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A Guide to the Best Hiking in the Midwest of America

The common perception about hiking the US is that all the best spots are located out West. Although there’s a hint of truth to this when you consider places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks, you should never completely rule out other parts of the US for hiking and trekking.

When you think about the Midwest, it’s normal to draw up images of cornfields and cow pastures. If you’re planning your next hiking trip, there’s a good chance that Kentucky, Idaho, and Ohio aren’t on your list of bucket-list destinations. But as it turns out, there’s more to the Midwest than meets the eye, especially when you embark on one of these epic hikes.

Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

Shawnee National Forest is located between two Midwestern rivers, the Ohio and the Mississippi. The area is dotted with woodlands, hills, lakes, and plenty of marked hiking trails for hikers of all skill levels. The park is home to tons of wildlife, and you might even get lucky and spot a bald eagle roaming the skies.

This enormous nature refuge spans nearly 300,000 acres with over 400 miles of trails to choose from. The Garden of the Gods is one of the top things to do in Shawnee National Forest, so this is a can’t-miss site if you plan on spending some time in Shawnee. It’s an uplifted plateau that is surrounded by rocky bluffs and unique rock formations – the perfect photo op to prove to your friends that hiking in the Midwest is actually pretty cool.

Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota, & Wyoming

Black Hills National Forest is massive; it stretches as far as the eye can see and covers about 1.2 million acres of land in South Dakota and Wyoming. As you can only imagine from an area so large, there’s a variety of terrain here to explore, including forested hills, expansive grasslands, canyons, glassy lakes, and peaking mountains.

The main draw of visiting the national forest is Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies that reaches over 7,200 feet at its peak. If you’re up for the challenge, the most popular Harney Peak hike starts from Sylvan Lake and is a 7-mile round trip. There’s also a more challenging one that is 10 miles from start to finish.

Red River Gorge, Kentucky

Kentucky’s stunning canyon system, Red River Gorge, is one of the biggest attractions of the Midwest. There are tons of things to do here to keep you busy, but the most popular is Red River Gorge climbing. There’s an infinite amount of sandstone walls to climb up and careen down, so definitely expect some crowds when the weather is good.

The most climbing opportunities here are in the Southern Gorge, which is home to popular spots like Torrent Falls, Roadside, and the Zoo. If you’re looking for hiking trails, you won’t be disappointed. Hikers who want something difficult should check out Indian Staircase and Indian Arch. For something a bit easier, Whittleton Arch is a better choice.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Ohio isn’t known for much except maybe Lebron James and Kid Cudi, but there are still a few decent hiking opportunities in the Midwestern state. The park came into existence not that long ago (in 2000) with the purpose of preserving the area surrounding the Cuyahoga River. The most popular hiking spot here is the 20-miles towpath, which is just one portion of the available 125 miles of hiking trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. If you’re looking for a longer trek through Ohio, check out the Ohio Buckeye Trail. It goes through the entire state, but a portion of it passes through Cuyahoga Park. Brown County State Park, Indiana

When the weather is right and the seasons are changing, Brown Country State Park in Indian is a sight for sore eyes. The transition from summer to fall is without a doubt the best time to visit. This is when the leaves change from deep shades of green to vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows. The park isn’t too far from Indianapolis, just about an hour to the South. You can go from city life to complete natural tranquility in an hour and then back again to Indy for a night on the town. Trail #8 is the most recommended, and this 3.5-mile long hike makes its way through the most remote sections of the park.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Michigan’s upper peninsula has always been renowned as one of the best-hiking destinations of the Midwest, so you’re definitely not limited to options. If you’re unsure about which is best, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a great choice. Tahquamenon is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River with a peak water flow of over 50,000 gallons of water – per second! There’s a 5-mile trail that explores the lower falls area, and you might even stumble across a grazing moose if you get lucky.

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