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New Places to Play in the Midwest

New and updated state public areas mean fresh outdoor adventures in the Midwest this summer, including new state parks in Missouri and Minnesota.

Minnesota | Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park

Minnesota opened its first new state park in 25 years to much fanfare in late summer 2017. The modern campsite sits on a hill overlooking the pine-lined shore of Lake Vermilion—a perfect spot for stargazing when night falls—and comes with strong Wi-Fi, flush toilets and hot showers. Canoers have access to three boat-in campsites, too. Also at the park, visitors can don hard hats and travel by cage 2,341 feet below the surface for tours of the Soudan Mine, Minnesota's oldest iron ore mine (in operation from 1892 to 1962). Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park

A tour guide drives visitors through the mine in an iron-ore mine car.
A tour guide drives visitors through the mine in an iron-ore mine car. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Missouri | Echo Bluff State Park

Missouri’s newest state park (it opened in 2016) feels more like a resort than a park. Overnight guests at the southern Missouri spot can choose from rooms in the upscale Betty Lea Lodge, cabins with fully-equipped kitchens and campsites. Visitors come for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and fishing. Trails range from moderate to rugged; the two-mile Painted Ridge Trail is a favorite with both hikers and mountain bikers. A post-hike wade into the crystal-clear Sinking Creek soothes feet before a dinner of Ozark favorites at the Betty Lea's restaurant.  Echo Bluff State Park

Echo Bluff State Park

Kayaking on Sinking Creek at Echo Bluff State Park

Echo Bluff State Park Lodge

Betty Lea Lodge at Echo Valley State Park

Nebraska | Platte River Valley parks

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is putting the “wild” in “wilderness” by adding $35 million worth of zip lines, rock-climbing walls and other active adventures to four parks in the Platte River Valley between Omaha and Lincoln. Mahoney State Park, for instance, is adding an alpine slide, 44-foot-tall climbing wall and high-ropes courses, including a Tarzan-style swing rope. Platte River State Park will get a multi-tiered splash pad as well as “glamping” cabins with queen beds that can be rolled onto a deck to sleep under the stars. Most of these features should be ready for the public by spring 2018. Nebraska State Parks

Crawdad Creek
At the new Crawdad Creek in Platte River State Park, kids can interact with the moving water (and possibly catch a crawdad or dragonfly). Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Games and Parks Commission

Ohio | Hemlock Bridge Trail and Whispering Cave at Hocking Hills State Park

Hocking Hills’ web of caves, cliffs and trails received two additions in summer 2017. Exploring the new Hemlock Bridge Trail and Whispering Cave involves 268 feet of elevation changes over wildflower-lined paths with views of sprawling forests. Hikers wind through the woods on the 1.5-mile trail, taking a mid-excursion, .2-mile detour to Whispering Cave. There, a path passes under a 105-foot waterfall and into the nearly 300-foot wide cavern, where an acoustic anomaly carries whispered voices clearly from one end of the cave to the other. Post-detour, cross the park’s first swinging rope bridge over Old Man’s Creek. Hocking Hills State Park

Hemlock Bridge
The new swinging roap bridge at Hocking Hills State Park. Photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Kansas | Little Jerusalem

The largest Niobrara Chalk formation in Kansas has been private property since Kansas became part of the United States, but the hidden treasure known as “Little Jerusalem” will eventually be open to the public. The mile-long stretch of 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs is now owned by the Nature Conservancy, which is working with state officials on details of public access. And that name? The shadows cast during sunrise and sunset make the bluffs look like the walls of Jerusalem. Pictures really don't do it justice... but our video, "This Land is Our Land," might.

Little Jersalem
The formation sits in a valley near US-83 between Scott City and Oakley.

Other outdoor updates around the Midwest:

  • Michigan's Wilderness State Park, southwest of Mackinaw City along the Lake Michigan shorelines, replaced a circa-1950s campround with a new one in 2017. Twenty new hook-up campsites and 23 new rustic walk-in sites give even more visitors the opportunity to stay at the 10,000-acre park. The newest campsite is part of ongoing upgrades at the park; the next phase will involve renovated roads and a new shower house.
  • Iowa's Lake Darling State Park, 50 miles southwest of Iowa City, has added six two-bedroom cabins with kitchens as well as a wheelchair-accessible path along the lake.
  • An $8.3 million visitors center opened last year at Good Earth State Park, 10 miles southeast of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Features such as a replica lodge tell the story of the 600-acre park's Native American population, which thrived there over a thousand years ago.

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