Discover the 10 Best National Parks in the Midwest

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: April 27, 2022
Image Credit Mendenhall Olga/Shutterstock.com
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The Midwest is home to some of America’s most picturesque national parks. These parks preserve the early sites of western expansion and protect the habitats of many native wildlife species. National parks in the Midwest have allowed bison and elk populations to thrive.

Let’s dive into 10 of the best national parks you can visit in the Midwest. From lakeshores, to springs, to open plains, there’s something on this list for everyone!

1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Apostle Islands National Park
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore cover 69,372 acres of land.

William Gottemoller/Shutterstock.com

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
StateWisconsin
Size69,372 acres
Animal to seeBeaver
Attraction to seeSea Caves

In Lake Superior, you can find a cluster of 22 islands that make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. There are sea caves that turn into ice caves each winter, which provide perfect kayaking waters. There are shipwrecks dotted along the islands, and the beaches offer plenty of locations for camping. 

The islands cover 69,372 acres and are home to a diverse range of wildlife. You may find otters, beavers, coyotes, snow hares, or black bears when adventuring through this national park. 

2. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park - Everett Covered Bridge
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the top national parks in the Midwest, as well as one of the best outdoor getaways in Ohio.

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park
StateOhio
Size32,572 acres
Animal to seeCrane
Attraction to seeCuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the top national parks in the Midwest, as well as one of the best outdoor getaways in Ohio. There are multiple hiking trails winding through lush forest landscapes and plenty of opportunities to glimpse native wildlife. One of the most popular areas in the entire park is Brandywine Falls, a gorgeous 65-foot tall waterfall. 

Cuyahoga National Park
Cuyahoga National Park is famous for its waterfalls.

Shriram Patki/Shutterstock.com

Another option for exploring this national park is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. This railroad runs through the park and allows visitors to see unique views not found on hiking trails. The valley is home to several animal species, mostly birds and small mammals. You might see coyotes, foxes, rabbits, and cranes during your trip. 

3. Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park has three lakes: Rainy Lake, Ash River, and Kabetogama Lake.

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Voyageurs National Park
StateMinnesota
Size218,055 acres
Animal to seeBald eagle
Attraction to seeEllsworth Rock Gardens

Voyageurs National Park is one of the best Midwest national parks for those wanting to enjoy water recreation. Three lakes in the park, Rainy Lake, Ash River, and Kabetogama Lake, offer plenty of opportunities to go canoeing, kayaking, or fishing. You can even hike to the more scenic Kettle Falls for swimming. 

Another popular stop for visitors is the Ellsworth Rock Gardens. All of these Voyageurs National Park amenities are surrounded by native Minnesota wildlife. You may see bald eagles, black bears, moose, loons, or blue herons

4. Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is home to a large number of small mammals, such as squirrels, rats, and moles.

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Hot Springs National Park
StateArkansas
Size5,500 acres
Animal to seeBat
Attraction to seeHot Water Cascade

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas was preserved in 1832. It became the first piece of land preserved for recreational use by the United States government. You can explore the popular hot springs during your visit or hike through the surrounding Arkansas landscape. The natural hot spring water supplies both on-site bathhouses, the Quapaw Bathhouse and Buckstaff Bathhouse. 

In addition to hiking, there are multiple spots that offer overnight camping. Hot Springs National Park is also home to a large number of small mammals, such as squirrels, rats, and moles. In more rare cases, you might come across black bears. 

5. Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Park National Park
Gateway Arch National Park was established to preserve the historic “Gateway to the West.”

amolson7/Shutterstock.com

Gateway Arch National Park
StateMissouri
Size91 acres
Animal to seeGeese
Attraction to seeGateway Arch

Gateway Arch National Park was established to preserve the historic “Gateway to the West.” The giant arch in the park was built in 1963 to commemorate America’s expansion into the west. It stands over 600 feet tall and draws in visitors every day. 

The Gateway Arch is the tallest in the world and offers breathtaking views of St. Louis from the top. When exploring the land around the arch, you may run into many native Missouri animals. The animals you’ll find in this national park have adapted to living in urban environments. You may see raccoons, geese, or coyotes. 

6. Badlands National Park

Best Parks to Visit in July - Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is home to ferrets, bighorn sheep, bison, and prairie dogs.

NaughtyNut/Shutterstock.com

Badlands National Park
StateSouth Dakota
Size242,756 acres
Animal to seeBlack-footed ferret
Attraction to seeNotch Trail

South Dakota is home to one of the most popular national parks in the country, the Badlands National Park. Visitors come to the park from all over to enjoy views of the unique rolling red hills. These hills were created through a combination of volcanic ash, limestone, sandstone, and more. When adventuring through the park’s landscape, you’re likely to run into many animals that call South Dakota home. This includes ferrets, bighorn sheep, bison, and prairie dogs. 

7. Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore National Memorial covers 1,278 acres of land.

Mendenhall Olga/Shutterstock.com

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
StateSouth Dakota
Size1,278 acres
Animal to seeMule deer
Attraction to seeMount Rushmore Monument

Another iconic national park that you can find in South Dakota is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The giant monument carved into the black hills of the park showcases the faces of four former presidents; Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. It’s one of the most visited national sites in the entire country. When the Mount Rushmore monument was first carved, it took from 1927 to 1941 to be completed. A number of large animals live in the Rocky Mountains surrounding the monument. You may come across mountain lions, elk, and mule deer when exploring the area. 

8. Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park protects many wild animals that call the island home, including wild horses.

Steven Schremp/Shutterstock.com

Isle Royale National Park
StateMichigan
Size571,790 acres
Animal to seeWild horse
Attraction to seeRock Harbor

Lake Superior in Michigan is home to another of the Midwest’s most breathtaking destinations, Isle Royale National Park. This island has no permanent residents, so the vast landscapes you find are completely wild. The national park protects many wild animals that call the island home, including wild horses. Seaplanes and ferries are the only ways for guests to access the island, and they are asked to bring their supplies and gear. Once in Isle Royale, you can go kayaking, fishing, boating, or scuba diving. You’re likely to run into several native species during your trip. Wolves are the main predators in the park, and they commonly hunt the moose and elk that live in the region. 

9. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Many people love to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park at night because of the beautiful stargazing opportunities they can find.

iStock.com/rruntsch

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
StateNorth Dakota
Size70,446 acres
Animal to seeBison
Attraction to seePainted Canyon

Near the small town of Medora, North Dakota, you can find one of the Midwest’s best national parks. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park preserves the habitats of animals that have always called the west home, such as bison and horses. Many people love to visit this park at night because of the beautiful stargazing opportunities they can find. Each year, there is a three-day long festival called the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival. 

10. Indiana Dunes National Park

indiana dunes national park
Indiana Dunes National Park covers around 15 miles of shore alongside Lake Michigan.

Delmas Lehman/Shutterstock.com

Indiana Dunes National Park
StateIndiana
Size15,349 acres
Animal to seeWoodpecker
Attraction to seePorter Brickyard Trail

Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana covers around 15 miles of shore alongside Lake Michigan. This park offers year-round recreational opportunities that change with the seasons. Summer is great for hiking, swimming, or kayaking, while the winter is great for skiing and snowboarding. The versatility of this national park is reflected in the diverse wildlife that calls it home. You may run into woodpeckers, white-tailed deer, snapping turtles, woodchucks, and weasels.

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