4 Favorite Family Getaways
Great Midwest vacations for all ages
The kids need a pool, preferably with a really cool water slide or two. The grown-ups would like at least one non-hot-dog meal, and the outdoorsy types won't be happy unless they get in a hike.
Whether it's you and a child or two, or the whole extended clan, the classic summer vacation gets complex in a hurry. So we did the legwork for you. On the following slides you'll find information on four of our favorite family destinations: Brainerd area, Minnesota; Branson area, Missouri; Minocqua area, Wisconsin; and Traverse bays area, Michigan.
What's your favorite Midwest spot for a family vacation? Tell us about it in the Comments section below!
Playing in and out of the water in Brainerd, Minnesota
Central Minnesota's resort country is a magnet for families looking to create summertime legends, with 465-plus lakes, 120 lodging choices and 25 golf courses sprawled around Brainerd, 130 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.
Everywhere you turn here, a sparkling lake twinkles back at you. Whether you stay on the shore of 7-mile-wide Gull Lake or teeny-tiny Lost Lake, you'll find plenty of ways to get out and get wet. For those craving more than sun and sand, the area offers lots of dry-land alternatives, including award-winning golf courses and the 100-mile Paul Bunyan Trail for cycling.
The next three slides have information on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Brainerd area.
Brainerd: what to do
Paul Bunyan Land Old-fashioned carnival rides thrill the younger set, and a lumberjack greets kids at the entrance. Paul Bunyan Land
Brainerd Golf Trail A partnership between 11 area courses, the trail amounts to 180 holes, featuring a blend of forests and lakes for spectacular scenery. Brainerd Golf Trail
Brainerd International Raceway The National Hot Rod Association holds contests on this drag strip. Brainerd International Raceway
Nisswa Two dozen gift shops, galleries and flea markets serve browsers; families will love the weird and wonderful Wednesday afternoon turtle races. Nisswa
Paul Bunyan Trail Bike this 100-mile trail between towns or explore sections on foot. Paul Bunyan Trail
Trailblazer Bikes Rent wheels in Nisswa. Trailblazer Bikes
Brainerd: where to eat
Ernie's on Gull Lake This local favorite has family-friendly food and prices. Ernie's on Gull Lake
Prairie Bay Upscale fresh seasonal fare combines with a solid wine list. Prairie Bay
Zorbaz on the Lake Watch the boats drift by on Gull Lake at this fun and funky pizza and Mexican joint. Zorbaz on the Lake
Brainerd: where to stay
Grand View Lodge (pictured) Swanky meets Minnesota woodsy at a classic family lake resort with modern updates. Grand View Lodge
Cragun's Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake At this family-friendly year-round retreat, you can rent equipment and guides for area lakes and trails, or just watch the view from a room or cabin. Cragun's Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake
Kavanaugh's Sylvan Lake Resort Flanked by hiking and biking trails, this recently revamped four-season cottage resort has it all: swimming pool, nearby golf, tennis courts, boat rental and sand beach. Kavanaugh's Sylvan Lake Resort
Lost Lake Lodge This secluded gem overlooks Gull Lake Narrows and Lost Lake; breakfast and dinner included. Lost Lake Lodge
Madden's on Gull Lake The resort has all kinds of kid-pleasing activities, including water-skiing lessons, plus a spa and golf course. Madden's on Gull Lake
Neon and nature in Branson, Missouri
Neon marquees light the night sky above Branson, Missouri, where more than 50 theaters stage 100 different splashy, family-friendly shows. If that's not enough entertainment, the Ozarks-style Silver Dollar City theme park mixes history and crafts with cool rides. Plus, visitors are drawn to the area's plentiful shops, including outlet malls and the new upscale, lakeside Branson Landing.
But there's another side to this Ozark Mountain destination (35 miles south of Springfield): the area's natural attractions. Surrounding Branson, man-made Table Rock is so vast that you can boat all day without seeing all of it. Coves offer fishers opportunities for undisturbed casting. Parks are so quiet that you might not guess that all Branson's attractions and commotion are minutes away.
The next three slides have information on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Branson area.
Branson: what to do
Silver Dollar City Take your pick of a colorful mix of attractions: amusement-park rides, traditional hill-country crafts or a big plate of Ozark succotash. Silver Dollar City
Branson Landing Shops, food and a show that features a spectacle of spurting fountains, fire, lights and music share the waterfront in Branson. Branson Landing
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park Book a private jeep tour of the picture-perfect park. A two-hour excursion crosses into Arkansas and includes stops to see elk and bison. Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
The Shoji Tabuchi Show An extravaganza just about guaranteed to grab you. Shoji is a Japanese fiddler, but the music extends to polka, Broadway, Cajun, Big Band, gospel and beyond. The Shoji Tabuchi Show
White Water Beat the Missouri heat with more than a dozen water slides at this outdoor water park. White Water
Branson: where to eat
Showboat Branson Belle Dine aboard an authentic paddle wheeler as it cruises Table Rock Lake. Showboat Branson Belle
Branson Cafe Branson's oldest eatery, open since 1910, serves local faves such as catfish and fried chicken. (417) 334-3021
Casper's Chili Parlor Line up for the secret-recipe chili served at a Springfield Quonset hut. (417) 866-9750
Lambert's Cafe Thirty miles north of Branson in Ozark, servers toss "throwed rolls" to hungry diners. Lambert's Cafe
Branson: where to stay
Big Cedar Lodge (pictured) This upscale full-service resort along a quiet part of the lake offers a variety of lodgings, including luxury cabins, a well-run kids' program and activities such as evening poolside "dive-in movies." (800) 225-6343; Big Cedar Lodge
Cascades Inn Located next to the Shoji Tabuchi Show Theater, this hotel is perfect for bargain-minded travelers who come to Branson for the entertainment. (800) 588-8424; Cascades Inn
Chateau on the Lake A top-notch spa and indoor and outdoor pools make the large resort one of Branson's most upscale lodgings. (888) 333-5253; Chateau on the Lake
Still Waters Lakefront Resort There's much to love: a range of rooms and prices, pools, a water park, a marina with nice boats for rent and free water toys for kids to play on. (800) 777-2320; Still Waters Lakefront Resort
Thousand Hills Resort A choice of condos or cabins, as well as a top-rated 18-hole golf course, make this a good option in town. (877) 262-0430; Thousand Hills Resort
Quintessential resort feel in Minocqua area, Wisconsin
Popcorn-and fudge-scented air hums with the buzz of speedboats and the putter of pontoons in Minocqua and the surrounding towns of Woodruff, Arbor Vitae, Boulder Junction and Hazelhurst, the woodsy heart of northern Wisconsin vacationland (165 miles northwest of Green Bay).
There are lots of reasons for the area's reputation as an ideal lake getaway -- at least 4,200 of them. That's the number of lakes (3,200) in Vilas and Oneida counties, plus the number of rooms, condos and cabins (1,000) that line their pine-shaded shores. We didn't even count the supper clubs, cafes, shops, shows and other attractions.
But you can still find natural lakes so quiet that the plunk of a lure echoes from shore to shore. Towns like Minocqua are the quintessential resort-area destination -- the one most people dream of when they're stuck in a cubicle on a sunny day.
The next three slides have information on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Minocqua area.
Minocqua: what to do
Min-Aqua Bats Water Ski Show Watch one of the oldest amateur water-ski shows in the United States. Min-Aqua Bats Water Ski Show
Hawk's Nest Canoe Outfitters Enjoy lazy tube floats and other Wisconsin River trips. Hawk's Nest Canoe Outfitters
Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Show The mad skills of champion lumberjacks set crowds abuzz; kids get to test their own sawing skills during intermission at some shows. Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Show
Northwoods Children's Museum Little ones can explore an ambulance, dress-up attic, mock campground and fire tower, plus paint T-shirts with a squirt gun. Northwoods Children's Museum
Tommy's Fishing Adventures Budding or experienced anglers can get bait, equipment, advice or guide service. Tommy's Fishing Adventures
Minocqua area: where to eat
Hoggie Doggies Snack Shack One-stop dining in Woodruff: hot dogs, sandwiches, hand-cut fries, ice cream treats with sprinkles and more. Hoggie Doggies Snack Shack
The Outdoorsman Restaurant Date night in Boulder Junction! Think grilled elk medallions and filet of ostrich. The Outdoorsman Restaurant on Facebook
Paul Bunyan's Northwoods Cook Shanty Flapjacks and warm buttermilk doughnuts await in Minocqua. Paul Bunyan's Northwoods Cook Shanty
Soda Pops For an afternoon cool-down, try one of 100-plus soft drinks at the old-fashioned soda counter in Eagle River. Soda Pops
Thirsty Whale A historic boathouse turned restaurant; deck tables double as prime seating for the water-ski show in Minocqua. Thirsty Whale
Little Bohemia Restaurant You'll get history along with the Friday fish fry in Manitowish Waters: Look for bullet holes that are still in the wall from a shoot-out with gangster John Dillinger. Little Bohemia Restaurant
Minocqua: where to stay
The Beacons of Minocqua Condos and log cabins surround a large lakefront lawn. A summer activities program offers events and classes for both kids and adults. The Beacons of Minocqua
Big Bear Hideaway Kids love the log cabins that feel like tree houses in Boulder Junction .Big Bear Hideaway
Driftwood Lodge Boat rentals, suites and vacation homes where no one minds a little tracked-in sand make this a favorite. Driftwood Lodge
Timber Bay Resort on White Sand Lake Families choose from 10 comfortable cabins along a secluded, crystal-clear bay near Lac du Flambeau. Timber Bay Resort
Waters of Minocqua This newer hotel south of town has a small indoor-outdoor water park. Waters of Minocqua
The pleasures of beach life in Michigan
A century ago, the first steamships full of vacationers docked along the northwest corner of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. The lands along Grand and Little Traverse bays have been entertaining summer visitors ever since.
The region has accumulated a stellar selection of resorts, golf courses, chef-owned restaurants, shopping districts, artists' enclaves and other diversions. But the biggest draw remains the pure pleasures of beach life and the water. Miles of sand rim the blue water of Lake Michigan. The southern anchor is Traverse City, at the foot of Grand Traverse Bay. The beaches run all the way to Petoskey, 60 miles north on Little Traverse Bay.
The next three slides have information on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Traverse bays area.
Traverse bays: what to do
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore A half hour west of Traverse City along Lake Michigan, enjoy 35 miles of beach and 400-foot-tall sand dunes. Kids will love the Dune Climb, where they can run down and trudge back up. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Cherry Republic This bustling three-building complex sells all kinds of cherry products and treats in the artists' colony of Glen Arbor at the base of the Leelanau Peninsula. Cherry Republic
Leland and Suttons Bay These cute Leelanau Peninsula towns, each with shops and restaurants, are worth a drive out of Traverse City. Ferries depart from Leland for the secluded sands of the Manitou Islands. Leelanau Peninsula
Little Traverse Wheelway Bicyclists whisk along the new paved 29-mile trail along Little Traverse Bay. Little Traverse Wheelway
Manitou Visitors sail aboard a two-masted schooner on West Grand Traverse Bay. Manitou
National Cherry Festival A half-million people come to Traverse City to celebrate the area's iconic crop at the annual July festival. Enjoy music, air shows and parades. And, of course, sample plenty of cherry treats. National Cherry Festival
Traverse bays: where to eat
Jesperson's At this 106-year-old family-owned cafe in Petoskey, you always want to save room for pie. (231) 347-3601
Bluebird Restaurant and Bar The Telgard family has specialized in comfortable, quality dining in Leland on the Leelanau Peninsula for more than 80 years. Bluebird Restaurant and Bar
Don's Drive-In Traverse City's slice of Americana has served its burger-and-malt combos since 1958. Don's Drive-In
Legs Inn Polish dishes are among the specialties at this funky restaurant (look for upside-down stove legs on the roof) north of Harbor Springs in Cross Village. Open seasonally. Legs Inn
Stafford's Pier Restaurant In Harbor Springs, 6 miles north of Petoskey, this gathering place offers fine to casual dining in four areas, plus free boat tours of Little Traverse Bay. Stafford's Pier Restaurant
Traverse bays: where to stay
Boyne Mountain Resort Fifteen miles south of Petoskey, this Swiss-inspired ski-country retreat runs the gamut from hotel rooms to mountain cabins -- even an indoor water park. Boyne Mountain Resort
Crystal Mountain Families love the accommodation choices and variety of activities at this friendly inland resort southwest of Traverse City near Thompsonville. Crystal Mountain
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa Near Traverse City, the destination resort has it all -- golf, a spa, plenty of recreational activities and some bayside lodgings. Grand Traverse Resort and Spa
Stafford's Bay View Inn A stay at this inn and restaurant in Bay View, a historic resort community just north of Petoskey, includes a full hot breakfast. Stafford's Bay View Inn
Stafford's Perry Hotel This renovated 1899 hotel landmark in Petoskey offers views of Little Traverse Bay. Stafford's Perry Hotel