16 Incredible Midwest Vacations

See which outstanding escapes showcase some of Middle America's top destinations.

By Lyn Mettler, ContributorApril 29, 2019
By Lyn Mettler, ContributorApril 29, 2019, at 9:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

16 Incredible Midwest Vacations

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Whether you're looking for a big city or a quiet retreat, America's heartland offers something for everyone.

With its wide stretches of picturesque landscapes, from the Great Plains of North Dakota to the rivers and valleys of Ohio, the Midwest features an American charm all its own. This area of the country is filled with quaint towns, national parks and historic sites. Additionally, many Middle America locales appeal to foodies by offering unique dishes and beverages. Discover the natural beauty of the countryside and the cultural offerings of action-packed cities with these top Midwest getaways.
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Indianapolis

Indianapolis beckons to sports lovers with its professional car racing, basketball and football competitions and attractions. First, check seeing the world-renowned Indianapolis 500 racetrack off of your bucket list. Then, head to downtown's White River State Park to peruse the interactive exhibits and retro 1930s gymnasium at the NCAA Hall of Champions. Basketball fans also won't want to miss Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University. Built in 1928, the arena is both the actual site and filming location of the 1954 events featured in the classic movie "Hoosiers." Kids can even get in on the athletic fun at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis' Riley Children's Health Sports Legends Experience. Le Méridien Indianapolis and The Alexander, A Dolce Hotel are two superb boutique properties that sit close to downtown Indianapolis' top attractions.
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Chicago

A trip to the Windy City is usually best in the summer months, when visitors can get out and explore the city's shops, lakefront beaches and phenomenal architecture. Stop by the Chicago Architecture Center to book an architecture cruise down the Chicago River for an up-close view of the city's many buildings. A trip to Wrigley Field (home of MLB's Chicago Cubs) is also in order, as is shopping along Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile. Be sure to refuel with some deep-dish pizza at a classic restaurant, such as Lou Malnati's or Gino's East, before retiring for the night. The Kimpton Hotel Monaco Chicago offers a central location and rooms with large bay windows, while the ACME Hotel Company features funky digs in the River North district.
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Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

If you're looking for a way to keep your kids active and entertained, check out the abundant options in Wisconsin Dells. Known for offering some of the best water parks in the United States, Wisconsin Dells is where you'll find indoor and outdoor water parks, such as Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari Resorts & Conventions. These properties have not only lots of fun activities, but also family-friendly accommodations like themed suites and rooms with bunk beds. Winter is a great time to visit because there is so much to do indoors. But if you're visiting in the summer, take advantage of outdoor activities like zip lining, go-kart racing and hiking. For a date night sans kids, head to a local winery like Fawn Creek or Prairie Hawk.
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St. Louis

Another great Midwestern city to check out during the warmer months is St. Louis. You'll want to visit the famed Gateway Arch, which you can ride to the top of for sweeping city panoramas. At the City Museum, kids and adults alike can climb through, up and along caves, ladders, slides and more made from recycled materials and found objects. And for baseball fans, there's Busch Stadium (where the St. Louis Cardinals play). The Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch literally has the Gateway Arch in its front yard and is a convenient spot for visiting downtown attractions.
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Cincinnati

Located north of the Ohio River, Cincinnati offers many activities and attractions for visitors. Catch a Cincinnati Reds baseball game at the Great American Ball Park and stroll through the hip Over-the-Rhine district, which is home to top-notch eateries like the Sacred Beast Diner and the historic Findlay Market (the oldest continuously operated public market in Ohio). Another fun stop is the neon sign-filled American Sign Museum. Save time to sample Cincinnati's famous chili spaghetti at Skyline Chili, savor a Graeter's ice cream cone and enjoy dinner at Nada Mexican restaurant. After a busy day of eating and sightseeing, retire to AC Hotel Cincinnati at The Banks, a boutique-style property situated directly across from the ballpark.
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Traverse City, Michigan

Travelers keen on exploring the great outdoors this summer should look no further than Traverse City. Located about 160 miles southwest of the U.S.-Canada border, this city overlooks Lake Michigan and boasts long summer days, allowing visitors to spend even more time hiking, biking and fishing. Enjoy the scenery at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore while trekking the protected area's trails, including the daunting Dune Climb. There are also abundant wineries and craft breweries for sampling libations of all sorts. Those visiting in winter should take advantage of the area's frequent snowfall for skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking. Consider reserving a room at Hotel Indigo Traverse City, which is located in the Warehouse District and offers a rooftop bar with views of West Grand Traverse Bay.
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Milwaukee

The classic TV show "Laverne & Shirley" might come to mind when you think of Milwaukee, but the city offers more than bottle capping at Shotz Brewery as the pair was known for. Today, this city on Lake Michigan's western shore offers all kinds of beer-focused activities. You can visit the historic Pabst Mansion, take a brewery tour and sip to your heart's content. Stop by Fiserv Forum (home of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks), then check out the German restaurants and bars on Old World Third Street. Other must-see attractions include the Harley-Davidson Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum. No visit would be complete without a stay at the Saint Kate Arts Hotel, which features three art galleries, a black box theater and art-inspired accommodations.
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Branson, Missouri

If you want to be entertained during your next vacation, venture to Branson, where you'll find live shows, theme parks and the beautiful Ozark Mountains. Spend a day at Silver Dollar City, an 1880s-themed amusement park with lots of roller coasters and craftsmen demonstrating trades. Or, watch a live show at Sight & Sound Theatres or Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater. Remember to save time for other attractions, too, like the Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley's Believe It or Not! and the Branson Ferris Wheel. When you're ready to sleep, head to Big Cedar Lodge, an expansive property with a golf course, a spa and views of Table Rock Lake.
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Visit one of America's great national parks in North Dakota. Theodore Roosevelt National Park spans the North Dakota Badlands and features gorges, canyons, forests and wildlife like prairie dogs and buffaloes. Plus, the protected area sits within 250 miles of several historic sites, including the remains of three American Indian villages, the former Fort Union Trading Post (the largest 1800s-era fur trading post on the upper Missouri River) and the International Peace Garden, which commemorates the peaceful relationship between the U.S and Canada. Stay in the small North Dakota town of Medora at the Rough Riders Hotel (where former President Theodore Roosevelt reportedly delivered a speech) or the all-suite Spirit of the Badlands lodge.
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Deadwood, South Dakota

Walk in the footsteps of Wild West legends like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane in the former gold town of Deadwood. While in town, hang at some saloons, take a ghost tour of the Historic Bullock Hotel (and stay there, if you dare) and visit Mount Moriah Cemetery to see where many of the town's legends are buried. You can even enjoy a ride on the Deadwood Stagecoach. If you need a break from the area's rich history, go for a hike to Bridal Veil Falls in Spearfish Canyon. The Holiday Inn Resort Deadwood Mountain Grand is a fitting place to lay your head, with an on-site casino and theater, plus in-room fireplaces and balconies that overlook town.
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Mackinac Island, Michigan

Head to Michigan's Mackinac Island for a classic American getaway that will transport you to a different era. You'll find Victorian architecture on display everywhere you turn, and no cars are permitted anywhere on the island. To get around, book a horse-drawn carriage tour or hop on a bike. You can also get out on the water to go kayaking, fishing or boating. For a stay that's filled with old-world charm (think: a classic white porch with rocking chairs and a parlor with afternoon tea service), book a room at the iconic Grand Hotel. Welcoming guests since 1887, the property boasts the world's longest porch and individually appointed accommodations. Don't forget to try some of the island's famous fudge before leaving.
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Cleveland

This Midwestern city set on Lake Erie's southern shore offers something for everyone, from sports aficionados to music and art lovers to thrill-seekers. Explore the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, attend a performance by the highly regarded Cleveland Orchestra and wander through the free Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland is also home to professional sports teams like MLB's Cleveland Indians and the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. Plus, it sits about 60 miles northwest of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and less than 63 miles east of Cedar Point amusement park. For accommodations, there's the boutique Kimpton Schofield Hotel, which features a central location in a historic building and fun in-room perks, such as free loaner guitars.
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(Courtesy of Margaritaville Lake Resort Lake of the Ozarks)

Margaritaville Lake Resort Lake of the Ozarks: Osage Beach, Missouri

Get away to one of the Midwest's grandest lakes, the Lake of the Ozarks, in classic Jimmy Buffet style at Margaritaville Lake Resort Lake of the Ozarks. The resort – which sits about halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri – is spread across more than 400 acres that are used for both indoor and outdoor activities. Tee off at one of two golf courses, go horseback riding, pamper yourself at the spa or take a cruise of the lake. Kids will especially love the indoor water park, bowling alley, miniature golf course and arcade. After enjoying hours of entertainment, grab a bite to eat at one of several on-site eateries. Popular options include LandShark Bar & Grill and JB's Boathouse Grill.
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(Courtesy of Grand View Lodge Spa and Golf Resort)

Grand View Lodge Spa and Golf Resort: Nisswa, Minnesota

Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and Grand View Lodge offers an opportunity to explore Gull Lake, one of the state's many gems. The resort offers plenty to do outdoors, from tennis to yoga to biking. Plus, the property's lakeside location means travelers can participate in water activities, such as kayaking, fishing, pontoon boat cruises and paddleboarding. Visitors who arrive in the winter can try activities like skiing, snowmobiling, sleigh rides and ice fishing. During select months, the resort also hosts weekly wine dinners with four courses and wine pairings, as well as beer dinners featuring some of Minnesota's top craft beers. Accommodation options include the main lodge, a boutique hotel, cabins and cottages.
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St. Paul, Minnesota

Situated across the Mississippi River from Minneapolis, St. Paul is known as one of the Twin Cities. Fun stops here include the Wabasha Street Caves (a series of caves once used as a nightclub that hosted gangsters in the 1930s), the Keg and Case West 7th Market food hall, the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory and the Minnesota Museum of American Art. Another can't-miss spot is the beautiful Cathedral of St. Paul, the third-largest and fourth-tallest Catholic church in the U.S. For more gorgeous architecture, venture to Summit Avenue to see the country's longest stretch of preserved Victorian buildings. Once you've gotten your fill of sightseeing, retreat to the Hyatt Place St. Paul/Downtown, which features an indoor pool and free breakfast for World of Hyatt loyalty program members.
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Omaha, Nebraska

A vibrant Midwestern town, Omaha offers many amenities, including animal attractions, museums and retail shops. Kids can get up close with animals at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium or enjoy various interactive exhibits at the Omaha Children's Museum. Travelers of all ages will likely appreciate meandering through the Old Market neighborhood, which is filled with charming shops, art galleries and restaurants. Additional locales worthy of a leisurely stroll include the 100-acre Lauritzen Gardens and the National Historic Landmark-listed Boys Town, where Father Flanagan began helping at-risk children in 1921. Reserve a room at the Cambria Hotel Omaha Downtown to be close to many of these sights – and get free perks like airport shuttle service and Wi-Fi access.

Lyn Mettler, Contributor

Lyn Mettler is the hotels contributor to U.S. News and also writes about destinations, ...  Read more

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