Are you looking for a fun family-friendly US Midwest town to explore this winter?
Start planning your trip now for Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks with these awesome options in the Midwest.
My fellow travel bloggers and I have worked hard to gather the top family-friendly towns and cities to enjoy.
Take out your coats, gloves, boots, and luggage and get ready to enjoy the winter with this list of
The Best Family-Friendly Midwest Towns for Winter Fun!
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
It’s going to be a long cold winter in Minneapolis/Saint Paul this year, and not just because of the usual weather. As of this writing, Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on many of our usual indoor activities–and plans for the usual outdoor features are still up in the air. So, here’s an abbreviated list of what to do in the Twin Cities in the face of the frigid clime.
Our first refuge is the array of great museums. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) has a collection that’s, frankly, spectacular for a medium-sized city. The Asian and African examples are of particular note. The Walker Art Center is noted for its exemplary collection of modern art. And the Museum of Russian Art is a gem that has definitely made a place among the best small museums in the country.
If history is more to your liking, the Minnesota History Center in Saint Paul, run by the Minnesota Historical Society, mounts numerous special exhibits from its permanent collection. Unfortunately, the three real highlights of the Minnesota Historical Society, the James J. Hill home, the Mill City Museum, and historic Fort Snelling are closed due to Covid restrictions. Check the Historical Society for updates.
Another historic visit you should schedule is the American Swedish Institute in south Minneapolis. Opening hours are limited, so check their website for their current exhibits and take a look at the importance of the Scandinavian immigrants to Minnesota.
The little Scandinavian shop Ingebretsen’s in Minneapolis has served locals and visitors with an eclectic inventory since 1921. Part butcher shop, part gift and clothing store, this Lake Street store is a bit of a museum unto itself.
As for the outdoors, most Twin Cities lakes are cleared for ice skating in the winter, and many provide warming houses, and even skates you can borrow. How this will work during the Covid restrictions is still to be determined, so check the Minneapolis and Saint Paul parks websites for current info.
Some spots, like the chalet at Theodore Wirth Park, rent cross country skis, snowshoes, and even inner tubes to slide down the nearby hill.
The Saint Paul Winter Carnival, the premier outdoor event in the Twin Cities is still on for Jan. 28- Feb. 7, 2021, and promises a “Covid-19 friendly and safe experience for all.” Events are still being scheduled, but there’s always a parade, a huge ice skating rink, snow sculptures, and the coronation of King Boreas and Aurora, Queen of the Snows. The Carnival usually attracts more than 250,000 visitors.
If you’re looking for non-stop snowy adventures for the whole family, Marquette, Michigan is the place! Marquette is about a 3-hour drive from Green Bay Wisconsin and just 4 hours from Milwaukee. With an average of 180 inches of snow per year, Marquette is one of the snowiest places east of the Mississippi River.
With miles of groomed cross country trails and downhill runs at Marquette Mountain, skiing is a must when you’re in Marquette. If skiing isn’t your thing, there are tons of trails groomed just for fat tire biking around town plus miles of snowmobile trails too. For a more leisurely day in the snow, try a snowshoe hike. Presque Isle Park is over 300 acres of beautiful woods and extraordinary views of Lake Superior within the city limits.
When you need to warm up, grab coffee and pastries at 231 W Patisserie and do some shopping downtown at Getz’s Outdoor Clothing, Superior Outfitters, and the UP Supply Co.
You can’t visit the U.P. without trying some hearty pastries, and Jean Kays near Northern Michigan University is a local favorite. Take some to go and head to one of Marquette’s 6 breweries for a local pint.
If you want to feel like you’re camping but be close to town, check out the cabins and campground at Rippling River Resort next to Marquette Mountain. It’s right on the Carp River and with a beer garden and pizza oven, this place is hard to beat.
Portage & Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Winter sports are great in Portage Wisconsin. You can easily spend the weekend hitting the slopes at Cascade Mountain. There are 47 trails for skiing and snowboarding. They have a great ski school for kids so you can hit the slopes while the kids are learning to ski. Best of all, Kids 12 and under ski for free with a paying adult. While you are there, don’t forget to try out the 800-foot-long tubing hill.
If you are looking for more outdoor activities, there is plenty of hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing available at Standing Rocks State Park.
If you are on the more daring side, you can also rent snowmobiles.
If you are looking to warm up after a day in the snow, the Wisconsin Dells is well known for the array of different Indoor waterparks. All of these listed have accommodations as well; Kalahari Resorts, Great Wolf Lodge, Wilderness Resort, Mount Olympus Resort, and Chula Vista Resort.
If you would like to shop the Dells Outlets are just the place to shop till you drop.
For adults, there are several local wineries and breweries. Of course, there is beer in Wisconsin! Try some New Glarus Spotted Cow it is a state favorite and you can only get it in Wisconsin.
You can also play the night away at Ho-Chunk Casino. Take a shot at a hand of blackjack, roll the dice in a game of roulette, or enjoy a date night at the Cooper Oak Steakhouse.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly winter destination, you’ll definitely want to check out Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is a thriving Midwestern city with a fantastic food scene, arts, sports, shopping, and plenty of family fun. There are so many things to do in Columbus, Ohio in every season, and winter is no exception.
When you’re visiting Columbus in the winter the first thing you’ll want to do is check out Wildlights at The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. This spectacular event takes place from mid-November through early January. During this time the zoo is covered in millions of twinkle lights and filled with the sights and sounds of the holidays. Grab a hot chocolate and wander through this winter wonderland. You won’t want to miss the animated light show at Conservation Lake, the Polar Bear Express train ride, Santa’s reindeer, the Rudolph and Friends character experience, plus so much more. You’ll quickly see why Wildlights has been a Columbus winter tradition for years!
Since this year is a little different, you’ll need to purchase your tickets ahead of time and make a reservation for a specific day and time. If you happen to be a zoo member, you can enter any time after 2 p.m. without a dated ticket. You’ll be able to purchase a parking pass ahead of time or use a credit card at the gate (cash won’t be accepted).
If you’ve got some more time to explore, check out the charming German Village neighborhood, located just south of downtown Columbus. This area is full of gorgeous 19th-century brick houses, charming streets, and lots of excellent locally-owned shops and restaurants. Stop into Pistacia Vera for some coffee or hot chocolate and pastries and then head to The Book Loft to explore. This local store features 32 rooms of books and is a perfect place to spend a lazy winter afternoon.
If you get hungry while exploring German Village, stop by Schmidt’s Sausage Haus. This nationally registered historic site serves German favorites and has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food. Be sure to leave room for dessert so you can try the enormous ½ pound Jumbo Cream Puff!
Have fun exploring Columbus, Ohio this winter!
Pokagon State Park is located on beautiful Lake James, and near the quaint city of Angola, Indiana. Although lovely in the summer, unique to this State Park is a quarter-mile, refrigerated toboggan run, making it the perfect winter weekend getaway. You’ll race down the track at speeds of up to 30 mph. Talk about thrilling! Stay at the Potawatomi Inn located within the park and you’ll be well equipped to enjoy the toboggan as well as cross-country skiing or a bundled up winter hike. The Inn itself has several cozy nooks and fireplaces that are perfect to warm up with a hot chocolate after a day out in the cold.
Insider tip: the Inn books up quickly during the winter weekends so be sure to make reservations ahead of time.
When you are ready to switch gears, be sure to check out the nearby town of Angola. With an adorable downtown boasting several antique shops and a local theater, it’s a fun alternative to the outdoor excitement of the state park. After exploring downtown, be sure to stop at nearby Satek Winery for a delicious tasting to cap off a relaxing day!
Located just a few hours north of Indianapolis, IN, or a few hours east of Chicago, this weekend getaway is sure to blast away those winter blues!
St. Louis, Missouri
There are few places more magical in the winter than St. Louis Missouri, especially around Christmas. St. Louis has a long history of festivities, but the city truly comes to life every year when the holidays roll around.
The city has a long history surrounding its many breweries, but the mega brew giant Anheuser Busch kicks off the season with their annual “Brewery Lights” festival. Running for most of December the brewery offers a free lights festival on the brewery grounds that’s a must-see for all ages. Families with children are more than welcome to attend and the brewery makes sure there is plenty for the little ones to do. They have s’ mores making stations and professional ice carving demonstrations just to name a few. Not forgetting why Mom and Dad came in the first place, the brewery offers free tastings of many of their wonderful beers. Be sure to dress warm as you won’t want to miss walking around the brewery grounds to see the beautiful turn of the century buildings decked out in beautiful holiday lights.
St. Louis’ love for festival lights doesn’t stop there! The St. Louis City Zoo also hosts a lights festival lasting most of the month of December. Less than ten minutes from downtown the zoo is centrally located in the city and is also fun for all ages! Light exhibits span almost every inch of the zoo grounds and everything is easy walking distance. The zoo also keeps the St. Louis tradition alive in making the festival fun for the kids as well as Mom and Dad. Hot chocolate stands are set up around just about every corner offering Hot Cocoa for the kids and the more “adult” version for Mom and Dad.
St. Louis is a wintertime city through and through with more holiday festivities than most major cities and a culture that caters to families, but never forgets Mom and Dad want to have fun too!
Follow Ron from Unearth the Voyage.
Duluth, Minnesota is a true outdoor-lovers paradise no matter what the season! At just over 2 hours from the Minneapolis airport, it is the perfect Midwest town to explore this winter.
Duluth is located right on Lake Superior and averages 70 inches of snow each winter! With this being said, be sure to be prepared with warm clothes (A LOT of layers) and check the weather before your drive as the roads can get a bit dangerous. After a clear and safe drive, get ready to experience this winter wonderland!
First and foremost, you will want to begin your trip exploring the local trails. Duluth has over 178 miles of trails, so be sure to grab your snowshoes or cross-country skis to see the best views.
For those of you that are extra adventurous, be sure to try downhill skiing or tubing at Mont-du-Lac or Spirit Mountain, sledding at the many local free hills, and ice-skating at the outdoor skating rinks. If you are left with extra time to explore, be sure to make a trip up the Minnesota North Shore where you will be met with amazing views of Lake Superior, waterfalls, lighthouses, and quaint small towns.
End your outdoorsy day by relaxing by the fireplace in a cozy cabin or swimming in the waterpark at the Edgewater Hotel.
Insider tip: If visiting around Christmas time, be sure to add Bentleyville to your list. It is a massive outdoor display of lights (over 4 million!) with all the fun Christmas festivities included!
Crystal Mountain in the Northwestern corner of Michigan is a perfect family winter destination in the Midwest. It is a great resort that has activities and events for all tastes. First of all, since it is a “mountain” it has a downhill ski and snowboard area with 6 chair lifts and a couple of dozen runs for various levels of ability. But this is just a small portion of winter fun things to do at the resort.
Crystal Mountain also has an ice skating rink and an equipment rental center where you can get gear for snowshoeing or just poles for Nordic hiking. There are beautiful trails in the woods around the resort that you will love to explore – they belong to Michigan Legacy Art Park that features over 50 sculptures, poetry stones, and an outdoor amphitheater (pictured). Each of the sculptures interprets, in its own way, a piece of Michigan’s history.
For more adventurous souls the resort offers snowmobile and fat-tire snow bikes rentals and for those who like calmer rides – horse-drawn surrey rides through the winter wonderland. And Northern Michigan typically won’t disappoint in that department – there will be plenty of snow, I can assure you.
If you get tired of outdoor explorations, Crystal Mountain offers indoor family crafts evenings which kids will love as well as an indoor pool and hot tub. There is also a fitness center and a spa on-site for adults only.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is one of the southernmost towns in the Midwest. For this reason, winters in OKC are much milder than they are in other cities across the Midwest. So, while you may still experience chilly days, you rarely will encounter deep snow and below-freezing temperatures in Oklahoma City, which makes outdoor activities much more bearable. There are several winter activities and fun things to do in Oklahoma City with kids during the winter months that make the capital of Oklahoma an ideal place to visit.
Each winter, in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City, the Devon Ice Rink is a great place to spend an afternoon ice skating beneath the tallest skyscraper in the city. You may even meet spot Santa Claus rolling by on a segway while enjoying a day at the ice rink.
Head to the Bricktown Ballpark to follow up on your skating experience. The triple-A baseball stadium is transformed into a giant, man-made snow tubing hill where kids and adults alike can zip down a massive ramp covered with hard-packed snow.
Oklahoma City is also one of the more colorful places to visit during winter. All of the buildings in the popular Automobile Alley district are draped with lights. A drive through this festive area of town is a must during winter when every single building is illuminated from top to bottom. Lights are also strung across the Bricktown canal, a popular tourist destination in OKC. Enjoy dinner at one of the various restaurants in Bricktown, then take a water taxi ride beneath the lights to cap off the night in a fun, festive way.
Door County, Wisconsin
One of Wisconsin’s most popular tourist destinations in summer, Door County, is also a fantastic winter escape with far fewer tourists. It’s located just over 2 hours north of Milwaukee. Some of the best things to do in Door County in winter are ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and ice skating. You can do all these activities right in Peninsula State Park.
Other great things to do in winter include visiting the Door County wineries and taking a winter wine tour and sleigh ride, shopping at quaint family-owned shops, visiting the area’s art galleries, and then warming up at night with an old fashioned and fish fry at a local supper club.
There are also many fun annual winter events, such as the Polar Plunge that takes place on January 1st in Jacksonport. This is where brave souls jump into the icy waters of Lake Michigan! Another great event is the Fire & Ice Festival in Sturgeon Bay on February 13, 2021. This is where ice carvers compete for cash prizes in an ice carving competition!
A weekend is the perfect amount of time to experience Door County. The Whistling Swan Inn in Fish Creek, Wisconsin is a great place to stay as it is centrally located with a wonderful restaurant and bar located on its first floor.