8 Best Scenic Hikes in the Midwest US

Alright, alright. When you think about visiting the Midwest, your brain might not immediately think “great hiking destination” but HEAR US OUT. Hit the trails at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and you’ll be floored, exclaiming out loud to your hiking mates, “I can’t believe this is MICHIGAN!!” (This is a true story, by the way).

The wide, open spaces of the Midwest have plenty of underrated hiking opportunities, whether it’s the coastlines around Lake Michigan, the Badlands in South Dakota, or even parks in Nebraska. And, hiking is the best way to discover the natural landscapes of the Midwest!

Below we’ve rounded up 8 of the best hikes in the Midwest (plus some bonus hikes in each destination) that have incredible scenic views that will make you want to set foot in the Midwest at least once in your lifetime. But trust me, once you’ve hiked in the Midwest, you’ll understand why it’s so underrated.

1. Chapel Loop Trail — Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

A trip to Michigan’s famed Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore isn’t complete without a hike along the edge of the towering painted cliffs, to a secluded beach, and through lush forests.

The Chapel Loop Trail is a 10-mile loop that begins at the Chapel/Mosquito trailhead and passes through some of the most scenic parts of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

If 10-miles seems intimidating, then just hike the section from the trailhead to Chapel Beach. The beach is picture-perfect, complete with turquoise water and pristine white sands-you wouldn’t think this is in Michigan.

That section of the trail is just under 3-miles (one-way). If you decide to conquer all 10 miles, it will take you about 4 hours and isn’t overly difficult because the trail is mostly flat. Don’t forget to pack water and a hiking lunch, you will get hungry! Oh, and Fido needs to stay home. Dogs aren’t allowed on this trail.

 

Other hikes in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore:

 

  • Mosquito Falls Loop (4.6 miles, 200 feet elevation gain)
  • Grand Sable Dunes Trail (2.8 miles, 100 feet elevation gain)
  • Miners Castle Loop Trail (1.2 miles, 80 feet elevation gain)

2. Old Man's Cave Trail — Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

a waterfall in Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Hiking through Old Man’s Cave Trail is a must-do Midwest hike while visiting Ohio. As you traverse the trail, you’ll encounter a variety of terrain, from earthen paths to stone bridges and intricately carved staircases, and of course… caves.

This is one of the most popular (and crowded) trails in Hocking Hills State Park, but it’s a must-visit destination for its unparalleled beauty. Be prepared for crowds, especially during weekends and peak seasons, but rest assured, the experience is well worth it!

Depending on recent precipitation, the waterfalls and Devil’s Bathtub may vary in flow, so adjust your expectations accordingly. The trail system offers shortcuts, so there’s lots of trail options to cater to your hiking preference.

 

Other hikes in Hocking Hills State Park:

 

  • Cedar Falls Trail (2.5 miles, 150 feet elevation gain)
  • Conkle’s Hollow Rim Trail (2.5 miles, 200 feet elevation gain)
  • Ash Cave Trail (0.5 miles, minimal elevation gain)
  • Rock House Trail (0.5 miles, minimal elevation gain)

3. Devil's Doorway — Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin

Devils Lake State Park Wisconsin

Ironically, you will feel like you have found heaven on earth when you reach the rock formation known as Devil’s Doorway overlooking a shimmering lake and lush forests.

For a real treat, go to the state park and hike in autumn when the trees don their fiery leaves. A word of caution if you’re traveling with kids or afraid of heights, the Doorway is positioned on a bluff with, often slippery, dangerous drop-offs. Bring trekking poles and a bottle of water.

There are four trails leading to the trail for Devil’s Doorway, which is only .1 mile on its own. If you’re seeking a strenuous workout for this rewarding view, scramble up the Balanced Rock Trail and down either the CCC or the Potholes trails.

If you prefer easy/moderate, park north of the lake and take the East Bluff trail to and from the Devil’s Doorway trailhead. Your round-trip hike will take roughly 2.5 hours, regardless of which path you choose. Consider spending an entire day at the State Park or camp to take advantage of the variety of attractions offered.

 

Other hikes in Devil’s Lake State Park:

 

  • East Bluff Trail (4.6 miles, 500 feet elevation gain)
  • Balanced Rock Trail (1.4 miles, 250 feet elevation gain)
  • West Bluff Trail (1.4 miles, 500 feet elevation gain)
  • Ice Age Trail – Parfrey’s Glen Segment (2.8 miles, 200 feet elevation gain)

4. Lakeview Bend Trail — Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri

A wooden bridge in Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri

The Lakeview Bend Trail at Lake of the Ozarks State Park offers a serene and picturesque hiking experience along the shores of the Ozarks. This 3-mile trail winds gently through lush woodlands, providing stunning views of the tranquil waters below.

As you meander along the path, you’ll encounter diverse flora and fauna, adding to the natural allure of the surroundings (we love visiting in spring when wildflowers are in bloom!). The relatively flat terrain makes it suitable for hikers of all skill levels, allowing for a leisurely stroll amidst the beauty of the park.

Whether you’re seeking a peaceful escape or a scenic walk with loved ones, the Lakeview Bend Trail promises a delightful outdoor adventure amid the captivating landscape of the Ozarks.

 

Other hikes in Lake of the Ozarks State Park:

 

  • Fawn’s Ridge Trail (3.5 miles, 200 feet elevation gain)
  • Rocky Top Trail (2.5 miles, 300 feet elevation gain)
  • Bluestem Knoll Trail (2 miles, 150 feet elevation gain)
  • Hidden Springs Trail (4 miles, 250 feet elevation gain)

View All Explorer Chick Trips

5. Badger Ridge Trail Loop — Loess Hill State Forest, Iowa

Loess Hill State Forest, Iowa

One of the best hikes in Iowa is in the Loess Hills. A unique land formation that extends 200 miles from South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri along the Missouri River, the Loess Hills are home to one of the best spots for hiking in the Midwest.

The Hitchcock Nature Center located in western Iowa along the Missouri River and about 15 minutes from Council Bluffs and Omaha is a dedicated preserve for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. As of April 2024, it costs just $5 per vehicle to enter the preserve.

While there are several hiking trails within the preserve, the best views are hiking the Badger Ridge Trail Loop. By hiking this 3.1-mile loop, you’ll see the rolling hills in Iowa, the Omaha skyline, and the plains of eastern Nebraska all within the same trail! It’s a fairly easy trail with a few challenging hills, but doable for hikers of most skill levels. It takes about an hour to complete, maybe more if you’re busy soaking in the views.

As an Omaha resident, this is one of the most scenic hikes in the area, and one worth doing! It’s best done in early summer through fall. During the winter it’s snow-packed and in the early spring, it can be very muddy. Hiking poles aren’t necessary but can be fun to bring along. Be sure to choose shoes with traction in case of mud. Oh, and lay the mosquito and tick repellent on thick in the summer and fall as this area has an intense amount of bugs!

Other hikes in Loess Hill State Forest:

 

  • Loess Hills Interpretive Trail (3.4 miles, 300 feet elevation gain)
  • Preparation Canyon Loop Trail (3.5 miles, 400 feet elevation gain)
  • Little Sioux Loop Trail (4.2 miles, 350 feet elevation gain)
  • Grist Mill Trail (2.6 miles, 200 feet elevation gain)
  • Broken Kettle Grasslands Trail (8 miles, 500 feet elevation gain)

6. Notch Trail — Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

One of the best hikes in South Dakota is also one of the top things to do in Badlands National Park. Tucked away in the southwest corner of the state, it’s one of the most underrated national parks in the USA. Offering incredible scenery, the hikes here are unforgettable!

The Notch Trail is a moderate hiking trail and just 1.5 miles round trip, taking an hour to 1.5 hours to complete. One of the most impressive features of the trail is a ladder that you climb about halfway through the trail. It is definitely not for those with a fear of heights. But once conquered, it leads you to amazing views of the Badlands!

The hiking trail can get really crowded, creating a long line at the ladder. Hike the Notch Trail early in the morning or towards the evening to avoid crowds. There’s also no shade on the hike so come prepared with plenty of water, and in the summer avoid the hiking trail during the heat of the day.

 

Other hikes in Badlands National Park:

 

  • Door Trail (0.75 miles, minimal elevation gain)
  • Castle Trail (10.4 miles, 500 feet elevation gain)
  • Saddle Pass Trail (0.6 miles, 200 feet elevation gain)
  • Medicine Root Loop Trail (4 miles, 200 feet elevation gain)

7. Oberg Mountain Loop — Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Superior National Forest, Minnesota

The North Shore of Minnesota along Lake Superior has waterfalls, awesome hikes, and countless adventure activities within a 30-mile radius. For a superior hiking trail, head over to the Oberg Mountain Loop, especially in the Fall to see the changing of the leaves.

The Oberg Mountain Loop, spanning approximately 5.5 miles, offers hikers a captivating blend of panoramic vistas, dense forests, and tranquil meadows. Beginning at the Oberg Mountain Trailhead, you’ll be greeted with a gentle ascent that gradually unveils breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the majestic Sawtooth Mountains and the shimmering expanse of Lake Superior.

For those seeking a shorter excursion, a truncated route to the Oberg Mountain summit provides a rewarding experience in itself, boasting sweeping overlooks and a sense of serenity amidst the towering pines.

While the terrain may present moderate challenges, with occasional rocky sections and elevation gains, the overall trek remains accessible to hikers of varying skill levels.

 

Other hikes in Superior National Forest:

 

  • Eagle Mountain Trail (7 miles, 550 feet elevation gain)
  • Pow Wow Trail (8.5 miles, 600 feet elevation gain)
  • Caribou Rock Trail (6.2 miles, 700 feet elevation gain)
  • Honeymoon Bluff Trail (4.2 miles, 200 feet elevation gain)
  • Lookout Mountain Loop Trail (6.4 miles, 600 feet elevation gain)

8. Saddle Rock Trail — Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska

Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska
Image by Pink Caddy Travelogue

Even though Nebraska is known for being flat and full of farmlands, there is plenty of hiking for those who need to get out into nature! The invigorating 2-mile Saddle Rock Trail is an easy hike through Scotts Bluff National Monument with awesome views of limestone formations, amazing prairie views, and a cool walk through a rock tunnel.

Beginning at the trailhead, you’ll be greeted with a moderate ascent, leading to the iconic Saddle Rock landmark. Along the way, you’ll traverse rocky terrain and encounter unique geological features, making this one of the best hikes in the Midwest!

 

Other hikes in Scotts Bluff National Monument:

 

  • Summit Road Trail (2.6 miles, 600 feet elevation gain)
  • North Overlook Trail (0.8 miles, minimal elevation gain)
  • South Overlook Trail (0.8 miles, minimal elevation gain)
  • Oregon Trail Pathway (2 miles, minimal elevation gain)

Why You Should Hike in the Midwest

Whether you’re chasing waterfalls, trekking through dense forests, or admiring panoramic vistas, the Midwest’s hiking trails never fail to captivate adventurers of all kinds.

As you traverse these paths, you’ll not only connect with nature but also with the rich history and diverse ecosystems that define this region. So lace up your boots, hit the trails, and embark on an unforgettable journey through the heartland of America!

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