The Midwest is often underrated as a vacation destination. As a Midwesterner myself, I know there are endless things to see and do for any type of traveler. Do you like urban destinations? Rustic retreats? Fun family getaways? The Midwest offers all of these experiences and more.
I can’t possibly cover all the best vacation spots in the Midwest—and it’s subjective anyway—but these fantastic destinations offer a lot to see and do in addition to being generally more affordable than other places in the U.S.
Looking for a taste of Europe in the Midwest? Several options exist, but this destination near Cedar Rapids is definitely worth a visit. The Amana Colonies, a National Historic Landmark, is a cluster of seven villages founded by German immigrants in 1855. Visitors can learn about the communal lifestyle they lived here.
Amana Colonies isn’t just about history. Sure, that’s one of the major draws. Still, visitors can also enjoy a unique shopping experience, art galleries, wineries and breweries, a variety of restaurants (including authentic German food), outdoor recreation, and family-friendly activities. Accommodations in and near the Amana Colonies include hotels, inns, B+Bs, RV parks, and campgrounds.
Prefer an urban escape? Wichita offers all the delights of any large city—food, arts, culture, shopping, and nightlife—but with its own unique flavor. For a great photo op, visit the impressive 44-foot Keeper of the Plains sculpture that overlooks the city where the Big and Little Arkansas rivers meet. It’s especially magnificent at night when it is illuminated by the Ring of Fire, a ring of fire pots encircling the sculpture that burns for 15 minutes each night in good weather.
Explore the botanical gardens, historical and art museums, the zoo, and the science center. Take a cheese-tasting, honey-tasting, or beer-tasting tour. See how many murals you can find while strolling downtown. Wichita provides an experience for everyone.
In St. Louis, visitors can enjoy typical big city attractions, such as the food scene, nightlife, and the arts. Visit Six Flags and St. Louis Union Station, which houses an aquarium, a mini golf course, and a carousel, among other fun activities. Catch one of the local professional sports teams in action.
Gateway Arch National Park is one of St. Louis’ top attractions for a reason—not only are there incredible views from the top, but the museum is worth visiting, too. A riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River can be part of the experience, with options for a sightseeing tour, a dinner cruise, and occasional special events.
Grand Marais is not just a pretty village on Lake Superior; it attracts visitors with its artsy vibe and is an excellent base for exploring the rest of Cook County. It’s a hub for creatives of all kinds, and the local shops are ideal for browsing and buying unique items. Visitors can enjoy scenic drives, wineries and breweries, art galleries, museums, and plenty of other attractions.
The surrounding area offers plenty to see and do, including four state parks that aren’t typically as crowded as others on the North Shore. The Grand Portage National Monument is a short drive away. Outdoorsy types can find recreation year-round, including skiing and snowboarding at the nearby Lutsen Mountains.
Known as Nebraska’s Landmark Country, Scotts Bluff is particularly known for Chimney Rock, an awe-inspiring rock formation rising from the prairie, and the impressive landscape at Scotts Bluff National Monument. While these two landmarks are definitely a reason to visit, they aren’t the only reason.
The area boasts numerous recreation areas, historic landmarks, antique shops and flea markets, museums, and golf courses, among other draws. Hike historic trails or go horseback riding, then relax at the end of the day at a brewery or winery. This area is a haven for campers, but there are also several hotels, a bed and breakfast, and private rooms via Airbnb.
The Black Hills and Badlands offer much more to do than I can mention here. Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Badlands National Park are the prominent places of interest. Custer State Park is also popular—just watch out for the free-roaming buffalo! Some of the lesser-known attractions include gold-panning and mine tours, chuckwagon dinners, cave tours, casinos, and a presidential wax museum—and I’ve barely scratched the surface!
Accommodations range from horse camping facilities and campgrounds to resorts and vacation home rentals. This is an excellent area for scenic drives and motorcyclists. (Sturgis, anyone?) However, it’s also a large area to explore, so don’t expect to do it all in one vacation.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find a lot to love about Door County, including 300 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan, five state parks, 19 county parks, a multitude of beaches, and vast expanses of wilderness. This is a year-round destination, offering plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation in every season.
Less outdoorsy types can enjoy live music, theater, museums, landmarks, art galleries and studios, shopping, wineries and breweries, dining, and breathtaking scenery. Plus, there is a wide variety of accommodations in the area, from resorts to campgrounds and everything in between (including pet-friendly options!).
Of course, these are just some of the highlights, with much more to be found in each of these states. Get out there, discover the best of the Midwest, and have fun! Explore what the Midwest has to offer as a vacation destination and see where your adventure takes you.
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