As a lifelong Midwesterner, I admit the Midwest has some wonderful hidden gems. Whether it’s the structural beauty of the Chicago skyline or the green pastures of Kansas, the Midwest has a unique mix of breathtaking beauty. One of the finest aspects of a vacation to the Midwest is that this area encounters four seasons throughout the year, so the beauty, sites, and things to do will be unique during different times of the year. While there are the obvious favorite vacation spots like Wisconsin Dells, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Mount Rushmore, there are other, lesser-known Midwest vacation destinations that deserve just as much attention. Check out some of the best places to visit in the Midwest!
Mackinac Island in Michigan offers vacationers a unique chance to step back in time. Recognized as a popular Midwest vacation destination in the 19th century, the island became a bustle of activity in the summers. Many cottages, shops, and hotels were built during this time. Over the years, Mackinac Island has preserved and restored many of these historical buildings. Now recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the island continues to embrace its cultural and historic significance.
Keeping with the preservation of history, you won’t find any cars on this island. People get around on foot, by bicycle, or by horse-drawn carriage. This allows vacationers to enjoy a quieter, slower-paced lifestyle.
Of course, many vacation here because over 80% of the island is a state park. In addition to historic landmarks, unique caves and rock formations, as well as gorgeous views, the park also has over 70 miles of trails to take in the beauty of Mackinac Island.
About one hour west from Chicago, you can visit an internationally renowned Japanese Garden in Rockford, Illinois. Anderson Japanese Garden is one of the largest gardens in the United States and a must-see for nature enthusiasts. The garden started out in John Anderson’s backyard because of his love of Japanese landscape. With the help of master craftsman Hoichi Kurisu, the Japanese Garden grew in size, buildings were added, and tours were eventually given. In 1998, the Andersons donated it to the Rockford Rotary Charitable Association and the gardens are open daily with admission.
Duluth, Minnesota, is a fantastic Midwest vacation destination because it combines the benefit of the Great Lakes with a large metropolitan area. Skyline Parkway, Duluth’s first tourist destination, offers beautiful views of Lake Superior, the St. Louis River, and the city. Another popular destination includes the historic Aerial Lift Bridge. This is a rather uncommon type of bridge that many tourists visit to watch as it raises and lowers to allow boats to pass from the harbor to Lake Superior. The Great Lakes Aquarium, a popular spot for families, is one of the few aquariums in the country dedicated to freshwater exhibits and education.
Duluth, Minnesota has thousands of acres of grassland and hundreds of miles of hiking paths. In central Duluth, you can find the Lakewalk, a seven mile walking and biking path. Come walk the miles of shoreline, see the lighthouses, and enjoy the natural open spaces of Duluth.
The Lake of the Ozarks is a reservoir of three rivers, the result of a dam built in 1931 to provide hydroelectric power to locals. When land was being acquired for the dams, thousands of acres along the shoreline were eventually made into Missouri’s largest state park. This combination of natural land and a very large lake is how this destination became the go-to spot for vacationers around.
Popular for fishing and boating, the Lake of the Ozarks is a top Midwest vacation destination. Most notable is Party Cove (regularly known as Anderson Hollow Cove), which sees thousands of boats each summer weekend.
Another way to beat the heat in Lake of the Ozarks is by touring some of the area’s interesting caves. Missouri, in fact, has over 7,000 caves within the state. This is mostly due to the porous rock that makes up the area. With so many water entertainment options, family attractions, and outdoor activities available, it’s no wonder Lake of the Ozarks is a top Midwest vacation destination.
Located on the Mississippi River in western Illinois, Galena’s natural beauty is seen in its hills, bluffs, and rock outcroppings that overlook the river. The town was named after the mineral Galena, found in the ore in the region, which drew in miners and accelerated the area’s population growth and economy. Recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, Galena features a number of historic buildings and museums, as well as Illinois’s oldest operating hotel, the DeSoto House Hotel. Many of the area’s boutiques and restaurants are also housed in these historic buildings.
Galena is most famous for being the home of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. President Grant’s home is now a state historic site that offers tours Wednesday through Sundays. In addition to other historical sites and museums, Galena offers plenty of outdoor activities like golf, boating on the Mississippi River, fly fishing, numerous parks and green spaces, skiing in the winter, birding, horseback riding, and more! There are also wineries, distilleries, and local breweries to try.
Galena is a popular vacation spot for locals, Chicagoans, and other Midwesterners. It’s well-known for being the place for beautiful weddings, bachelorette parties, and couple getaways.
While the Midwest may not have the allure of the mountains or the appeal of the tropics, there are plenty of gorgeous places in our area. These are just a few of my favorite Midwest vacation destinations. Where do you love to vacation in the Midwest? Let me know in the comments!