Midwesterners are well known for their welcoming ways. These central states have plenty of fun things to do during a family vacation, including some that are fun and free! Here are just a few of our favorite free things to di in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri and Minnesota.


Best Free Fun Things to Do in the Midwest US with Kids

Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

John Deere Pavilion

1400 River Dr., Moline.

The John Deere pavilion in Moline is a popular attraction for families because of its interactive exhibits. There, children and parents can see, climb and pretend to drive some of John Deere’s newest machinery. Giant combines, tractors, and even the “lawn mower of the future” are on display.

There are also educational activities and exhibits, prototype machines, and vintage tractors for visitors to learn about the Quad Cities’ most famous manufacturer.


The pavilion also hosts free events throughout the year and is open Mondays through Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Lincoln Park Zoo

2001 N Clark St, Chicago.

Lincoln Park Zoo is one of just a handful of zoos in America that are free every day. (Others are in Washington D.C. and St. Louis.) There, adults and kids can explore tropical rain forests, reptile houses, exotic birds and mammals right in the heart of Chicago.

The Lincoln Park Zoo also features a Nature Boardwalk that provides a natural ecosystem. The boardwalk offers a home for native birds, frogs, fish, turtles, insects and more, as well as giving zoo-goers a beautiful view of the Chicago skyline.

There are several free daily activities that take place at the zoo. These activities include sing-alongs, animal “meet-and-greets” and bird feedings, among others. There is also a Farm in the Zoo attraction, which invites guests to learn about farming and experience interactive exhibits in the zoo’s Main Barn.

Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days per year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and general admission is always free.

Find out about even more free fun things to do in Illinois.


Indianapolis Art Center

820 E 67th St, Indianapolis.

The art center is home to many local artists’ work. This space houses eight exhibition spaces, 13 state-of-the-art studios, a 224-seat auditorium, a library, a gift shop, a riverfront deck and stage, and sculpture gardens along the White River. The campus was designed by world-renowned architect Michael Graves.

Offering unique classes for different forms of art, such as metal smithing, ceramics and glass blowing, the Indianapolis Art Center is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Although specialty classes are not free, general admission to the center is.

Best Free Fun Things to Do in the Midwest US with Kids

Central Canal in White River State Park, downtown Indianapolis. Photo Credit: Lavengood Photography

Garfield Trail

Various locations.

Garfield the Cartoon Cat traces his roots to the Mississinewa River Valley where his creator, Jim Davis, was born and raised. Eleven Garfield statues are located in nine towns and villages; Marion, Fairmount, Matthews, Upland, Van Buren, Gas City, Jonesboro, Sweetser and Swayzee.

Each statue of the famous cat is different, showcasing the many sides of Garfield. He is depicted as a fisherman, a medic, a golfer and as a firefighter, to name a few.

The Garfield Trail is available year round and is a free attraction. To access the Paws For Thought Garfield in Marion, ask the Community Foundation office to unlock the gate during weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Specific statue locations can be found online.

Find out about even more free fun things to do in Indiana.


Pine Creek Grist Mill

Wildcat Den State Park, 1884 Wildcat Den Road, Muscatine.

Built in 1848 by Muscatine County’s first official settler, the historic Grist Mill is nestled along Pine Creek. This picturesque area is one of the most photographed sites in all of Muscatine County.  

The Mill is open for free tours May through October.  It features hands-on milling activities for the kids, trails with unique rock formations like Steam Boat Rock and The Devil’s Punch Bowl, a picnic area and campground. The Mill also hosts two events each year — Heritage Day and the Ghosts of Pine Creek Hallow.

Heritage Day takes place during September and features interactive educational activities, historical demonstrations and live music.

Ghosts of Pine Creek Hallow is a Halloween special event hosted in October. However, according to the Pine Creek website, the event is not meant to cause fear. Actors in period costumes represent the ghosts of the past and inform visitors of Muscatine County’s history.

Best Free Fun Things to Do in the Midwest US with Kids

The Pine Creek Grist Mill at Wild Cat Den State Park. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen.

Iowa State Capitol

1007 E Grand Ave, Des Moines.

In 1857, Governor James W. Grimes moved the capitol of Iowa from Iowa City to Des Moines. Today you can visit the Iowa State Capitol building and learn about Iowa’s history and culture.

The capitol houses the governor’s offices, legislature and the old Supreme Court room, as well as educational exhibits.

The outside of the building is easily recognizable, featuring a 23-karat golden dome towering above the city is flanked by four smaller domes, making for a stunning view on a sunny day.

You can schedule a tour or join one of the several daily tours. You can also do a self-guided tour any time the building is open. Guided tours are conducted Mondays through Saturdays. The building is open Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Find out about even more free fun things to do in Iowa.


Milwaukee Air and Water Show

3195 S Superior St, Milwaukee

The Air & Water Show is Milwaukee’s largest free, family-friendly event. It is 2 full days of amazing acts in the sky and in the water.

If you look to the sky, you’ll see the U.S. Navy flight demonstration Squadron and the Blue Angels, among other gravity-defying acts. Skydivers and daring pilots dance through the air as kids and adults have the chance to climb into grounded airplanes and image what it would be like to fly the machine.

If you look to the water you’ll see the Milwaukee Fireboat, water-skiers and a Marine Powerboat demonstration, to name a few.

The air and water show takes place rain or shine annually in July, skipping 2016 to prepare for 2017. The event is free and viewing locations can be found along the Milwaukee Lakefront.

Best Free Fun Things to Do in the Midwest US with KidsJurustic Park

M222 Sugar Bush Lane, Marshfield.

At Jurustic Park, you can explore recreations of extinct, and sometimes fictional, animals. Many are made from steel, including dragons, dinosaurs and giant bugs.

The sculptures were made by amateur paleontologist Clyde Wynia, who runs the park with his wife, Nancy.

Wynia creates sculptures of creatures both large and small. You can find large dinosaur sculptures as well as tiny owl sculptures at the park.

The park is open in the Summer, Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Find out about even more free fun things to do in Wisconsin.


Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Get back to nature by visiting the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Matthaei boasts seasonal gardens, water features, walking trails, children’s garden, edible garden, and more.

Gaffield Children’s Garden is designed especially for the “kids-eye view.” Kids can climb into an oversized bird nest, experience a kid-friendly maze, discover magical creatures like fairies and trolls, or get their hands dirty in the digging pit.

For the animal lovers, Matthaei offers plenty of water features that attract frogs and toads and house several fish. The gardens also attract many winged creatures such as butterflies and hummingbirds.

Several events are held throughout the summer, including plant sales and gardening classes. Hours vary per season, during the summer the gardens are open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Best Free Fun Things to Do in the Midwest US with Kids

Photo credit: visitannarbor.org

Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve

Muskegon Lake, Muskegon.

At Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve you can fish, observe wildlife, walk through wetlands along a boardwalk, or have a picnic.

In order to walk through the wetlands safely and dryly, the preserve features the Al Bell Trail. This trail is an elevated wooden boardwalk that runs along the northeast side of the preserve. The Al Bell Trail also protects the wetland areas from foot traffic while letting people get into the wet lands and study them without rain boots.

You can also see the Wilder River Walk, a 985 feet long and 10 feet wide boardwalk that connects to a bike trail. The walk has 7 fishing platforms along the way, giving fishermen access to the Muskegon River.

The preserve is open year round.

Find out about even more free fun things to do in Michigan.


The International Women’s Air and Space Museum

Burke Lakefront Airport, 1501 N Marginal Rd #166, Cleveland.

Burke Lakefront Airport honors the women who played an important role in aviation by housing the International Women’s Air and Space Museum.

According to the museum website, “the mission of the International Women’s Air & Space Museum is to preserve the history of women in aviation and space and to document their continuing contributions today and in the future.”

The museum currently houses exhibits featuring women who made a difference in aviation history. These women include Amelia Earhart, Ruth Nichols, Bessie Coleman, Harriet Quimby, Katharine Wright, the WASP, Jackie Cochran and more.

You can take a guided tour of the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, for a $3 per person fee, or walk through it yourself for free.

The museum is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

 The Topiary Park

480 E Town St., Columbus.

Columbus’s urban, seven-acre Topiary Garden offers a living interpretation of George Seurat’s famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon in the Isle of La Grande Jatte” looking like a page in a children’s storybook.

This is one of the city’s best kept secrets. There you can explore the garden, grab a sketchbook to illustrate the landscape, or picnic on the lawn.

You can take a self-guided tour of the park or grab a map from the Visitors Center and take the Tree Walk, finding the location of 25 diverse trees within the park.

Columbus artist James T. Mason imagined the concept for the world-renowned Topiary Park, which is open all week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Find out about even more free fun things to do in Ohio.

Best Free Fun Things to Do in the Midwest US with Kids

Photo credit: Friends of the Topiary Park


St. Louis Science Center

5050 Oakland Ave, St. Louis

Science is sometimes messy, but it’s always free at the St Louis Science Center. The center is dedicated to exploring the science of this world and beyond, featuring exhibits on ecology, biology astrology and more.

Some of the exhibits include “Mission: Mars,” “The Human Adventure” and “GROW,” an exhibit that explores just where our food comes from and how it gets to our tables.

There are also several daily events offered throughout the week and an OmniMax theater at the center, showing a variety of educational films.

The center is open during its peak season, from May to September, on Mondays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The rest of the year it is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Best Free Fun Things to Do in the Midwest US with Kids

St. Louis Science Center. Photo Credit: Becky Davenport/ Budget TravelingMom

Table Rock Lake Dam and State Park


Not far from Branson, Missouri, Table Rock State Park can be found. There you can hike, bike, camp, fish and do plenty of other outdoor activities. The park is complete with a marina, a park store and a visitor’s center.

At Dewey Short Visitor’s Center at the dam, you can take in a short historical film as well as the many interactive exhibits inside the building.

Admission to the park, for hiking, biking and other such activities is free.

If you’d like to camp there are camping fees. Table Rock State Park’s two campgrounds offer basic, electric and sewer campsites and for a little extra space the park also offers family campsites.

Park grounds and day-use areas are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Find out about even more free fun things to do in Missouri.


Best Free Fun Things to Do in the Midwest US with Kids

Inside Quarry Hill Nature Center.

Quarry Hill Nature Center

701 Silver Creek Rd NE, Rochester.

At the Quarry Hill Nature Center, you and your family can hike, bike, cross-country ski, and snowshoe on five miles of trails, covering 320 acres.

Fish in a 2-acre pond and explore interactive displays and exhibits of area wildlife scenery. There are also cave tours and a 1,700-gallon native fish aquarium.

The center is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The Skyways

Various locations, downtown Minneapolis.

Minneapolis’ famous Skyway System is like a giant human habitat. Enclosed and climate-controlled, these pedestrian walkways connect buildings over more than 60 blocks and eleven miles.

Inside several of the skyways you’ll find free art exhibitions, pop-up shopping and food stands.

Because of its climate control, the Skyways are open and free to use year round.

Find out about even more free fun things to do in Minnesota.

Best Free Fun Things to Do in the Midwest US with Kids

This post was created by Alexandra Olsen, a college student intern for TravelingMom.com. Her love of travel began at a very young age–traveling with her family to little beach towns growing up in Brazil. Alexandra also has her own personal travel blog,Trail Mix, which she started while spending a summer studying abroad in Norway.