If you’re looking for an exciting hiking adventure, look no further than the Midwest’s national parks. From glistening lakes to soaring mountaintops, these parks offer something for everyone. Here are some of the best hikes in Midwest national parks.
Last Updated: February 13th, 2022
Midwest National Parks
- Badlands National Park, SD
- Hot Springs National Park, AR
- Indiana Dunes National Park, IN
- Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, KS
- Isle Royale National Park, MI
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI
- Voyageurs National Park, MN
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH
- Wind Cave National Park, SD
- Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI
Badlands National Park, SD
This is one Midwest national park that is severely underrated! Located between the cities of Scenic and Interior, Badlands National Park is 244,000 acres of rugged beauty and rich history. You’ll have a view of the buttes and spires as you approach the trailheads, giving you a taste of what you’re going to see up close. Though there is a small selection of hiking trails to choose from, one trail stands out with a fun feature that makes it a favorite.
The Notch Trail
1.5 mile round trip, this fun trail is a gem in the Midwest National Park system. The views of the canyon and the park are spectacular. You’ll hike through a canyon and you’ll soon encounter the highlight of this trail, the log ladder. The log ladder is a fun climb that leads to a ledge where you’ll get an amazing view of the White River Valley. Besides the scenery, you have a chance to see some wildlife, like the bighorn sheep and bison that call the park home.
Tip: Go early in the morning or evening when the sun is low in the sky. The colors are magical at these times, versus midday when the light (and heat!) can be extra harsh. Also make sure to wear sturdy boots for this one and watch out for cacti.
Hot Springs National Park, AR
Sunset Trail to Balanced Rock
If you’re looking for an adventure, look no farther than Hot Springs National Park. Sunset Trail is a ~10 mile hike with varying terrain through the most remote sections of the park. A trail spur will lead you to Balanced Rock, where you’ll find incredible views of the surrounding area.
Sunset Trail is divided into 3 sections, West Mountain Section, Sugarloaf Mountain Section, and Stonebridge Road Section. West Mountain Section houses the highest point in the park, Music Mountain. Sugarloaf Mountain Section is the section where you’ll find Balanced Rock. The last section, Stonebridge Road, is home to Rick’s Pond which is great for checking out aquatic wildlife.
*Note about the Sunset Trail.
There are many spurs along the trail that could lead you out of the park and onto private property. Be careful to stay on the marked trail by following the orange blazes.
At Pete’s Pond, there are bridges that cross the pond, however the land and trails on the other side are private property.
Indiana Dunes National Park, IN
Indiana Dunes is home to the 3 Dune Challenge. You’ll be challenged by the dune climbs, but also rewarded with picturesque views of beautiful Lake Michigan. Be sure to grab your free Dune Challenge sticker when you finish!
If you still have energy after hiking here, be sure to check out nearby Cowles Bog!
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, KS
Among the rolling hills and peaceful Kansas beauty you’ll find over 350 species of wildflowers, shrubs, and blooming plants, along with the towering grasses that can reach 84 inches! The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve has several trails ranging from 3.8 miles to 13 miles. There are maps available at the ranger desk in the visitor center.
If you’re hoping to see the areas resident bison, Windmill pasture is where you want to go and there are trails that intersect the pasture. Be aware that the barbed wire fence is electrified here and that you should keep at least 125 yards between yourself and the bison. If you’re hiking with small children, this may not be the area for you. Southwind Nature Trail and Fox Creek Trail may be more suitable.
Before heading to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, be sure to check the weather. Storms can happen quickly and the prairie is not where you want to be when there’s lightning. You can read my full post about lightning safety here.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is home to some of the very last tallgrass prairie in the United States. It takes all season for the grass to become the towering fields you see in pictures. By late September and Early October, the grasses have turned golden brown and create a magical look.
Isle Royale National Park, MI
Mount Franklin Trail
When you ascend Mount Franklin, named in honor of Benjamin Franklin, you’re going to be awestruck.
After climbing to the top, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking views of the islands interior, the north shore, and you’ll be able to see mainland Canada in the distance.
To access this trail, the NPS of Isle Royale says to “take either the Rock Harbor Trail or Tobin Harbor Trail until they meet the wooden post which directs you to the Mount Franklin Trail.”
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI
There are over 100 miles of trails in this national forest that will lead you to many different sights. From the thick forest and beaches with breathtaking panoramic views Lake Superior, there isn’t a single trail here that’s not worth checking out!
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI
Sleeping Bear Dunes being named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by ABC’s good Morning America should come as no surprise. With it’s pristine beaches and clear waters, it’s an outdoor lover’s dream. This Midwest national park has much to see and do, and their hiking trails are absolutely stunning!
Sleeping Bear Dunes has several great trails that are family friendly as well as more challenging hikes that may be suitable for adults and older children.
Dune Climb Trail
Rated a well deserved hard trail, you’ll traverse sandy hills for a total 636 feet of elevation gain. These sandy hills will give you a workout but the views of Lake Michigan you’ll get with every climb make it well worth it.
Along the trail you’ll see the beautiful coastline, sandy dunes, and even a shipwreck! You’ll be hiking through sand the entirety of the trail so be sure to wear the proper footwear to protect yourself from the hot sand. Be prepared for the sun and heat with plenty of water and sunscreen. There’s no shade on this trail, so a hat and light colored clothing are also recommended.
At the end of the trail, be sure to cool off by going for a swim or at least dipping your feet in the cool lake water.
Voyageurs National Park, MN
Cruiser Lake Trail
This day hike leads you up rocky cliffs and through remote wetlands. With gorgeous views like this, this trail doesn’t need another reason to make this list, but it has one. Large wildlife, such as moose, wander through here. Choosing this trail at Voyageurs National Park will up your chances of seeing the big animals, and maybe even hear one of the wolves howling!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND
With 19 hiking trails, whose completion times average from around 10 minutes to 12 hours, you’re sure to find a trail perfect for you and your group. The many trails in the park have a wide range of difficulty, from very flat and short trails to an 18 mile trail with substantial elevation gain.
The National Park Service at Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a great chart for choosing a trail. It lists trail lengths and completion times. It also shows obstacles, such as river crossings, you may encounter.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH
The Ledges Trail at Cuyahoga Valley National Park has a lot to offer for the whole family. It’s easy and fun, with lots of interesting formations that will keep you exploring for hours! You can avoid crowds by going early in the day or on weekdays when many people are working -this gives you photo lovers those perfect scenic shots without any interference! (You may also want to check my out my full post on this trail)
Brandywine Gorge Trail
This 1.7 mile loop is full of beauty. Enjoy the river views and wildlife you’ll see on your way to the trails main attraction, Brandywine Falls. This 60 foot waterfall draws a crowd and, in nice weather, is usually busiest from 10am to 2pm.
This trail is beautiful year round and offers ever changing things to see. Make sure you check out the vernal pools in the springtime for a chance to see the many salamanders and also during Autumn for the fiery maple trees popping against the evergreens.
Wind Cave National Park, SD
Sanctuary (Trail #5)
Stroll right through prairie dog town! This 3.6 mile trail winds through rolling hills and ends where it meets with Highland Creek Trail
Highland Creek Trail (Trail #7)
At 8.6 miles, this is the longest trail in Wind Cave National Park. It’s also the most scenic. You’re going to hike through prairies, pine forests, riparian habitat, and Wind Cave Canyon, as well as see 2 creeks.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI
With several sea cave overlooks, this ~4.5 mile trail is simply stunning. Just 2 miles from the trailhead located at Meyer’s Road parking area, you’ll encounter a natural bridge as well as the first overlook. This trail is recommended for more experienced hikers due to stream crossings and steep slopes.