If you're looking to bust stereotypes about Midwest landscapes, here's your ticket to giant cliffs, rocky shores, dense woods and enchanting caves.
little jerusalem badlands state park kansas
Little Jerusalem Badlands
| Credit: Blaine Moats

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, Oakley, Kansas

Tread lightly amid this fragile stretch of Niobrara chalk formations in western Kansas. Two trails skim a ridgetop—home to ferruginous hawks and rock wrens—for overviews of the 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs left behind by an inland sea.

Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area, Walhalla, North Dakota 

Near the Canada border, the Pembina River Gorge cradles North Dakota's largest uninterrupted stretch of oak woods, a blend of forest and lush wetland thickets. In fall, sumacs blaze scarlet along 25 miles of nonmotorized, equestrian and off-road vehicle trails. 

Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, Crosby, Minnesota

Nature has reclaimed and reforested these lakes left behind from old iron ore mines. Now you'll find premier mountain biking trails and abundant birdlife. Book a mod cabin resembling a mine shaft at True North Basecamp to stay in the heart of it all.

indiana dunes national park beach
Credit: Kevin J. Miyazaki

Indiana Dunes National Park, Michigan City, Indiana

The 3 Dune Challenge, a 1 1/2-mile trail meandering up and down sandy mounts, rises 200 feet above the Lake Michigan shore. Witness incredible plant diversity and lounge on the beach at one of the nation's newest national parks. 

Kelleys Island State Park, Kelleys Island, Ohio

Gouges in the limestone on this Lake Erie island testify to the glaciers that covered this area 18,000 years ago. See marine fossils and other ancient treasures at the Glacial Grooves State Memorial, and hike the 1-mile North Shore Loop that winds through wooded areas and past the rocky shoreline. 

Wind Cave National Park, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Park rangers lead tours of this cave named for the winds blowing through its natural entrance. See the cave's signature boxwork (calcite-formed honeycomb patterns) on the Natural Entrance and Fairgrounds expeditions. The 1/3-mile Garden of Eden tour provides a shorter highlight reel of cool formations.

maquoketa caves state park iowa
Credit: Jay Wilde

Maquoketa Caves State Park, Maquoketa, Iowa

As you descend a long staircase from a picnic area into an almost prehistoric world, nearby cornfields suddenly feel eons away. Towering stone walls, moss-covered rocks and an emerald canopy unfold around more than a dozen caves and crawl spaces.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Bayfield, Wisconsin

Red, gold and black sandstone bluffs along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore take on an otherworldly majesty from the vantage point of a kayak. At the base of these bluffs, 12 miles of sea cave-studded shoreline turn a Lake Superior paddle into a game of "Can we get through this one without touching the sides?" Come back in winter to see the bluffs transform into a winter wonderland.

Elephant Rocks State Park, Belleview, Missouri

The name says it all: Clamber on massive pink granite boulders that rise from the Ozark hills. (They were formed a whopping 1.5 billion years ago.) The 1-mile Braille Trail, snaking among the rocks and leading to an old red granite quarry, features interpretive signage. 

starved rock state park illinois
Credit: Jay Wilde

Starved Rock State Park, Oglesby, Illinois

In the middle of farmland 90 miles southwest of Chicago, discover a surprising change of scenery: 18 sandstone canyons formed by glacial melt. Seasonal waterfalls and tree-covered bluffs reveal themselves along 13 miles of hiking trails.

Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Bayard, Nebraska

Pioneers noted this ancient formation in their diaries as they crossed the Plains headed for new beginnings. At 300 feet tall, it's one of the most striking photo ops in the region. A visitors center reveals how the stone pinnacle was formed.

kitch-iti-kipi natural spring michigan
Credit: Per Breiehagen

Kitch-Iti-Kipi, Manistique, Michigan 

Located within Palms Book State Park in the Upper Peninsula, this gorgeous natural spring provides an oasis of clear turquoise water amid a pine grove. Ride an observation raft across the spring, spotting trout and ancient tree trunks.