The tri-state stretch across the northern Midwest happens to be full of surprises. We’ve spent our summers vacationing in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan with our kids and have a few hidden gems we’ve discovered in each state. This summer, more than ever, families are itching to travel and these Midwest destinations provide a drivable option for many and allow a safe and fun summer vacation!
Our must-haves when on a trip with our families, especially in the Midwest is affordable lodging options, a cute downtown with a couple shops and restaurants, water activities, and outdoor spaces to explore. These three towns will meet all those needs and more! While you could choose some more well-known cities and towns across the Midwest, we think you may enjoy what some of these towns have to offer as well!
If you’re feeling really ambitious – it would be a beautiful drive across all three towns, spending a few days in each state. Not mentioned, is Mackinaw City and the Mackinaw Island bridge – we took this route when traveling to northern Michigan and killed a few hours wandering around town. Very touristy town but still a cute town and fun way to break up the long drive.
CRANE LAKE, MINNESOTA
A small town located on the northeastern border of Minnesota, it shares water with Canada. The highways and main roads end here and it’s pretty remote and awesome at the same time. We stumbled upon this town when researching locations to stay while visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness, as it’s the perfect place to see the waters without going completely off the grid.
Where we stayed: Pine Point Lodge in Crane Lake, Minnesota
Highly recommend for an old-school style summer vacation! The cabin was rustic and modest, but the resort amenities like the beach area and boat rentals available made the stay an amazing experience for the whole family.
What to do:
- Rent a pontoon boat from Pine Point Lodge and explore the surrounding waters
- Voyageur’s National Park
- “My Island” campsite or day use area
- Fishing – our husbands went out for a half day trip through Pine Point Lodge, but the kids loved fishing off the pier at the resort too
- Hike at Vermillion Gorge
- Dinner and drinks on the outdoor patio of Nelson’s Resort
To read the full post on our weekend in Crane Lake, visit it here:
July 4th Weekend in Crane Lake, Minnesota
Bayfield is located at the very tip of northern Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Superior. We visited here in 2017 and the kids were much younger – but it’s on our list to return. We loved how walkable the town was and had plenty of options for shopping, dining, and outdoor activities.
Where we stayed: we rented a condo through the Bayfield Inn called the Ada O’Day Unit 1. It was the perfect layout for our two families and had a great downtown location.
Sara and family had visited in 2015 and stayed at the Bayfield Inn hotel – also recommend for a great stay and location.
What to do:
- take the car ferry over to Madeline Island (the town is called La Pointe) and explore the area. You can also bike over on the ferry, but with little kids in tow, we took the car since it was about 6 miles from the ferry to the beach. Our favorite things on Madeline Island were:
- walk along the Brownstone Trail in Bayfield
- depending on season, pick your own fruits at a local farm
- shopping and dining downtown Bayfield. Our favorite restaurants were:
This town might take the cake for one of our favorite surprises. We planned a road trip from Madison, Wisconsin to Charlevoix, Michigan in the summer of 2018. We originally planned to stay in Traverse City but were unable to find good lodging options, and ended up staying about an hour north in a town called Charlevoix. This happened to become the best accident – as we fell in love with the town and general area of northern Michigan!
Where we stayed: we rented a home through VRBO on the northeast side of Charlevoix, across the bridge. The listing no longer looks to be available to rent, but the town is very walkable and is full of cute and safe residential neighborhoods.
What to do:
- dining and shopping in downtown Charlevoix
- there is a drawbridge that allows the huge fancy yachts to come in and out – the kids thought this was pretty cool (and we imagined what it must be like to hang out on a yacht all day 🙂
- Smoke on the Water for breakfast (or probably any meal!)
- outdoor patio for Mexican food and margaritas at The Cantina
- relax and play along the water at the various parks in town
- Michigan Beach Park has a long stretch of sandy shore with a swimming beach, fishing pier and lighthouse
- make the drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
- rent a pontoon boat and explore the aqua waters of Torch Lake and hang out on the famous Sandbar. Make sure to grab lunch and drinks at Dockside. Best day ever!
- drive north 30 minutes to the neighboring town of Petoskey for more shops and dining downtown
To read our full post on the week we spent in northern Michigan, visit here for all the details and more:
Family Road Trip: Michigan Summer 2018
Hope this post was helpful in highlighting some of our favorite trips and destinations we’ve visited together. All three towns are very kid-friendly and have enough activities to keep all ages occupied and having fun. Have you been to any of these towns? Let us know!