Midwest Micro-cations to Take This Summer

COVID-19 put all the much-anticipated summer vacations on hold but you can still enjoy some family fun and travel with these Midwest micro-cations ideas.

Illustration of a family hanging out of a car

Daunted by the coronavirus threat, adventure-deprived families are opting instead for quick getaways that don’t require flying, a whole lot of planning and taking off work for a week or more. Initially fueled by millennials who didn’t want to burn a lot of vacation days, micro-cation family road trips are a perfect anecdote to being trapped at home.

We’ve done the planning for you for several spots that will have you appreciating each other and the great outdoors.

Fort Wayne, Indiana: A small big “city”

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Take advantage of Fort Wayne’s riverfront and enjoy the new all-accessible Promenade Park, which includes a tree-top canopy walk, playground, a kids canal and art installations. Explore more of the riverfront by bike or, if you prefer, by kayak.

Get friendly with more than 1,500 animals at Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, while kids (and adults) can feed their curiosity at Science Central with more than 130 hands-on exhibits. Walk around town and go mural spotting. Looking for more adventures? Enjoy the floral beauties at the botanical conservatory or get your art fix at Fort Wayne Art Museum.

Eat:

When hunger strikes in Promenade Park, make a stop at the new Trubble Riverside Café & Tap for snacky food and brews. The Hoppy Gnome is a great spot for tacos and brews for the adults. Or stop by a local institution, Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island, for chili topped hot dogs. Grab a slice or two at 816 Pint ‘n Slice, then walk a few steps to Porch Off Calhoun, an alleyway transformed into a seating area with planters, art installations, lighting, and a great way to take in the awesome murals. Don’t leave town without chocolates from local chocolatier Debrand Fine Chocolates.

Stay:

Holiday Inn Purdue-Ft. Wayne; Hilton Fort Wayne; Hampton Inn & Suites Fort Wayne Downtown.

Put-in-Bay and Sandusky, Ohio: Family fun at Lake Erie’s shores and islands

Play:

For thrills, Cedar Point cannot be beat. It is expected to open this month. But take time to explore other options like the indoor and outdoor waterparks at Kalahari Resorts as well as Safari Adventure Animal Park.

Stay entertained at Ghostly Manor Thrill Center including a skating rink, black light mini golf, arcade, escape room, VR games, and yes, one of the Midwest’s scariest haunted houses. Learn more than you ever wanted to know about carousels at The Merry-Go-Round Museum and take a spin on one of the historic carousels. Or have the kids learn while playing at the new Sandusky Children’s Museum.

Get off the mainland and spend the day on the island at Put-in-Bay. Let the adventure begin with a ferry ride aboard Miller Ferry. Once on the island, grab a golf cart (E’s Golf Cart is closest), then explore! Sneak in a history lesson at Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial. Families can spend hours at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center that includes a cave tour, mini golf and gemstone mining.

Eat:

In Put-in-Bay, don’t miss perch tacos at Goat Soup and Whiskey, ice cream at Dairy Isle, or lobster bisque at The Boardwalk. Watch freighters and boats move while munching at the outdoor Dockside Café. A visit to the area should always include ice cream, especially if it’s at Toft Dairy, a Sandusky institution.

Stay:

  • Put-in-Bay: Put-in-Bay Condos; BayShore Resort
  • Sandusky: Great Wolf Lodge; Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point; Tru by
    Hilton Sandusky

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: Be one with nature

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To truly get away from it all, a visit to the Upper Peninsula will allow you one-on-one time with nature. Hike to see the sandstone cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or on a Pictured Rocks boat tour. Waterfalls are abundant in the area, but don’t miss the awe-inspiring Tahquamenon Falls.

Other kid-friendly standouts include the easily accessible Morgan Falls, Miner Falls and Canyon Falls Roadside Park. Watch humongous boats pass through at Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, the oldest city in Michigan. Learn about shipwrecks at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Shipwreck Tours are tentatively set to begin again July 10. If you’d be interested in seeing bears (but not in the wild!), Oswald’s Bear Ranch is sure to be a family favorite.

Eat:

Pasties are the local regional specialty and can be found almost everywhere you go. Try Muldoons Pasties & Gifts in Munising for a taste or Hiawatha Pasties. Stop at the rustic Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub for brews and the restaurant’s famous whitefish. Hudson’s Classic Grill & Bar offers a fun classic diner experience the entire family will enjoy.

Stay:

Tahquamenon Suites Lodging; Pictured Rocks Inn & Suites; Hilltop Cabins; AmericInn Wetmore in Munising.

St. Joseph, Michigan: For beachy fun calling to families

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Families needing beach time should look no further than Southwest Michigan’s beaches in St. Joseph, Holland and South Haven. The hard part? Choosing where to go. Good news? You can’t go wrong with any of the destinations here. Bonus: The towns are close enough so you can easily beach hop from one location to the other.

Hang out at Silver Beach with its soft, sandcastle-perfect sand with the pier and lighthouse close by. (Stay for those epic sunsets!) For a little slice of Europe, Holland has an adorable Dutch-themed amusement park, Nelis’ Dutch Village, and even a 250-year-old windmill. Follow the yellow brick road to the heart of downtown to see the enchanting bronze sculptures of characters from the Wizard of Oz. For fun in the sun, bask on the beaches of Holland State Park and Tunnel Park. South Haven attracts families to South Beach with its iconic red lighthouse. When the kids need a break, play at the all-wooden playground Kids Corner.

Eat:

After all the fun in the sun, Silver Beach Pizza will be calling your name. Combine the best of both worlds with a pie and wine flight at Crane’s Pie Pantry. A visit to South Haven is not complete without homemade ice cream from Sherman’s Dairy Bar (a kiddie size is huge enough for an adult!) Holland’s New Holland Brewing is perfect for families. Head a little further inland from South Haven to find Joe’s Blueberries for an afternoon of blueberry picking.

Stay:

The Inn at Harbor Shores in St. Joseph; CityFlatsHotel in Holland; Covert/South Haven KOA.

Amish Country, Indiana: Slow down + enjoy a simpler life

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Take a buggy ride around town. Bike or walk a portion of the 16-mile Pumpkinvine Nature Trail linking Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana. Shop ‘til you drop at Shipshewana Flea Market, the Midwest’s largest one around. Stop by the Davis Mercantile for more kid-friendly shopping finds like a candy shop, toy store and a 1906 Dentzel Carousel.

From May to September, go on a mission to see the beautiful Quilt Gardens. Get up close and personal with bison at Cook’s Bison Ranch. At Dutch Creek Animal Park, feed farm animals aboard a safari-style wagon. Superhero lovers will want to stop at the Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum in Elkhart!

Eat:

Experience a home-cooked Amish meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus, then have a slice of one (or two) of the pies. (Not easy with more than 30 varieties to choose from!) Bring your appetite to the Blue Gate Restaurant where comfort food is served family-style.

Stay:

Blue Gate Garden Inn; Farmstead Inn & Conference Center; Fairfield Inn & Suites Elkhart.

RV 101 for first timers

What you need to know about summer’s hot travel trend.

Tips to plan a micro-cation

  • Leave in the evening after work. That gives you a full day the first day of your vacation.
  • Plan simple things to do like relaxing, sightseeing and eating good food. Allow spontaneity.
  • Don’t pick a big city. Planning a short trip in a big city may get a little overwhelming and stressful.
  • Book lodging with a kitchen to avoid restaurants when possible.
  • Unplug. Try to stay off electronics or at least minimize use.

The giant behemoths best known as RVs have long been a part of summer road trips, especially when destination-driven families looking to make good time are stuck behind them. But as COVID-19 forced families to switch up summer vacation plans, RVs, with their personal space and private bathrooms, are suddenly getting unexpected love.

You don’t even need a special license to drive one.

April Cumming of Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer company that rents out recreational vehicles from other owners (think Airbnb for RVs!), suggests taking a test drive before committing. The greatest hurdle for first-time RVers is the mental hurdle of driving one, she says.

Map out the roads you will be taking ahead of time. Make sure the route you are taking doesn’t have any low-clearance bridges or tunnels that may require extra guidance. You can double check the roads you’re planning to take ahead of time using the All Stays app.

Travel blogger Tonya Prater of Travel Inspired Living and a former full-time RVer, suggests first-timers spend a day or two camping close to home before setting out to make sure you understand how everything works and to make sure everything is working correctly. Also, pack a good surge protector if the RV doesn’t come with one.

When booking a campsite, look for pull-through sites, which are easier to navigate, she says.

Don’t be intimidated by the RV, says Lindsay Parker Williams of Let Me Give You Some Advice and a first-time RV renter. Even though you need a little bit of training on some of the equipment, it is easy to learn, she says.

But she does say families need to be organized. Since RV fridges are typically smaller, she says it’s best to stay organized with meals. Pack a cooler to keep drinks cold and restock with ice every few days. Plan for some inside time with things like games, books and some crafts.

When renting an RV, Jody Halsted of Camping Tips for Everyone who now rents out her own RV, suggests renters remember to ask when the RV was last serviced, when tires were last checked and replaced and what fuel it needs. The last thing families want is for the RV to break down or the tires to blow, she says.

To get your security deposit back, most RVs must be thoroughly cleaned, including waste tanks dumped, she says.

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