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Last-Minute Labor Day Getaways for Southeast Michigan Families

It's definitely not too late for metro Detroit families to plan a short mini vacation before school kicks back in. Adventure is only a short drive away!

With summer waning – and the start of school just around the corner – there isn't much time before homework, sports, playdates and more make sneaking away for a little R&R nearly impossible. Take advantage of the dog days of summer here in southeast Michigan by packing up your brood, filling your car's tank and heading out for one last summer vacation.

Make that final summer escape even more memorable by choosing a nearby vacation spot that feels farther away. Sure, a Michigan beach town might only be a few hours' drive, but it can seem more like Martha's Vineyard or Santa Monica if you know where to look. No time or money to travel to Venice? No problem. Let Indianapolis act as a stand-in – yes, Indy has a canal fitted with gondoliers who even sing to you in Italian. Locales within a day's drive (or less!) will not only give you an excuse to spend some time with your family, but some destinations can make you feel like you've traveled across the country – or the world.

Ludington, Michigan

  • Can feel like: Martha's Vineyard, Santa Monica, San Diego
  • Driving time from Detroit: About 4 hours

Just north of Muskegon and right on the edge of Lake Michigan, Ludington's shores consistently rank as one of the state's top beaches – and for good reason. Take in the views from the Stearns Park Beach, which lies at the end of the town's main street. There's 2,500 feet of beach, complete with a walkway to the North Breakwater Lighthouse. While there are grilling areas and a playground at Stearns Park, you can find you own private beach spots by traveling north along the appropriately-named Lakeshore Drive and into Ludington State Park.

Over the Labor Day weekend, venture just south of Ludington around Pere Marquette Lake to visit nearby Historic White Pine Village, a refashioned town meant to model those of the late 1800s to early 1900s. Its annual Lumber Days festival happens around early September.

Ozone Zipline Adventures
Warren County, Ohio

  • Can feel like: Costa Rica, South America
  • Driving time from Detroit: About 4 1/2 hours

With 10 ziplines and 9 skybridges along the path, which winds through Little Miami River Valley, the Ozone Zipline Adventures (part of YMCA's Camp Kern) is the largest zipline tour in the Midwest. There are different zipline packages available, from the complete package that takes in all 6,000 feet of line, going 200 feet above the ground and lasting about five hours, to shorter tours. Children need to be over the age of 10 to participate and weigh at least 80 pounds. During the tour, your guide will point out natural, ecological and other features. Since they work for a YMCA camp, tour guides are used to working with children – and even dealing with parents' fear of heights.

Once you're done with the zipline (or for those family members too young to ride), make sure to explore nearby Kings Island Amusement Park, Caesar Creek State Park or The Beach Waterpark.

Indianapolis, Indiana

  • Can feel like: Venice
  • Driving time from Detroit: About 5 hours

OK, so no one will mistake Indianapolis – or 'Indy,' as locals call it – for Italy's famed city on a canal, Venice. But you and your family can get a small taste of relaxing in a gondola while gliding through the middle of the city while listening to the strains of an Italian aria provided by your gondolier. The 1 1/2-mile long Central Canal also has pedal boats and bikes available to rent. The canal passes through parts of the city's White River State Park; it's also close to several area attractions. In fact, many of Indy's most popular attractions, including the zoo, Garfield Park gardens, NCAA Hall of Champions, Indiana State Museum, IMAX Theater, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and Victory Field (a triple A baseball venue) are all lined up one after the other – meaning you can park once for a $5 charge and spend the day exploring.

After your jaunt aboard the gondola, make sure not to miss two kid favorites: the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, which is the largest hands-on museum in the world, and the Indianapolis Zoo, sporting a Dolphin Pavilion that allows visitors to stand inside a submerged dome viewing area (it's a little like you're in the goldfish bowl and the dolphins are swimming around on the outside).

Crystal Mountain Resort, Thompsonville, Michigan

  • Can feel like: Aspen, Colo. and Park City, Utah, a European ski village
  • Driving time from Detroit: About 4 1/2 hours

Rated as one of the Midwest's top resorts, Crystal Mountain takes on a different personality in the summer months: The cozy ski lodges that dot the expansive property feel more like cottages. Staying here can be the perfect starting point for exploring in and around Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and nearby towns in Benzie County, like Frankfort. There's plenty to do on the property, too. Like the alpine slide, a winding thrill-ride that follows a ski slope path down the mountain. You take a chairlift to get to the start. Parents and children can travel together down the slide (but be forewarned, my youngest wanted to sprint down instead of the leisurely pace I preferred!). Families can also try out the swimming pool, rock-climbing wall and golf – all a short walk from their cottages. Resort activities are an additional charge, but you can pick and chose what you want to do.

For the end-of-summer holiday, Crystal Mountain host Pure Michigan Labor Days, featuring a Taste of Michigan element, Big Splash Pool Party, food, free family fun and more.

The Wilds, Cumberland, Ohio

  • Can feel like: Africa
  • Driving time from Detroit: About 4 1/2 hours

You don't have to travel across the globe to see exotic and even endangered animals in a habitat that closely mirrors their own. Located on 10,000 acres of reclaimed mining land in southeast Ohio, The Wilds offers a variety of tours along its expansive property that emphasizes conservation and education, along with the view. There are more than 300 animals grazing in the area, including cheetahs, rhinoceroses, giraffe and zebra – to name just a few. And because the nonprofit organization is dedicated to preserving animals, the staff and guides are more than willing to answer questions – especially from inquisitive children.

While there is some limited overnight lodging onsite (for large groups), neighboring Zanesville has plenty of hotel offerings and even a not-to-miss photo op – your family can have a snapshot standing next to the world's largest basket, the Longaberger Basket.

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