Looking to disconnect from the cell phones, computers and jammed schedules that occupy most of today’s families? While you can’t put everything on hold, you can certainly live life at a slower pace for a few days, especially if you stay at a lake resort in the Midwest.
A week at the lake has been a popular summer tradition for generations of families wanting to escape the heat and chill out on a laidback vacation. Whether you seek the secluded waters of one of Minnesota’s famed 10,000-plus lakes or the pristine beaches of America’s Third Coast, Lake Michigan, these old-school Midwest family resorts will take you back to an era before Snapchat, when being social meant talking to your friends and family, face to face. You might find you never want to leave!
1. The Abbey Resort – Lake Geneva, WI
About 90 minutes north of Chicago, Lake Geneva has been described as the “Newport of the Midwest” for its opulent lakefront mansions. You don’t have to be rich and famous to vacation here, though. Consider a stay at the Abbey Resort, the only lodging directly on the shores of Lake Geneva. The resort is also along the Geneva Lakeshore Path, a delightful 21-mile walkway that encircles the lake, bringing you right up to estates owned by families like the Wrigleys and Rockefellers.
The Abbey Resort has a spa, sailing school, paddle boards, indoor and outdoor pools and an arcade. Rooms feature flat-screen TVs, modern bathrooms and complimentary Wi-Fi. You can dine at the casual Waterfront Restaurant & Bar or indulge in upscale dining at the Fontana Grill. Prime rib on Saturday night is a local favorite. The poolside Gazebo Grille is also open seasonally.
2. Big Cedar Lodge – Ridgedale, MO
Bass Pro Shops founder, Johnny Morris, is reeling them in at his upscale, outdoor-themed Big Cedar Lodge on 60,000-acre Table Rock Lake. If you’re a fishing enthusiast, you’ll be hooked by the 100 boat slips, as well as the stuffed fish and fowl adorning the walls of this sportsman’s paradise, located a half-hour from where the tackle box king opened his first bait shop.
Not a fisherman? Not to worry. This expansive Midwest family resort, dedicated to the great outdoors, features plenty of lake and land activities, from water skiing and kayaking, to horseback riding and hiking. When you’re ready to rest, consider a visit to the world-class spa, or just relax in your luxurious log cabin or hotel room at one of the resort’s three lodges.
Guests here not only get to enjoy the great outdoors, but also get to take pleasure in several great indoor activities. Ten miles away, in Branson (the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World”), it’s always show time. There are more than 50 live performance theaters offering everything from Osmond Family reunion performances to a long lineup of comedians and country musicians. It’s a family-friendly version of Vegas, with a patriotic flair.
3. The Homestead – Glen Arbor, MI
Picture this—a mile of postcard-perfect Lake Michigan beachfront, right next to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with its 35 miles of pristine coastline, secluded beaches and scenic overlooks. That’s what you’ll find at Northern Michigan’s Homestead Resort. In addition to jaw-dropping scenery, there are pools, tennis, golf, wind surfing, kayaking, a spa and even a kids’ club so adults can have time alone. You won’t run out of dining options at this Midwest family resort either; there are four restaurants on the property.
When your kids grow tired of running down the 400-foot sand dunes, consider visiting the neighboring town of Traverse City. Known as the Cherry Capital of the U.S., Traverse City’s biggest event is the National Cherry Festival, held in early July. It’s jam-packed with wholesome fun (think pie-eating and cherry-spitting contests). Traverse City has a juicy secret, though: it may be charming and quaint, but it’s also a foodie paradise, with a reputation for its wineries and microbreweries.
4. Oak Cove Resort – Lawrence, MI
Looking for casual comfort? That’s what you’ll find at Oak Cove Resort, a laidback lake getaway in Southwest Michigan, two hours east of Chicago. Here, they proudly keep it old school. You’ll find a pinball machine, arcade games, jukebox and no TVs in the rooms. Although the owners have held on to their anti-TV policy, they have given in to providing complimentary Wi-Fi. There’s plenty to keep you and your kids away from the computer, though, including a heated pool, canoes, kayaks, paddleboats and bikes. Honored as one of the top cottage lake resorts in the Midwest, it’s also a perfect choice if you want to combine your time at the lake with a trip to the nearby Paw Paw, Michigan, vineyards.
Oak Cove’s owners of more than 40 years, Susan and Bob Wojcik, are on hand to warmly welcome visitors. Breakfast and dinner are included in rates, with Susan overseeing the menu. She celebrates the seasonal bounty by changing the menu weekly, using ingredients from nearby farms. Homemade jams and pies, made with local fruits, are a highlight. Oak Cove Resort can accommodate up to 80 guests on its property, as well as an offsite, 19th century nine-room farmhouse and coach house.
5. White Birch Lodge – Elk Rapids, MI
Looking for non-stop action? This Northern Michigan family resort along Elk Lake has every conceivable water sport, from the excitement of tubing or sailing to more peaceful paddleboarding and kayaking. You and your children can sign up for daily water skiing or wakeboarding lessons. When you tire of the roaring engines, you can rest easy to the rhythm of the lake while reclining in your beach chair at this Midwest family resort.
There’s a tiered lodging system, so you can get something simple or more extravagant, depending on your family’s size and preference. Units on the 40-acre property range from rustic cabins to multi-bedroom modern condos. The resort is all-inclusive, with guests’ meals served in the lodge’s dining hall or on the beachfront deck.
It’s always playtime at White Birch Lodge. The college-age staff organizes several hours of supervised complimentary activities for kids every day, from scavenger hunts to arts and crafts. The staff also organizes games of volleyball, basketball and soccer, and there’s shuffleboard, tennis and horseshoes for all guests to enjoy. When the staff isn’t helping guests, they’re practicing for a beloved White Birch tradition—the weekly staff water ski variety show. The showstopper is the five-person, two-tier pyramid on skis. One important thing to know: the lodge requires a minimum one-week stay.
6. Madden’s on Gull Lake – Brainerd, MN
For more than 80 years, the Madden family has lured vacationers to their Midwest family resort with the promise of fun-filled days in the sun and memory-filled evenings around the campfire. This throwback resort in the Brainerd Lakes area of Minnesota—130 miles north of the Twin Cities—proudly keeps it old-school. Families enjoy waterskiing, tubing and wakeboarding on the resort’s 2 miles of shoreline. There’s also a pontoon boat cruise with a naturalist. For those who just want to relax at the lake, there’s a half-mile of beach. Activities on land include tennis, golf, croquet and lawn bowling.
Bingo and other wacky games add to the fun, and movie nights on a big screen are a nice way to end the evening. There’s also nightly S’mores and storytelling. Madden’s On Gull Lake boasts five restaurants and a spa, along with 287 hotel, cottage and villa units. The resort’s daily kids’ program, Adventure Cove, keeps kids ages 4 to 12 busy from dusk until dawn, and is part of the all-inclusive rates.
7. Grand View Lodge – Nisswa, MN
Although a stuffed moose and antler chandeliers greet you in the lobby, this family resort in the Midwest, two hours north of the Twin Cities, is far from a rustic retreat. When you’re not riding a horse or the resort’s pontoon boat, consider a relaxing massage in the Glacial Waters spa. You can also just relax in the whitewashed Adirondack chairs, which offer breathtaking views of the lake and stately lawn below.
Owned by the same family since 1937, this is historic lodging at its finest. Built in the early 1900s, the vintage photos on display give Grand View Lodge a timeless feel, yet updated rooms provide guests with modern amenities, including complimentary Wi-Fi and cable TV. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Midwest family resort has nearly 200 cabins, townhouses and lodge rooms. There’s a kids’ club, indoor pool with a waterslide, tennis courts and a golf course.
8. Osthoff Resort – Elkhart Lake, WI
You’ll find crystal-clear waters and small town charm at this resort, just an hour north of Milwaukee. The stately Victorian Ostoff Resort is Elkhart Lake’s grand dame, featuring a nationally recognized spa. Rent your own boat and waterski on Elkhart Lake or hit the hiking and biking trails at nearby Kettle Moraine State Park. Summer weekends are filled with live music at the elegant lakefront patio bar and restaurant.
Although Elkhart Lake is known for its simple pleasures, you’ll find there’s a plush side. It’s home to Road America, a Nascar racetrack hosting races, vintage car events and even specialized driving schools. The Osthoff is also home to the simply magnifique French culinary school, L’ecole de la Maison. A variety of kids’ activities, including culinary classes, are available for additional fees.
9. Heidel House – Green Lake, WI
An hour west of Elkhart Lake in central Wisconsin is Heidel House, located on the state’s deepest inland water, Green Lake. When you want a break from the lake, cross the street to play golf, get a massage at the resort’s Evensong Spa or enjoy a show at Green Lake’s historic opera house. Nearby concerts in the park and farmers markets add to the charm. You can also take a cruise on Escapade, the resort’s 60-foot catamaran-style yacht. Two tennis courts with complimentary rackets, along with onsite bike and powerboat rentals, mean there’s plenty to keep everyone in the family busy.
The resort’s award-winning restaurant, Grey Rock, offers fine dining with floor-to-ceiling lake views. There’s also an onsite ice cream parlor, casual pub and the Sunroom restaurant, where breakfast and lunch are served. This is also a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee or glass of wine.
10. The Beacons of Minocqua – Minocqua, WI
Looking for a North Woods experience? Longing for the serenity of your own private cabin in the woods, right along the lake? You’ll find it amidst the 13 acres of this secluded resort that’s still within walking distance of the quaint town of Minocqua.
In this northern Wisconsin town, you’ll find plenty of family-friendly restaurants like the Thirsty Whale, which hosts a fish fry on the porch every Friday. Other popular pastimes include getting an old-fashioned sundae at one of the ice cream shops or watching the Min-Aqua Bats put on free waterski shows on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday nights. Scheer’s Lumberjack Show makes for another fun family outing.
The Beacons of Minocqua is both bucolic, yet bustling with activity in its 81 units. You can play around with horseshoes and volleyball, or swim in the outdoor pool, swap stories around the outdoor fire pit at night or catch a movie under the stars. Boats, canoes and bikes are available to rent.
There’s a large selection of lodging for every family, too. Choose from one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums, log cabins, a cottage and a studio. Most units feature a full kitchen, fieldstone fireplace, spacious bedrooms and bathrooms, televisions, internet access, and a private balcony with lake views.