Since living in the Midwest, I’ve discovered the joy of State Parks. Think of National Parks (such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone etc) only on a much smaller scale and they are usually free to enter! The state DNR (Department of Natural Resources) are in charge of maintaining the state parks and their websites will have handy information about visiting and any current park closures etc. Some may have a bit of a lakefront, a camp ground, walking trails or just simply be a woodland area that offers a means to escape and find some people. I’ve come across some state parks though that have had something a little extra about them, making them a little more unique compared to some of the others! So in this post I share my top Midwest State Parks that are perfect for adventurous travellers!
The Best State Parks in the Midwest for Adventure
Iowa State Parks
Maquoketa Caves State Park
Location: 10970 98th St, Maquoketa, IA 52060 (East Iowa)
Maquoketa Caves has been shut for the whole of summer 2018 but it’s finally back open again! Yay! The access road has been resurfaced along with a few other improvements in the park! What makes it cool, is the caves. There are some that you literally just crawl into and have a look in the open space, but then there are others that actually have walking trails right through them! The main trails are fairly ‘claustrophobia’ friendly (my Dad gets claustrophobic and he was fine). It’s also possible to skip them completely or just peak in and turn around. I’d recommend taking a torch/flashlight if you want to explore some of the smaller caves, the large ones do have some built in lighting!
Related post: Iowa: Tips for Visiting Maquoketa Caves State Park
McIntosh Woods State Park
Location: 1200 E Lake St, Ventura, IA 50482 (North Iowa)
Adventure: Glamping in a yurt!
For anyone that doesn’t have a camper or doesn’t quite want to rough it in a tent, a stay in one of the yurts in McIntosh Woods State Park is an absolute BARGAIN. They are only $35 a night and can sleep up to 4 people (1 bunk bed and 1 fold out double sofa bed – take your own bedding and pillows). For those that may not know what a yurt is, it’s a circular ‘solid’ tent like structure that’s used as a transportable home by nomadic people in countries such as Mongolia. Don’t worry though, they have electricity (2 power outlets, a ceiling fan and a light) and the toilet and shower block is just a short walk away. If you plan on cooking, there is a grill outside, but bear in mind there is no fridge to keep food cold, or cooking utensils. Otherwise the town of Clear Lake, is just a short drive away though and they have plenty of restaurants to choose from (this is what I did).
There are only 2 yurts in McIntosh Woods State Park and they are separate from the rest of the camp ground, making it a very peaceful area. My favourite part was the deck/jetty area that led down to the lakefront. These do book up quite far in advance, especially at the weekends, so make sure you make a reservation early to avoid disappointment!
Related post: Glamping In Iowa: What It’s Like To Stay In A Yurt!
George Wyth State Park
Location: 3659 Wyth Rd, Waterloo, IA 50703 (East Iowa)
Adventure: Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga
If regular yoga isn’t adventurous enough for you, how about trying it on a stand up paddle board?! After paddling to a quiet section of George Wyth Lake, you then take part in an hour long yoga session on the boards. Surprisingly it’s not as hard as I expected it to be! Each board has its own anchor, there is a little bit of movement but not to the point where you’re going to be floating away uncontrollably! I thought my balance was bad but the only time I fell in was when I purposely ‘rolled’ into the water from a pose I was perfectly stable in! Of course there were a few wobbles but nothing that I was unable to correct.
Related post: Fun Things To Do In The Cedar Falls/Waterloo Area – Iowa
Michigan State Parks
Silver Lake State Park
Location: 8890 W Shore Dr, Mears, MI 49436 (West Michigan)
Adventure: Off-Roading and Sand Boarding
Silver Lake State Park is definitely one of the most adventurous state parks in the Midwest! The park consists of sand dunes…lots and lots of sand. As you’ll see from my next suggestion, there are often 2 type of dunes, pure sand or dunes that are more like sandy soil which will have grass and trees growing through the sand. Silver Lake State Park falls into the pure sand category! You can either choose to go into the pedestrian area, where you can sand board and hike or there’s a whole separate area dedicated to off road vehicles (buggies, quads/atvs, jeeps, motorbikes)! It definitely gets the adrenaline pumping! When you floor it up the side of the dune, you have no idea if the dune is going to ‘flatten’ out or if there’s a huge drop waiting for you on the other side! The nearby town of Silver Lake is just seconds away from the park, with accommodation options, restaurants and other attractions to keep you entertained!
Related post: Fun Things To Do In Silver Lake Michigan
Indiana State Parks
Indiana Dunes State Park
Location: 1600 N 25 E, Chesterton, IN 46304 (Northern Indiana)
Adventure: ‘3 Dunes Challenge’
I don’t know about you, but I can’t resist anything with the word ‘challenge’ in! The 3 Dune Challenge is one of the hiking trails in Indiana Dunes National Park BUT it goes up and over the 3 tallest dunes in the park. If you’ve ever tried walking up a sand dune, you’ll know it’s very much 1 step forward, 2 steps back, the trail may be 1.5 miles long, but if you factor in the ‘sliding back’, you could end up walking twice as far! Silver Lake State Park doesn’t have any set hiking trails, which makes Indiana Dunes a little different from the type of sand dunes you’ll find there. At the end of the hike, if you stop in the visitor centre, you can pick up a free sticker and postcard which says you completed the challenge!
Indiana Dunes State Park is part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakefront, which has now been given National Park status! (The State Park section is still run by the state of Indiana.)
Illinois State Parks
Matthiessen State Park
Location: 2500 Illinois Route 178, Oglesby, IL 61348 (North/Central Illinois)
Adventure: Stepping stone hikes and walking behind waterfalls!
For ages I debated between Matthiessen State Park vs Starved Rock, what one should I visit. I ended up opting for Matthiessen State Park because it looked more adventurous than Starved Rock, and although I didn’t have time to visit both, I’m definitely happy with the decision I made! There are 2 main Matthiessen State Park trails, the upper dells and the lower dells and for me, what made them fun, were the stepping stone type sections of the trails!
Some stepping stones were quite large, others were just tiny little rocks barely big enough to put your foot on! My Mum slipped off one and received a shoe full of water, I didn’t even bother with shoes and just walked through the stream barefoot (disclosure: do this at your own risk as rocks can be sharp etc etc, water shoes/sandals may be a better option).
(Me the ‘mountain goat’ in photographer mode)
Again, I trust you to make your own judgement, but I found it fun to walk behind ‘Cascade Falls’ in the lower dells canyon! Part of me was still annoyed that it was too icy to walk behind one of the waterfalls in Iceland so I was determined not to miss out again! There are also a couple of caves near the falls that are fun to wander in.
What state parks have you found adventurous activities in? Let me know in the comments!
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