While most people imagine the mountainous regions of the Pacific Northwest or the rolling hills of Tennessee when they think of hiking, the Midwest is overlooked far too often!
From the rugged bluffs of the Mississippi River to the dense forests of the Upper Peninsula, the Midwest is home to some of the most picturesque hiking trails in the country.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting, the Midwest has a wealth of options that will leave you in awe of its natural beauty.
With 12 different states to find stunning trails in, in this post, I’ll share all of the best places to get out on the trail and explore the best hiking in the Midwest!
Best Hiking in the Midwest
Superior Hiking Trail – Minnesota
Stretching from Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton all the way to Grand Portage on the Canadian border, the Superior Hiking Trail delivers some of the most beautiful views that you’ll find in Minnesota.
The entire trail is over 300 miles long and features 50 sections of trail with spur trails and beautiful views of Minnesota’s North Shore.
Many people choose to thru-hike the trail, going all the way from the start to the end while stopping at many beautiful Minnesota campgrounds along the way. But it is more commonly done in sections on day hikes.
The most popular sections are between Silver Bay and Grand Marais, where you’ll find a combined 115 miles of trail to choose from.
Along the trail, you’ll pass through places like Tettegouche, Gooseberry, and Split Rock Lighthouse State Parks. And you’ll have incredible views of Lake Superior along the way. You can also wander into small towns such as Grand Marais and Two Harbors, which have plenty to do.
The Superior Hiking Trail leads you along some of the most popular day hiking areas in the state of Minnesota and allows you to experience what the North Shore is all about.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Wisconsin
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a beautiful stretch of land along Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The lakeshore offers 100 miles of hiking trails that lead you past beautiful beaches, plunging waterfalls, and through the dense forest of the UP.
Whether you’re bringing your family and are looking for short, easy day hikes, or you’re an experienced hiker looking for full-day trails to embark on, there are plenty of different choices for you.
Popular waterfalls like Munising Falls and Sable Falls are short and great for those little kids. Or you can just wander along Miners Beach, where you’ll find many people walking the 1-mile stretch of sandy shoreline.
More advanced hikers may want to visit the Au Sable Light Station or embark on the long Chapel Loop, which is nearly 11 miles in length.
No matter what you do and where you hike, visiting Pictured Rocks in Michigan will give you some of the most beautiful views of one of the largest Great Lakes.
Interstate State Park – Minnesota & Wisconsin
Situated just along the St. Croix River in Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls, is Interstate State Park. Located only 51 miles (82 kilometers) from Minneapolis, this state park is unique in that it crosses the river and is found in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Within the parks, you’ll find beautiful hiking trails that lead you up along the river bluffs and cliffs and give you fascinating views of the St. Croix River Valley.
On the Minnesota side of the park, walk through the Glacial Potholes area, where you’ll get to wander onto ancient lava and learn about how these unique formations were formed very long ago.
Over on the Wisconsin side, you’ll get to enjoy the oldest state park in Wisconsin, where you’ll find several trails that lead you up and above the river, such as the River Bluff Trail and the Summit Rock Trail.
Most of these trails are available in summer and winter, so you’re able to see the sheer beauty of this area of Minnesota all year round.
Badlands National Park – South Dakota
Visiting the Badlands in South Dakota will be on like any other place that you’ll visit in the midwest. with rolling hills, Jagged Rock formations, and roaming wildlife, you’ll get to experience something that seems like it should only be found on the western coast.
One of the park’s most popular hiking trails is the Notch Trail, which winds through the canyons and up to a stunning overlook.
The trail is a moderate challenge, with some steep climbs and narrow sections that require hikers to navigate carefully. At one point, you’ll need to climb a wooden ladder, before you make it to the most phenomenal viewpoint in the park.
What’s more, Badlands National Park has an open hike policy, which means that visitors are free to explore the park’s vast wilderness on foot, and you’re able to embark off the trail.
As long as you’re able to explore safely and aren’t trampling delicate plant life or bothering wildlife, you can hike where you please. Do remember that the steep rock formations are often much easier to climb up than they are to climb down!
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Dakota
With breathtaking vistas and fascinating wildlife encounters, hiking through Theodore Roosevelt National Park is something that you wouldn’t expect from the Midwest.
There are dozens of short hikes that are perfect for families, that lead to beautiful overlooks and offer a chance to spot bison grazing on the plains. The park is home to a large herd of bison, which adds to the thrill of hiking here.
For more advanced hikers, there are many full-day or overnight trails that will allow you to get deeper into the wilderness of the park and experience it at a different level.
As you trek through the park’s trails, you’ll be mesmerized by the rugged beauty of the Badlands and the colorful rock formations that line the paths.
And if you’re a history buff, you’ll get to learn about how Theodore Roosevelt once claimed that the area around the Badlands of North Dakota changed his life.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park – Ohio
This Ohio national park boasts of over 125 miles of trails that wind through lush forests, picturesque waterfalls, and serene meadows.
One of the most popular hikes in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the Ledges Trail, which is just a short trail, but showcases some of the most beautiful places in the park. You’ll see incredible gorges covered in moss and vast landscapes.
The Brandywine Gorge Loop is another fantastic trail to check out, as you’ll follow Brandywine Creek and get to see Brandywine Falls.
There are several other trails within the national park that are perfect for hikers of all skill levels, from beginner to advanced.
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Wisconsin Dells – Wisconsin
While most consider Wisconsin Dells just a place to visit for water parks, those who are looking to get outdoors and explore the best hiking in the Midwest will love a visit to this small town.
Perhaps the most popular trail is the Witches Gulch Trail, which is only accessible via a private Upper Dells boat tour.
The hike is only open between spring and fall since the lakes will freeze during the winter months and become inaccessible. If you’re visiting at this time of the year, check out some of the top spots for ice fishing in Wisconsin.
Once you’ve arrived at Witches Gulch, you’ll get to wander through a slot canyon that was formed by an ancient glacial lake. A boardwalk winds through the canyon and you can admire the green moss and ferns that crawl up the wall.
Another popular trail is the East Bluff Loop, which puts you above Devil’s Lake and showcases one of the most beautiful views in Wisconsin. This is a steep hike and you’ll need to climb up several bluffs, but once you’ve made it to the top you’ll have phenomenal views all around you.
If you’ve never considered heading to Wisconsin Dells for hiking, now is the time to go!
Indiana Dunes National Park – Indiana
At Indiana Dunes National Park, visitors can explore one of the most unique areas in the Midwest!
The park boasts over 15 miles of pristine shoreline along Lake Michigan, as well as towering sand dunes, lush forests, and stunning wetlands. With over 50 miles of hiking trails to choose from, visitors can embark on a variety of hikes that range from easy strolls to more challenging treks.
Some of the hikes here are much different than ones you’ll experience anywhere else, as you’ll have to climb towering dunes that line the shore of Lake Michigan.
These dunes can be very challenging to climb, but once you’ve made it to the top, you’ll get to enjoy the phenomenal 360-degree views!
There are also hikes that lead you through the largest wetland complex in the Lake Michigan watershed, as well as through stunning woodlands.
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Custer State Park – South Dakota
Another gem found in Western South Dakota is Custer State Park, which is home to one of the most popular hikes in the state, Black Elk Peak.
This gorgeous park is filled with towering rock formations that jut out of the ground and look like they’ve been misplaced. It’s something that feels out of this world and like it shouldn’t be in the Midwest.
But with your time in Custer State Park, you should definitely check out all of the beautiful hiking trails. The most popular is Black Elk Peak, which puts you high above the rest of the world and allows you to really take in the views around you.
Other shorter trails include Lovers Leap and the Sylvan Lake Loop trail, which also both provide beautiful views.
And while you’re on the trails, be sure to keep an eye out for the resident bison that call this park home, and of course, the small prairie dogs that you might hear chirping away in their colonies.
Hocking Hills State Park – Ohio
With over 25 miles of scenic trails, towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and lush forests, this state park offers some of the most breathtaking views and serene landscapes in the Midwest.
Ash Cave is the most popular area for hiking, where you’ll find the largest cave in the area. A seasonal waterfall often drops into the cave, and visitors can walk behind the waterfall and into the cave.
Other hikes include to Old Man’s Cave, Whispering Cave, and Cedar Falls. If you’re a waterfall or cave lover, then you will love a visit to Hocking Hills State Park.
Hocking Hills is home to 7 main hiking areas, so you can most definitely find somewhere to go, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced hiker!
And being just an hour outside of Columbus makes this park easy to reach and great for a day trip from the city!
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Devil’s Lake State Park – Wisconsin
While I mentioned Wisconsin Dells for hiking earlier, it’s best to mention Devil’s Lake State Park separately because it’s so great!
This state park is just a short distance from Wisconsin Dells and features hikes that wind through the rolling bluffs around Devil’s Lake.
The park boasts nearly 30 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to more challenging treks up the park’s signature quartzite bluffs.
Embark on the most popular trail to see the views over the West Bluff Trail. This moderately challenging hike can be steep in sections and provides hikers with some of the most fantastic views of the water and surrounding dense forests.
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Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – Michigan
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is one of the best places for hiking in the Midwest, with gorgeous views everywhere you look. But heading to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is your best bet!
Here you’ll find phenomenal hikes through dense forests, past stunning waterfalls, and to gorgeous overlooks.
Among the most popular hikes is Lake of the Clouds, where you’ll get an amazing viewpoint of a large lake, nestled below the treeline. If you’re able to visit in the fall, you’ll be in for a treat when all of the leaves change colors.
Other popular hikes include the Escarpment Trail, which is great for full-day hikers or backpackers, as well as the Presque Isles Falls Loop, which leads you past multiple waterfalls and down to Lake Superior’s shoreline.
While you cannot go hiking in winter, you may want to check out some of the top ice-fishing spots in Michigan.
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Loess Hills – Iowa
While most people skip right over Iowa when planning a visit to the Midwest, there are actually some great hiking trails in the Western part of the state to check out!
The Loess Hills area offers miles of endless rolling hills to explore. There are trails all throughout the Loess Hills State Forest that you can wander around and enjoy.
A few of the most popular include the Mondamin Loop and the Loess Hills Scenic Overlook Trail.
As a hidden gem, hiking at Loess Hills will give you an experience where there aren’t many other crowds to worry about!
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Wrap-Up: Best Hiking in the Midwest
While many overlook the Midwest when it comes to hiking, there are so many stunning places to go that will provide you with incredible views.
From the scenic bluffs along the St. Croix River to the shoreline of Lake Superior, hiking trails can bring you places that other modes of transport can’t!
Whether you’re looking for multi-day backpacking trails or just a short day-hike, there are so many fantastic places for hiking in the Midwest that will make your time exploring the outdoors great.