18 Breathtaking Midwestern Attractions You Need To Visit Before You Die


The Midwest isn’t usually the first spot travelers think of when they want to go on a life-changing trip. They immediately think of Europe, Asia, and literally everywhere else in the world. Which is a shame, because the American Midwest has plenty of hidden gems that scratch not just the scenery itch but also the historical one.

If you’re looking for places that aren’t as hyped on social media but are still looking into — especially if you’re interested in unique activities and historical tours — here are eighteen breathtaking midwestern attractions and places you need to see before you die:

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

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Tucked away in central Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks offers serene beauty and abundant recreational opportunities. This man-made reservoir spans over 90 miles, boasting crystal-clear waters perfect for boating, fishing, and swimming. Surrounding the lake, you’ll find picturesque bluffs, hidden caves, and charming lakeside communities.

Explore the Lake of the Ozarks State Park for hiking trails that wind through forests and lead to stunning viewpoints. Don’t miss out on the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, an annual powerboat race drawing enthusiasts from around the country.

Door County, Wisconsin

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Nestled on a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan, Door County is a haven for nature lovers and artists alike. Quaint villages, orchards, and cherry blossoms dot the landscape, offering a scenic retreat. Visitors can enjoy kayaking along the shoreline, biking through rustic trails, or indulging in freshly caught fish at local eateries.

Be sure to visit Peninsula State Park for panoramic views of the lake and vibrant fall foliage. Door County’s thriving arts scene also includes galleries, theaters, and festivals celebrating local talent.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota


Witness the otherworldly beauty of Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota. Erosion has sculpted the landscape into a maze of rugged canyons, towering spires, and colorful rock formations. Hiking trails like the Notch Trail and the Door Trail offer immersive experiences amidst the park’s unique geology and abundant wildlife.

Catch a glimpse of bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs roaming the expansive grasslands. Stay after sunset for unparalleled stargazing opportunities in one of the darkest skies in the United States.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

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Step back in time on Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. This car-free island is a nostalgic retreat where horse-drawn carriages and bicycles replace automobiles. Explore historic sites such as Fort Mackinac and the Victorian-era Grand Hotel, which exude old-world charm.

Traverse scenic trails encircling the island’s perimeter or relax on the island’s tranquil beaches. Indulge in sweet treats like the famous Mackinac Island fudge or enjoy a leisurely afternoon tea overlooking the sparkling waters.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Illinois

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Delve into the ancient history of the Midwest at Cahokia Mounds, located just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. This UNESCO World Heritage Site preserves the remnants of the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico. Explore the meticulously preserved earthen mounds, which once served as the heart of a sophisticated Native American civilization.

The site’s interpretive center offers insight into the culture, architecture, and daily life of the Mississippian people who inhabited the area over a thousand years ago.

Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio


Experience the natural wonders of southeastern Ohio at Hocking Hills State Park. Carved by centuries of erosion, this scenic region features towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and lush forests. Embark on hiking trails like Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave to discover hidden gorges and breathtaking overlooks.

Visitors can also try their hand at rock climbing, zip-lining, or exploring the park’s extensive cave systems. In the fall, the foliage transforms into a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors, making it an ideal time for photography and leaf-peeping.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota


While not necessarily underrated, there’s no denying that Mount Rushmore isn’t on everyone’s travel bucket lists. A shame, since it’s an opportunity to marvel at one of America’s most iconic landmarks. Nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, this colossal sculpture features the faces of four U.S. presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—carved into the granite mountainside. Learn about the monument’s history and significance at the visitor center, then take a leisurely stroll along the Presidential Trail for different vantage points of the sculpture.

Don’t forget to stay for the evening lighting ceremony, where the monument is illuminated against the night sky, creating a truly memorable experience.

Galena, Illinois

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Discover the charming town of Galena, nestled along the banks of the Galena River in northwest Illinois. This historic gem boasts well-preserved 19th-century architecture, including Victorian mansions and storefronts lining Main Street. Stroll through the town’s picturesque downtown area, browsing boutique shops, art galleries, and antique stores.

History buffs can visit the Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site, the former residence of the Civil War general and 18th President of the United States. Outdoor enthusiasts will find ample opportunities for hiking, biking, and golfing amidst the scenic rolling hills of the surrounding countryside.

Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

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Escape to the shores of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Park, where rolling sand dunes meet pristine beaches and lush forests. Hike along scenic trails that traverse diverse ecosystems, from dune formations to wetlands teeming with wildlife.

Birdwatchers will delight in spotting over 350 species of birds that inhabit the park throughout the year. Relax on the shores of Lake Michigan, swim in the cool waters, or embark on a scenic boat tour along the picturesque coastline. The park also offers opportunities for camping, picnicking, and exploring the historic Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm.

Saugatuck, Michigan


Experience the idyllic charm of Saugatuck, nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan in southwest Michigan. This quaint coastal town is known for its sandy beaches, towering dunes, and vibrant arts scene. Explore the historic downtown area, filled with art galleries, boutiques, and charming cafes. Stroll along the Saugatuck Harbor Walk, where you can watch boats glide along the tranquil waters of the Kalamazoo River.

Outdoor enthusiasts can kayak along the river, hike through scenic trails, or relax on Oval Beach, consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in the Midwest.

Pella, Iowa

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Immerse yourself in Dutch culture and heritage in the heart of Iowa at Pella. This charming town, founded by Dutch immigrants in the 19th century, exudes old-world charm with its picturesque windmills, tulip-lined streets, and traditional architecture. Visit during the annual Tulip Time Festival in May, when the town bursts into a kaleidoscope of colors with millions of tulips in bloom.

Explore the Vermeer Windmill, a fully functional 1850s-style Dutch windmill, or stroll through the Molengracht Plaza, modeled after a Dutch canal district. Don’t forget to sample authentic Dutch pastries and treats at local bakeries and eateries.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

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Discover a verdant oasis amid the urban landscape at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. This lush parkland follows the winding path of the Cuyahoga River, offering scenic beauty and recreational opportunities year-round. Explore over 125 miles of hiking trails, including the popular Towpath Trail, which follows the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal.

Marvel at breathtaking waterfalls like Brandywine Falls and Blue Hen Falls, tucked away within the park’s dense forests. Visitors can also enjoy biking, birdwatching, and scenic train rides aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Brown County State Park, Indiana


Escape to the rolling hills and rugged beauty of southern Indiana at Brown County State Park. Known as the “Little Smokies” for its resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains, this expansive park offers outdoor adventures for all seasons. Hike through dense forests ablaze with vibrant fall foliage or explore the park’s scenic vistas on horseback.

Mountain biking enthusiasts will find over 28 miles of trails winding through the park’s rugged terrain. During the summer, cool off in the park’s swimming pool or rent a paddleboat to explore the tranquil waters of Ogle Lake.

Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin


Experience the dramatic landscapes of Devil’s Lake State Park, nestled in the Baraboo Range of southern Wisconsin. This iconic park features towering quartzite bluffs, shimmering lakes, and lush forests, making it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Hike along scenic trails that offer panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, or challenge yourself with rock climbing on the park’s sheer cliffs.

Cool off with a swim in Devil’s Lake, surrounded by sandy beaches perfect for sunbathing and picnicking. Don’t miss out on the stunning fall colors, which transform the park into a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and gold.

The Flint Hills, Kansas

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Discover the sweeping prairies and breathtaking vistas of the Flint Hills, stretching across eastern Kansas. This unique ecosystem is one of the last remaining tallgrass prairie landscapes in North America, teeming with diverse wildlife and plant species. Explore the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, which winds through rolling hills and picturesque small towns, offering stunning views at every turn.

Visit the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve to hike through expansive grasslands and learn about the region’s rich cultural and natural history at the visitor center. Don’t miss the annual Symphony in the Flint Hills, where music lovers gather under the open sky for an unforgettable concert experience amidst the prairie.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

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Delve into the ancient history of the Midwest at Effigy Mounds National Monument, located along the bluffs of the Mississippi River in northeastern Iowa. This sacred site preserves over 200 prehistoric mounds, including animal-shaped effigies created by Native American cultures over 1,000 years ago.

Explore the park’s network of hiking trails, which offer stunning views of the river valley and the chance to see these enigmatic earthworks up close. The visitor center provides insight into the cultures that once inhabited the area and the significance of the mounds in their religious and ceremonial practices.

Maquoketa Caves State Park, Iowa

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Embark on an underground adventure at Maquoketa Caves State Park, nestled in eastern Iowa’s scenic Driftless Area. This hidden gem features a network of caves carved by ancient waterways, offering a thrilling experience for spelunkers and nature enthusiasts alike. Explore winding passageways, towering caverns, and delicate formations as you traverse the park’s cave trails.

Above ground, hike through lush forests, cross picturesque bridges, and picnic amidst the park’s natural beauty. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as white-tailed deer, foxes, and a variety of bird species that call the park home.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

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Experience the majesty of towering sand dunes and pristine beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan in northern Michigan. This breathtaking landscape features expansive dunes that rise over 400 feet above the lake, offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Explore miles of hiking trails that wind through forests, meadows, and along the lakeshore, including the iconic Dune Climb. Relax on sandy beaches, swim in crystal-clear waters, or embark on a scenic drive along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive for unparalleled vistas of the dunes and lake. Don’t forget to catch a sunset over Lake Michigan, painting the sky in hues of pink, orange, and purple, for a truly unforgettable experience.