Last spring as my son was researching President Truman for a paper he was writing, we started dreaming of seeing a bit more of the United States. My mom has been working on visiting all of the Presidential Libraries and I started looking into which ones were in the Midwest...and that's where the
trouble fun began!
This year would have marked my parents 50th anniversary if my dad was still living, so my son and I decided to build a trip celebrating their relationship and treating Nana to a 50th extravaganza.
Basic Trip Stats:
- 6 Travelers
- 12 Days
- 3,310 miles
- 10 States Traveled Through: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan (upper and lower peninsula), Indiana, and Arkansas.
- 5 Presidential Museums
- 6 Botanical Gardens
- 2 Amazing Destinations
- Priceless Family Memories
5 Presidential Museums:
The Presidential museums are what laid out the basic direction of the trip. Since they were the reason we were touring the Midwest, it made sense that they were the featured destinations!
- Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum - There is so much to see in Abeline, KS. We enjoyed the family home and temporary exhibit even though the official museum is getting updated. We look forward to returning next summer to see the new exhibit!
- Truman Presidential Library and Museum - This was an outstanding museum. We could have stayed there much longer. There is also a whole historical district in Independence, MO that you could spend the day exploring. It is definitely one of our favorites.
- Hoover Presidential Library and Museum - Hoover's museum was one of the older ones that we've seen, but it was still excellent. Even though it was a bit smaller, the historic downtown of West Bank, IO is right next to the museum and you can explore his birth home along with some historical buildings from the time period.
- Ford Presidential Museum - If you're looking for the museum, you need to go to Grand Rapids...if you're looking for the library, you need to head to Ann Arbor. This is the first presidential library and museum that we've seen that is separate. I'm glad we figured that out before we arrived at the library hoping for a museum! Ford's museum is beautiful and really educational. His presidential term was brief, but he's a fascinating man worth learning more about.
- Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum - While Lincoln's museum is not in the official Presidential Museum passport (only presidents after Hoover are part of the Presidential Library National Archives), we couldn't pass through Springfield, IL and not stop. Opening in 2005, this library is one of the most visited presidential libraries and museums—and for good reason: it's incredible. If you're passing anywhere near this one, make a point to stop!
6 Botanical Gardens:
The next item we added to our list of must-see items on our itinerary were gardens. Since we have a Dallas Arboretum pass, we were able to get into these gardens either free or at a reduced rate because of their reciprocal admissions policy. I love exploring gardens, and I also love cheap or free!
- Overland Park Botanical Garden in Overland Park, KS - My youngest and I visited this garden in June while her two siblings were at a writing camp. It is a beautiful park and it was fun to bring the whole family back again. We got into this one for free even without a membership because Tuesdays are free!
- Chicago Botanic Garden in Chicago, IL - This might be our favorite garden we've ever been to. It was incredible...and it's always free! You only pay for parking, but our pass covered that. There was just something magical and incredible about this garden. I'd love to go spend days exploring there.
- Milwaukee Domes in Milwaukee, WI - This was a fun and quirky stop along the way. My little succulent lover was in heaven as one of the domes is all about desert plants. We got two in for free and paid for the rest, but it was worth it.
- Green Bay Botanical Garden in Green Bay, WI - I was so surprised by this garden. First of all, we arrived at the perfect time for all of the flowers to be in bloom. Secondly, they had a LEGO sculpture exhibit that was fascinating. This garden was lovely to explore and very interactive for the kids. They had a hedge maze with a fort and slides for kids to play. The bathroom also looked like a Hobbit hole, so that was a unique feature. Our pass got everyone in for free - super bonus, and the staff there was extremely friendly.
- Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, MI - We didn't have long in this garden, but we could have spent days exploring and still not seen it all. This place is incredible. We opted to stroll around in the Japanese Garden area and it was stunning. I would have loved to have looked around the sculpture park, but we just ran out of time and energy. Our passes got two in for free.
- Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, AR - We went to this garden in the spring before all of the trees had even greened up, so it was fun to see it again in the peak of the summer. What I love about this garden is how natural everything feels. Arkansas is the natural state after all, and this garden beautifully represents that. Our pass got in the two named adults and kids under 18. Thankfully it was the day before our oldest turned 18!
Favorite City: Chicago
About mid way through the trip we stayed at an Airbnb in Chicago to take a breather on the traveling and explore a new city. Let me just say that Chicago blew us away (get it...the windy city). No kidding though, we fell in love with the diversity, beauty, and uniqueness of this city. There were so many amazing things to see and do for free. Check out some of our favorite free attractions in Chicago.
As I explored the line that connected the dots of Presidential libraries, I decided to drive north from Chicago through Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan then down across the Mackinac Bridge to the lower peninsula of Michigan where Ford's Presidential Museum is located.
As I looked around for fun places to see around there, I discovered Mackinac Island. If you've grown up in the north, I'm sure you're chuckling to yourself right now as this destination is quite famous. I'm so happy we stumbled upon it because it was such a unique place to visit and extremely beautiful!
There are no cars on Mackinac Island, so you can either travel by horse drawn cart or bicycle. It was such a fun place to explore with my family.
I'm sure you'll be hearing about this vacation for months to come as I share more details about each of our stops. Can you believe that the six of us made it through these 12 days on just two suitcases? Yeah, we traveled light and savored every minute!
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.