There’s a lake for every season when you pick from this list featuring the best lakes in the Midwest for families. Of course, a summer lake vacation is a perfect way to relax together as a family, but don’t forget about visiting during other seasons too! You might find an adorable Christmas town nearby, beautiful fall colors, or the perfect spot to watch for signs of spring. Whether you’re looking for a quick day trip or a longer family vacation, we’ve found the best lakes in the Midwest for the perfect backdrop for long-lasting family memories. The Midwest has access to the well-known Great Lakes, but there are other beautiful, and perhaps closer-to-home, lakes that you may not have heard about. From boating, fishing, and swimming to hiking around lakes and cute lake towns, keep on reading and discover which lake you’ll add first to your upcoming travel plans!
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Lake Geneva, located in southern Wisconsin, is a Midwest lake getaway that has it all! From an adorable downtown with shops and award-winning restaurants to outdoor adventures and luxurious places to stay, like Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, everyone will be satisfied here. Since there are four beaches and options for boating (check out Lake Geneva Cruise Line), your time at this lake in the Midwest will center around time on the water. Another way to see the lake’s beauty is the Geneva Lake Shore Path. Although this historic path is 26-miles long, try a segment by starting at Library Park. Of course, you’ll want to look for animals around the lake. But for guaranteed animal sightings, visit Safari Lake Geneva, a conservation park, or see beautiful horses at the Dancing Horses Theatre. Finally, there are also special events held at Lake Geneva throughout the year, like the popular Winterfest!
What Our Families Say
“We like the Lake Geneva public beach, but we also like to go around to the Williams Bay side and go to Williams Bay beach, if Lake Geneva beach is crowded.”– Melissa Scottberg
Devils Lake and State Park, Wisconsin
Devil’s Lake State Park is undeniably one of the best lakes in the Midwest for families. Located in central Wisconsin, parents love the numerous activities here. Start at the Nature Center, where children can engage with hands-on exhibits. Once you’re ready to venture onto the lake, find boat rentals at the park’s two concession stands (located at the north and south ends of the lake). Also, there are two swimming beaches, again at the north and south shores. If you’re ready for dry land activities, take a guided hike, rent equipment, or even participate in a scavenger hunt! A gentle trail along Devil Lake’s western shore is best for kid-friendly hikes. For more summer family adventures, borrow fishing poles and see what you can reel in. Alternatively, rent snowshoes in winter! Regardless of when you visit, lodging options abound in the area.
Pro tip: If you’re planning to camp near Devil’s Lake, be sure to make a reservation ahead of time. They can fill quickly!
Kinkaid Lake, Illinois
Because Kinkaid Lake, in southern Illinois, is located near Shawnee National Forest, it’s a fantastic addition to a nature-focused family day-trip. In fact, Kinkaid Lake doesn’t have any towns or houses around the lake, making it ideal for camping (no light pollution!). Check out Johnson Creek Recreation Area, located on a finger of the lake, providing a great launching spot for outdoor adventures like hiking, kayaking, fishing, and biking. Be sure to bring water shoes to climb and splash in the Kinkaid Lake Spillway. Located at the end of Kinkaid Lake, this is a three-level waterfall and pool, perfect to cool down on a warm day. If your family enjoys watersports, Kinkaid Lake is a great lake in the Midwest for families, especially for those looking to go tubing and waterskiing. Don’t forget to enjoy the natural beauty, as you’ll be surrounded by sandstone cliffs!
Evergreen Lake, Illinois
Central Illinois is lucky to have the local gem, Evergreen Lake, which is located within COMLARA Park. When your family visits this kid-friendly lake in the Midwest, you’ll be away from the busyness of towns and crowds. Evergreen Lake is small, making it ideal for families with young children looking for a lowkey way to explore nature. From camping to hiking to swimming in the partitioned beach area, your family will enjoy exploring this park. Evergreen Lake is also perfect for passive-type boats including kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and rowboats. Plus, they are also available for rent at the bait shop. Another thing Evergreen Lake gets right is hosting events for families, including summer fishing tournaments for kids and festivals scheduled throughout the year. On rainy days, visit the Children’s Discovery Museum in the nearby towns of Bloomington/Normal.
What Our Families Say
“We really love being able to go out to Lake Evergreen to camp, kayak, and hike. The best was when we could put in our kayak from our campsite!”– Rita Zimmerman
Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota
When you live up north, you know lakes aren’t just for summer fun! They also offer year-round activities. With the numerous winter things to do, your family will love Lake Mille Lacs. This Minnesota lake is an amazing destination for winter outdoor activities like ice fishing and spearing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing from December through March. Then, in the summer, come back to this family-friendly lake in the Midwest to spend time exploring the beaches. Firstly, head to the king-sized beach located at Father Hennepin State Park. Along with many water-focused activities, plan time to hike or bike the Mille Lacs Soo Line Hiking and Biking trail, which has 11 miles of wide, family-friendly trails. For even more hiking excursions, check out Kathio State Park. Here, you can climb the observation tower, hike, camp, or slide down the sledding hill (when there’s snow!).
Pro tip: If planning a winter visit, rent an ice house to maximize your time on the water!
What Our Families Say:
“I grew up going to Mille Lacs with my family as a child. We would spend many summer days and evenings fishing on that lake, and it was an ideal place to get walleye. I love now taking my own children to the same lake, now with their grandparents… I am able to repeat my memories but from a new perspective!”– Chelsey Knealing
Leech Lake, Minnesota
Experience one of the best lakes in the Midwest for families when you visit Minnesota’s Leech Lake. Leech Lake has an impressive reputation throughout the Midwest for catching Walleye and Muskie! Be sure to include time for fishing when you visit. Along with fishing, watersports of all kinds are popular on Leech Lake. If you need boat rentals, head to the nearby town of Walker. Here, you can rent boats of all kinds, including jet skis, pontoon, and ski boats. Another thing to consider is the many lodging options located directly on Leech Lake, like Trappers Landing Lodge. In fact, several of these places to stay include boat rentals, fishing packages, and access to sports activities and private beaches. In addition to these family-friendly things to do, there are several beautiful places to hike nearby including Chippewa National Forest, Paul Bunyan State Forest, and Itasca State Park.
What Our Families Say
“Leech Lake is perfect for a family getway in northern Minnesota! We have been a few times for large family reunions (always staying at Joe’s Lodge near Bemidji). Leech Lake is near many family-friendly attractions, including those in Bemidji, as well as lake activites like pontooning, swimming, and kayaking. Plus, lake vacations always leave plenty of time for card playing, grilling, and laughs! “– Antonia Grant
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Put Lake of the Ozarks, located in central Missouri, on your family’s bucket list. As one of the best lakes to visit in the Midwest, it offers everything families want from a lake vacation! No matter what your family enjoys doing, you’ll find it at Lake of the Ozarks. Starting with the outdoor activities, like boating, hiking, fishing, as well as multiple show caves to be explored. Next, make family memories when visiting the additional local attractions, including water and theme parks. While visiting this best lake in the Midwest for kids, make time to explore nature at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. On warm days, kids will love cooling down at one of the two swimming beaches. Because Lake of the Ozarks is such a popular lake destination, you’ll find lodging of all kinds, from rustic cabins and yurts to the luxurious Lodge of Four Seasons.
Table Rock Lake, Missouri
Table Rock Lake, near Branson, Missouri, is a favorite family lake destination year-round. Many activities in Branson center around families and clean entertainment. Of course, everyone enjoys the boating opportunities at Table Rock Lake. Whether you bring your own boat or rent one there, you’ll find 14 different marinas on the lake. One option that includes lodging and boat rentals is the Port of Kimberling Marina & Resort. Then, there are many more family-friendly attractions, including Silver Dollar City. Here, delight your family by visiting the theme park, water park, or by embarking on a dinner cruise! You can also choose to camp on-site. While in Branson, be sure to catch a show. With so many live shows to pick from, you’ll have a hard time choosing just one. But if you need to, our families recommend Dolly Parton’s Stampede and the Sights & Sound Theater.
Lake Okoboji, Iowa
The Lake Okoboji area is known as Iowa’s Great Lakes! Your family will love this family-friendly lake in the Midwest. In fact, the Lake Okoboji area offers opportunities for families to enjoy the water without owning a boat. In addition to several public beaches, find the historic Queen II, which offers guided lake tours. If you’re looking to stay at the lake, there are a variety of charming options, including Fillenwarth Beach Resort, Bridges Bay Resort, and Triggs Bay Resort. Since you’re at the lake, your kids will definitely want to go fishing. You can reserve an expedition through Campbell Fishing Expeditions or JTG Fishing. Also, look into Boat Okoboji Rentals fleet. Then, check out Barefoot Bar, which offers the perfect place for parents to relax, while kids are entertained. Finally, a visit to Lake Okoboji isn’t complete without a visit to Arnolds Park amusement park.
What Our Families Say
“As a Minnesota Girl, I only knew ‘up north’ for weekend getaways to the lake, but that all changed when I discovered ‘Boji.’ You could say it was love at first sight. The Iowa lakes are a combination of small-town charm and ‘city folks’ like us escaping the rat race. It’s a place for families to reconnect and have plenty of family fun.”– Andrea Grabow
Torch Lake, Michigan
For a kid-friendly Midwest lake vacation that feels a bit like the Caribbean, head to Torch Lake, Michigan (near Traverse City). The water feels a bit colder than the warm Caribbean waters, but it’s a gorgeous blue-green color and very clear, reminiscent of the Caribbean. The lake is very large, giving your family ample space to explore. If your family enjoys water sports, like water skiing, jet skiing, and tubing, you’ll love being able to cruise for miles. Torch Lake is a whopping 19 miles long! Visitors also love hanging out at the sandbar, offering a party vibe at the southern end. Because the lake is such a popular destination, families staying overnight should consider booking lodging months in advance. Likely, AirB&B or VBRO offer the best options for families wanting to stay nearby. Or, check out options in quaint nearby towns like Elk Rapids, Alden, and Kewadin.
Silver Lake, Michigan
If you’re looking for a vacation with sand, then Silver Lake and the Silver Lake Sand Dunes is the perfect lake in the Midwest for you. Not only will your family get to explore Silver Lake, but Lake Michigan too! The two lakes are separated only by the 2,000-acre sand mountain. Whether you bring your own ATV or rent one, your kids will love riding over the sand dunes. Silver Lake State Park includes both Silver Lake, with a campground directly on the water, and Lake Michigan. Not only is the sand piled high for hiking and buggy rides, but the area also boasts a variety of beaches to explore. Since there are so many adorable lakeside towns on Lake Michigan’s western shoreline, your family is guaranteed to find the perfect charming town to return to year after year.
Geneva-on-the-Lake is located along the Lake Erie shoreline in northeastern Ohio. It’s also a perfect family lake getaway! For families who want to swim, boat, and hike, plan a stay at Geneva State Park. For camping, reserve a site or cabin at Geneva State Park Campground and if you’d rather not rough it, stay next door to the park at The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake. Along with the lake activities and local beaches, many families who visit the area, which is just an hour’s drive from Cleveland love to explore the “Geneva-on-the-Lake Strip.” This one-mile stretch of Lake Road will remind you of an old-style boardwalk with all the foodie highlights you’d hope to find from restaurants like Eddie’s Grill to Madsen Donuts to the Whip-N-Dip ice-cream shop. While you’re there, be sure to play around at the oldest miniature golf course in America, Allison’s miniature golf.
Lake Wawasee, Indiana
Relax in northern Indiana at Lake Wawasee, the largest natural lake in Indiana and one of the best lakes in the Midwest for families. When you stay at the lake, whether at Oakwood Resort, a vacation rental, or another nearby lodging, you’ll find plenty to fill your week. All of the best lake activities, including boating, swimming, and fishing are guaranteed to make everyone smile and build memories for your family. One unique boat opportunity to check out is a ride on The Dixie, which is a 75-minute boat tour around nearby Lake Webster aboard an old-style sternwheel boat. In addition to the many things you can do at Lake Wawasee, nearby Elkhart County is a fantastic place to learn about the Amish culture and lifestyle. Keep on driving the Heritage Trail and you’ll experience what has been voted to be one of “America’s Most Scenic Drives.”
Patoka Lake, Indiana
Located in southern Indiana, Patoka Lake is a large reservoir perfect for fishing, swimming, hiking, and all kinds of memory-making outdoor fun. A highlight at the lake for families is a visit to the Nature Center. Here kids will be captivated by the raptors, including eagles, owls, and hawks. Other outdoor highlights include an archery range, a disc golf course, a bike trail, and, of course, swimming and boating. If you’ve ever wanted to stay on a houseboat or even a floating cabin, Patoka Lake is the perfect place to try! Of course, there are many other places to stay if you’d rather sleep on dry land. Nearby French Lick with its location in the Hoosier National Forest also offers plenty of things to do near Patoka Lake. One option in the area, which is perfect for a winter getaway, is Big Splash Adventure, an indoor waterpark and resort.
Sylvan Lake, South Dakota
Located within the Black Hills of South Dakota and Custer State Park, is beautiful Sylvan Lake. Because this lake has almost every lake amenity imaginable, it’s a must-include on our list of best lakes in the Midwest for families. Although there are four other lakes at Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake is the most recognizable and perhaps the prettiest with its ponderosa pines. Given that the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail loop is relatively flat and just one mile long, it’s an ideal hike for families. Bring your swimming suits, because this is the perfect swimming hole, as well as an amazing place to kayak! Since Sylvan Lake offers so much to do, there are many lodging options. One historic and convenient choice is Sylvan Lake Lodge, located directly in Custer State Park. Finally, visitors also enjoy the many historic places nearby, including Crazy Horse Memorial.
Lake McConaughy, Nebraska
Nebraskans have fondly nicknamed Lake McConaughy “Lake Mac” due to its large size. As the largest reservoir in Nebraska, it’s also known for being a source of large, trophy size fish. Whether you’re coming for the day to swim or are planning a longer vacation, you can get your white sand beach fix here. Of course, your kids will have so much fun building sandcastles here. Then, for families wanting to boat, check out the pontoon boat rentals. If your plans allow you to stay longer, or perhaps camp, Lake McConaughy is a fantastic lake in the Midwest for kids due to its proximity to nearby attractions. Explore historic Ash Hollow State Historical Park, which was a stopover for the Oregon and California trails. Back at the park, challenge your kids to find ruts from wagons heading west and the beautiful prairie views.
Thank You to Our Community!
Of course, this article on Best Lakes in the Midwest for Families would not have been as personal, helpful, or family-friendly without the contributions and input from the engaged members of our Facebook group Families Who Love to Travel. For more family vacation recommendations and inspiration, be sure to join us on Facebook at Families Who Love to Travel. We’re a community of experienced traveling families who love adventure and exploring the world. Plus, follow us on Instagram (@familieslovetravel) to connect with other families who love the unique memories that can be made while traveling.
Looking for other outdoor adventures in the Midwest? Discover all of our favorite Midwest state parks in our list of 10 Best Midwest State Parks for Families.
*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the locations on this list featuring the best lakes in the Midwest for families may be temporarily closed or may have reduced services. Please ensure availability before making your decision.
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