5 Midwest National Parks That Are True Hidden Gems

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Did you know the Midwest houses some of the nation's most enchanting national parks? Voyageurs beckons with its serene waterways and forests, while Isle Royale offers a slice of untouched wilderness.

Over at Indiana Dunes, the sandy expanses are a sight to behold. The Gateway Arch isn't just an iconic landmark—it's a national park with a rich story. And for those who love tranquil trails, Cuyahoga Valley has you covered.

Join us as we spotlight these five remarkable Midwest national parks. If you've ever been curious about the hidden gems of the heartland, you're in the right place.

Let's journey together!

1. Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota is a water enthusiast's paradise, spanning over 218,054 acres, with more than a third of that being pristine waterways.

A waterfall runs through a dense forest at Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota

The park has four major lakes, 26 quaint smaller ones, and offers varied vacation experiences, from lakeside cabin resorts to adventurous camping on remote islands.

To enhance the experience, there are over 270 sites specially designed for camping and daytime use, most of which can only be reached by boat.

If you're up for some guided exploration, the park conducts boat tours and canoe programs during the summer.

A landscape shot of Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota

And the best part? It's open all year, with various activities for every season, be it hiking the 27 miles of trails, fishing, or embracing winter with over 110 miles of groomed trails for snow activities.

Looking for more parks to explore this summer? Read our guide here: 9 Budget-Friendly National Parks.

2. Isle Royale National Park

If you're seeking solitude, breathtaking scenery, and an untouched wilderness experience, Isle Royale National Park is a must-visit.

Rock Harbor Lighthouse, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA

Located in Lake Superior's northwest corner, this archipelago boasts a rich history and diverse natural beauty.

With over 165 miles of scenic hiking trails, historic lighthouses, shipwrecks, and ancient copper mining sites, there's plenty to explore. The park is uniquely roadless, accessible only by boat or seaplane, enhancing its remote charm.

As you traverse its paths, you'll be captivated by the island's geological history, shaped by ancient lava flows, glaciers, and billions of years of natural sculpting.

3. Indiana Dunes National Park

You might associate sand dunes with oceanic shores, but Indiana Dunes National Park, located on Lake Michigan's southern coast, defies that expectation.

Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana, USA. The views of Lake Michigan and the sand dunes are popular beach and hiking attractions.

This remarkable park stretches across 15,000 acres, boasting 50 miles of trails that meander through not only its iconic dunes but also mysterious wetlands, sunlit prairies, serene forests, and winding rivers.

A nod to history, the Bailly Homestead within the park stands as a testament to the Calumet Region's past and is recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

A fun tidbit: the park's dunes are alive, especially the blowout dunes, which can move several feet annually due to intense winds.

Just a stone's throw from Chicago, this Midwest gem is more than just a beach; it's a treasure trove of natural wonders and historical intrigues.

4. Gateway Arch National Park

In the heart of St. Louis stands a shimmering testament to America's pioneering spirit: the Gateway Arch.

Gateway Arch National Park Missouri

This 630-foot stainless steel marvel, brought to life by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, was finalized in 1965 and designed to sway up to 18 inches to withstand nature's whims.

Beneath its imposing curve, the Museum of Westward Expansion sprawls out, showcasing artifacts and tales from the legendary Lewis and Clark expedition.

Just a stone's throw away, the historic St. Louis' Old Courthouse stands proudly, echoing the landmark trials of the Dred Scott case from the mid-1800s.

Whether you're gazing out from the arch's peak or immersing yourself in history, this park is a Midwest gem waiting to be appreciated.

Don't miss these parks for star-gazing: Top 5 U.S. National Parks For Star Gazing.

5. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Let’s take a stroll through Ohio’s hidden gem, where history and nature intertwine seamlessly—Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Blue Hen Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Encompassing vast stretches of lush forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands, the park unfolds around the meandering Cuyahoga River, also known as the "Crooked River."

Here, every trail tells a story, echoing the whispers of the Ohio & Erie Canal's heyday and bearing the footprints of a transformative journey from pollution to pristine beauty.

A walk along the towpath of the Ohio and Erie Canal in Cuyhoga Valley National Park near Cleveland

Within easy reach between the urban hustle of Cleveland and Akron, it offers a peaceful retreat where nature's resilience shines, and historical echoes reverberate.

Whether you're traversing vibrant trails, boarding the scenic railroad, or learning about the park's rich history, Cuyahoga Valley epitomizes nature's charm and the essence of restoration.

Embracing the Midwest's Natural Wonders

In the quiet embrace of the Midwest's natural wonders, these national parks offer more than just scenic escapes.

With its distinct charm, each park encourages visitors to engage with their surroundings.

As you conclude this journey through the heartland's lesser-known treasures, realize that every step within these parks transcends mere exploration—it's an opportunity to appreciate the interplay of nature and history.

So, when the Midwest crosses your mind, look beyond the plains and cornfields. Reflect on the profound beauty and lessons awaiting in its underrated national parks.

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