Exploring Nature’s Beauty: The Best Hikes in the Midwest

Dr. Tyler Buckley

October 25, 2023

The Midwest, often overlooked for its hiking potential, is a region filled with natural wonders and scenic beauty. From the rolling hills of the Ozarks to the pristine lakeshores of the Great Lakes, the Midwest offers a wide variety of hiking opportunities for adventurers of all levels. In this article, we’ll explore some of the best hikes in the Midwest, showcasing the diverse landscapes, captivating wildlife, and the serenity these trails have to offer.

I. The Ozark Highlands Trail – Arkansas and Missouri

The Ozark Highlands Trail, spanning over 200 miles across Arkansas and Missouri, is a haven for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. This trail offers a taste of the Ozark Mountains’ rugged beauty, featuring pristine rivers, lush forests, and awe-inspiring rock formations. Hikers can embark on day hikes or opt for extended backpacking trips. A favorite section is the Buffalo River Trail, which runs along the scenic Buffalo National River, offering a mix of challenging terrain and serene waterways.

II. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Michigan

Hiking along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan is a remarkable experience. With over 100 miles of trails, hikers can enjoy towering sandstone cliffs, unique rock formations, and breathtaking views of Lake Superior. The Chapel Loop and Mosquito Falls trails are highlights, leading to stunning overlooks and pristine waterfalls. Hikers can also explore miles of pristine beaches and discover the vibrant colors of mineral-stained cliffs.

III. Shawnee National Forest – Illinois

Illinois may not be the first place that comes to mind for best hikes, but Shawnee National Forest challenges that perception. The Garden of the Gods Wilderness area, a popular attraction within the forest, boasts striking sandstone formations and incredible overlooks. The River-to-River Trail is a well-loved option, covering 160 miles and passing through diverse ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, and bluffs.

IV. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – Michigan

The Porcupine Mountains, often referred to as the “Porkies,” offer an extraordinary wilderness experience in Michigan. Spanning over 60,000 acres, this park features over 90 miles of hiking trails. The Lake of the Clouds Overlook Trail provides stunning vistas of a pristine highland lake surrounded by rugged terrain. Hikers can also explore the Escarpment Trail, which offers breathtaking views of Lake Superior and the park’s lush forests.

V. Hocking Hills State Park – Ohio

Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio is renowned for its unique rock formations, waterfalls, and serene woodland trails. Ash Cave, Old Man’s Cave, and Cedar Falls are must-visit attractions within the park, each offering a distinctive hiking experience. These trails lead you through sandstone gorges, lush vegetation, and the calming sounds of cascading waterfalls, making Hocking Hills a true gem in the Midwest.

VI. Maquoketa Caves State Park – Iowa

Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa invites hikers to explore its subterranean world. With more than a dozen caves, the park offers a cool and unique experience, especially in the summer months. The Dancehall Cave, Twin Arch Cave, and the dramatic Balanced Rock Trail are some of the highlights. The diverse terrain of this park makes it a perfect destination for families, adventurers, and nature lovers.

VII. The Ice Age Trail – Wisconsin

The Ice Age Trail is a 1,200-mile-long hiking route that follows the path of the last glaciation in Wisconsin. While not every hiker will tackle the entire trail, it offers a wealth of options for day hikes and shorter backpacking trips. The Chippewa Moraine Ice Age State Recreation Area provides some of the most scenic portions of the trail, with kettle lakes, kames, and captivating glacial features.

VIII. Brown County State Park – Indiana

Indiana’s largest state park, Brown County State Park, is often referred to as the “Little Smokies” due to its resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains. The park offers more than 20 miles of hiking trails through dense hardwood forests, making it a prime destination for fall foliage enthusiasts. Hike to the summit of the park’s highest point, Weed Patch Hill, for stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

IX. Isle Royale National Park – Michigan

Located in the northwest of Lake Superior. Isle Royale National Park is a pristine wilderness area accessible only by ferry or seaplane. This remote island offers a unique hiking experience, with 165 miles of trails winding through boreal forests and along rugged shorelines. It’s also known for its resident wolf and moose populations, adding to the appeal for nature enthusiasts.

X. Cuyahoga Valley National Park – Ohio

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, situated between Akron and Cleveland, is a hidden gem in the Midwest. The park offers more than 125 miles of hiking trails, including the popular Brandywine Gorge Trail, Ledges Trail, and the Towpath Trail along the historic Ohio & Erie Canal. Hikers can explore waterfalls, lush forests, and the serene beauty of the Cuyahoga River.

The Midwest, often underestimated in terms of outdoor recreational opportunities, is a treasure trove of natural wonders and scenic beauty. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a novice, the diverse landscapes and unique features of these trails make the region an appealing destination for outdoor enthusiasts. From the rolling hills of the Ozarks to the pristine lakeshores of the Great Lakes, the best hikes in the Midwest offer a chance to connect with nature and discover the region’s hidden beauty. So, put on your hiking boots and explore the captivating trails waiting to be discovered right in the heart of America.