Great Getaways at Midwest National Parks
With eight 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
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
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.
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
Twenty-one islands scatter across Lake Superior like tossed stones across from Bayfield, Wisconsin. In summer, the Apostle Islands draw adventurers ready to paddle sea kayaks into shoreline caves and camp at remote sites. In winter, it's a frozen wonderland.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Thirty minutes from downtown Cleveland, escape to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a green oasis filled with waterfalls, bike trails, a scenic railroad and the Cleveland Orchestra's summer home.
Indiana Dunes National Park
With the Chicago skyline peeking over the horizon, visitors explore miles of sandy shoreline and inland trails passing through prairie, forest and bogs at Indiana Dunes National Park in northwest Indiana. The former national lakeshore was boosted to national park status in early 2019.
Gateway Arch National Park
Elevated to national park status after $380 million in renovations, the St. Louis Arch still offers rides to the top but also has a new museum, expanded visitors center and more green space connecting the Arch to the city.
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Google Maps drops the pin for this one in the heart of Minnesota's Twin Cities. The Mississippi Nationa River and Recreation Area offers 72 protected miles of boating and hiking space, as well as a gateway to historic sites like the Mill City Museum at Saint Anthony Falls.
Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Winding for more than 1,000 miles through the state, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail 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
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.
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
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
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.
Related: 36 Hours in Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park
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
Tours here in Hot Springs, South Dakota, explore the first cave in the world preserved as a national park. Guided tours typically last 60 to 90 minutes. Two specialty tours, expected to resume in 2022, are the candlelight tour, which replicates how visitors saw one of the world's longest caverns in the late 1800s, and a strenuous Wild Cave tour.
Badlands National Park
If you couldn't quit thinking about The Martian, Badlands National Park 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.
Related: Top Spots to Visit at the Badlands
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
You know Mount Rushmore as 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
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.
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 Mounds along the Mississippi River provide a glimpse into the traditions of the continent's earliest residents.
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.
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.
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.
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.