Family winter vacation ideas in the Midwest

Beat cabin fever with these winter vacation ideas for families, all just a short drive away
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Photograph: Fish Creek Fish Creek
By Samantha Lande |
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If jet-setting somewhere warm with the family isn’t in the cards this winter, embrace the cold weather by taking a quick getaway within the Midwest for things to do in winter like skiing and snowboarding, sledding and ice skating. If you’d rather experience the great indoors, check out one of these many indoor water parks, theme parks and shops and have no problem filling a weekend—and ensure a good nap on the ride home.

RECOMMENDED: More winter getaways from Chicago

Winter getaways for families

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Photograph: Blue Harbor Resort

Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Travel time: 2.5 hours by car

Right on the shores of Lake Michigan, the Blue Harbor Resort is a great summer destination, but its indoor water park, Breaker Bay, makes it a top-notch winter attraction, too. Kids will love the giant interactive water fort with squirt guns, cargo nets, suspension bridges and tipping water. One of the most exciting attractions is the Riptide double surf simulator, where the daring can ride the waves indoors. Families can also rent cabanas ($149 full day/$99 half-day) stocked with food and drink (at an additional cost) and other amenities to have a place to relax between water adventures. After dinner, play a round of indoor glow-in-the-dark mini-golf. There are two themed suites available for family booking—the KidAquarium suite or Boathouse suite—complete with bunk beds in a fort area and a queen bed in a separate area for the adults ($160/night and up).

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Photograph: Brian Walters

Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls, Michigan

Travel time: Less than 5.5 hours by car

If a wintry, scenic drive to northern Michigan sounds fun, then Boyne Mountain is worth the trek. Take snowboard or ski lessons for the whole family and, for something fun and different, check out the Zipline Adventure ($64), a three-hour tour above the mountains (must be 60 pounds). Once the weather gets too frigid, warm up in the always-84-degree indoor water park.

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Photograph: Cascade Mountain

Cascade Mountain in Portage, Wisconsin

Travel time: Less than 3.5 hours by car

This ski resort close to the Wisconsin Dells offers free admission for skiers under 12 with a paid adult. The Cascade kids' learning program for ages 4–10 ($58) provides a three-hour class focusing on proper snowboarding and skiing technique and safety. The Comfort Suites-Portage is also free for kids under 12 and includes breakfast. Kids will love the 54-foot-long indoor pool as well. If you're looking for more water fun, head a little farther to the Chula Vista Resort in the Dells to splash around in the indoor water park, which has plenty of waterslides.
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Photograph: Devil's Head Resort

Devil's Head Resort in Merrimac, Wisconsin

Travel time: 3 hours by car

For families who love to ski—downhill or cross-country—Devil's Head is the perfect place to go. Kids can take skiing lessons ($65 for two hours) or hang out in the day care ($45 all day) while their parents hit the slopes. Every Saturday night, there is a "Kids Night Out" party that allows parents to do some night skiing while kids play games, make crafts and eat pizza. There are plenty of packages available for skiers and non-skiers alike that include meals, lift tickets and activities, and non-package rates are also available.

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Photograph: Fish Creek

Door County, Wisconsin

Travel time: Less than 4.5 hours by car

Door County has plenty of unique winter activities. Ice fishing is a favorite and, during the holiday season, you can even ride along in horse-drawn carriages. Art galleries and cute shops are open year-round, and you can plan your visit around the various winter festivals in the area, including the February Fish Creek Winter Festival with ice carving, plenty of soup and hot chocolate, candle-lit hikes and more.

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Photograph: Chestnut Mountain Resort

Galena, Illinois

Travel time: 3.5 hours by car

If you're looking for a quaint spot with coffee shops, cafes and shopping, head to Galena. The winter brings about many activities, like ice skating, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. You can even go on a bald eagle–spotting tour on select dates in February. For downhill skiing, visit Chestnut Mountain, where kids can take all-day ski lessons ($110) or even learn to snowboard (ages 7 and older; $100 for two hours).

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Photograph: Andy Manis

Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells

Travel time: Less than 4 hours by car

If spending time outdoors in the winter isn’t the right fit for your family, the Dells is a great option. The “water park capital” has wet and wild fun for everyone. Kalahari is one of the best, with water attractions for toddlers to teens. It also offers a variety of indoor "dry" activities, like bowling, mini golf and go-carts. The less adventurous can do arts and crafts and cookie decorating, and there's a full-scale spa for the adults. Rooms are available to accommodate families of all sizes, with regular guest rooms to as large as 10-bedroom suites.

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Photograph: Tony Nelson

Mall of America in Minneapolis

Travel time: 6 hours by car or 1.5 hours by plane

This city may be a little farther to travel to, but with a ton of underground walkways and the largest mall in the country, it has this whole winter thing down pat. You can shop at the Mall of America, of course, but your kids will make a beeline for the Nickelodeon Universe theme park's roller coasters, log chute and other rides. Toddler Tuesdays allows the little tots to take center stage with discounted admission ($11.95 for five hours of unlimited toddler-friendly rides). Don't miss Sealife, an aquarium in the mall with more than 10,000 aquatic creatures.
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