Have you ever spent a summer on either a west or east coast beach? I lived for years near both. The pounding surf can be very cool. Of course, there are city sewage leaks, gross dead sea creatures, and sharks too. Well, they can’t beat the best beaches in the Midwest.
The good news is that you don’t need to be near the ocean to enjoy a world-class beach scene. The American Midwest boasts plenty of enticing stretches of sand, from urban beaches to natural waterside areas on pristine reservoirs and thousands of awesome lakes.
So, where are the best beaches in America’s Midwest? It depends on whether you prefer to socialize, get out on the water, stroll a boardwalk, or have a barbecue near the sand. The good news is that many beaches offer multiple attractions, so you can fill an entire day or build a weekend-long getaway.
Beaches in the Midwest are scattered all around the Heartland, so it’s a good idea to plan accordingly if you’re hoping to hit more than one on your summer vacation.
Here are 10 of the best beaches in the Midwest (in no particular order) to hit while the sun is hot and the water is warm:
Lake McConaughy (Nebraska)
Lake McConaughy is technically part of the North Platte River, but the 22-mile-long, four-mile-wide reservoir has more surface area than most natural lakes. Known for its trophy walleye and trout, Big Mac (as it’s known by locals) also has several white sand beaches.
Thanks to the windy conditions of western Nebraska, you can sail, kiteboard, or windsurf on McConaughy. Exploring beneath the surface is also possible if you bring your scuba gear.
Nearest cities: Ogallala and Oshkosh.
Accommodations: Camping, lakeside lodges, and private home rentals.
Season: Average high in the 70s from mid-May through September.
Kohler-Andrae State Park (Wisconsin)
Kohler-Andrae State Park sits on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Unlike the beaches in Milwaukee and Chicago, the sands here are quiet, and nature dominates. Located in the Great Lakes town of Sheboygan, it’s easy to access hotels and restaurants from the 2.5 miles of sand.
The sand stretches inland in the form of dunes, which you can explore on several hiking trails. Kohler-Andrea is definitely a nature spot, but Sheboygan is filled with restaurants, brew pubs, taprooms, and live music venues, too.
Nearest city: Sheboygan.
Accommodations: Camping in the park and hotels in the city.
Season: Average high above 70 from June through September.
Bradford Beach (Wisconsin)
Bradford Beach is in the heart of Milwaukee. This 1.2-mile stretch of Lake Michigan sand has plenty of action throughout the summer. The shoreline here draws locals and visitors alike. While you can take a dip in the Great Lakes water or try your hand at freshwater surfing, most of the attractions at Bradford are on land.
The beach is famous for its volleyball scene, and The Dock at Bradford Beach restaurant and bar serves refreshments and a full live music calendar during the summer. The East Town and Brewer’s Hill neighborhoods offer plenty of evening entertainment away from the sand.
Nearest city: Milwaukee.
Accommodations: Hotels throughout the city.
Season: Venues at the beach open on Memorial Day.
Park Point Beach (Minnesota)
Park Point Beach is adjacent to downtown Duluth, a Lake Superior port city in Minnesota. This beach stretches for seven miles and offers a mix of quiet sands and lively social scenes. The beach has boat landings, volleyball courts, and lifeguards (during the summer season). If you’re visiting with a group, there are pavilions and barbecue grills available.
The city’s Canal Park, at the end of Park Point, has restaurants and bars and several lakeside hotels. The district also has summertime concerts, food festivals, and a youthful vibe because of nearby universities.
Nearest city: Duluth.
Accommodations: Hotels in Canal Park and Downtown.
Season: Average highs top 70 from mid-June through August.
Fugitive Beach (Missouri)
Fugitive Beach blends the natural settings of a rural quarry with the thrills of a waterpark. The beach, which charges $12 for admission, boasts a waterslide, cliff diving, and a 100,000-square-foot swimming area.
The only drawback to Fugitive Beach is the 6:00 pm closing time. However, the nearby town of Rolla has several restaurants and nightlife spots favored by beachgoers who want to keep the party going after sunset.
Nearest city: Rolla.
Accommodations: Multiple chain hotels and B&Bs in Rolla.
Season: The beach is open from May through September.
Lake of the Ozarks Public Beach #1 (Missouri)
Lake of the Ozarks is in central Missouri, an equal distance from Kansas City and Saint Louis. The reservoir has several beaches, but Public Beach #1 is the most accessible. It features barbecue and picnic facilities, a beach, and watersports equipment rentals.
This beach is ideal if you want to look beyond sand and suntans. Lake of the Ozarks State Park has water trails for canoes, kayaks, and hiking routes for land-based adventures.
Nearby cities: Bromley, Kaiser, and Osage Beach.
Accommodations: Camping in Lake of the Ozarks State Park.
Season: Above 70 from May through September.
Lewis and Clark Recreation Area Beach (South Dakota)
Lewis and Clark Lake has the attractions and facilities for a complete beach vacation experience. Straddling the border with Nebraska, this South Dakota reservoir has 90 miles of shoreline. The Recreation Area Beach is action central, with clean sand and water and an impressive menu of onshore and water-based activities.
You can fill your weekend with everything from volleyball and paddleboarding to kayaking and archery. Rental equipment is available from the park, so you can play even if you don’t bring your own balls or boards. Nearby Yankton has a good tourism infrastructure with hotels, resorts, restaurants, breweries, and wine bars.
Nearby cities: Yankton.
Accommodations: Campgrounds and resorts onsite, hotels and motels in Yankton.
Season: Facilities are open from May 1 to September 30.
Clear Lake City Beach (Iowa)
Clear Lake City Beach sits in northern Iowa. The 1,000-foot-long stretch of sand brings visitors something unique: an urban beach in a small-town setting. In addition to the sun, swimming, and sand, there are showers, changing facilities, and waterfront paths for biking.
The beach is adjacent to historic downtown Clear Lake, which features several restaurants and nightspots, including bars and distilleries with live music. The weekly “Thursdays on Main” event brings a carnival-like atmosphere and entertainment onto the street during the summer.
Nearby city: Clear Lake.
Accommodations: Chain and boutique hotels.
Season: Temperatures reach the 70s from mid-May through late September.
Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)
If your idea of the perfect beach vacation has endless sands to explore, Indiana Dunes National Park will be your dream destination. The park features 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and eight different beaches. West Beach, with showers and lifeguards, is the most popular spot, but the others provide quieter settings and chances to explore the sand further inland on the 50-mile network of trails.
Nearby city: Several towns and cities near the park.
Accommodations: Individual and group campgrounds in the park and hotels in nearby communities.
Season: The park is open year-round, with the best weather between June and September.
Wilson State Park (Kansas)
The Wilson Reservoir is one of the most scenic attractions in Kansas. This artificial lake has a rugged shoreline, but there are several beach areas with buoyed swimming areas. You would plan a vacation here if you wanted to mix sand and suntans with outdoor adventures like boating, paddling, biking, or fishing.
Campgrounds and cabins provide a rustic experience, and you can also rent a power boat to cruise the lake. If you are looking for an early or late-season option to avoid crowds, Wilson is a great option.
Nearby city: Wilson.
Accommodations: Camping and cabins are available in the state park and hotels in the nearby community of Wilson.
Season: The state park is open year-round, with warm temperatures from late April through early October.
Whether you are looking for an urban beach party scene, a stretch of quiet sand, or the perfect place to launch your kayak, one (or more) of these 10 best beaches in the Midwest will provide the ideal setting this summer.
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