Dad's In The Midwest: Check Out These 22 Family Winter Getaways
When the snowdrifts are high and the mercury low, it’s time to plan some winter family fun. Whether it’s a weekend getaway for the whole gang, or you’re sending the kids off with your better half (so you can putter around the garage workshop or maybe assemble your new workspace garage cabinets for a few blissful uninterrupted hours), there are lots of choices that’ll fit all budgets, interests and ages. We’ve gathered some of our top picks for winter activities in the Midwest.
Ideas on the Cheap
At Midwest Weekends.com, Beth Gauper says: “In the Upper Midwest, finding a good deal is a sport second only to football. But we all need to get away occasionally, especially when cabin fever strikes in winter.” She’s got a great list of cheap winter getaways that includes tracking wolves in Wisconsin and snowshoeing in the Porkies as well as ice-fishing at Minnesota’s Itasca State Park.
Katrina Brown Hunt includes the Wirth Winter Recreation Area in her list of America’s Best Sledding Hills. Just west of downtown Minneapolis, the Theodore Wirth Park is the place to go when winter fun in the great outdoors is what you’re after. As this video shows, there’s daytime and evening sledding, and if you’re not going old-school with a sled, you can either bring your own tube or rent one. There’s even a rope tow for the exhausted tubers among you. The 700-acre urban forest is groomed for cross-country skiing, and the ski trails connect to an additional five miles of groomed trails along Chain of Lakes.
Tapping Trees and Snowmobile Races
In late February or early March, a trip McCloud Nature Park, just outside of North Salem, Indiana, for Maple Sirup Days may be in order. Writer Eric Ivie said his 7-year-old daughter “had no problem whatsoever tapping a tree. Right before her, a little boy who was probably 4 or 5 years old had just as much success. So this is an experience that is perfect for kids of all ages.”
If you’ve got a family of racers, Rebecca Waraczynski at RentWisconsinCabins recommends St. Germain’s Radar Race in January with its “fun runs and speed runs, shootouts and fly racing ice drags.” Check out a video of the annual Wisconsin-based event, which is a Pink Ribbon Riders fundraiser (a program that provides financial assistance to people diagnosed with breast cancer), and make sure to dress warmly.
Snow Sculptures and Percussion Practice
Every January, there’s the annual Wisconsin State Snow Sculpting Competition in Racine, with artists from around the region sculpting frozen masterpieces from packed snow. On her Two Moms blog, Mel S. says that because “January can often be a long month here in the Midwest, [her] family is totally stoked that there is such a lively event around the corner!”
When you’re looking for something warm to do in a Midwest deep freeze, Thoughts From Her blogger Amanda Oritz says the Rhythm Discovery Center, an interactive percussion museum in downtown Indianapolis, will “let out your inner rock star.” Her 3-year-old son had a blast, but Amanda advises to time your arrival at the end of the day, saying the place must be “very noisy (and migraine-inducing) at peak times.”
For something a little different, why not watch a marble-making demonstration at the Moon Marble Factory in Bonner Springs, Kansas, as suggested by Kelli Oliver George in her article on AlphaMom. If you time it right and you’re there in March, you might be able to catch their annual event called “Marble Crazy,” a “glassworking artist show featuring 20+ artists from across the nation.”
Good Times in Grand Rapids and Madison
Amy Allen Clark, the creator of MomAdvice.com, blogged about her family’s first-time excursion to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and said exploring the town was a “fun winter getaway.” In her guest post on My Grand Rapids blog, Amy said they visited the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park twice, did some root beer tasting at the gluten-free restaurant, The Electric Cheetah, and said the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum rates as a “must-see” venue.
When it’s mid-February in Madison, Wisconsin, it’s time for the Madison Winter Festival, which includes events like inner tube fun at the Capitol Square Findorff Tubing Hill and experiencing sports like ice hockey, curling and skating (as if you’re an Olympic athlete) at DreamBank Village. If it’s a Saturday during the school year, you’re in luck with the Kids in the Rotunda series at the Overture Center for the Arts. The site says you’ll “enjoy a diverse lineup of local and regional musicians, storytellers, jugglers, theater troupes, magicians, and dancers, selected exclusively to entertain and enlighten children ages nine and younger and their families.”
Caving in winter? With the kids? That’s doable, says Katy Mann on IndyWithKids. Underground caves, likes those outside of Corydon, Indiana — which include the state’s longest cave, the Indiana Caverns — remain the same comfortable mid-50s temperature year-round. While the littlest family members may need help on the stairs at Squire Boone Caverns, the tour mostly takes place along lighted, paved walkways and steel bridges. Teens might try the zip line course through the park while young children like Katy’s (ages 2 and 4) will be “very excited about finding treasure at the gem mine.”
Rainforests, Owl Prowls and Mushing
In her blog, Odyssey Through Nebraska, Gretchen recounts her visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo. Rated the No. 1 zoo in the world by TripAdvisor, it features an aquarium; a natural rainforest environment complete with monkeys, tapirs, macaws and pygmy hippos; a cat complex; a Madagascar exhibit; a desert dome; and a nocturnal exhibit in addition to an Animal Encounter program and Ed-Venture classes.
Midwest Weekends has an extremely comprehensive list of the best 2015 winter festivals in the Upper Midwest, and includes a couple on the first weekend of March that you won’t want to miss:
In Houston, MN, there’s the International Festival of Owls, with hooting contests and live owl programs among the most popular. Owl prowls also take place, with the help of an expert owl caller joining groups who travel by bus to remote properties, in order to call, hear and maybe even see wild owls.
In Gunflint Trail, MN, a breast cancer cure fundraiser takes place on the same weekend. Called Mush for a Cure, it’s a non-competitive sled dog run with a short 3-mile course and longer ones of up to nearly 23 miles. Spectators can watch from a number of vantage points and will more than likely notice that everyone — including the dogs — will be wearing pink. Other events include human sled-dog races, sky lanterns and skijoring.
Ice Fishing in a Castle
If ice fishing is on the agenda this winter, but the kids can’t stand the cold, Bob Jensen of Fishing the Midwest recommends the use of an Ice Castle, which he calls a “hard-sided ice house on wheels.” Because they’re heated, the cold isn’t a factor when you’re fishing from inside the Ice Castle. When the fish stop biting there, bundle up and move outside to a nearby hole you previously drilled, coming back to the Ice Castle when you need to warm up.
There’s more fun on the ice if you’re in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the first weekend in February. That’s when this year’s Great Skate Winterfest with Griffins hockey players takes place. The annual Michigan event supports the Griffins Youth Foundation, which the site says “promotes academic excellence, community involvement and healthy lifestyles among the youth of West Michigan, enhancing their lives through hockey and ice-related sports.”
Famous Places You’ve Been Meaning To Visit
A couple of well-known activities in the Midwest that can get the kids out of the house for a day (or more) include:
Home to more water parks per capita than anywhere else on the planet, a visit to The Waterpark Capital of the World in Wisconsin Dells may result in your water babies never wanting to set foot on dry land again. Choose from three indoor water parks: Chula Vista, Kalahari and Mt. Olympus, and leave winter behind with wave pools, lazy rivers and even an uphill water rollercoaster waterslide and family raft ride.
If you’re in Minnesota, the Water Park of America is closer to home and will get you and the kids out of the cold with its rides, pools and hot tubs. You can make your visit a weekend staycation, with the Radisson on site along with restaurants, diners as well as the Sleepy Eye Café, which offers up hot chocolate, speciality coffees and other treats.
Crystal Mountain, Michigan, where you can ski straight out your back door. The resort is about 28 miles southwest of Traverse City, and caters to the entire family with activities like fat tire snow biking on groomed trails, dog sled rides and kids ski and snowboard lessons.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Finally, there’s the world’s largest children’s museum in Indianapolis, perfect for a visit at any time of the year. Pre-school children are entertained in an age-specific exhibit called Playscape, where sensory play is encouraged. It includes an underwater pond habitat, art studio and nature-inspired activity set. The museum’s Dinosphere exhibit has one of the largest displays of juvenile dinosaur fossils in the world, as well as full-size dinosaur skeletons. Kids can dig for dinosaur bones and touch an authentic T. Rex bone.
From taking a ride on a historic carousel and climbing a rock wall to discovering Take Me There: China, (where you “board a modern Chinese airplane and fly over the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and other iconic Chinese sites”), there really is something for every member of the family.
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