We have one answer for anyone who says the Midwest is flat: Ohio's Hocking Hills. Here, just 55 miles southeast of Columbus, cornfields give way to Appalachia. Hocking Hills State Park encompasses some of the best scenery, including Ash Cave (left), a rock shelf that soars 90 feet above the trail. Other outdoor adventures include a zip-line canopy tour, the 17-mile bikeway between Nelsonville and Athens and tube floats on the Hocking River.
Sunlight warms the animal exhibits in the Henry Doorly Zoo's Desert Dome to a toasty 80 degrees. Paths wind around sandy enclosures (left), where cacti sprout and cottontail bunnies scamper on hillsides. (Personally, we love the African Klipspringer, which look like toy-size deer.) You could easily spend an hour here (and a whole day at the zoo), but don't linger too long! You'll want to explore Omaha's Old Market district and the lovely Joslyn Art Museum.
Henry Doorly Zoo 
Want a glam night out at the theater? Look no further than Minneapolis, home to more theater seats per capita than any city outside of New York. Our pick: The legendary Guthrie (left), now housed in a spectacular complex on the Mississippi River. Take an architectural tour during the day, and then come back at night for a play and dinner or drinks in the Guthrie's restaurant Cue.
Guthrie Theater 
Bison, prairie dogs, elk and other creatures roam near (and often cross!) the Wildlife Loop Road at Custer State Park, about 45 miles southwest of Rapid City. But animals are just the beginning here. Scenic Needles Highway winds through the park, hiking trails beg for exploration, and even rookie campers will feel at home at the park's Blue Bell campground.
Custer State Park 
We'll forgive you for thinking you've landed in Europe the first time you tour one of the half-dozen wineries on Old Mission Peninsula. Tidy vineyards and orchards blanket lush green hills along the 20-mile-long peninsula north of Traverse City, and beyond them, Lake Michigan (or more precisely, Grand Traverse Bay) sparkles as blue as the Mediterranean. (But much more affordable!)
Sure, it's become the most cliched thing to do in downtown Chicago, but we still love staring at our reflections in Millennium Park's Cloudgate sculpture (affectionately known as "The Bean"). For the full funhouse effect, join the crowds walking under the sculpture, or stand back to see the whole skyline bent across the mirrored surface like a piece of taffy. Spend the rest of your day enjoying more of Chicago's top-notch free-admission destinations, which include Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, Garfield Park Conservatory, the Chicago Cultural Center and the National Museum of Mexican Art.
Millennium Park 
Where better to celebrate the original "Rough Rider" than on his old stomping grounds? Medora Musical re-creates Teddy Roosevelt's cowboy days with singing, dancing and even fireworks, all under a night sky in the stunning North Dakota Badlands. You'll come away tapping your toes--and eager to check out nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park, 135 miles west of Bismarck.
Got kids? Or grandkids? Or just a nice neighbor kid? Then get thee to The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. It's the Midwest's premier kids' zone, with hundreds of interactive exhibits, including a planetarium, a make-believe construction site and a water zone. Both pint-size visitors and their full-gallon guardians may never want to leave! (Although, if you do choose to explore, the gang will love the Indianapolis Zoo and the museums in White River State Park, too.)
Sure, Lake of the Ozarks attracts thousands of visitors to central Missouri, but early morning, you'll hear just three sounds: birdsong, water lapping and the put-put of fishing boats. By midday, the symphony grows to include speedboats, dockside restaurants and cannonballing kids. Come nightfall, quiet sets in again over the water, but laughter and conversation ring out from the edge of every cove.
A simple Kansas truth: You'll never see the same prairie sky twice. On a perfect autumn day, wispy clouds streak across a cerulean canvas. Come summer, storms arrive, and lightning zigzags through the thunderheads. But then the sun returns, rising above the horizon like a crimson dinner plate. The Flint Hills offer some of the Midwest's best bird-watching, but make sure to put down the binoculars and admire the biggest, prettiest sky this side of heaven. You can experience the Flint Hills along hiking, biking and driving routes; ranch bed and breakfasts offer trail rides, and two outfitters lead wagon treks through the grasslands.
Kansas Flint Hills 
Crowds gather every day at noon to see the Milwaukee Art Museum flap its 217-foot sun-shading "wings," like a mechanical bird silently taking flight. Check out the 20,000-strong collection of fine art, and then head to the funky Third Ward district for gallery hopping. Summer festivals happen almost every weekend, so complete your trip with live music, beer and a classic Wisconsin brat.
Milwaukee Art Museum 
Historic Third Ward 
Visit Milwaukee 
In spring and summer, enjoy the leafy green of the wooded bluffs along the Mississippi River; in fall, the bluffs reveal an autumn wardrobe of red, orange and gold. For the best view of the show, take a weekend drive along the Great River Road. You'll find historic towns and old-fashioned inns along the route, but most visitors find themselves content to just roll down the window and soak in the scenery. One of our favorite sections of the drive: The 16-mile stretch from Alton, Illinois, to Pere Marquette State Park along State-100, squeezed between walls of limestone and the Mississippi.
If you're going to wile away the summer on a front porch, why not go to the biggest one of them all, at Mackinac Island's iconic Grand Hotel? (Even if you don't want to pay for a room, at least walk by for a peek at this white-columned landmark.) Most visitors come to this no-cars-allowed island for leisurely carriage rides and fudge-munching, but if you leave the downtown area, you'll find yourself in one of Michigan's prettiest state parks, where a 70-mile trail network winds through woods and limestone outcroppings.
Grand Hotel 
Many people come to Cleveland for one thing: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. And who can blame them? The Hall's collection includes Prince's "Purple Rain" coat, John Lennon's passport and Jimi Hendrix's guitar. But Cleveland also offers a world-class orchestra, a recently renovated art museum and revitalized historic neighborhoods such as Little Italy, where dainty cookies and authentic cannoli line the bakery cases.
Positively Cleveland 
Visitors to Moore Ranch in Bucklin, Kansas, about 30 miles southeast of Dodge City, come prepared to roll up their sleeves. Guests to this 4,000-acre working ranch help mend fences, gather eggs and herd Texas longhorns. Their reward for a hard day's work? Hearty meals at the Moores' family table and the thrill of experiencing a real, true home on the range.
Moore Ranch