Lake Michigan is big and an easy road trip for a lot of Midwesterners -- but it's certainly not the only vacation destination in the Midwest. HowStuffWorks and TLC has put together a short list of fun, family-friendly vacation spots to check out that boast everything from waterparks and live music festivals in and around the region.
Starting our list? Lake Michigan (of course it's on the list -- it's a Great Lake for a reason!).
No matter where you live or visit in the Midwest, no doubt you'll find something fun to do on Lake Michigan. The lake is roughly 300 miles long and 100 miles wide with more than 1,600 miles of shoreline across the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
Picturesque beach towns with scenic, rolling dunes and water activities are scattered all around the shorelines. Parents visiting southwest Michigan might opt to follow the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, or for more family-oriented fun, check out the Warren Dunes State Park.
Chicago, of course, is also an attraction all its own. The city offers miles of paths along the shores of Lake Michigan (some just steps away from downtown shopping). Navy Pier and the Chicago Children's Museum is at the center of it all and the fireworks over Lake Michigan on July 4 shouldn't be missed.
The first wave pool hit Point Mallard Park in Decatur, Alabama, in 1970 and the waterpark craze has been growing ever since. According to the World Waterpark Association there are more than a thousand waterparks in the United States, and attendance across North America is growing by 5 percent each year.
For those of us living in -- or planning to visit -- the Midwest, the Wisconsin Dells should be considered the waterpark Mecca. The first indoor waterpark was built here in 1989 and now this is home to the largest indoor waterpark resort in the U.S. -- the Wilderness Hotel has three waterparks totaling 250,000 square feet.
This is also home to the largest outdoor waterpark in America, Noah's Ark Waterpark. Noah's Ark is 70 acres and visited by more than 560,000 people every year. Grab your sunscreen and swimsuit and get in line to enjoy the longest indoor leisure river in the U.S.
Looking for a beachy, water sport-oriented getaway on Lake Michigan? Head to Door County, Wisconsin. Door County Peninsula and Washington Island offer families more than 300 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, harbors, bluffs and coves to explore. The Door County area is known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, and offers many similar activities, from sandy beaches and boating to hiking and scenic state parks.
Money magazine named Door County one of its top ten vacation destinations in North America, but it's hardly a secret -- more than two million people vacation in Door County every year.
Black Hills, Badlands & Mount Rushmore
If you're searching for the Wild West, head for the hills. Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills and Badlands in South Dakota offer Wild West and Sioux Nation history, plus more than 1,500 roaming buffalo.
Without a doubt Mount Rushmore is likely the most famous attraction in South Dakota. The four presidential faces -- Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln -- tower above visitors, about 3 million people every year.
The Black Hills are pine-covered mountains with six national parks calling -- go to see one of its most famous landmarks, Wounded Knee, but don't miss out on exploring underground gold mines and caves. Badlands is a 244,000 acre national park famous for its lunar-esque landscape, including spires and gorges and fossils of ancient sabor-toothed cats from when a shallow sea covered the Great Plains roughly 75 million years ago.
Branson, Missouri, nestled in the Ozark Mountains, calls itself America's Family Destination, and for good reason: you go for the live musical performances -- everything from Big Band, Broadway, country, swing, rock 'n' roll, pop, bluegrass, jazz, gospel, patriotic, classical, even cowboy poets -- but will also find lakes, golf courses, theme parks and museums. Branson is also home to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, a live arena event featuring stampeding longhorn steers, horses, ostriches and racing pigs.
Looking for theme-park thrills? Silver Dollar City is Branson's version of Walt Disney World. This 1880s-themed adventure park full of roller coasters, year-round festivals, live entertainment and hundreds of demonstrating craftsmen: truly a good bet for families.
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