Welcome to the USA. One of the largest and most diverse countries on the planet, America is known for incredible outdoor recreation. It is, after all, the country that invented the national park.
American adventure destinations are often iconic. Places like the Grand Canyon, the Oregon Coast, the Rocky Mountains, Volcanoes National Park... but there are scores of lesser-known and more surprising locales, many of which we’ll detail here.
We aim to inspire; to stoke the fire for adventure. And we’re sure that after reading this article, you’ll be outdoors and getting sweaty in no time.
So let’s continue through America’s Great Outdoors, with the amazing Midwest:
Ride the Maah Daah Hey Trail
Difficulty: Beginner & Up
We’re about to blow the lid off what’s been dubbed “North Dakota’s Best Kept Secret.” The 144-mile-long multiuse Maah Daah Hey Trail treats travelers to scenic, undulating topography, badlands, bison, horses and really big skies. It’s popular with hikers—but why not speed things up with a mountain bike ride along a leg, or the whole darn thing? You’ll find waterboxes and 11 marked campgrounds on the route, along with many viewpoints and historical sites and even a few river crossings to keep thing interesting.
Learn More: mdhta.com
Climb in Custer State Park
When you think of South Dakota, you think “rock climbing,” right? No? Well maybe you should—and Custer State Park is the premier climbing destination in the region. Take for example The Needles, an experts-only area in the park that is as challenging as it is scenic; a collection of rocks that stab like witches’ fingers into the sky. Climbers have been using these vertigo-inducing spires as test-pieces for nearly 80 years. But the area is still relatively uncrowded, compared to climbing destinations in the Mountain West. So the time to go is now.
Explore Toadstool Geologic Park
Looking more lunar than Earthly, Nebraska’s Toadstool Geologic Park fascinates the mind and keeps the feet active. Hike across rolling badlands. Spot elusive fauna and delicate flora. Scramble wind-sculpted rocks. Search out the sod house. You might even catch a glimpse of fossils from the Miocene age. Hikes abound—start with the three-mile Bison Trail and branch out from there. Later, pitch a tent in the front-country or remote backcountry and stargaze well past midnight.
Learn More: fs.usda.gov/recarea/nebraska/recreation
Cycle the Flint Hills
Difficulty: Beginner & Up
Adventure cyclists—Kansas is calling your name. Welcome to the Flint Hills, home to miles upon miles of gravel trails that meander over grasslands, through welcoming towns, over scenic bridges and past fields of wildflowers. The town of Emporia is your base—you’ll have access to Camp Alexander, home to beginner and intermediate single track, as well as intermediate rides like the Kahola Crusher (53 miles) or advanced grinds like the aptly named Grind (143 miles). This simply scrapes the surface of this bicycling paradise—you’ll be riding for days, weeks, or more...
Learn More: visitemporia.com/attractions/cycling/
Canoe Boundary Waters
This might be the finest canoe destination in the Lower 48 states. Or more likely, one of the finest on the planet. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a staggering one-million-acre expanse of lakes, islands, waterways and forest. It offers some 1,200 miles of canoe routes, more than 2,000 backcountry campsites and a plethora of hiking trails to boot. Plus, it butts up against Quetico Provincial Park in Canada and Superior National Forest to the south—which means that even though a quarter-million canoeists come to the Boundary Waters annually, you’ll still find a private paradise within.
Learn More: bwca.com/index.cfm?
Hike the Backbone
With 21 miles of trails, plus camping, picnic shelters, trout fishing and even rock-climbing onsite, the 2,000-acre Backbone State Park is an attractive outdoorsy destination. Hiking is the best reason to visit, and also the way to reach one of the highest points in the state. The West Lake and East Lake Loop is our favorite trail in the park—a 6.3-mile undulating, wooded path. And don’t forget the rocky staircase up the Devil’s Backbone to hit a Midwest high point!
Float the Ozarks
Ozark National Scenic Riverways, in southeast Missouri, is the first federally designated National Park dedicated to the protection of a wild river system. Created by an Act of Congress in 1964, the park encompasses two of America’s most beautiful waterways: the 186-mile-long Current River and its tributary, the 46-mile-long Jacks Fork River. These are two of the finest floatable rivers you’ll find in the state. Start your Current River float at the Akers Ferry Canoe Rental, or in Montauk State Park. For Jacks Fork, try floating The Prongs—Missouri’s wildest paddle.
Learn More: explore-mag.com/Travel_Paddling_Missouri
Raft the Peshtigo River
Class III and IV rapids await in the Roaring Rapids section of Wisconsin’s Peshtigo River. Enthusiasts will love this three- to four-hour section of water, featuring an accessible but exciting 176-foot total elevation drop between the Farm Dam Landing and the WPS Landing. It’s a hair over five miles of action! There are numerous guided rafting operators that will take you on a hair-raising ride. And if you have advanced skills, you can even tackle the Peshtigo in a whitewater kayak.
Waterfall hunt in Starved Rock
Starved Rock State Park is a like a fairyland dreamscape. Water-sculpted rocks. Lush mixed-woods forest. Thirteen miles of serene hiking trails. And waterfalls galore. Unlike the rolling farmlands the state is known for, ancient glacial runoff carved up the landscape of Starved Rock and stripped it down the limestone. The result? Some 18 canyons with 14 stunning waterfalls. Wander the gorges in spring, when runoff is high, and marvel at the sight of everything from veil-thin falls to raging cascades. Trails range from 0.3 miles to about five miles long, so most guests will find a way to spot a waterfall.
Learn More: starvedrockstatepark.org
Kayak the Blue River
For paddlers looking to branch out from lakes into moving water without getting in over their heads (metaphorically), Indiana’s Blue River delivers. Access a lovely 14-mile leg of this 100-mile river from Milltown, where the put-in lies in a tailwater. Check water conditions and weather conditions ahead of time, but if all is OK, set out on a leisurely day meandering past lush forests while spotting turtles, otters and ducks in the preserved ecosystem. Canoes are also popular, but kayaks (either sit-on or sit-in) offer enhanced stability and are increasingly used by Blue River paddlers.
Learn More: cavecountrycanoes.com
Roam Fisherman’s Island
In a state with a plethora of wild wonders, sometimes you just need a place to relax. Welcome to Fisherman’s Island State Park, located near Charlevoix on the shores of Lake Michigan. This 2,678-acre park encompasses five miles of pristine lakeshore—including many sections of soft-sand beaches for family fun and summertime lounging. There’s a rustic state park campsite set amongst the sand dunes, picnic areas along the shore and the interior birch, spruce and cedar forest features a crisscrossing network of trails ideal for a little shinrin-yoku, followed by an afternoon spent beachcombing for Petoskey stones.
Canoe Big Darby Creek
Whether you put-in during the spring, when the flows are fast, or wait until midsummer, when Ohio’s most scenic river shallows and slows to a leisurely pace, the Big Darby delivers. Launch your canoe or kayak in Batelle-Darby Park and set forth—likely spotting local wildlife at every turn. Birdwatchers flock to this river as just about every species in the state stops by throughout the year. Floats usually take between two and four hours to get a good sense of the serenity, though more advanced paddlers go six hours plus with ease. Guided trips and rentals are available locally.
Looking for More Adventures in the USA?
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