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13 Best Midwest Lake Vacations for Families

Although many people might not consider a family vacation in the Midwest, it is actually one of the best places to enjoy a nice outdoor vacation on the lake. If you’re looking for a fun-filled family vacation, the Midwest boasts some of the most picturesque and captivating lake destinations in the country.

From the crashing waves of the Great Lakes to the small ponds that fill Minnesota’s inland area, there are thousands of lakes scattered around the Midwest. And whether you want to stay in a cozy lakeside resort or pitch your tent along the shoreline, there’s something for you!

In this post, I’ll share with you the best Midwest lake vacations to plan for your next getaway!

Fabulous Lake Vacations in the Midwest - Kids Are A Trip

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Midwest Lake Vacations Families Will Love

1. Grand Marais, Minnesota

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world, and visiting Grand Marais in Minnesota gives you the perfect opportunity to experience it.

With sparkling blue waters and an abundance of natural beauty, Lake Superior is the heart of this small town and offers endless opportunities for outdoor activities!

Start by exploring the many hiking trails that surround the lake and offer the perfect vantage point to admire the shoreline for miles and miles. 

View of waves crashing on rocks in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

You can also take a sea kayak out onto the water and enjoy soaking up the warm summer sun. 

Many of the nearby lakeside Minnesota resorts offer beaches for their guests to relax. Some even feature firepits and have nightly fires with s’mores available.

Aside from Grand Marais, you can explore the entire North Shore and the eight state parks that line Lake Superior. 

2. Table Rock Lake, Missouri

Table Rock Lake is a massive reservoir, located just a few minutes outside the Live Entertainment Capital of the World, Branson, Missouri.

This stunning lake boasts crystal clear waters that stretch for over 43,000 acres, surrounded by rolling hills and lush forests that provide a picturesque backdrop for all sorts of outdoor adventures. 

Whether you’re looking to go boating, fishing, or simply relaxing on the beach, Table Rock Lake has something for everyone. 

Table Rock Lake Missouri Midwest lake vacations

People love kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on the water and exploring the coves that are spread out along the 800 miles of shoreline.

Table Rock Lake is nestled in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, meaning that you’ll have endless opportunities for hiking and other adventures off the water, too!

In addition, being so close to Branson gives you the chance to check out over 100 live performances that take place in the lively city!

3. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

As Minnesota’s only national park and one that is made up of ⅓ water, it’s no wonder why it comes in as one of the best lake vacations in the Midwest.

This remote and infrequently visited park offers families an escape from everyday life, as well as an escape from the crowds that come with more popular destinations.

Because much of the park is underwater, most of it is only accessible by boat. Renting one or bringing your own is a must!

Voyageurs National Park vacations with kids

If there’s a fisherman in your family, they will love staying in the fishing resorts near Voyageurs because it gives you the chance to get out on the water early and catch the big ones!

Other fun activities in the park include swimming, hiking, and birding. Voyageurs National Park is also one of the best places in the state to watch the northern lights. So on a clear night, be sure to look up into the sky and search for the aurora!

4. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

If you’re looking for one of the most unique lake vacations, then head to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.

Just a short distance outside of Traverse City is the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan, which is lined with miles and miles of towering white sand dunes.

Climb to the top of the 450-foot dunes and admire the 360-degree views that you’ll have from the top. In the distance, you might see the Manitou Islands.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan

North and South Manitou Islands are accessible by ferry and are open for exploring during certain parts of the year. You can spend the night on them if you’re up for some primitive camping, otherwise, you can visit for the day.

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If you don’t want to go out to the islands, you can also just stay on the mainland and climb the dunes. Either way, this is a great way to enjoy the Great Lakes of the Midwest.

5. Sylvan Lake, South Dakota

Sylvan Lake is a gem in Custer State Park in South Dakota that shouldn’t be missed during a visit. It’s the most recognizable of the lakes in the park, and one of the most beautiful!

The shoreline is lined with towering rock formations and lush, green forests that look similar to the rocks that fill Custer State Park and the Badlands of South Dakota.

The crystal clear waters of Sylvan Lake provide a perfect spot for swimming, kayaking, or simply enjoying the stunning views from the shore.

The park also offers several hiking trails, including the popular Sylvan Lake Trail, which winds its way around the lake and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding Black Hills.

Other places to check out within the park include the Wildlife Loop Road, where you’ll likely see hundreds of bison roaming the fields, and Black Elk Peak, if you’re up for a long hike into the wilderness.

This is the perfect place to travel in the Midwest if you’re looking for some time spent on the water as well as some adventurous things to do!

6. Brainerd, Minnesota

Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and in the Brainerd Lakes Area, you’ll find nearly 500 of them to explore!

With dozens of lakeside resorts, award-winning golf courses, and plenty of opportunities to boat and recreate on the water, Brainerd makes for a perfect getaway.

Lakeview at dusk of Brainerd, Minnesota.

Many people love boating, fishing, and swimming on the lakes. The most popular lakes are Gull Lake and North Long Lake.

In addition to water activities, visitors can also enjoy hiking, biking, and exploring the nearby Paul Bunyan State Trail. The trail winds through the forests of Brainerd and is the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors.

For kids, check out Paul Bunyan Land or Northland Kart Kountry. The Brainerd International Raceway also is a great place to visit with drag racing and watercross racing throughout the year.

7. Door County, Wisconsin

If you’re a fan of stunning lake views and all the fun activities that come with being on the water, Door County in Wisconsin is an absolute must-visit Midwest lake vacation. 

Situated on a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan, a visit to Door County will provide you with some of the very best things to do during a vacation, whether you’re seeking relaxation or adventure.

Door County Wisconsin beach

For the adventurous bunch, there are 11 different lighthouses that line the shores of Door County, and you can wander throughout the peninsula to see them. Along with that, be sure to visit Cave Point County Park and Peninsula State Park for hiking and views of the lake.

8. Lake McConaughy, Nebraska

As the largest lake in Nebraska, a visit to Lake McConaughy is a must-do while touring the best lake vacations in the Midwest.

Lake McConaughy offers a stunning view of the surrounding sandhills and crystal-clear waters that stretch for miles. With nearly 100 miles of shoreline, there’s no shortage of activities to enjoy, whether it’s swimming, boating, fishing, or even camping.

Known by locals as Big Mac, the lake has white sand beaches, perfect for sitting back and relaxing during your travels.

Fishing is one of the top activities for your time on Lake McConaughy, and the lake has produced some of the largest fish in the state of Nebraska!

Hiking trails also line the shore, so you can wander around and see the sites from land as well. A few other must-sees in the area include Mansion on the Hill, which is a large Victorian home and museum, as well as the Historic Walk of Fame in downtown Ogallala.

9. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Found in the heart of Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks is nestled in the northern part of the Ozark Mountains, just between St. Louis and Springfield.

Whether you love to get out on the water and play or you love to sit on the shoreline and relax, there’s something to do here for you!

Lake of the Ozarks Midwest family vacation

The lake stretches through several towns. In each small town, you’ll find a variety of attractions, from waterparks to golf courses to art galleries and small local shops. Many of these are along the lakeshore and allow you to enjoy the water from a distance. 

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Hiking along the lake and throughout the bluffs is another popular activity in the area.

Those who love water sports should head out on a boat and drop a line to see what they can catch. Or try your hand at water skiing or tubing. There are so many great activities on Lake of the Ozarks for the entire family!

10. Chicago, Illinois

Most wouldn’t think of Chicago when they consider the best Midwest lake vacations, but for big city lovers, why not plan a trip to the Windy City, which sits right on the shoreline of Lake Michigan?

You can start your lakeside vacation by wandering around Navy Pier, which sits right on the shores of the lake. Here you’ll find a giant Ferris wheel, lots of shops and restaurants, and great views of Chicago’s skyline.

Chicago Midwest family vacation

Another way to enjoy Lake Michigan while in Chicago is to embark on a tour into the water. There are cruises that will take you sightseeing at sunset or during the day. You can also take a kayaking tour, where you can experience the lake in a whole new way!

Of course, while you’re in Chicago, make a stop at the iconic Bean sculpture and see the city from above in the Willis Tower or 360 Chicago.

11. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Lake Geneva is a beautiful destination in southern Wisconsin, just about an hour away from Milwaukee. It’s one of the best Wisconsin lakes for a quick getaway from Milwaukee or Chicago.

This stunning body of water offers plenty of activities to keep visitors entertained, whether you prefer to relax on a beach, take a boat tour, or try your hand at water sports like kayaking or jet skiing.

Lake Geneva Wisconsin Chicago day trip-Kids Are A Trip
Photo: Creative Commons

Relax on the sandy beaches or rent a boat and explore the bays of the beautiful Geneva Lake. If you’re looking for a more leisurely way to enjoy the scenery, hop on a historic tour boat to take in the gorgeous views of the surrounding hills and historic mansions that dot the shoreline. 

If you need a break from the water, check out the many golf courses, bring the kids to play at the Lake Geneva Ziplines & Adventure, or wander around the local museums.

12. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

This unique destination will surely be one for the books, as it’s somewhere that most people never are able to experience in their lifetime!

Isle Royale is a small island found in Lake Superior off the coast of Minnesota’s North Shore and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

View of the edge of a rocky cliff on the water at Isle Royale National Park, Michigan.

On the island, you’ll be surrounded by water and have the opportunity to explore the land that is uninhabited by people. The only beings that you’ll find on the island are visitors and the resident moose and wolves.

If you don’t see a moose during your visit, it’ll be shocking, as there are nearly 1,400 on Isle Royale! On the other hand, wolves are harder to find.

A visit to the island will be an unforgettable experience of exploring untouched nature and spending time on Lake Superior.

13. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

Visiting the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin is truly a magical experience that every adventurer should add to their bucket list. 

Located near Bayfield in Northern Wisconsin, you’ll be on the shores of beautiful Lake Superior during your Midwest lake getaway.

With crystal clear waters, pristine sandy beaches, and 22 picturesque islands to explore, there’s something for everyone. 

View of a rocky cliff with trees over water in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin.

One of the most popular activities at the park is kayaking, where you can paddle through the stunning sea caves and marvel at the intricate rock formations. You can either bring your own sea kayak or rent one from a local outfitter.

If you’d rather just admire the water from the shoreline, you can also check out the hiking trails that wind along the shoreline. 

This unique destination is one of the best places to take in the beauty that is Lake Superior!

Wrap-Up: Best Lake Vacations in the Midwest

The Midwest isn’t the first place people look when planning a trip, but it is full of hidden gems waiting to be explored.

If you’re in search of somewhere to spend time on a lake, these best Midwest lake vacations will ensure that you have an unforgettable time!

From the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan to the charming lakeside towns of Minnesota, the region offers an abundance of natural beauty, recreational activities, and family-friendly attractions. No matter what you’re looking for, whether it be relaxation or adventure, the Midwest has it all!

About the author: Kassidy is a Minnesota native who enjoys exploring her home state and the surrounding Midwest. Her favorite part of the Midwest is Minnesota’s North Shore. She loves to share her adventures on her blog, Kassidy’s Journey.