While it may be technically landlocked, America”s Midwest could be the country”s fourth coast when you factor in the stunning beaches, lovely lighthouses and on-the-water adventures with the Great Lakes. Vacation homes make it easy to settle into lakefront locations, join together with extended family and even skirt some of the busier tourist hubs.
Hike to roaring waterfalls along rocky Lake Superior coastlines, float in aquamarine waves and build sandcastles with Lake Michigan”s sweet beaches and sand dunes, and scream from roller coasters overlooking Lake Erie. Look for other great getaways in Minnesota and Wisconsin”s Northwoods, the Ozarks that ripple across southern Missouri, the Hocking Hills of Ohio and the Black Hills of South Dakota with a classic Old West feel.
These are our top picks for vacation home destinations in the Midwest.
Written by Lisa Meyers McClintick
Families can feel like locals while renting a penthouse, apartment and homes for an urban getaway near Chicago"s Magnificent Mile and Gold Coast. Some are within walking distance of Lake Michigan and its beaches and popular attractions such as Lincoln Park Zoo, but you can also catch the train to reach Millennial Park, Navy Pier, The Loop and other must-see Chicago attractions.
Kick your shoes off and see if you can hear the Ã¢â‚¬Å“singing sandsÃ¢â‚¬Â as you walk along Indiana"s section of Lake Michigan shoreline. It"s only about an hour to drive from one end to the otherÃ¢â‚¬â€and less than 90 minutes from ChicagoÃ¢â‚¬â€but it"s a wild and beautiful urban escape nicely protected and preserved by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Indiana Dunes State Park protects the area"s wild and scenic places to make it an easy-to-reach urban getaway. Look for beach cottages, as well as some posh family compounds that sit right along the shore in Gary, Porter Beach, Dune Acres and Michigan City.
Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan
For some of the Midwest"s most stunning beachesÃ¢â‚¬â€and ones that can rival the oceanÃ¢â‚¬â€grab a spot along more than 300 miles of shore from Ludington (which connects to Wisconsin via car ferry) to New Buffalo. Unlike the Traverse City and Petoskey areas, which are rich with hotels and resorts, more than 3,500 property rentals dominate this stretch of Lake Michigan shore. You"ll find lighthouses, Ã¢â‚¬Å“barking sandsÃ¢â‚¬Â near Grand Haven, a more than 250-year-old windmill at Holland, touristy boutiques in cities such as St. Joseph and plenty of Michigan"s famous blueberry farms within a few miles inland. If you can"t rent a place right along Lake Michigan, access the waterfront with city, county and state parks such as Ludington State Park, which boasts 5,300 miles of dunes, hikes and boardwalks.
Lake Erie Shore and Islands
Head toward Port Clinton or nearby towns and islands for a getaway along Lake Erie shore with its many marinas and beaches. You can find more than 100 private rentals, including beach houses, villas, historic homes and condos, which dominate much of the shoreline. The bonus for families seeking condos can be nicely located pools overlooking the lakefront, which makes it easy to stay put and relax. It"s only a short drive to reach legendary stomach-flipping coasters at Sandusky"s Cedar Point Amusement Park or other attractions along the 115-mile shore stretching between Cleveland and Toledo. Have music fans in the family? Don"t miss a day trip to Cleveland"s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
You can find everything from rustic to posh among the 60-some vacation rentals tucked into the rolling Hocking Hills of southeast Ohio, but an old-fashioned cabin seems the most fitting while exploring the area"s 10,000 acres of forest. With your own kitchen, you can keep down dining costs and leave more of the vacation budget for zip-line canopy tours across maples, sassafras and oaks, and off-road Segway or ATV tours. There also are plenty of hikes to popular places such as Old Man"s Cave, Ash Cave and Cedar Falls, tucked among nine state parks and forests.
Duluth and North Shore
You can find at least 50 rentals in and around outdoorsy Duluth, America"s most inland port city with its prime location on Lake Superior. Families can ride a scenic railroad, watch massive ore boats coming into harbor, ride along the lakefront walk, tackle steep and challenging mountain bike trails, or try the ski hill with year-round adventures. If you"re looking for more laid-back activitiesÃ¢â‚¬â€campfires, rock-skipping and hikes to waterfallsÃ¢â‚¬â€keep driving north along Highway 61 for hundreds of timber-frame and log homes along Superior"s rocky shores, rugged rivers and inland lakes.
Brainerd Lakes Country
Pick a lake, any lake -- this region of more than 400 lakes is located about three hours north of the Twin Cities. There are more than 250 lake homes for rent, from basic cabins with bunks, a deck and a dock to luxurious retreats that come with a boat or pontoon to use. The area"s dotted with fun small towns (like Nisswa with its free weekly turtle races and popular sweets shop), but most visitors come for quality time on the water to fish, float or get the adrenaline going with waterskis and wakeboarding.
More than 25,000 boat docks jut into this popular reservoir with serpentine curves and coves galore. Many of the close to 1,000 vacation rental options are condos and may require a steep walk down to the water"s edge. There are few beaches, but plan on a boat, lifejackets and some water toys like floats. Many condos also have pools. Look for properties near Osage Beach for easy access to Lake of the Ozarks State Park or to Camdenton for treks into Ha Ha Tonka State Park with its ruins of an early 1900"s castle.
For lodging away from the bustling glitz of Branson"s big-wow shows and attractions, look for close to 600 choices of condos and homes to rent between the city and tranquil Table Rock Lake. A handful of places sit along Copper Creek or have lake views. For additional amenities, including hot tubs and pools, look for condo units. Pick a place near Indian Point Park or Table Rock Lake State Park if your family wants time on the beach.
As one of America"s most iconic road trip destinations, South Dakota"s rugged Black Hills encompass far more than presidential faces at Mount Rushmore. Close to 600 vacation home rentalsÃ¢â‚¬â€many near Custer and Deadwood--can provide a home base for digging into the area"s Old West history and Native American heritage while exploring some of the world"s longest caves, rock-climbing, hiking, riding horses and watching for bison and mountain goats on spectacular scenic drives. Look for creek-side rentals for added charm or mountaintop homes and cabins, where Black Hills National Forest views unfurl for hundreds of miles.
Minocqua ranks as the resort and commercial hub of northeast Wisconsin"s lake region, but there are hundreds of lakefront rentals in area towns such as St. Germain, Eagle River and Manitowish Waters. Choices range from charming cabins to log mansions that would have even the adults blurting Ã¢â‚¬Å“OMG!Ã¢â‚¬Â More than 2,400 lakes glitter across this section of the state, with more than 150,000 acres of on-the-water fun, from fishing for feisty muskies to peaceful paddles. The area also encompasses the 225,000-acre Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, nine public swim beaches and more than 100 places to launch a boat.
This artsy peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan in northeast Wisconsin offers an ideal escape for nature lovers who want to explore its 300 miles of scenic coastline and families who love the charm of inland apple and cherry orchards, a petting zoo, guided padding trips and a kid-friendly outdoor theater. The area includes more than 500 homes and cabins to rent, with many near the quaint harbor towns of Fish Creek and Ephraim. If you crave sandy beaches and the quieter side of the peninsula, check out places near Jacksonport and Whitefish Dunes State Park.