Rock features jutting from the shore at Sylvan Lake—@Iowanderound

If the Black Hills of South Dako­ta isn’t on your short-range adven­ture buck­et list, it’s time to put this des­ti­na­tion toward the top. Cov­er­ing approx­i­mate­ly 1.25-millions acres of west­ern South Dako­ta, Black Hills Nation­al For­est lends a life­time of adven­ture. And between the caves to explore, pin­na­cles to climb, and gold rush­es to be rushed, plus those sto­ic faces carved into the stone, the Black Hills are a true gate­way into the Amer­i­can West. The Black Hills serves up its own dis­tinct fla­vor of adven­ture, set against pinewood sur­round­ings and west­ern ambiance, where every explor­er can find their own path to follow.

The George S. Mick­el­son Bike Trail
Stretch­ing for 109 miles from Dead­wood to Edge­mont, the George S. Mick­el­son Bike Trail spans the entire length of the Black Hills Nation­al For­est, giv­ing a taste of just about every­thing the Black Hills has to offer. Lush pine forests, wispy prairies, and tow­er­ing hori­zons are all fea­tured on the route, as well as ghost towns, rock tun­nels and plen­ty of wildlife. There are 15 trail­heads where you can access the George S. Mick­el­son Bike Trail, each stem­ming from and lead­ing to the many excit­ing attrac­tions found through­out the Black Hills.

Rock features jutting from the shore at Sylvan Lake—@Iowanderound
Rock fea­tures jut­ting from the shore at Syl­van Lake—@Iowanderound

Spearfish Canyon and Syl­van Lake Rock Climbing
Between the scenic ver­ti­cal pur­suits at Syl­van Lake and the real lime­stone smor­gas­bord of routes in Spearfish Canyon, climb­ing can be found all year round in the Black Hills. The pin­na­cles of Syl­van Lake top out as the most stun­ning sur­round­ings and fea­ture some of the states most noto­ri­ous boul­der prob­lems and teeth-clench­ing tra­di­tion­al spire routes. Spearfish Canyon, on the oth­er hand, has miles of climbs avail­able lead­ing up the lime­stone, where sport climb­ing reigns supreme and can cater towards near­ly all lev­els of climbers.

Custer State Park
Encom­pass­ing 71,000 acres of Black Hills scenery, Custer State Park is one of the largest state parks in the coun­try, and rou­tine­ly grants access to a wide vari­ety of adven­ture activ­i­ty. Wildlife lovers will appre­ci­ate the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Scenic Byway often speck­led with bison. There are nine camp­grounds to choose from at Custer, includ­ed the cov­et­ed Syl­van Lake Camp­ground and its name­sake attrac­tion. With plen­ty of things to check out at Custer, includ­ing camp­fire cook­outs, buf­fa­lo round-ups, and miles of hik­ing trails to explore, more than one night is rec­om­mend­ed on your next visit.

Bison line the edge of the Wilderness Drive in Custer State Park @Iowanderound
Bison line the edge of the Wilder­ness Dri­ve in Custer State Park—@Iowanderound

Wind Cave Nation­al Park and Jew­el Cave Nation­al Monument
The excite­ment doesn’t stop above ground in the Black Hills, and this already adven­ture-dense area of the coun­try also hosts two mind-bog­gling sub­ter­ranean cave sys­tems. Both Wind Cave Nation­al Park and Jew­el Cave Nation­al Mon­u­ment are in prox­im­i­ty to Custer State Park in the south­ern Black Hills. Wind Cave itself is one of the longest and most com­plex cave sys­tems in the world with only 123 miles of maze-like pas­sage­ways explored, and a lot more to be dis­cov­ered. The only way to dis­cov­er what’s inside either of these two cave sys­tems is through a guid­ed tour from a Nation­al Park Ranger, which is offered almost every sin­gle day of the year.

Black Elk Wilderness
Serv­ing as the only des­ig­nat­ed Wilder­ness with­in the Black Hills Nation­al For­est, the Black Elk Wilder­ness is the per­fect place to get away from the sum­mer crowds at the usu­al attrac­tions. Span­ning for over 13,000 acres, the Black Elk Wilder­ness is often fre­quent­ed by back­pack­ers who want to spend the night in nature. Most routes into the Black Elk Wilder­ness begin and end at the Wil­low Creek Horse Camp, and avid explor­ers choose their adven­ture from there on a vari­ety of trails, with a pop­u­lar option includ­ing a hike up to the top of Black Elk Peak, best known as the high­est point in South Dakota.

Traveling through the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway @Iowanderound
Trav­el­ing through the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway—@Iowanderound

Scenic Dri­ves in Spearfish Canyon and Beyond
From the Nee­dles High­way and its panoram­ic spired views to the corkscrew con­struc­tion of Iron Moun­tain Road framed by Mount Rush­more, one of the best scenic dri­ves in the Black Hills can be found cruis­ing down the cen­ter of Spearfish Canyon. Also known less excit­ing­ly as High­way 14A, the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway pro­vides 22 miles of serene for­est set­ting along­side the mean­der­ing Spearfish Creek, pro­vid­ing the right incen­tive to roll down the win­dows and slow down the speed a bit.

Historic sign in Deadwood @Iowanderound
His­toric sign in Deadwood—@Iowanderound

Not just inspired by the Wild West but rather the embod­i­ment of it, the city of Dead­wood is a blast from the past with plen­ty of mod­ern com­forts. Serv­ing as the fate­ful site where “Wild Bill” Hick­ock met his fate, and where the 19th cen­tu­ry Black Hills Gold Rush real­ly sprung to life, the traces of this ear­li­er age are still heav­i­ly found in Dead­wood today. In part known for its gam­bling and nightlife estab­lish­ments, staged in-street shootouts and cos­tumed char­ac­ters, Dead­wood is also a great place to learn about the vibrant his­to­ry of the region, includ­ing the time before any gold was dis­cov­ered in them thar hills.

A crowd gathers beneath Mount Rushmore @Iowanderound
A crowd gath­ers beneath Mount Rushmore—@Iowanderound

Mount Rush­more
And of course you can’t for­get about Rush­more, the four immor­tal­ized faces in the stone that over­look the adven­ture-rich land and all the peo­ple who vis­it. Tru­ly a mar­vel of engi­neer­ing, Mount Rush­more is one of those things that if not more, is at least worth one vis­it in a life­time. Whether you’re inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry behind the chis­eled work, or the archi­tec­ture that put it all in place, a good com­pli­men­ta­ry vis­it can be found near­by at the Crazy Horse Memo­r­i­al. Both sculp­tures tell a sto­ry with the back­drop of the Black Hills, and each can add a real­ly nice touch to any South Dako­ta vacation.

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

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.