Ten Classic Adventures in the American Midwest

Wild Buffalo roaming near the campground in the Badlands National Park South Dakota

While the Mid­west might not nor­mal­ly be asso­ci­at­ed with amaz­ing out­door adven­tures, don’t be mistaken—if you are look­ing for adven­ture, you can find it in America’s Heart­land. Spread among the agri­cul­ture and hard-work­ing val­ues of the Mid­west are a mul­ti­tude of adven­ture activ­i­ties span­ning from epic moun­tain bik­ing to unique ice climbing.

Explore the Black Hills and Bad­lands Nation­al Park
For­get every­thing you might asso­ciate with a Mid­west­ern land­scape and vis­it the Black Hills and Bad­lands Nation­al Park in west­ern South Dako­ta. Fea­tur­ing enough attrac­tions and recre­ation­al oppor­tu­ni­ties to explore some­thing new every day any time of year, the begin­ning of South Dakota’s awe­some­ness is at the gates of Bad­lands Nation­al Park where rip­tides of fos­sil-filled and col­or­ful rock rip through the land­scape. Head fur­ther west and you’ll find your­self in the Black Hills with Crazy Horse and Mt. Rush­more to guide your way. Amid it, all is Custer State Park, an impres­sive 71,000-acre park home to bison, big gran­ite peaks, and thou­sands of dif­fer­ent sites to camp and explore.

Canoe the Bound­ary Waters
The Bound­ary Waters Canoe Area Wilder­ness (BWCAW) is full of cliffs, canyons, and sev­er­al thou­sand lakes and streams thanks to ancient glac­i­ers which once carved their way through the land that is now north­east­ern Min­neso­ta. Com­ing in at whop­ping 1 mil­lion acres in size, with over 1,200 miles of canoe routes, it’s easy to say you could spend the rest of your life explor­ing this Mid­west­ern adven­ture des­ti­na­tion and most like­ly not see all that the Bound­ary Waters has to offer. And bor­dered by Voyageurs Nation­al Park and Canada’s Queti­co Provin­cial Park, the Bound­ary Waters enables per­haps the most adven­ture you can find any­where in Mid­west, if not the entire Unit­ed States.

Ice Climb in Iowa
Set against the frozen corn­fields just out­side of Cedar Falls, Iowa is the state’s best (and only) ice climb­ing des­ti­na­tion. And it’s not a frozen water­fall cas­cad­ing down a rugged canyon bluff; instead, it’s a steep water­fall that was strate­gi­cal­ly made down the side of a grain silo. Yep, that’s right, a grain silo. For the last 15+ years, an avid adven­ture enthu­si­ast and asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the neigh­bor­ing Uni­ver­si­ty of North­ern Iowa has been engi­neer­ing this ice water­fall for adven­tur­ers around the world to come check out. Tout­ed as one of the steep­est routes you’ll encounter any­where in the world, this is one recre­ation­al attrac­tion that shat­ters the many stereo­types of adven­ture in the Midwest.

Moun­tain Bike in Michigan
At first glance, you may not check out the Mid­west on the map for pre­mier moun­tain bik­ing des­ti­na­tions, but take a look clos­er and you’ll see world-class sin­gle-track rip­pling through each state. And per­haps the cream of the crop in the Mid­west moun­tain bik­ing scene is Cop­per Har­bor in north­east­ern Michi­gan. Fea­tur­ing over 32 miles of pure, untamed wilder­ness trails to nav­i­gate, this ride includes big geo­log­i­cal fea­tures, pro­fes­sion­al­ly designed trails, and stun­ning views of Lake Supe­ri­or, ensur­ing that this moun­tain bik­ing expe­ri­ence is one that will change your per­cep­tion on the Mid­west forever.

©istockphoto/PapaBearHike, Run, Bike, & Ski the Birkie Trail
What­ev­er sea­son you are able to go vis­it Hay­ward, Wis­con­sin, know that the Birkie Trail has you cov­ered. Com­ing in at an impres­sive 107 Kilo­me­ters, users can hike, bike, or cross-coun­try this lengthy trail which is also home to the world-famous Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er cross-coun­try ski race each win­ter. The entire trail is main­tained and looked after by the Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er Ski Foun­da­tion, so the next time you check out any mileage of this famous Mid­west trail, be sure to join the foun­da­tion or chip in a donation.

Rock Climb at Dev­ils Lake
The scenery at Dev­ils Lake State Park in Wis­con­sin is rem­i­nis­cent of the high alpine lakes found in the Rocky or Cas­cade Moun­tains. Turquoise blue waters, rolling topog­ra­phy, and enough recre­ation to shake a stick at, it’s no sur­prise that famous folks like the Rin­gling Broth­ers and Ulysses S. Grant have been not­ed to vaca­tion here. And while the park does not pro­hib­it rock climb­ing, it nei­ther pro­motes it, mean­ing this first-class climb­ing des­ti­na­tion in the Mid­west is a first-come, first serve basis and you shouldn’t expect to find any bolts in the walls. So bring your top-anchor skills to this crag, and pre­pare for the best rock climb­ing you’ll find in the Midwest.

Dive Deep Into the Mark Twain Caves
Bring the Adven­tures of Tom Sawyer to life in a tour of the Mark Twain Caves in Han­ni­bal, Mis­souri. Samuel Clemens, A.K.A Mark Twain, wrote about these majes­tic under­ground worlds in 5 of his books, and along­side his atten­tion, the cave gar­nished world­wide pop­u­lar­i­ty through their infi­nite cav­erns and out of this world dark­ness. Explore it your­self with the help of a guid­ed tour—and while you’re there, be sure to check out the above ground world as well. The Mark Twain Nation­al For­est offers some of the most icon­ic Mid­west camp­ing you’ll find any­where east of the Rocky Mountains.

Swim in the Lake of the Ozarks
How a Lake of the Ozarks vaca­tion looks is total­ly up to you. Whether you want a rugged adven­ture boat­ing, camp­ing, and moun­tain bik­ing, Lake of the Ozarks has you cov­ered. If you’re more into resorts, Lake of the Ozarks has all the shop­ping, din­ing, and golf­ing you can han­dle. And with the scenic back­drop of the reser­voir snaking through the heart of Mis­souri, what­ev­er adven­ture style you choose will at least be beautiful.

Get Lost in Cuya­hoga Nation­al Park
Ohio is home to one of the most under­rat­ed Nation­al Parks in the coun­try, and what that means for you is that your next vis­it to Cuya­hoga Nation­al Park will be full of unpop­u­lat­ed nat­ur­al beau­ty, avail­able camp­sites, and hours upon weeks of recre­ation­al oppor­tu­ni­ties right at your fin­ger­tips. And whether your trip to Cuya­hoga involves bik­ing, hik­ing, boat­ing, or even Earth­Caching, Cuya­hoga will deliv­er on all of your adven­ture needs. Top it all off with a scenic train ride through the park, and rest assured, you can find end­less enter­tain­ment at this Mid­west­ern Nation­al Park.