There are many reasons people decide to hike. Some people enjoy the health benefits, while others are purely nature enthusiasts. Whatever the reason, the Midwest features some of the most breathtaking hiking options in the United States.
Thousands of miles of trails accommodate everything from short day hikes to multi-day hiking with camping. Many of the state parks offer cabins and bungalows for those that would rather end a long day of hiking with hot water and fresh amenities. Hikers with every level of experience and stamina can find their place in the great American Midwest wilderness.
This is a mammoth hiking opportunity, literally! During the Ice Age, mammoths, cave lions, and saber-tooth tigers freely roamed these areas. Then the Ice Age covered this region with glaciers that carved the landscape into distinct geological features. This massive park has over 1,000 trails cutting through the forest canopy. Multi-day hikers can step back in time and get a taste of what the Americas were like when they were a teeming wilderness.
With a name like Superior Hiking Trail, one may wonder if it lives up to its name. Yes, it does! Stretching over 300 miles, the trail has frequent trailheads where one can enter and exit the trail with ease. This single continuous trail runs along the ridgeline in the northern part of Minnesota to the Canadian border. The most celebrated section overlooks Lake Superior. These are some of the most pristine areas of the United States, featuring a wide range of flora and fauna.
Hikers and Instagrammers alike are drawn to waterfalls. In the upper part of Michigan, this state park has numerous waterfalls. The most famous waterfall is one of the largest east of the Mississippi River. The scenic 4.8 miles trail that connects many of the waterfalls is a great day hike. The density of the surrounding forest often leaves hikers face-to-face with moose. Moose can be aggressive in mating season, so be sure to speak calmly and give yourself about 50 feet of space to avoid an unwanted encounter.
Custer State Park features Black Elk Peak, which is the highest peak in South Dakota. In addition, Black Elk Peak is the highest elevation between the Rocky Mountains and the Pyrenees Mountains in France. From atop Black Elk Peak, one can see Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota. There are more than a dozen trails to the top, but the most popular is Willow Creek Trail # 9. This trail begins at Sylvan Lake, about six miles from Mount Rushmore. Despite the altitude of Black Elk Peak, the trail is 8 hours of easy to moderate hiking.
There is a reason Turkey Run State Park receives over 1 million visitors per year. This well-maintained park features cabins and camping. Visitors will definitely want to stay more than one day to take in the beauty of this place. Hikers enjoy over 14 miles of hiking trails that range from easy to rugged. Sugar Creek runs through the state park and is a beloved favorite for canoeing and fishing. This gem must be seen to be believed.
The Flint Hills area of the Tallgrass Praire National Preserve contains the largest tallgrass prairie in the United States. This unique ecosystem is vibrating with life. The vastness of the preserve covers 170 million acres. For independent hikers, this is a great place to get lost and to find yourself. The treeless hills roll on and on like gentle waves on the ocean. More than 40 miles of established trails allow hikers to travel back in time and glimpse what the Midwest looked like before being settled.
The diversity of flora and fauna contained in Ponca make it a favorite among hikers. The more than 20 miles of trails transition through a variety of ecosystems, forests, open prairie land, and the Missouri River. One stretch of trail called Corps of Discovery runs along a 50-foot cliff. Situated in the northeast corner of Nebraska and the bluffs of the Missouri River, this state park is a big draw for hikers. The official motto of the park is “Where people and nature meet.” This is a beautifully accurate motto for hikers that enjoy seeing untouched wilderness.
Mohican State Park is located between Cleveland and Columbus. This state park features dozens of crisscrossing trails. Michigan State Park is sizable, coming in at 1,110 acres all around the Mohican River. The hiking possibilities are endless, from short day hikes to multi-day through hiking. The Hog Hollow Trail has a climbable fire tower, and the Lyons Falls Trail features not one but two waterfalls. This Midwest hiking destination is a favorite for locals and visitors alike.
Bridal Veil Trail is a 6.5 mile-long trail that makes for a peaceful day hike. Much of the trail is either paved or covered with a wooden boardwalk. The Mississippi River runs through the state park and gives the park a cool breeze in the summer months. The well-maintained trail is a brilliant choice for beginning hikers who are looking to try out their legs and their gear. The over 11 miles of trails delight hikers with views of the Mississippi River, valleys, and bluffs.
When thinking about Illinois, vast prairie lands and endless cornfields are what usually come to mind. Starved Rock State Park is a delightful surprise. Ancient glacial runoff has formed 18 canyons and 14 different waterfalls. All within a relatively small area, the over 10 miles of hiking trails make these impressive sights accessible. The iconic Starved Rock lookout can be crowded in high season, but the eastern parts of the state park are usually empty except for the occasional hiker.