Looking to explore the great outdoors in the heart of the USA? Look no further! We’ve decided to share our 13 favorite places to visit in the Midwest.
Sure, it’s known for its down-to-earth charm and miles of farmland, but the Midwest is home to some incredible back country. Who knew that even the corn capitol of the world, Iowa, was home to 63 State Parks? Yup you read that right, there are 63 State Parks in Iowa.
Lucky for you, that’s just the start. All told our guide includes: 9 states, 2 National Parks, and countless reasons to go explore. So, if you’re up for a long weekend or a nice road trip, be sure to check out our 13 favorite places to visit in the Midwest!
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Custer State Park, SD
Custer State Park spreads over 71,000 acres in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Granite peaks scrape the piercing blue sky and wildlife abounds within the park’s borders. Black Elk Peak, the highest point in the state, also resides within Custer.
If you decide to visit, be sure to set aside some time for a dip in Sylvan Lake. The Needles and Black Elk Peak are great options for steady hikers. Have a younger crowd? Enjoy a cruise around Wildlife Loop Road and keep an eye out for bison, bighorn sheep, and boroughs. If you live for beautiful hikes, crystal clear mountain lakes, and the chance to see a wild donkey or two, Custer State Park is for you.
Gooseberry Falls State Park, MN
Gooseberry Falls State Park is known as the gateway to Minnesota’s North Shore. This is a bit of a misnomer as it deserves credit all its own. Massive waterfalls, river gorges, and expansive lakeshore all call Gooseberry home.
Any visit to Gooseberry would be incomplete without a visit to the Middle and Lower Falls. Adventurous explorers can work upstream to see the elusive Fifth Falls. More content to stay close to the visitor’s center? Paved trails branch towards the lakeshore, over the gorge, or towards a lookout over the Falls. If you have extra time, try going from park to park along the shoreline. With dozens of beautiful parks along MN 61 you won’t be disappointed!
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is as beautiful as any place we’ve ever been. Towering cliffs, windswept dunes, wild beaches, and endless sea caves wait to be explored. If you visit late in the summer, and Superior is warm, you can even swim into the caves. Some tunnel hundreds of feet deep into the sandstone and open to a secret cove.
With over 100-miles of trail, there’s always room to escape the crowds. If you’re seaworthy, take a boat tour to view the colorful cliffs from water. Mineral deposits ‘bleed’ out of the cliffs and vibrant hues of colors trail down the cliff face. These minerals also lead to the beautiful chalky blue water color, much like the Iceland’s Blue Lagoon. Take time to explore the shore, you won’t regret it!
Starved Rock State Park, IL
Starved Rock State Park is in a class of its own. It boasts over 13 miles of trails, 18 slots canyons, and countless waterfalls. Large sandstone bluffs stretch over 125 feet high and lookout over the Illinois River.
We were lucky enough to visit at the tail end of fall. The trees were shedding the last of their colors and the park was near empty. The gorgeous canyons and waterfalls waited to be explored and begged us to come back. Over 2 million visitors annually agree, Starved Rock is one of the best places to visit in the Midwest.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is as rugged as any landscape. Located off of I94 the two park Units offer a look into the eyes of America’s history. As a young man Teddy Roosevelt came to hunt bison and left with a newfound appreciation for the wild spaces. We still benefit from Teddy’s conservation policy today.
Both the North and South Units afford visitors the chance to see truly wild wildlife. The Little Missouri River cuts through each Unit and the Badlands-esque landscape. Those brave enough can enjoy the limitless camping, paddling down the Little Missouri, and otherworldly sunsets. Though certainly a long and tedious drive away, visitors never forget their time at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Monument Rocks, KS
Monument Rocks are simply an enigma. The large chalk formations stand up against the low-lying grasslands and stick out like a sore thumb. The strange uniqueness is all part of the draw. The National Natural Landmark is more or less Kansas’s answer to Utah’s Monument Valley.
Its important to note the Monument is actually on private land. The current landowners have been very happy to allow guests to tour the large formations. That being said, please respect the no camping and no climbing rules. If you have the opportunity, stay for the stars. That’s when the magic of Monument Rocks truly reveals itself.
Maquoketa Caves State Park, IA
Back to the corn capitol! Iowa’s Maquoketa Caves State Park is truly an All-American gem. This small park houses more caves than any other park in Iowa. Long tunnels, towering bluffs, and stone arches are linked by a beautiful trail system.
The in-park campground is a mix of reservations and first-come, first-serve spots. It’s nestled cozily among the mature pine trees and connects directly to the parks trail system. The caves our one of our favorite places to visit in the Midwest simply because they’re so different from any other parks in the area.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, MI
The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They are home to large stands of old growth hardwoods, waterfalls, and of course mountains. Nestled among the wild landscape are black bear, moose, wolves, and otters.
The Porkies are equally as wild as their cousins the Rockies. Tucked in between the stony peaks lies the Lake of the Clouds. If you’re up for the hike, enjoy the Escarpment Trail and follow the lakes northern shore from above. Alternatively, you can voyage south and take in the spectacular Bond Falls. If you love rugged mountain living and hope to taste it in the Midwest, visit the Porcupine Mountains.
Indiana Dunes State Park, IN
Indiana Dunes State Park tower over 200 feet above Lake Michigan’s southern shore. The park also includes a 3 mile stretch of shoreline and 16.5 miles of trail. Vegetation helps stabilize the ever-shifting topography and limits blowing sand.
The park is only a few hours east of Chicago, so if you’re Visiting the Windy City (LINK HERE) it’s easy to make it for a day trip. Hiking, swimming, and fishing are the norm and, in the winter, you can enjoy cross country skiing. Whether you come for a dip in the lake or a chance to explore a local legend, a day at the dunes is well spent!
Badlands National Park, SD
While the Badlands didn’t make our Top 5 Family-Friendly National Parks list, it did earn its spot on our 13 Favorite Places to Visit in the Midwest. It wasn’t that we had anything against the Badlands before, its just the car ride would be a little tough for most youngsters.
Compared to the 100-acre parks on our list the Badlands look massive. At 244,000 acres it’s impossible to explore every nook and cranny. You can spend all day and enjoy the Badland’s offerings, or make way to the surrounding Black Hills and Custer State Park. It’s also extremely close to another one of our favorite places to visit in the Midwest: Mount Rushmore.
If you’ve never heard of the Badlands, think of it as the scene for every Western movie. Large pinnacles of clay and soil have piled and eroded away to form the unique landscape. Some tower hundreds of feet high and others deep. It’s a spectacular place to get away, roast a marshmallow, and enjoy the best of the Midwest!
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI
Northern Wisconsin and the Apostle Islands are some of our favorite places in the world. Obviously, they made our list of favorite places to visit in the Midwest. Located on the northeast tip of the Bayfield Peninsula, these 21 islands are as beautiful as they come.
The park also includes a 12-mile coast along the mainland. From sand castle contests, flies the size of bats (kidding… sort of), to starry nights spent alone in the wilderness. The islands are a beautiful mix of history, local culture, and true wild Wisconsin beauty. If you want a cheap, outdoor oriented summer vacation the Apostles are for you.
Turkey Run State Park, IN
Turkey Run State Park is located just southwest of Crawfordsville, IN. We love the parks beautiful sandstone ravines and wooden bridges. It also sports large stands of aged forests, a rarity in many parts of the world.
Visitors are lucky enough to enjoy 14 miles of rugged trails through the famed gullies. If the trails are a little too rough, try the guided horseback tour or hay ride. The saddle barn is open April through October. Call ahead for a reservation!
Tettegouche State Park, MN
Tettegouche State Park is perfect as can be. Stark cliffs look over Lake Superior. Waterfalls and inland lakes dot the 9,300 acres. It sports more than 23 miles of hiking trails, an additional 12 for skiing and 12 for snowmobiles. It’s an outdoorsmen’s paradise.
Care to try your hand at rock climbing? Go ahead and rappel down the cliff faces. Only have an hour? Check out the world class Visitor Center and short hikes surrounding it. Want to stay for the night? Rent a cabin or grab a campsite, there are plenty. There are few better places to visit in the Midwest than good ole’ Tettegouche.
The Best Places to Visit in the Midwest
Turns out, even Iowa isn’t all corn and soy beans. These 13 spots just scrape the surface. The Midwest is chalked full of wild landscapes waiting to be explored. We encourage you to give one of them a try. Pack your tents, some comfy hiking boots, and lots bug spray because adventure is calling!
So please let us know in the comments below… Where are your favorite places to visit in the Midwest? Have you ever been to any of ours? Still have questions or comments, let us know in the comments! Please remember to like and share😊 God Bless, K+J!
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Verse of the Week: Joshua 1:9
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Often, we are called to be uncomfortable. Sometimes the most rewarding moments in life require discomfort, fear, or confusion. It can be as simple as the “pain” from working out or the nerves before a roller coaster ride. It can be as complex as the dread before a big presentation or before speaking to a non-believer about your faith. In either moment, big or small, the Lord is standing with you. This week, be confident in his plans and embrace the moment.
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