8 Best Hikes in the Midwest [2024]

A rustic wooden staircase descends between moss-covered sandstone walls in Turkey Run State Park, a natural escape for Midwest hiking enthusiasts.

Looking for the best hikes in the Midwest?  I have got you covered in this round-up guide featuring 8 of the best places to hike.

I know, I know, when you dream of breathtaking hikes, you’re probably picturing dramatic mountains and ocean vistas. But trust me, the Midwest? 

Far from the hustle of crowded tourist spots, the Midwest unfolds its charm through rolling hills, dense forests, serene lakes, and unexpected rugged terrains.

As a Midwest local, my personal favorite hikes are at Starved Rock and Indiana Dunes.

I had no idea the Midwest had anything outside of flat terrain until I visited Starved Rock during the winter. The frozen waterfalls had me transported into a different universe, and I was officially hooked on hiking.

Whether you’re in search of a gentle stroll or a challenging trek, the Midwest offers a variety of trails with the chance to explore the rich history and diverse ecosystems of the region.

Grab your hiking boots and get ready to discover the best hikes in the Midwest.

Best Hikes in the Midwest

1. Devil’s Lake 

Location: Wisconsin

I LOVE Devil’s Lake.  It is by far one of my favorite hiking spots in the Midwest and makes you feel like you are in an entirely different part of the US. 

Plan to enjoy panorama views over a sapphire lake, surrounded by green wooded hills! 

Its convenient location 1 hour drive from Madison makes it a central location for visitors in the region.

Want to witness the wildflowers in full bloom and the park alive with greenery? Spring into action and plan your visit from April to June. 

September and October months make way for scenic foliage. Fall is my favorite time to visit, because I think it has some of the best Midwest foliage.

Best Trails at Devils Lake:

  • Easts Bluff Trails
  • Tumbled Rocks Trail

Website  ⏐ 💲Price: $16/vehicle  ⏐  Hours: 6:00am – 11:00pm   ⏐ 🐶Dogs Allowed: On leash (Check site for specifics)

2. Indiana Dunes

Location: Indiana

Indiana Dunes is one of the newest named National Parks in the United States! 

Climb giant sand towers to admire the views over Lake Michigan. 

One of my favorite things to do is hike from the top of a sand dune all the way to the beach. It makes for a rewarding end to any hike!

It is one of my favorite places to hike in the Midwest thanks to its views over lake Michigan, and its proximity to Chicago.

Simply rent a car for a one hour drive or catch a direct train from Chicago Union Station. 

Having a car will provide more flexibility in getting to the different routes and beaches, as well as exploring the surrounding town of Beverly Shores. 

Best trails at Indiana Dunes:

Website  ⏐ 💲Price: $25/vehicle or annual pass  ⏐  Hours: 6:00am-11:00pm   ⏐ 🐶Dogs Allowed: On leash (Check site for specifics)

3. Starved Rock 

Starved Rock Spring Break Destination

Location: Illinois

Starved Rock wins at the top of my all-time favorite places in Illinois. 

Driving through cornland for miles, you certainly don’t expect to wind up exploring hidden canyons, basking in seasonal waterfalls, or admiring views at the highest point of bluffs. 

Starved Rock remains one of Illinois best-kept secrets.  Most locals have not visited its state park!  

Fall and winter are my favorite months to hike at Starved Rock. I love the fall foliage, but winter brings frozen waterfalls.

This is a sight unlike anything I have experienced anywhere, and surely not something I expected to find in the Midwest.

Best Trails at Starved Rock:

  • Starved Rock and Sandstone Point Loverlook
  • Saint Louis Canyon
  • La Salle Canyon

It’s also perfect to combine as a day trip from a weekend in Chicago.  

Website  ⏐ 💲Price: Free ⏐  Hours: 7:00am – Sunset  ⏐ 🐶Dogs Allowed: On leash

4. Matthiessen State Park 

Location: Illinois

Matthiessen State Park, nestled in the heart of Illinois, is a hidden gem among Midwest hiking destinations.

The park’s diverse landscape, featuring canyons, streams, and forest-rich areas, makes it a hiker’s paradise.

The BEST part is the location only 10 minutes away from Starved Rock! You can easily combine hiking at both of these free state parks over one or two days.

One of the best trails is the Dells Area loop for its stunning stunning rock formations and cascading waterfalls.

Easily accessible, Matthiessen State Park is located just off Interstate 39, providing a convenient escape into nature for those looking to explore the serene beauty of the Midwest’s less-traveled paths.

Best Trails at Matthiessen:

  • Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail
  • Dells Area to Vermillion River Loop
  • Matthiessen State Park River Trail

Website  ⏐💲Price: Free ⏐ Hours: 7:00am – Sunset  ⏐ 🐶Dogs Allowed: On 6 foot leash 

5. Turkey Run State Park 

Location: Indiana

Turkey Run State Park is an off-the-beaten-path treasure of Indiana. Get ready to conquer canyons and climb up wooden ladders that look straight out of a movie set.

It holds a special place in my heart because this was one of my first outdoor hiking adventures, ever! And it was my first time taking a Midwest road trip to Indiana.

Turkey Run State Park stands as a testament to the Midwest’s rugged beauty, offering some of the most diverse and engaging hiking experiences in the region.

Its trails weave through ancient canyons, alongside flowing rivers, and under lush forest canopies, showcasing the geological and natural diversity that is unique to this area.

The park’s well-maintained trails cater to a wide range of skill levels, from leisurely walks that allow for nature observation and relaxation, to challenging routes that test the hiker’s endurance and agility.

Best Trails at Turkey Run:

  • Trail #3
  • Trail #5
  • Trail #10

Website  ⏐ 💲Price: Free ⏐ 🕝Hours: 7:00am-11:00pm   ⏐ 🐶Dogs Allowed: On 6 foot leash

6. Pictured Rocks 

Pictured Rocks, Michigan
Pictured Rocks by Laura Heuer via Unsplash

Location: Michigan

Have you heard of Pictured Rocks in Northern Michigan? The stunning, turquoise water below cascading cliffs is something out of a movie.  

I am planning Upper Peninsula in Michigan as my next Midwest hiking trip for the intense turquoise waters surrounded by sandstone cliffs. You can even rent clear kayaks after hitting the trails!

Munising Falls Trail is an easy trail guiding you to a breathtaking waterfall.

Consider Miners Castle Trail for some of the best overviews you can imagine.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just love a leisurely walk in the woods, Pictured Rocks is ready to dazzle you. It’s also one of the top Midwest spring break destinations!

Best Trails at Pictured Rocks:

  • Munising Falls
  • Miners Castle
  • Chapel Loop

Website  ⏐💲Price: $20/vehicle⏐ 🕝Hours: 24 hours   ⏐ 🐶Dogs Allowed: On 6 foot leash (Check site for specifics)

7. Hocking Hills State Park 

Location: Ohio

Hocking Hills State Park, set in the lush landscapes of Ohio, is renowned for hosting some of the most picturesque hiking trails in the Midwest.

Trails like the Ash Cave Trail and the Old Man’s Cave Loop are particularly celebrated for their stunning natural features, including waterfalls, deep gorges, and towering rock formations.

First-time visitors are often awe-struck by the sight of the park’s majestic beauty, which changes with the seasons, offering a unique experience each time.

The parks trails are overall easy to navigate.

Located near the small town of Logan, Hocking Hills State Park is accessible via State Route 664.

Best Trails at Hocking Hills:

  • Ash Cave Trail
  • Old Man’s Cave Loop

Website  ⏐💲Price: Free ⏐ 🕝Hours: Dawn to dusk  ⏐ 🐶Dogs Allowed: On leash

8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park 

Contributed by Adventures with Tucknae

Location: Ohio

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a hidden gem in the Midwest, offering an array of trails that rank among the best in the region for their scenic beauty and accessibility.

Trails such as the Ledges Trail and Towpath Trail provide hikers with the opportunity to explore the park’s diverse landscapes, from dense forests to rolling hills.

One of the park’s most breathtaking sights is the Brandywine Falls, a stunning waterfall accessible via the Brandywine Gorge Trail.

Getting to Cuyahoga Valley is straightforward; it is nestled between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, and easily accessible via major highways.

The best time to visit is from late spring to early fall, when the park comes alive with colors and wildlife. And guess what? There’s no entrance fee!

Before you go, remember to check the weather, pack plenty of water, and maybe download a trail map onto your phone.

Best Trails at Cuyahoga Valley:

  • Ledges Trail
  • Brandywine Forge
  • Plateau Trail

Website  ⏐ 💲Price: Free ⏐ 🕝Hours: Check site   ⏐ 🐶Dogs Allowed: On 6-foot leash


Let’s wrap up this hiking adventure!  From unbeatable waterfalls, sandstone canyons, and lush forest views, the best Midwest hiking trails are indeed short of “mid”.

Exploring the Midwest reveals scenic trails and breathtaking landscapes, offering something for every kind of outdoor enthusiast.

Starved Rock State Park in Illinois mesmerizes with its steep sandstone canyons formed by glacial meltwater and Indiana Dunes National Park offers more than 50 miles of trails across dunes, wetlands, and forests.

Each of these destinations highlights the diverse and arresting natural beauty of the Midwest, making the region a must-visit for hikers and nature lovers alike.

It might not be like Joshua Tree in the Southwest or Olympic in Washington, but the laidback Midwest has sure got a lot to offer if you have some time to look around.

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As a full time employee who loves her job, learn how I honor my wanderlust while working a 9:00-5:00 (because I want to!) This blog welcomes all, and specifically provides resources for those seeking travel intertwined into a busy schedule (3 days to 5 weeks).