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.
Hike, 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.