Agriculture and manufacturing may make America’s Heartland the indispensable core of the country, but it’s not all work and no play in the Midwest. With big city culture, small town charm, and an abundance of magnificent nature, the Midwest overflows with easy getaways. Whether you’re looking for mornings packed with history, lazy lakefront afternoons, or flashy nights of fine dining, here are 10 Midwest vacation spots you should visit at least once.
Indiana’s capital is home to major museums and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which annually draws crowds larger than the Super Bowl. But you shouldn't overlook the potential fun at smaller sites like the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Madam Walker Theater. Stay in a stylishly revamped Coca-Cola bottling plant in the Bottleworks District, go duckpin bowling in offbeat Fountain Square, and try fowling— a fusion of football and bowling—in Windsor Park.
St Anthony Bluff Park in the Fall. Photo courtesy of MeetMinneapolis
Get a taste of America’s lake country at Chain of Lakes Regional Park, featuring five of the city’s 22 lakes. You can also explore the culture and lively scene of the Mississippi Riverfront, where the city converges for entertainment, outdoor recreation, and spectacular views. Midtown Global Market, located in the historic Sears building, showcases the city’s talent and international heritage with more than 45 culturally diverse businesses.
Snowshoeing in Cave Point County Park. Photo by John Nienhuis/Destination Door County
Door County, found along Lake Michigan's shoreline in Wisconsin, is home to a collection of quaint vacation towns perfect for day-hopping your way through the picturesque region. The lake is inspiring under the ice and snow of Wisconsin’s serious winters and under the sunny skies of summer. Plus, there’s plenty to do year-round, from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to quintessential cherry-picking and can’t-miss fish boils.
Days of 76 in Deadwood. Photo courtesy of Travel South Dakota
It’s more common to stay in Rapid City during an exploration of South Dakota’s parks and monuments, but instead, consider a stay in Deadwood. You’ll still be less than 90 minutes from Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave National Park. However, staying in Deadwood means you can also experience the best of the Old West in the infamous town where Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane are buried.
Many would say the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri is the very symbol of the Midwest, so make sure it's on your bucket list. As the tallest arch in the world, this towering, stainless steel wonder once merely represented Thomas Jefferson’s dream of expansion to the West Coast. It's now a timeless reminder of this region's diversity and those who have shaped history. Take a river cruise on the Mississippi River for a special view of the Gateway Arch or head straight to the top on a tram ride.
Head to southern Indiana to explore the massive Marengo Cave, which has offered tours for 140 years. At Falls of the Ohio State Park, enjoy a visit to the sprawling, 390-million-year-old fossil bed. Retrace history at the reconstruction of Lincoln’s legendary boyhood log cabin at Knob Creek, and get creative with the makers of the NoCo Arts and Cultural District of Jeffersonville. Unforgettable overnight options range from houseboats or a refurbished silo at Patoka Lake Winery to the glamorous suites under the incredible atrium of historic West Baden Springs Hotel.
Lake of the Ozarks. Photo courtesy of Missouri Division of Tourism
LAKE OF THE OZARKS
With more than one thousand miles of shoreline, Lake of the Ozarks is the premiere spot for waterfront vacationing in the Midwest. From quiet, country days along the water to the sheer spectacle of Party Cove’s never-ending revelry, the lake is well-suited for both families and frolickers. Seasonal events range from a polar bear plunge to a three-mile speedboat race.
Yes, both. Kansas City, Missouri, tends to grab most travelers' attention, and it’s well worth the visit. But don’t forget to cross the river to Kansas City, Kansas, where you'll discover the cultures of the people who helped establish this region as a meatpacking mecca. Expect a knockout taco scene and a bounty of barbeque. You'll also find repurposed churches offering various activities, from bowling to aerial silks.
Long Live Rock Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-large. Photo courtesy of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Destination Cleveland
From the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to many other spectacular museums throughout this Lake Erie city, you can easily stay entertained just walking the streets without a plan. However, mapping out your dining destinations is strongly recommended. Once best known for humble Polish and Italian dishes, the city’s diverse and delicious culinary scene is now considered worthy of an extended stay. From simple corned beef sandwiches to high-end concept restaurants, every corner of Cleveland deserves a bite.
Kayaking on the Chicago River with Urban Kayaks. Photo courtesy of Graham Chapman and Choose Chicago
Yes, there’s more to Chicago than its riverfront, but this is the place to start—especially if you don’t have time to see the entire city. A river tour is a must for seeing the highlights of the city’s economic, architectural, and cultural histories, through its numerous century-old buildings. The river itself is a marvel and is home to an expanding riverwalk system packed with parks, art, food, and entertainment.