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Welcome to the heartland of America, where sprawling landscapes, vibrant cities, and a rich tapestry of culture come together to create an unforgettable travel experience. The Midwest, often overlooked but brimming with hidden gems, is a region that beckons explorers with its diverse attractions. From the iconic Chicago skyline to the Great Lakes’ serene shores and beautiful National Parks, the Midwest offers a vast collection of experiences that cater to every taste.
Nicknamed “The Land of Lincoln,” Illinois is famous for being the birthplace of President Abraham Lincoln. Visitors can visit his boyhood home, in addition to several other Lincoln museums in the capital, Springfield. Stop into the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to learn more about this president’s life and legacy – there are also several Civil War exhibits.
Illinois is right next to the Great Lakes, with the shores of Lake Michigan offering stunning vistas and recreational opportunities. Chicago, often referred to as the “Windy City,” stands proudly on Lake Michigan, serving as the state’s cultural and economic hub, and is also a city I once called home. While the winters were brutal, it is a great place to live with so much to offer.
This cityscape has no shortage of iconic landmarks, like the Willis Tower, once the tallest building in the world. Its breathtaking Skydeck showcases panoramic views of the city and the vast expanse of Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, Navy Pier, a bustling entertainment destination along the lakefront, has a fun mix of restaurants, shops, and amusements.
Chicago is not only renowned for its architectural marvels but also its world-class museums. The Field Museum, with extensive natural history exhibits, and the Art Institute of Chicago, housing an impressive collection spanning centuries and cultures, are ideal for art and science enthusiasts alike. Millennium Park, a public park in the Loop neighborhood, houses the famous Cloud Gate sculpture, affectionately known as “The Bean.” Chicago is also the starting point of one of the best American road trips, Route 66!
Chicago also stands as a mecca for sports enthusiasts, offering a thrilling and diverse landscape for fans to revel in their passion. Home to iconic sports teams like the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks, the city pulsates with the energy of athletic fervor year-round. The historic Wrigley Field and the modern marvel of Soldier Field provide iconic venues for baseball and football aficionados, while the United Center hosts electrifying basketball and hockey games. The city’s sports bars, like those in Wrigleyville, are legendary, creating a communal atmosphere where fans can unite in their love for their teams.
Located to the east of Illinois, Indiana is home to vast farmlands, steel mills, and the Indy 500.
During the warmer months, visit White River State Park, an urban oasis in the heart of Indianapolis. This expansive park encompasses 250 acres of scenic green spaces, cultural institutions, and recreational facilities.
For those with a need for speed, the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway beckons. Known globally for hosting the Indianapolis 500, one of the most prestigious events in motorsports, this Speedway is a must-visit for racing enthusiasts. While you’re here, you can tour the track, explore the museum, and immerse yourself in the thrilling history of this legendary venue.
Nature enthusiasts can check out Indiana Dunes National Park, where impressive sand dunes meet the beauty of Lake Michigan. This park offers several diverse ecosystems, from sandy beaches to lush forests, providing opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and enjoying the serenity of the lakeshore.
Indianapolis, the state’s capital, is home to a thriving arts community, diverse dining options, and a range of family-friendly activities. In fact, Indianapolis has more monuments than any city in the United States outside of Washington, D.C. The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is a great way to see some of these monuments – it spans ten miles and leads you to several different neighborhoods like Fountain Square, Mass Ave., and Indiana Ave.
Indiana’s commitment to preserving its natural beauty is evident in places like Brown County State Park, the largest state park in Indiana at over 15,000 acres, and Turkey Run State Park, the second largest state park with several hiking trails and scenic areas.
Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, Iowa stands out as a hidden gem for travelers seeking a blend of cultural richness and natural beauty. The state’s capital, Des Moines, is a vibrant city with a thriving arts scene, diverse dining options, and an array of outdoor activities. Explore the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, wander through the historic East Village, or take a stroll along the scenic riverwalk.
For nature enthusiasts, Maquoketa Caves State Park is a must-visit, offering a captivating underground experience amidst a network of intricate caves. Adventure seekers can hike, explore cave formations, and soak in the breathtaking landscapes.
Additionally, the allure of the Field of Dreams movie set in Dyersville is irresistible. Stepping onto the iconic baseball diamond and wandering through the nostalgic cornfields is like stepping into a cinematic dream. It is an enjoyable, immersive experience, even if you do not like baseball!
Kansas is a captivating destination with a unique blend of history, culture, and natural wonders. One of its standout attractions is the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, offering a fascinating glimpse into the life of the pioneering aviator. Visitors can explore exhibits showcasing Earhart’s achievements and the aviation history that unfolded in Kansas.
Another iconic landmark is The Keeper of the Plains in Wichita, a striking sculpture at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers. This majestic statue pays homage to the Native American tribes that have called the region home for centuries.
For those seeking outdoor adventure, the Syracuse Sand Dunes provide a thrilling experience. These vast dunes offer an unexpected sandy escape in the heart of the Midwest, where visitors can enjoy off-roading, sandboarding, and the tranquil beauty of this unique landscape.
Surrounded by the majestic Great Lakes, Michigan offers plenty of attractions that cater to nature lovers, adventure seekers, and those who want a relaxing getaway. This state is divided into two distinct regions, the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, each with its own unique charm.
Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes, is found on Michigan’s eastern border, providing scenic beauty and many outdoor activities. The Lower Peninsula, surrounded by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Traverse City, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is renowned for its stunning landscapes, vibrant cherry orchards, and award-winning wineries. Traverse City fudge ice cream is a must-try sweet treat while you’re here!
Off the coast of the Upper Peninsula, the iconic Mackinac Island is one of the best places to experience Michigan’s rich history. Accessible by a ferry from Mackinaw City, this car-free island takes visitors back in time with its Victorian architecture, horse-drawn carriages, and fudge shops lining the charming streets. In addition, the 70 miles of hiking and biking trails make this island perfect for experiencing Michigan’s beautiful summer weather.
The Mackinac Bridge, connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, is an engineering marvel offering breathtaking views of the Straits of Mackinac. Driving across is a must!
Nature enthusiasts can explore the Upper Peninsula’s vast wilderness, adorned with dense forests, pristine lakes, and rugged terrain. Outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and boating are abundant in this picturesque region.
The Great Lakes provide a playground for water sports and relaxation along sandy beaches. You can visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, or Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – these are just a few of the dozens of state parks on the Upper Peninsula.
Minnesota, known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” beckons visitors with its pristine natural landscapes and bustling urban centers. At the heart of the state lies the Twin Cities – Minneapolis and St. Paul – offering tons of cultural activities, attractions, and modern amenities.
The Twin Cities boast a plethora of museums, theaters, and galleries. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and the Walker Art Center showcase diverse art collections, while the Guthrie Theater stages world-class performances. St. Paul, the state’s capital, is perfect for history buffs, with landmarks such as the Cathedral of Saint Paul and the Minnesota State Capitol. If you love sports, don’t forget to grab tickets to see the Twins at Target Field or the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
No visit to Minnesota is complete without enjoying some retail therapy at the Mall of America, located in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis. This colossal shopping and entertainment complex is not only a retail mecca but also a destination in itself. Housing hundreds of stores, diverse dining options, and attractions like Nickelodeon Universe and SEA LIFE Minnesota, the Mall of America is a one-stop shop for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Not to mention, it houses an entire amusement park inside, so it’s perfect for the whole family.
Beyond the urban allure, Minnesota is one of the most beautiful states in the Midwest. This state’s numerous lakes, including the iconic Lake Minnetonka, provide an abundance of boating, fishing, and relaxation opportunities. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the northern part of the state offers unparalleled canoeing and camping experiences – it encompasses over one million acres of forests, glacial lakes, and bubbling streams.
If you are up for some cold weather fun, dogsledding in Ely, Minnesota is an exceptional way to experience the great outdoors while enjoying a unique adventure! I had a great time with Wintergreen Dogsledding. The leaders and trainers were very knowledgeable, and I met a great group of people while enjoying a unique experience I would gladly do again!
Missouri, sandwiched between Kansas and Illinois, is characterized by a rich history, culture, and natural beauty. The mighty Mississippi River flows along its eastern border, shaping the landscape and offering a picturesque backdrop to the state’s diverse attractions.
St. Louis, located on the banks of the Mississippi, is home to many iconic landmarks. The Gateway Arch, an architectural marvel symbolizing westward expansion, stands tall along the riverfront. Visitors can ascend to the top for panoramic views of the city and the river. Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States, provides a green oasis within St. Louis, featuring the St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Science Center, and the Muny, an outdoor theater with an impressive summer musical lineup each year.
Nature enthusiasts and garden lovers find solace in the Missouri Botanical Garden, a stunning outdoor space in St. Louis. With its lush landscapes and diverse plant collections, the garden is a peaceful retreat for visitors seeking a break from the urban hustle.
Kansas City, on the western edge of the state, is another must-visit in Missouri. The city’s jazz heritage, barbecue scene, and vibrant arts community mean there are plenty of things to do and places to explore. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Country Club Plaza showcase the city’s commitment to art and architecture.
For beautiful scenery and outdoor adventures, spend some time in Lake of the Ozarks. This sprawling reservoir in central Missouri, surrounded by scenic landscapes and charming lakeside communities, is a popular destination for boating, fishing, and water recreation. If you go a little further south, you can visit Branson, Missouri, known for Silver Dollar City, an amusement park, in addition to Table Rock Lake and several wilderness areas like Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
Nebraska, nestled in the heart of the Midwest, beckons travelers with its unique blend of natural wonders and cultural treasures.
One standout attraction is Chimney Rock, an iconic geological formation that has served as a landmark for pioneers and explorers throughout history. Rising dramatically from the plains, Chimney Rock offers breathtaking panoramic views and a glimpse into the state’s frontier past. Beyond its geological marvels, Nebraska is a prime destination for bird enthusiasts.
The state plays host to the annual migration of millions of sandhill cranes along the Platte River, a mesmerizing spectacle that draws birdwatchers from around the world. The sight and sound of these graceful birds filling the sky create a truly unforgettable experience.
North Dakota, situated in the heart of the Midwest, is a hidden gem that promises visitors a blend of natural beauty and cultural richness. The state boasts unique attractions, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the rugged badlands provide a stunning backdrop for wildlife viewing and outdoor adventures. The park pays homage to the conservation efforts of the 26th U.S. President, who found solace and inspiration in the vast landscapes of North Dakota.
Additionally, the International Peace Garden, straddling the U.S.-Canada border, stands as a symbol of friendship and cooperation between the two nations, showcasing beautifully landscaped gardens and reflective spaces.
North Dakota’s rich Native American heritage is celebrated at sites like Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, offering a glimpse into the lives of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes.
It is also home to the Enchanted Highway, a 32 mile stretch of road leading from Gladstone to Regent. This one of a kind highway offers travelers a unique perspective on local art with over 7 gigantic scrap metal sculptures depicting insects, fish, people and more.
Whether you’re exploring the badlands, enjoying the serenity of the Peace Garden, or delving into indigenous history, North Dakota is a captivating destination that invites visitors to discover the untamed beauty of the Midwest.
Ohio offers a diverse range of attractions, from metropolitan cities to natural wonders. One such gem is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a sprawling oasis between Cleveland and Akron. With its lush forests, winding trails, and the scenic Cuyahoga River, this national park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
In addition to its natural beauty, Ohio boasts dynamic urban centers. Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie, is a cultural hub with a rich history. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celebrates the iconic history of rock music, while the Cleveland Museum of Art showcases a diverse collection spanning centuries.
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is another family-friendly attraction, divided into several different areas like Asian Highlands, African Savanna, and Australian Adventure. This city’s revitalized downtown area, with attractions like the East 4th Street entertainment district, is a must-visit for those who love nightlife. This pedestrian-only zone is lined with buzzing bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
Columbus, the state capital, is another thriving city with eclectic neighborhoods, a diverse dining scene, and the dynamic Short North Arts District. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a renowned attraction, is a favorite for families and wildlife enthusiasts. Be sure to visit the Scioto Mile, a string of parks straddling both sides of the Scioto River, featuring an interactive fountain and walking trails.
For those seeking a taste of Americana, Dayton is home to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, highlighting the history of aviation and military aircraft. Meanwhile, Cincinnati, situated along the Ohio River, has a blend of historic architecture, waterfront parks, and a bustling riverfront. Architecture enthusiasts can visit the Over-the-Rhine district, known for its 19th-century buildings, in addition to Findlay Market, which has fantastic food and craft vendors.
Ohio’s diverse landscape extends beyond its cities, with picturesque rural areas and charming small towns. Amish Country, particularly in places like Holmes County, provides a glimpse into a simpler way of life with Amish farms, handmade crafts, and traditional cuisine.
South Dakota is an expansive and rugged Midwestern state with many incredible landscapes, monuments, and memorials.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, an iconic symbol of American democracy, is carved into the granite face of the mountain; the colossal sculptures of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln stand as a true icon of national ideals and historical legacy. The Black Hills, revered by Native American tribes, provide a stunning backdrop to this massive sculpture.
Adjacent to Mount Rushmore is the awe-inspiring Crazy Horse Memorial, a tribute to the Lakota leader. This ongoing colossal sculpture, when completed, will be the largest in the world, embodying the spirit and heritage of the indigenous peoples of America.
Rapid City, situated at the edge of the Black Hills, serves as a gateway to the region’s wonders. The city boasts vibrant art installations, a historic downtown, and the acclaimed Journey Museum, offering insight into the area’s geological and cultural evolution.
Custer State Park, also located in the Black Hills, is ideal for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts. The park’s diverse landscapes encompass rolling hills, forests, and granite peaks, providing a beautiful backdrop for hiking, wildlife viewing, and scenic drives.
Badlands National Park is another South Dakota must-visit, unveiling a dramatic landscape of rugged canyons, towering spires, and otherworldly rock formations. The unique geological formations, shaped by wind and water erosion, create a mesmerizing panorama for visitors exploring this natural wonder. On the way to this national park, be sure to stop at Wall Drug, a historic roadside attraction encompassing over 76,000 square feet of space in its restaurant, general store, and gift shop.
Nicknamed America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin is renowned for its lush landscapes, cultural offerings, and outdoor adventures. From the stunning natural beauty of Lake Superior to the unique rock formations in Wisconsin Dells and the artistic treasures housed in the Milwaukee Art Museum, the state offers a diverse array of experiences.
Wisconsin Dells, known as the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” housing over 20 water parks, is characterized by sandstone formations carved by the Wisconsin River. These striking rock formations, along with scenic riverboat tours and a plethora of water parks, make Wisconsin Dells a family-friendly haven and an outdoor enthusiast’s playground.
Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, graces Wisconsin’s northern shores. The Apostle Islands, nestled in Lake Superior, are one of the most beautiful areas in this state. These islands, known for sea caves, pristine beaches, and historic lighthouses, are a must-visit area for those who love kayaking.
Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, boasts a vibrant cultural scene anchored by the iconic Milwaukee Art Museum. The museum, with its striking Quadracci Pavilion designed by Santiago Calatrava, not only houses an impressive collection of 25,000 art pieces but also stands as a work of art in itself with its sharp lines and glass materials. Visitors can explore several exhibits, from classic to contemporary, while enjoying breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. Before leaving Milwaukee, don’t forget to stop by Kopp’s, a renowned frozen custard shop. Milwaukee is also home to several pubs and breweries with fantastic craft beer and authentic Wisconsin cheese curds!
Beyond these key attractions, Wisconsin’s landscape is dotted with charming small towns, rolling hills, and rural farmland. Door County, known for its cherry orchards, wineries, and waterfront villages, is a lovely place to visit in the warmer months, while the state’s many state parks provide opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and birdwatching.
If you want an extra-remote destination, the Wisconsin Northwoods offer thousands of lakes, miles of forests, and, best of all, dicey (at best) cell phone service. Thousands of Wisconsinites and Chicagoans vacation in this area every summer, hoping to unwind and unplug.
Whether you’re seeking urban adventures, cultural escapades, or natural marvels, the Midwest beckons with a myriad of experiences waiting to be discovered.
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