When imagining the United States national parks, most people’s minds wander to the jagged peaks of the Rockies, the impressive ravines of the Grand Canyon and Zion, or the roaming wildlife of Yellowstone.
But in the Midwest, there are many fantastic national parks and NPS sites to explore, that all feature some pretty incredible scenery and things to do.
From shorelines along the Great Lakes to sand dunes and waterfalls, the Midwest national parks are perfect destinations for outdoor lovers.
This travel guide ranks the best national parks in the Midwest to visit and explore on your next vacation.
Overview and Map of the Best National Parks in the Midwest
The Midwest is full of diverse landscapes that offer endless opportunities for outdoor adventure. For families looking to explore the beauty of the region, visiting one of the national parks in the Midwest is a must.
Whether you’re looking for hiking trails, scenic drives, or unique wildlife encounters, the Midwest’s national parks are ideal for your next family vacation.
For those unfamiliar with the Midwest, this map provides a geographical overview of the national parks in the Midwest to add to your bucket list.
If you plan to visit more than one of these beautiful Midwest National Parks, you’ll want to invest in a national parks pass to save time and money on admission.
Best Midwest National Parks & NPS Sites
Below are some of the very best national parks and NPS sites in the Midwest. From stunning natural landscapes to manmade features, the National Park Service boasts a great deal of fun in the Midwest.
Voyageurs National Park
About the Park: Known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota is home to just one national park, which really showcases why the state has been given this nickname.
Voyageurs National Park is just about ⅓ underwater, with massive lakes like Lake Kabetogama ruling the park.
Visitors can explore these lakes via boat, kayak, canoe, or other watercraft.
Some of the best things to do in the park are only accessible by water, so you’ll definitely want to either rent or bring your own boat. You might even be able to get on the water and go fishing on the lakes.
If you aren’t able to get on the water, there are some great hiking trails near the visitor centers that give you a chance to explore the park and take in the beautiful surroundings.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: Voyageurs National Park is a hidden gem that doesn’t get visited often, meaning that with a visit there, you’ll get to escape some of the crowds and enjoy your peaceful escape into the wilderness.
Badlands National Park
Location: South Dakota
About the Park: Badlands National Park features stunning geological formations that once were the home to rhinos and other animals that grazed all over the country.
As you explore the hiking trails in the park, you may spot some of the park’s current wildlife such as bison, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep.
The most popular hike is the Notch Trail, which takes you 1.5 miles into the wilderness for some pretty epic views of the park. You’ll need to traverse over some rocks and even climb a wooden ladder to reach the main viewpoint.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: This vast landscape of towering rock formations, deep canyons, and wildlife is one that shouldn’t be missed during a visit to the Midwest. No matter what you do in Badlands National Park, you’ll fall in love with the immense beauty that it holds.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Location: North Dakota
About the Park: Along with Iowa and Nebraska, North Dakota is often seen as a vast land of just prairies and grasslands. But that isn’t the case with Western North Dakota!
In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’ll get to learn about the land that inspired the president and made such an influential impact on his life.
North Dakota’s Badlands are home to roaming bison, chirping prairie dogs, grazing wild horses, and dozens of hiking trails for visitors to explore. Plus, the charming Wild West town of Medora!
As you drive along the main park road from Medora, you’ll get to take in the incredible views of the landscape and make stops at scenic overlooks along the way.
Buck Hill, Painted Canyon, and Wind Canyon are the top trails that feature the best views of the dramatic hills and Badlands.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: Perhaps one of the most underrated national parks in the United States, Theodore Roosevelt is one of the best places to visit in North Dakota. It not only offers sweeping views of the badlands and interesting topography, it is also one of the only places in the country where you can see wild horses roam.
Isle Royale National Park
About the Park: As one of the most remote national parks in the United States, Isle Royale National Park is a must-visit for those seeking a tranquil escape into nature.
Located off the coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in Lake Superior, the small island is home to a number of hiking trails, pure Midwest wilderness, miles of shoreline, and some pretty unique animals.
You won’t find any humans living on the land, but what you will find is over 1,000 moose and just over 20 wolves.
It’s likely that you’ll spot one of the moose while out exploring, and while wolves are harder to find, you may find traces of them such as pawprints.
The only ways to reach Isle Royale are by ferry or seaplane, so be sure to book your transportation before arriving at the port!
One of the ferry ports is found in Grand Portage, MN, which can be reached along Highway 61 near Two Harbors and Duluth. The other is in Houghton, Michigan in the state’s upper peninsula.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: Isle Royale National Park offers untainted islands and a remote, off-the-grid experience where the scenic wilderness remains largely free of human interference. This unique remoteness makes Isle Royale one of the best national parks in the Midwest to visit.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
About the Park: Known for its stunning waterfalls, dozens of hiking trails, and close proximity to Cleveland, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a must-visit in the Midwest.
Nestled between the large cities and suburbs of Cleveland and Akron, the park offers visitors an escape from the bustling cities.
It’s one of the most visited parks in the United States and features plenty of things to do. One of the most popular activities is hiking along the many trails that run through the parks.
Brandywine Falls and Blue Hen Falls are a few waterfalls that the trails can lead you to. There are also several stunning scenic overlooks to admire the views at.
The Ledges Trail is the most popular hiking trail, which leads you through towering canyon walls that are lined with bright green moss.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: If you’re looking for a great way to spend some time in Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley is the place to be. Not far from the underrated US city of Cleveland, you’ll relish in the park’s natural beauty and biodiversity.
Wind Cave National Park
Location: South Dakota
About the Park: As one of the most unique Midwest national parks, Wind Cave National Park features an above-ground world, as well as an underground world.
The park is home to an extensive underground cave, including one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world.
In order to go into the cave, you’ll need to take a guided tour, but you can also see the entrance to it without a tour.
Once you’ve explored the underground world, take some time to wander around the hiking trails above ground. Bison roam the fields and are often spotted throughout the park. There are 30 miles of trails to hike on that lead you through rolling hills and prairies.
The visitor center is also a must-see, where you can learn about the history of the park and how the caves came to be.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: One of just a few caves in the United States designated as a national park, Wind Cave offers the unique opportunity to explore the mysterious subterranean world in the Midwest, making it one of the most fascinating and best Midwest national parks.
Indiana Dunes National Park
About the Park: Found just shortly outside of Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana. Here you’ll find stunning views of towering sand dunes that line the shore of Lake Michigan.
This park is a hidden gem that is often skipped over, although it should be anything but that!
From relaxing on the beaches in the park to climbing the challenging dunes and enjoying the views, there are so many great things to do in the park.
The 3 Dune Challenge is one of the most popular activities, which entails climbing the 3 tallest dunes in the park which feature 1.5 miles and 552 vertical feet to climb.
You can also spend some time exploring the water via kayak, boat, or swimming at Porter Beach or West Beach nearby.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: The beaches in this Midwest National Park are consistently ranked among the best in the country and offer stunning views of Lake Michigan.
Gateway Arch National Park
About the Park: As one of the only national parks in the country that features only a manmade structure, Gateway Arch National Park is a unique national park in the Midwest.
You can admire the arch, which represents St. Louis, Missouri’s role in the US’s Westward Expansion, from the ground or from the top.
The unique tram ride takes you to the top of the 630-foot steel structure. The ride takes only about 7-9 minutes, and then you get about 20 to 30 minutes at the top.
From the top, you can see views of the large St. Louis, as well as the St. Louis and the Mississippi Rivers.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: The Gateway Arch is an iconic landmark in the United States, and with it located in the heart of St. Louis, it is easy to get to, whether you’re flying into the state or taking a Midwest road trip.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
About the Park: This fascinating lakeshore is nestled along the coast of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The park boasts towering cliffs that drop into the lake, sparkling waters, and colorful sandstone formations that are the main draw to the park.
When you look at the bright teal water of Lake Superior next to the orange colors of the sandstone, you’ll be blown away by the stunning contrast.
One of the top activities in Pictured Rocks is to kayak along the shoreline and through the many caves and arches that line the edge of the water.
If you can’t get on a boat, you can still hike along the shore. The Miners Castle trail is the most popular, and there are multiple waterfalls in the park to explore.
Why this Midwest National Site is worth visiting: Designated the first National Lakeshore in the United States, this rocky shoreline on the edge of one of the largest and deepest lakes in the country, is great for anyone who enjoys natural beauty and lake activities.
Grand Portage National Monument
About the Park: Located in Northern Minnesota on the Canadian border, the Grand Portage National Monument showcases the history of the area during the North American Fur Trade.
Start off your trip by visiting the Heritage Center where you can learn about the culture and people that lived here years ago.
There are also exhibits in the building about the Anishinaabe people’s culture. You can also head to the Canoe Warehouse and Grand Portage Depot which is home to interpreters who teach you about what may have taken place in the monument during the fur trade.
Many people also enjoy hiking on the trails that wind through the forests, or taking a quick drive to visit Grand Portage State Park, where you’ll find a towering waterfall, High Falls.
The rest of the North Shore is also stunning. Get out and go camping in Two Harbors or explore the state parks that are near Grand Marais and Silver Bay.
Why this Midwest National Monument is worth visiting: Grand Portage National Monument is an interesting place to visit for lovers of US history where you can learn about the European fur trade in North America and the Ojibwe people and their rich cultural heritage.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
About the Park: Situated near Bayfield in Northern Wisconsin is the stunning Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Either explore on the shoreline or wander out to the islands themselves.
The Lakeshore Trail stretches for 6 miles from Meyers Beach along the shoreline of Lake Superior, showcasing the beautiful cliffs that drop into the water. This is the perfect place to explore if you can’t get on the water.
If you have the time to get onto the water, consider renting a sea kayak, or bringing your own, and kayaking out to the Apostle Islands, where you can take in the views of the water and the red sandstone cliffs.
You can also take a sightseeing cruise out to the islands, which are scheduled daily during the summer season.
During very specific conditions in the winter, you can even walk on Lake Superior and explore the caves that line the entire lakeshore.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: Made up of 21 islands, unique natural features, and endless activities, a visit to this national lakeshore can be as relaxing or as active as you desire.
Pipestone National Monument
About the Park: Located in Southern Minnesota, Pipestone National Monument showcases some parts of the Midwestern state that are often overlooked.
The park is home to red sandstone that has been quarried for thousands of years by Indigenous people in sacred ceremonies.
Visit the visitor centers and learn about the history of this monument as well as its cultural significance to the people who have called it home.
Outdoors, hit the hiking trails and wander to Winnewissa Falls, or take part in the ranger-guided tours to learn more about the monument.
Why this Midwest National Monument is worth visiting: A great destination for anyone interested in Native American culture and geology, Pipestone National Monument holds cultural significance, scenic beauty, and offers a range of educational opportunities.
LOOKING FOR OTHER FUN PLACES TO VISIT IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA? CHECK OUT THE CUTE TOWN OF WINONA, MN.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Location: South Dakota
About the Park: The monument features massive carvings of four of our country’s most influential presidents; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson.
The Avenue of Flags is the main stretch of sidewalk at the memorial, where you can walk under the flag of every state in the US. The sidewalk leads to a viewpoint of the carvings.
If you want to escape some of the crowds, take the 0.6-mile Presidential Trail, which goes right up underneath Mount Rushmore and gives a great viewpoint of the memorial.
To learn more about the carvings, head to the visitor center and museum.
It’s found in Keystone, South Dakota, just a short distance from some of the other great national and state parks in the Midwest.
Why this Midwest National Park is worth visiting: For nature lovers and history buffs, a trip to Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the perfect way to spend your vacation. Plus, the monument is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the United States.
FAQs about these Midwest National Parks
With various national parks in the Midwest, national monuments, lakeshores, and national historic sites, it’s common to have a few questions while planning a visit. Here are a few frequently asked questions about the best Midwest National Parks and sites.
How many national parks are in the Midwest?
There are a total of 8 designated national parks in the Midwest region of the United States, but various other national historic sites, lakeshores, monuments, and national scenic riverways that, while not strictly considered national parks, are part of the National Park Service system.
How many national historic sites are there in the Midwest?
There are at least 26 different places or parks in the Midwest designated as a national historic site or a national historic park.
There are also several historic battlefields and military park’s that are also managed by the National Park Service due to their historical significance.
How many national monuments are there in the Midwest?
There are 11 national monuments or national memorials located in the Midwest region of the United States.
What states are considered the Midwest?
While many people may associate the Midwest region with the cluster of states surrounding the Great Lakes, the Midwest actually extends further, at least when it comes to designated regions managed by the National Park Service.
The Midwest region consists of the following states: Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Arkansas.
Wrap-Up: Best National Parks in the Midwest
Sometimes the Midwest national parks are overlooked when people are planning their vacations, but this definitely isn’t how it should be!
From the rolling hills of South Dakota to the shorelines of Lake Superior, all of these beautiful parks feature great hiking trails, views, and plenty to do.
Whether you’re planning a multigenerational family vacation, a Midwest road trip, or just a quick weekend getaway, these parks will make for one memorable trip.
Other US National Parks we love:
- Yellowstone National Park in Western Wyoming
- Zion National Park in Southern Utah
- Arches National Park near Moab, Utah
- Mt Rainier National Park in Washington
About the Author of this Best Midwest National Parks Guide: Kassidy is a Minnesota native who enjoys spending her time exploring her home state and beyond. She loves to hike, ski, and spend time outdoors. She shares her love for the Midwest on her blog, Kassidy's Journey.
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This guide to the best Midwest National Parks was first written in May 2023 but was most recently updated in January 2024 for accuracy and current information.