The heartland, the rust belt, the breadbasket of America – whatever you call the Midwest, you probably know it best for its unpredictable weather (snow, tornadoes, and sunshine is just an April afternoon) and down-to-earth locals. But you might know less about the region’s rolling fields, lush mountains, and wildlife-filled state parks.
That’s why we hand-picked the best destinations for any Nature Bookers' next Midwestern adventure.*
Ozark Mountains, Branson, Missouri
Enjoy the colors of autumn in Branson, Missouri
Branson is a small, southwestern Missouri city that draws millions of families each year with its bluegrass music, theater productions, and the Ozark Mountains – one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Only 20-minutes from Branson, you can spot elk, buffalo, and bears drinking from the mountain’s many freshwater lakes. In the fall, the colorful leaves dazzle against the 2000-foot tall cliffs. Bookers can come home to Cliffs Resort Table Rock Lake and enjoy an Ozark Mountain view from the resort’s infinity pool.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Mackinaw City, Michigan
Headlands International Dark Sky Park is a stargazers’ paradise
Mackinaw City lies on the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, just a 10-minute drive to Headlands International Dark Sky Park. The forest-lined shores of Lake Michigan are home to bald eagles, hawks, deer, and coyotes. While beautiful for daytime hikes, people mainly visit for the stargazing. The constellations above are incredibly vivid, because there aren’t city lights in a 10-mile radius, and visitors are asked not to use white lights (though you can use red flashlights). Nature Bookers should get there an hour before sunset to find the perfect vantage point for a photograph. After taking it all in, head back to Baymont by Wyndham Mackinaw City.
Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota
Custer State Park is known for its natural beauty and bison herds
For cowboys and cowgirls at heart, check out South Dakota’s first and largest nature preserve, Custer State Park – one of the world's top wildlife destinations. Located in the small city of Custer, the state park attracts flocks of nature- and history-lovers each year. It’s best known for its rolling valleys where herds of bison roam. Bookers will also find bighorn sheep, antelope, mountain goats, and elk. Either follow the park’s trails on foot, horseback, or by bike, but be sure to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, ticks, and poison ivy on the trails. After a long day, return to the comforts of Chief Motel.
Starved Rock State Park, Chicago, Illinois
Explore the 14 canyons of Starved Rock State Park
The Chicagoland area might be a surprising location for an outdoorsy adventure, but just an hour and a half from the city Bookers will find gorgeous canyons at Starved Rock State Park, home to over a dozen canyons. In the warm months, water cascades down the sandstone rocks, then freezes into amazing ice sculptures during the winter. Visit in the spring when the landscape blooms with wildflowers. It’s also a great time to spot little fawns exploring and grazing with their mothers. Stay at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place before making your way out to the state park.
Jay Cooke State Park, Duluth, Minnesota
Visit the St. Louis River gorge in Jay Cooke State Park
20-minutes from the Minnesotan port city, Duluth, you’ll find Jay Cooke State Park. Bookers can hike along clearly marked and well-maintained trails, or bike along the paved Munger Trail, running the entire length of the park. And, if you’re really feeling adventurous, walk across the park’s swinging bridge as the St. Louis River rushes beneath you. From far away, watch the sunset through the park’s gorge, framed by birch and pine trees. The park offers campgrounds, or, for a more cozy night’s rest, you can stay at the Comfort Suites Canal Park.
**The data scientists at Booking.com looked at the highest-rated destinations in the Midwest states (each having a minimum of 100 endorsements) for “nature.”
#BeABooker and book your trip today.