Great Getaways at Midwest National Parks | Midwest Living

Great Getaways at Midwest National Parks

With six official national parks and dozens more affiliated sites, the Midwest offers explorers of every kind the perfect place to celebrate the National Park Service. Here are some of our favorites.
  • Isle Royale National Park

    Isle Royale National Park

    For a rare glimpse of nature hitting the reset button, journey to a remote chain of Lake Superior islands that sees fewer people every year than Yellowstone gets on a summer day. Visitors arrive at the Michgan park by boat or seaplane for wilderness adventures including hiking, kayaking, camping and scuba civing on this cluster of 450-plus islands. If camping's not your style, get a room at the park's Rock Harbor Lodge and see Isle Royale via ranger-led hikes and boat tours.

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

    Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

    Follow the sandy trails through the woods and expect a payoff in the form of Lake Michigan views from atop mountainous dunes in Empire, Michigan. Fight the temptation to run down to the lake. It’s against the rules, harms the dunes and will probably result in you calling 911.

  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

    A kayak or tour boat from Munising, Michigan, offers the best view of the multicolor rocks towering over Lake Superior. But you should round out a visit with a lakeside hike to classic photo ops like the Miners Castle formation.

  • Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

    Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

    Twenty-one islands scatter across Lake Superior like tossed stones across from Bayfield, Wisconsin. They draw adventurers ready to paddle sea kayaks into shoreline caves and camp at remote sites.

  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park

    Cuyahoga Valley National Park

    Thirty minutes from downtown Cleveland, escape to green oases filled with waterfalls, bike trails, a scenic railroad and the Cleveland Orchestra’s summer home.

  •  Mill City Museum

    Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

    Google Maps drops the pin for this one in the heart of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Seventy-two protected miles offer plenty of boating and hiking space, as well as a gateway to historic sites like the Mill City Museum at Saint Anthony Falls (pictured).

  • Niobrara National Scenic River

    Niobrara National Scenic River

    In the famed Nebraska Sandhills, one of America’s great canoe trips also carries tubers past turkeys and other wildlife, sandstone bluffs and 200 waterfalls. Most of the falls are modest, but 63-foot Smith Falls is  definitely worth a stop.

  • Ice Age National Scenic Trail

    Ice Age National Scenic Trail

    Winding for more than 1,000 miles through the state, this trail passes through a variety of spectacular forests. Through-hikers can rough it, but trailheads around the state make the trail perfect for day hikes followed by a comfortable bed and great meal.

  • Ozark National Scenic Riverways
    Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

    Ozark National Scenic Riverways

    The first national parks area to protect a river system encompasses the spring-fed Current and Jacks Fork rivers in Missouri's Ozark Mountains. There aren’t many better ways to spend a hazy summer day than floating along these clear,  cold rivers looking for wildlife and historical farmsteads.

  • North Dakota's Lake Ashtabula
    Along the shores of North Dakota's Lake Ashtabula. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

    North Country National Scenic Trail

    The Northland’s answer to the Appalachian Trail, this 4,600-mile backcountry opus stretches from upstate New York to central North Dakota, taking in famed locations like Ohio’s Hocking Hills and Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains.

  • Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
    Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

    Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

    A large portion of this 255-mile run of tannin-colored water forms the Minnesota-Wisconsin line, offering a tour of quiet forests and state parks, plus views of a scenic byway full of motorists wishing they were seeing things from your seat.

  • Voyageurs National Park

    Voyageurs National Park

    A maze of waterways carries boaters into boreal forest where the namesake fur trappers once reigned. The northern Minnesota landscape closely resembles the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, but Voyageurs allows motorized boats, making rented houseboats a popular choice for multiday trips.

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park

    Theodore Roosevelt National Park

    Compared to the take on badlands topography in South Dakota, this version in Medora, North Dakota features a different look in rock colors and vegetation, plus a bigger shot of bully presidential history. Visitors walk the land where Teddy Roosevelt forged his frontiersman persona and commitment to conservation.

  • Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

    Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

    We know: You’re wondering how compelling a grassland can be. But in this sweeping remnant of Great Plains tallgrass in Strong City, Kansas, you’ll be mesmerized by the wind stirring waves on the hillside and the living museum of wildflowers at your feet.

  • Wind Cave National Park
    Photo courtesy of NPS/Marc Ohms.

    Wind Cave National Park

    Tours here in Hot Springs, South Dakota, explore the first cave in the world preserved as a national park. The must-have experience is the candlelight tour that replicates how visitors saw one of the world’s longest caverns in the late 1800s. You’ll even glimpse white string early explorers left behind when mapping the labyrinth.

  • Badlands National Park

    Badlands National Park

    If you couldn’t quit thinking about The Martian, this is your destination. Barren, eroded hills create an otherworldly departure from the surrounding South Dakota prairie and provide one of America’s all-time-great places to watch the stars come out.

  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial

    Mount Rushmore National Memorial

    The granddaddy of family road-trip destinations. Walk the easy Presidential Trail for a close-up view below George’s chin, and plan to catch the moving lighting ceremony at sundown in Keystone, South Dakota.

  • Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

    Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

    An old school in Topeka, Kansas, may not sound like a national park, but few sites have affected America more. African-American students from this school (now a stirring museum) launched the Supreme Court case that ended school segregation.

  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

    Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

    You know it as the St. Louis Arch (yes, you can ride to the top). But in 2017, a renovated museum with interactive exhibits opens on the Arch grounds to commemorate pioneers like Lewis and Clark, who launched their expedition in earnest from this Mississippi River town in Missouri.

  • Effigy Mounds National Monument
    Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

    Effigy Mounds National Monument

    Revealing a history few of us ever consider, trails wind among earthen mounds shaped like animals and other natural objects in Harper's Ferry, Iowa. The site along the Mississippi River provides a glimpse into the traditions of the continent’s earliest residents.

  • Chimney Rock National Historic Site

    Chimney Rock National Historic Site

    Nearly half a million pioneers on the Oregon Trail looked for this 325-foot-tall spire in Nebraska's North Platte River Valley. Learn why at the visitors center.


  • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
    Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

    Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

    Go “nose-to-nose with Armageddon,” as the Park Service puts it, at a silo housing one of the missiles (now unarmed) that could’ve obliterated a city if cooler heads hadn’t prevailed. Tours at the Philip, South Dakota site (near Badlands National Park and the Black Hills) take you inside areas once guarded by scowling guys with machine guns.

Comments (2)

tourism4 wrote:
While exploring the Ice Age Trail, make plans to hike at Timm's Hill County Park, in Price County, home to Wisconsin's highest geographical point. For info visit
chepesjc1 wrote:
Just got back from Isle Royale. Put it on your bucket list while you can still hike up steep rocky terrain. Worth the pain, beautiful vistas, rare flowers, and MOOSE! Great food and service. Askfor Sin Sin in the cafe for good hiking or running trail tips!

Add Your Comment