Great winter attractions in the Midwest
By Jody Halsted
Family-Friendly Holiday Destinations
Gateway Arch (Flickr: Philip Leara)
In the northern part of the center of the US lies a cluster of states affectionately known, to those of us who live here, as ‘The Heartland.’ Much of the rest of the US, however, knows us as ‘Fly-Over Country,’ the states one must ‘fly over’ to get to beaches, mountains, or famous amusement parks.
These great Midwestern destinations offer lots of fun for families when the weather is warm. But it’s when the snow begins to fly that the brilliance of these cities really shines!
St Louis, Missouri
The “Gateway to the West” has dozens of options for family entertainment. Fabulous free activities include the museums below the Gateway Arch, fanciful Citygarden Park, and nearly everything in the huge expanse of Forest Park – including the St. Louis Zoo. When the chill of winter arrives, Forest Park becomes the ‘go to’ place for skating and sledding, as well as the beautiful St. Louis Zoo Wild Lights displays as Christmas approaches. If you’re searching for a bit of Christmas magic, book a ride on the Polar Express from Union Station for a ride your kids will never forget.
Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas
Sea Life Aquarium (Sea Life Aquarium)
No matter the season, Crown Center in the heart of Kansas City, is filled with family activities. In addition to the annual festivals and movie nights, Crown Center is also home to Legoland Discovery Center, SeaLife Aquarium and Hallmark’s inventive Kaleidoscope.
Winter transforms Crown Center into a magical world filled with ice skating and hot chocolate. Across the street, historic Union Station becomes home to lighted Christmas trees and miniature trains chugging through snow blanketed villages. For an ‘old fashion’ Christmas celebration, cross the border into Kansas where Strawberry Hill Museum tempts visitors with an Old World Christmas made even more magical when viewed at night with Victorian oil lamps.
Des Moines, Iowa
Jolly Holiday Lights at Waterworks Park (Jolly Holiday Lights )
In the midst of the Heartland, Des Moines is often found near the top of lists for cities to raise a family. The city and suburbs are filled with parklands bursting with playgrounds and bike trails. The Des Moines Zoo, Science Center of Iowa, Pappajohn Sculpture Park, and Living History Farms are only a few of the great family activities in the area.
When the first snow flies, the hills at Waveland Golf Course welcome delighted children on sleds. As Christmas approaches Santa and his reindeer visit the zoo and Waterworks Park twinkles with Jolly Holiday Lights.
Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
Minneapolis Holiday Market (Minneapolis Holiday Market)
The home of the Mall Of America, the ‘Twin Cities’ are filled with fun family offerings. From the free Como Zoo in Como Park to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the cities’ parks are places created for escape and imagination. Theater, culture, and museums dot the cities, providing a fun, sneaky education that kids love.
Active outdoor pursuits can be found at Theodore Wirth Park where snowboarding, tubing, and sledding replace running, swimming and cycling when winter arrives. Hollidazzle Village and the Minneapolis Holiday Market set the Christmas spirit, while the St Paul Winter Carnival follows in January, pulling everyone from hibernation on the coldest of days.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
This beautiful Midwestern city offers far more than you might imagine. Falls Park is ever-changing with the seasons as water levels raise and lower, offering a different experience each time you visit. Get back to nature at the Outdoor Campus or explore the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History. Go ‘back to school’ at the Washington Pavilion, formerly Washington High School, the region’s home for the arts, entertainment and science.
Winter is long in Sioux Falls, and the city knows how to make the best of it. Great Bear Recreation Park draws fun-seekers to the Kirby Family Tubing Park for 80-foot vertical tube runs, while skiers and snowboarders head to its Grizzly Park for challenging terrain. A Winter Wonderland of twinkling lights, friendly reindeer, and Christmas magic appear in Falls Park during the holiday season, leading to January’s Ice Fish Fest, a one-day ice fishing extravaganza.
Holiday Lights Festival in Omaha (Holiday Lights Festival)
Home to one of the best zoos in America the Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha has plenty of activities to offer families. The Model Railroad Garden in Lauritzen Gardens is enchanting, while the real trains in the Durham Museum are delightful to explore. The Old Market is home to Hollywood Candy – the most incredible candy shop you’ll ever enter (it has a movie theater in it!)
As winter makes the skies grey, Omaha brightens this up with dozens of holiday activities. Christmas at Union Station transforms the Durham Museum back to its heyday as a busy rail station, decorated to impress travelers. Holiday Happenings at the Zoo bring the wonder of the Season to humans and animals alike. And the Holiday Lights Festival brings the city together with over 40 blocks of light displays, concerts, ice skating, and a choreographed New Year’s Eve Fireworks Spectacular.