The Midwest may not have the Atlantic or the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico, but that doesn’t mean it lacks awesome summer destinations. America’s heartland is not only a charming place to spend the Fourth of July, but any week of the summer. Visitors can hop from lakefront retreats to historic towns and grassy parks.
Oh, and did we mention that getting here is almost guaranteed to be cheaper than jetting to Europe or the Caribbean? You don’t need to fly to the French Riviera for the blue-water adventure you crave — here are 14 places to visit instead.
1. Charlevoix, Michigan
A picturesque harbor, beaches and its family-friendly atmosphere make “Charlevoix the Beautiful” the perfect little summer town. Charlevoix is triple awesome because it boasts three lakefronts — Lake Michigan, Lake Charlevoix and Round Lake. NearbyPetoskey is an equally charming spot known for its art scene.
2. Duluth, Minnesota
Located on the shores of Lake Superior, Duluth is known for outdoor adventure, historic mansions and gorgeous lake views. Duluth also features the Great Lakes Aquarium, America’s only all-freshwater aquarium. Take note, wannabe aquatic biologists.
3. Chesterton, Indiana
Nope, this isn’t Mexico: It’s Indiana Dunes, a 15-mile beach on the shore of Lake Michigan. Visitors will love to hike, boat, swim and horseback ride, with plenty of great breweries nearby for when the sun goes down.
4. Pella, Iowa
This pretty little Dutch-influenced town has what claims to be the largest windmill in the U.S., shipped straight from Holland. Its quaint canal and historical village are sure to win any road tripper’s heart.
5. Bayfield, Wisconsin
Bayfield is a serene, welcome escape from the hustle of everyday life. Hop in a sailboat, kayak to a sea cave, take an Apostle Islands Lighthouse cruise or hang out on land and take in the gorgeous views.
6. Lake Erie Shores, Ohio
Ohio’s Lake Erie shore is a favorite for active families. The shore is home to the famedCedar Point amusement park, so thrill seekers can have a summer’s worth of excitement. Nature lovers can ride the ferry over to islands like South Bass and Kelleys Island, while beach lovers can bask on the shore or splash around in Lake Erie. A visit to Marblehead Lighthouse is a must.
7. Galena, Illinois
Galena claims to be the Midwest’s “premier destination getaway.” Golf courses, wineries, hiking, biking, boating and cultural activities all await visitors to Galena. The area’s lush farmland and historic downtown don’t hurt either.
8. Saugatuck, Michigan
Located on the “Art Coast of Michigan,” Saugatuck offers lakefront beaches and tons of culture. Visit one of the town’s many art galleries, take a class at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, or get jazzy at a music festival.
9. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island is a nostalgic, idyllic escape. The island is car-free — visitors ride bicycles or take horse-drawn carriage rides — and offers plenty of activity, from museums to state parks.
10. The Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
The Lake of the Ozarks looks kind of like a spikey, snakey river. But it is, in fact, an awesome summer lake destination. The lake offers more than 1,150 miles of shoreline, plus a number of charming towns, challenging golf courses and excellent dining.
11. Grand Marais, Minnesota
Situated between the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior, Grand Marais truly offers something for everyone. The town was named a top adventure town by National Geographic Adventure magazine, and it also boasts the Grand Marais Art Colony. So whether you’re into exploring the wilderness or taking a class at the North House Folk School, you’ll never be bored in Grand Marais.
12. Door County, Wisconsin
Door County consists of towns and communities that make up the Door Peninsula — and they’re all worth a visit. The county offers more than 300 miles of shoreline and five state parks, making it heaven for nature lovers.
13. Okoboji, Iowa
Yes, Iowa has a resort town. And yes, it’s very beautiful. Located in northern Iowa, Okoboji is home to the “Iowa Great Lakes” — glacier-carved lakes that cover approximately 15,000 acres. Go sailing, water skiing or fishing on the lakes, check out the retro Arnolds Park amusement park nearby, picnic in a local park or catch a show at the town’s summer stock playhouse.
14. Branson, Missouri
This southwest Missouri town is the perfect place to relax and get in touch with nature. Explore Table Rock State Park and Table Rock Lake, mosey through the historic downtown, play a round of golf or hop on the Branson Scenic Railway.