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 Lakeshore|
|Animal to see||Beaver|
|Attraction to see||Sea 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.
2. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
|Cuyahoga Valley National Park|
|Animal to see||Crane|
|Attraction to see||Cuyahoga 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.
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|
|Animal to see||Bald eagle|
|Attraction to see||Ellsworth 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|
|Animal to see||Bat|
|Attraction to see||Hot 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 Arch National Park|
|Animal to see||Geese|
|Attraction to see||Gateway 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
|Badlands National Park|
|Animal to see||Black-footed ferret|
|Attraction to see||Notch 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|
|Animal to see||Mule deer|
|Attraction to see||Mount 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|
|Animal to see||Wild horse|
|Attraction to see||Rock 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|
|Animal to see||Bison|
|Attraction to see||Painted 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|
|Animal to see||Woodpecker|
|Attraction to see||Porter 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.