Top Ten Winter Activities in the Midwest

SeaLife Aquarium at the Mall of America in Minnesota. Photo by Nick Fay Photography, courtesy of Mall of America and Meet Minneapolis
SeaLife Aquarium at the Mall of America in Minnesota. Photo by Nick Fay Photography, courtesy of Mall of America and Meet Minneapolis

Linda, aka “minnemom,” writes about family travel at Travels with Children, where she highlights fun things to do in the Midwest and beyond. With four young children, she has a unique perspective on what makes a place family-friendly. She delights in finding fun that is inexpensive and off the beaten path. She also blogs for our friends at Uptake.

When the snow and cold hit, Midwesterners can find themselves looking for ways to avoid the tedium of long days in the house. These are some great activities that can alleviate winter boredom.

Things to Do in the Midwest in Winter
Science Museum of Minneapolis. Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Talk to the animals. Yes, even in the winter months, most zoos are still open. During the holiday season, check out a Zoolights display like that at the Columbus Zoo, but even on those cold January days, the indoor areas of the zoo can be a haven from the frigid air. The Tropics Trail at the Minnesota Zoo can almost make you forget about below-zero temperatures outside.

Get cultured. The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis is a great spot for exposing kids to theatre. Even better, they’re free to be kids and make noise or move around.

Learn something. A field trip to a science museum can be both educational and fun.Try Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, Columbus’ COSI, or the Kirby Science Discovery Center in Sioux Falls, where you can easily spend an entire day playing and learning. Science Museum of Minnesota is also a great place to bring a family!

Go skating. On nicer days, an outdoor rink seems to fit the season, but when it’s absolutely frigid, skating on an indoor rink like Iowa City’s Coral Ridge Mall allows for enjoying the ice without getting too cold. In Minneapolis, there’s a Winterskate rink that’s free at Loring Park (seasonal; check hours in advance).

Play. Take the kids to a children’s museum, where they can play to their heart’s content, and you just might have some fun as well. Some of our favorites: DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville, IL, and Northwoods Children’s Museum in Eagle River, WI. (If you go to Eagle River, you might also want to check out the annual snowmobile races.) Minnesota Children’s Museum is another great option.

Things to Do in the Midwest in Winter
SeaLife Minnesota Aquarium at the Mall of America in Bloomington. Photo by Nick Fay Photography, courtesy of Mall of America and Meet Minneapolis

Find thrills. While most Midwestern amusement parks have long been closed before the snow flies, Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, is open year-round. Its indoor roller coasters and flume ride are perfect for keeping the cold at bay for a day. You’ll also find a LEGO Imagination Center, Crayola Experience, FlyOver America and SeaLife Minnesota Aquarium at the mall, open all year round.

Hit the slopes. Even the Midwest has some decent ski areas. Popular in northern Minnesota are Lutsen and Giant’s Ridge, or try Ski Brule on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Ride the rails. Take some time out for the Santa Express at Iowa’s Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, or ride the Holly Trolley on Minneapolis’ Como-Harriet streetcar line.

Go ice fishing. Some Midwesterners are out trying to catch a big one almost every weekend. Find a good piece of ice, drill a hole, and try your hand at this popular northern sport.

Rekindle the romance. Enjoy a quiet stay at a bed & breakfast or a beautiful hotel like the Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa. Snuggling up under the covers may just make you forget that a blizzard is raging outside.

Relevant Links:

How to turn a college tour Into a vacation: Midwest edition

7 hidden gems for families in Chicago

72 hours in Chicago with kids

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