CENTRAL CANAL, INDIANAPOLIS Memo to cities developing river walks: This is how it’s done. Indy’s walk follows the canal through downtown to a vacationful of attractions, including the 250-acre White River State Park, museums, a zoo and even gondoliers (317/233-2434; www.discovercanal.com).
HARRIET ISLAND REGIONAL PARK, SAINT PAUL The Twin Cities’ historic bond with the Mississippi thrives along this promenade. Visitors stroll to riverboat landings, carvings of native flora and fauna and the Great Stairs, a perfect place to watch the river flow beneath the downtown skyline (651/292-7010; www.stpaul.gov/depts/parks/specialservices/harriet_island).
CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN, GLENCOE, ILLINOIS Although many Midwesterners may not know it, Chicago was incorporated with the words Urbs in Horto, or "City in a Garden. " So it's fitting that one of the nation's most-visited gardens is nearby. The Botanic Garden’s 385 acres offer 9,400 varieties of plants, 23 display gardens, nine islands that are worlds unto themselves and a nature-inspired peace that’s all too rare (847/835-5440; www.chicagobotanic.org).
MISSOURI BOTANICAL GARDEN, ST. LOUIS Founded in 1859, this National Historic Landmark not only is one of the nation’s oldest gardens, but one of the world’s best, with signature exhibits, such as a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden and the Climatron, a rainforest inside a geodesic dome (314/577-5100; www.mobot.org).
MINNESOTA LANDSCAPE ARBORETUM, CHANHASSEN Visitors who can’t tell an oak from a maple still love these 1,000-acre grounds just southwest of Minneapolis. The arboretum is filled with gardens, trails and a visitors center that channels the spirit of an English estate. Guests can join tours by tram and guided walks in the growing season (952/443-1400; www.arboretum.umn.edu).
Scenic drives :
GREAT RIVER ROAD, MISSISSIPPI RIVER FROM MINNESOTA TO LOUISIANA This nearly 3,000-mile drive passes from the trickling headwaters of the continent’s greatest river, along soaring bluffs, through the Twin Cities and St. Louis and ultimately to the Delta’s rich culture. Toss that Twain anthology on the dash and start driving (763/212-2560; www.mississippiriverinfo.com).
PETER NORBECK SCENIC BYWAY, BLACK HILLS, SOUTH DAKOTA After cruising through the mountainous stronghold of the Black Hills, you’ll understand why Native Americans hold them sacred. Tunnels frame views of Mount Rushmore. Plus, granite spires tower like sentinels along the 14-mile Needles Highway, once deemed impossible to build (605/255-4515; www.sdgfp.info/parks/regions/custer/index.htm).
NORTH SHORE, MINNESOTA’S LAKE SUPERIOR SHORELINE Tucked between dense northern woods and the world’s largest freshwater lake, State-61 runs for 154 miles between Duluth and the Canadian border. You may want to keep notes about the waterfalls and smoked-fish stands. You’ll see plenty (888/868-7476; www.exploreminnesota.com).
Surprisingly good museums:
SPAM MUSEUM, AUSTIN, MINNESOTA Even if you don’t know why people giggle at mentions of Vikings and Spam, you’ll enjoy Hormel’s free museum for its infamous canned meat. Starting with the foyer’s Great Wall of Spam, it’s a tasty blend of pop culture kitsch, self-deprecating humor and culinary history (800/588-7726; www.spam.com).
TOY & MINIATURE MUSEUM OF KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI Don’t worry; this isn’t your uncle’s miniature tractor collection. The 1911 mansion near the Plaza contains an enchanting array of dolls, scale-model houses and trains, making it an ideal side trip for Kansas City visitors (816/333-9328; www.umkc.edu/tmm).
DAUM MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, SEDALIA, MISSOURI You wouldn’t expect to find works from Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol in a Missouri town of 20,000. That’s why we put this museum on this list (660/530-5888; www.daummuseum.org).