinac, which offers reenactments and interactive exhibits that bring history to life. The island’s natural beauty can be appreciated on a leisurely bike ride around its perimeter, offering breathtaking views of Lake Huron. While you’re there, don’t forget to sample the infamous Mackinac Island fudge – a treat that draws thousands every year.

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota 

Affectionately known as the “Twin Cities,” the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is a great spot for a family vacation. It’s a dynamic vibe that combines a ton of natural beauty with a city’s urban excitement.

The Mall of America, located in Bloomington, is one of the big draws in the area – and it’s far more than just a shopping destination! It houses Nickelodeon Universe, an indoor amusement park with rides and attractions based on many popular TV shows that all the kids adore. The Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul is another must-visit for families with kids, with interactive exhibits designed to spark creativity in young minds. If you’re looking for outdoor fun, Minnehaha Regional Park features beautiful waterfalls, scenic trails and more, which make it a great place for little ones to burn off some energy.

Indianapolis, Indiana 

Whether you live in the area or you’re just visiting, Indy combines a rich cultural scene with plenty of kid-friendly activities to spare!

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest of its kind in the world, offers exhibits ranging in focus from dinosaurs to outer space. The Indianapolis Zoo, located in White River State Park, is home to a diverse array of animals and family-friendly shows. If you’re a long-time resident of the area, consider saving the big bucks on a longer trip and making Indy your “staycation destination” in 2024.

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri 

If you’re ready to get away from it all for a bit, why not head to the Lake of the Ozarks? This is one of the premier destination for families seeking outdoor adventure and water activities – and a break from the usual routine. 

With over 1,100 miles of shoreline, the lake offers endless opportunities for boating, fishing, and swimming. Families can enjoy a day at one of the many public beaches or rent a boat to explore the lake’s numerous coves. For a thrilling experience, visit Big Surf Waterpark. Billed as the “Number One-en-est Family Fun Waterpark,” Big Surf has been providing family fun since 1988. It features water slides, a lazy river and a wave pool. On land, the nearby Ha Ha Tonka State Park boasts hiking trails that lead to fascinating geological formations and the ruins of a 19th-century castle you can explore with the kids.

The Black Hills, South Dakota

The Black Hills provide a perfect mix of natural beauty and historical intrigue, That makes it an excellent family vacation spot if you love the idea of the lonely “Badlands” of South Dakota and want to feel like you’ve reached back in time and touched history.

Nearby, the Crazy Horse Memorial offers another monumental sculpture still in progress and a cultural center dedicated to Native Americans and their heritage. Custer State Park offers opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing and scenic drives through its rugged landscape. Don’t miss a visit to the Black Hills’ many caves, such as Wind Cave National Park, where Lakota traditions say that both bison and humans first emerged into the world.

The Midwest’s charm lies in its diversity – and it really does have it all. So, pack your bags and set out on an unforgettable family adventure this summer right here in America’s heartland where you can have a great time making some beautiful memories.