The Midwest has a lot to offer: friendly people, a relaxed lifestyle, and wide-open spaces. But a trip here wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of the Midwest National Parks.
There are many national parks in the Midwest, offering breathtaking natural landscapes, significant historical sites, and awe-inspiring architectural wonders.
Here is a list of the best national parks in the Midwest.
The Best National Parks in the Midwest
There are currently 61 parks and sites that are protected areas owned or administered by the US National Park System in the Midwest. Picking the best ones definitely isn’t an easy task.
1. Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas
Absolutely don’t miss: Visiting one of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row to experience the thermal water
Hot Springs National Park is almost completely located in the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, and its claim to fame is quite obviously the natural hot springs in this area.
Native Americans knew a wooded glen here as the Valley of the Vapors and considered it a sacred place with healing powers. This area is now known as Bathhouse Row where the spring water is channeled to various bathhouses.
Your first stop on Bathhouse Row, and really, when you visit Hot Springs National Park, should be Fordyce Museum and Visitor Center where you can get information about the park, talk to a park ranger, and then tour the refurbished rooms.
The two remaining bathhouses on Bathhouse Row still operating as such are Buckstaff Bathhouse and Quapaw Baths & Spa.
If you prefer to drink the water from the hot springs, there are fountains throughout the national park where you can drink and even fill jugs for you to take home.
You can also touch the thermal water at Display Springs behind the Maurice Bathhouse or the hot water cascade on Arlington Lawn.
Other things to do in the national park include hiking in one of the 26 trails in the park, camping at Gulpha Gorge Campground, and go on a scenic drive on Hot Springs Mountain Scenic Drive or West Mountain Scenic Drive.
Location: Hot Springs, Arkansas
Best Time to Visit: February to April, August to October
NPS Website: Hot Springs National Park | US National Park Service
2. Indiana Dunes National Park – Indiana
Absolutely don’t miss: West Beach Dune Succession Trail highlights four stages of dune development and offers spectacular views of Lake Michigan and Chicago
With an unparalleled position along 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, 50 miles of rugged trails, and a diverse ecosystem of dunes, wetlands, prairies, and old-growth forest, Indiana Dunes National Park will continually surprise and captivate outdoor enthusiasts.
Some might confuse the Indiana Dunes National Park with the Indiana Dunes State Park. First of all, Indiana Dunes State Park lies within Indiana Dunes National Park.
Also, the Indiana Dunes State Park is in charge of one beach along Lake Michigan; Indiana Dunes National Park is in charge of eight other beaches.
Of these beaches, West Beach is the most notable, as the starting point of Dune Succession Trail, which is a rewarding hike with some of the most beautiful views in the Indiana Dunes. It is also home to the popular Diana of the Dunes Dare for experienced hikers.
Biking, bird watching, fishing, and boating are other popular activities here. Dunewood Campground is a great place to camp if you can stay overnight.
Location: Porter County, Lake County, and LaPorte County, Indiana
Nearest Cities: Beverly Shores, IN; Porter, IN
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; allowed on trails but not on swimming beaches
Best Time to Visit: March to May; September to October
NPS Website: Indiana Dunes National Park | US National Park Service
3. Isle Royale National Park – Michigan
Absolutely don’t miss: The lighthouses: Rock Harbor Lighthouse, Rock of Ages Lighthouse, Passage Island Lighthouse, and Isle Royale Lighthouse (accessible only by private boat)
Isle Royale National Park includes Isle Royale and more than 400 adjacent islands, as well as the surrounding waters of Lake Superior.
It’s a paradise for backpackers, hikers, bird-watchers, recreational fishermen, wildlife watchers, campers, boaters, kayakers, canoeists, and scuba divers.
Greenstone Ridge Trail is a popular trail that follows the top of Greenstone Ridge and stretches from Windigo Harbor (southwest end) to Rock Harbor (northeast end). You might encounter moose and wolves along the way.
The park can only be accessed via ferry, seaplane, or private boat. Ferry services depart from Houghton, MI, Copper Harbor, MI, and Grand Portage, MN. Isle Royale Seaplanes have flights from Hancock, MI and Cook County Airport in Grand Marais, MN.
Because it’s not very accessible, Isle Royale National Park is the least visited among the Midwest national parks.
Location: Keweenaw County, Michigan
Nearest US City: Houghton, MI
Dog-friendly? Strictly service dogs only (for protection of wildlife)
Best Time to Visit: June to September (best weather but also busiest time)
NPS Website: Isle Royale National Park | US National Park Service
4. Voyageurs National Park – Minnesota
Absolutely don’t miss: Ellsworth Rock Garden on the shores of Lake Kabetogama
Voyageurs National Park features rock ridges, cliffs, wetlands, forests, streams, and lakes, offering all kinds of outdoor activities set in natural beauty.
The park’s name commemorates the voyageurs, the French-Canadian fur traders who were the first European settlers to regularly travel this area.
This is also one of the few places in North America where you can find rocks half the age of the Earth.
The park encompasses all or at least a portion of Rainy Lake, Lake Kabetogama, Namakan Lake, and Sand Point Lake. This makes the park popular for boating, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.
Hiking, birdwatching, camping, and other land-based activities are popular in the surrounding forests.
When the lakes freeze over in the winter, the activities shift over to lake driving, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, winter camping, ice fishing, and snowshoe hiking.
There is also a chance to view the Northern lights in the park, given the right conditions.
Primary access to the park is via water through canoes, kayaks, houseboats, or tour boats.
Location: Saint Louis County and Koochiching County, Minnesota
Nearest City: International Falls, MN
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; not allowed
Best Time to Visit: November to March (for winter activities and to see the Northern lights), June to August (best for water activities but also the busiest)
NPS Website: Voyageurs National Park | US National Park Service
More Information: Voyageurs Conservancy
5. Gateway Arch National Park – Missouri
Absolutely don’t miss: Tram Ride to the Top, offering breathtaking views
Gateway Arch National Park includes the Gateway Arch, a museum and visitor center, and The Old Courthouse. This is probably the smallest of the Midwest national parks.
The Gateway Arch celebrates St. Louis’ role in the Westward Expansion of the US during the 19th century and is one of the most recognizable American landmarks.
The Museum at the Gateway Arch tells the story of St. Louis’ beginnings and the history of the construction of the arch.
The Old Courthouse is a restored federal courthouse that was where Dred and Harriett Scott sued for their freedom and Virginia Minor fought for women’s right to vote.
Riverboats at the Gateway Arch offer rides from March to November at different times of the day providing entertainment, dining, and the best views of the Gateway Arch and the St. Louis riverfront.
Address: 11 N 4th St #1810, St. Louis, MO 63102 | 314-655-1600
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; outdoors only, not inside the park buildings
Best Time to Visit: March to November (though summer months are busiest)
NPS Website: Gateway Arch National Park | US National Park Service
More Information: The Gateway Arch
6. Scotts Bluff National Monument – Nebraska
Absolutely don’t miss: Hiking the Saddle Rock Trail up to the summit of Scotts Bluff and photographing the sunset
Scotts Bluff National Monument preserves around 3,000 acres of geological and paleontological history and heritage in trails, bluffs, prairies, and badlands.
The Visitor Center has a museum describing how Native Americans, fur traders, and emigrants to Oregon, California, and Utah interacted with one another and with the lands surrounding Scotts Bluff.
Scotts Bluff was instrumental in the Oregon Trail, the Pony Express Trail, and the California Trail. In fact, it was the second most mentioned landmark described in pioneer journals.
Hiking through the trails in the park allows you to see various flora and fauna, as well as different rock formations.
To get a spectacular 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside, you can drive up Scotts Bluff Summit Road.
Location: Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska
Nearest City: Gering, NE
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; outdoors only, not inside the visitor center
Best Time to Visit: March to May, September to October (comfortable temperatures for hiking
NPS Website: Scotts Bluff National Monument | US National Park Service
7. Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Dakota
Absolutely don’t miss: Driving to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit and experience the peace and remoteness that inspired Theodore Roosevelt
Located in the Western North Dakota Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is named after the conservationist president who used his authority to protect approximately 230 million acres of public land during his term.
He saw the effects of the depletion of natural resources for himself when he lost half his herd due to overgrazing and wildfires.
Driving through the paved scenic drives in the North and South Units of the park is a favorite activity, as this offers fabulous views of the badlands and chances to see park wildlife.
Hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping are other popular activities in this park, as well as canoeing, kayaking, and fishing in the Little Missouri River.
This park is also the site for the annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival.
Location: Billings County and McKenzie County, North Dakota
Nearest City: Medora, ND
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; picnic areas and campgrounds only, not on the trails
Best Time to Visit: June to September (more activities available, but also the busiest)
NPS Website: Theodore Roosevelt National Park | US National Park Service
8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park – Ohio
Absolutely don’t miss: Visiting Brandywine Falls, Blue Hen Falls, and Buttermilk Falls, some of the best waterfalls in Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley National Park features dense forests, stunning waterfalls, rolling hills, and a variety of plant and wildlife species.
This is one of the most accessible parks on this list, with two interstates running right through it plus a short drive away to big cities Cleveland and Akron.
Hiking, biking, horseback riding, and backpacking through more than a hundred trails are popular activities in this park. The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is the major trail here that follows the historic Ohio & Erie Canalway.
Canoeing, kayaking, and fishing on the Cuyahoga River are also popular activities.
You can also chill and just picnic and camp in the park. Or try to catch the train and ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Bonus: This park holds the distinction of being the most visited Midwest national park in 2020
Location: Cuyahoga County and Summit County, Ohio
Nearest Cities: Cleveland and Akron, OH
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; only outside and not inside park buildings or the train
Best Time to Visit: May to October (also the busiest months)
NPS Website: Cuyahoga Valley National Park | US National Park Service
9. Mount Rushmore National Memorial – South Dakota
Absolutely don’t miss: Walking the Presidential Trail to get up close to the sculpture
Mount Rushmore National Memorial features the heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore.
The main vantage point for visitors is the Grand View Terrace, but walking the Presidential Trail gets you up close to the sculpture, learn about the local Native American tribes, and maybe see some wildlife.
Address: 13000 SD-244, Keystone, SD 57751 | 605-574-2523
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; parking area only
Best Time to Visit: April to May, September to October (fewer people)
NPS Website: Mount Rushmore National Memorial | US National Park Service
More Information: Things to do in Mount Rushmore
10. Badlands National Park – South Dakota
Absolutely don’t miss: Driving the Badlands Loop Road, also known as Highway 240
Yes, another entry from South Dakota, but this Midwest national park deserves a place here.
The Badlands features colorful mountains, rock formations, and steep canyons, with a foreground of grass prairie where wildlife like bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and rhinos roam.
The layered appearance of the mountains is due to deposition over millions of years, and the channels, canyons, and rugged peaks are a result of erosion.
As the mountains are the attraction, most visitors enjoy scenic driving along dirt roads, especially on the Badlands Loop Road and Sheep Mountain Table Road. Hiking and biking toward various overlooks, such as Yellow Mounds Overlook, Big Badlands Overlook, and Pinnacle Overlook, are other popular activities in the park.
This park is also the home of the annual Badlands Astronomy Festival.
Location: Pennington County, Jackson County, and Shannon County, South Dakota; Oglala Lakota Nation (Pine Ridge Indian Reservation)
Nearest City: Rapid City, SD
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; parking areas, picnic areas, and campgrounds only, not on trails or overlooks
Best Time to Visit: April to May, September to October (fewer vehicles on the scenic roads)
NPS Website: Badlands National Park | US National Park Service
More Information: Things to do in Mount Rushmore
11. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – Wisconsin
Absolutely don’t miss: Visiting sea caves on Devils Island, Sand Island, and near Mawikwe Bay on the mainland; kayak through the sea caves in the summer and explore the frozen sea caves in the winter
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore encompasses part of the Lake Superior shoreline as well as 21 of the 22 islands that comprise the Apostle Islands. So this is another Midwest national park on Lake Superior.
Hiking, biking, and camping are favorites in the islands; almost every island has at least one campground. Hunting and trapping in non-peak months are allowed as long as you have the right licenses.
Water activities such as boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and scuba diving are common summer activities. In the winter, skiing, snowshoeing, and exploring frozen waterfalls and sea caves are some of the popular things to do.
Location: Ashland County and Bayfield County, Wisconsin
Nearest City: Bayfield, WI
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; not allowed in public buildings or cruise service boats
Best Time to Visit: July and August (for summer activities), December to March (for winter activities)
NPS Website: Apostle Island National Lakeshore | US National Park Service
More Information: Friends of the Apostle Islands
Other Midwest National Parks to Visit
It just seems fair to at least mention the other NPS-owned or administrated properties from the other states that weren’t mentioned above.
12. Lincoln Home National Historic Site – Illinois
Absolutely don’t miss: Going on a guided tour throughout the Lincoln Home
Address: 413 S 8th Street, Springfield, IL 62701
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash, but only outside, never inside the buildings (except service animals)
Best Time to Visit: May to August (though June, July, August are peak months)
NPS Website: Lincoln Home National Historic Site | US National Park Service
13. Effigy Mounds National Monument – Iowa
Absolutely don’t miss: Great Bear Mound, one of the largest effigies visible to visitors
Location: Allamakee County and Clayton County, Iowa
Nearest Cities: Marquette, IA and Dubuque, IA
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; allowed on trails but not inside buildings
Best Time to Visit: May to September (though June, July, August have guided tours and interpretive programs)
NPS Website: Effigy Mounds National Monument | US National Park Service
14. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve – Kansas
Absolutely don’t miss: Hiking the Scenic Overlook Trail toward the Windmill Pasture to see the bison herd
Location: Chase County, Kansas
Nearest City: Strong City, Kansas
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash; only on selected trails, not inside park buildings and tour buses
Best Time to Visit: May to July (grass at its greenest, summer wildflowers, guided tours, but busiest time); August to October (perfect temperatures for walking)
NPS Website: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve | US National Park Service
More Information: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve | Nature Conservancy
Visit One of These Midwest National Parks Soon!
National Parks illustrate the journey of the US: from our early residents to our leaders, from our humble beginnings to our triumphs of technological progress. In addition, they inspire us with the beauty and richness of our natural resources.
Schedule a road trip to the Midwest and visit these national parks soon!
Other National Parks to Visit
Check out these national parks in other regions of the country:
Or browse through all the national parks in the US.
Which of these Midwest national parks are you interested in visiting? Or have you been to one of these parks? Share your plans and stories with us in the comments!