Last Updated on July 3, 2022
In this post I share some of the best Midwest hiking trails in the USA! There are hundreds of State Parks in the Midwest as well as some more long distance trails that can be broken down into smaller stretches. You’ll find trails of various lengths and difficulties along with some of the best Midwest hiking with some unique natural features!
Best Midwest Hiking
ILLINOIS: Starved Rock State Park
INDIANA: ‘3 Dunes Challenge’ Indiana Dunes State Park
IOWA: Mines of Spain | Maquoketa Caves State Park | Cedar Valley Trails
KANSAS: Konza Prairie Biological Station
MINNESOTA: ‘Riverview Trail’ John A Latsch State Park | Superior Hiking Trail
MISSOURI: The Ozark Trail
WISCONSIN: ‘Devil’s Segment’ Wisconsin Ice Age Trail
Starved Rock State Park
🚶🏻♀️13 miles of trails | St Louis Canyon trail: 1.5 miles (one way)
🚾Park facilities: Parking, visitor centre, toilets, camp store
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Chicago for the peaceful, tranquility of nature for a day, look no further than Starved Rock State Park. Starved Rock State Park is located near Oglesby, IL, approximately 80 miles southwest of Chicago. The park is open from 7am to sunset. The Visitor Center is open daily, excluding national holidays. Admission and parking are free. Restrooms and water fountains are available in the Visitor’s Center and lodge.
Starved Rock State Park includes 13 miles of hiking trails, 18 canyons and several waterfalls. Keep an eye out for deer, bald eagles and birds while you are there. Most of the trails start at the Visitor Center and free, guided hikes are offered from June through November. Make sure to check out the St Louis Canyon trail. Along this trail, 1.5-miles from the Visitor’s Center, you will find an impressive 80’ high waterfall. It is the only waterfall in the park that is spring-fed.
The Illinois River is located within the park and offers fishing, kayaking and boating opportunities. There are 133 camping spots at the park that can be reserved in advance on the Starved Rock State Park website.
Suggested by Carmen from Her Adventurous Life
3 Dunes Challenge – Indiana Dunes State Park
🚶🏻♀️Trail length: 1.5 miles (moderate difficulty)
⛰Total elevation: 552ft
🕖Hike duration: 45 minutes
🚾Park facilities: Parking, toilets, visitor centre, food kiosks, camping
A unique hike in the Midwest is the ‘3 Dunes Challenge‘ in Indiana Dunes State Park (trail 8)! The 1.5 mile trail isn’t the longest of hiking trails, but it has a total vertical elevation of 552ft with a 40 degree gradient in some places. Walking on the sand can be much tougher than a hard compact trail. Dune hiking is actually easier after it has rained! It’s considered a ‘rugged’ trail.
The 3 Dunes Challenge scales the 3 tallest dunes in the park, Mt. Jackson (176ft), Mt. Holden (184ft) and Mt. Tom (192ft), together they are known as The Tremonts. The highest dune, Mt. Tom, has wooden staircases on either side of the dune, making it a little easier to climb up compared to the sand dunes. There are informational boards at the top of each ‘summit’, perfect for photo opportunities. It takes around 45 minutes to complete at a leisurely pace.
Indiana Dunes State Park has 7 hiking trails altogether with various lengths. The longest is 5.5 miles (trail 10) and is rated a ‘moderate’ difficulty. The ‘easiest’ trail is trail 2 and is 3 miles long. There’s a campground, food kiosks, a pavilion, a visitor centre and more. Parking charges apply in the state park. (Not to be confused with Indiana Dunes National Park with is located next to the state park).
Mines of Spain recreational area
🗺Mines of Spain Rd, Dubuque, IA 52003
🚶🏻♀️🕖Best trails: Horseshoe Bluff (3/4 mile, approx 25 minutes), Julien Dubuque Foot Trail (3/4 mile, approx 30 minutes with stops) | Catfish Creek (2 miles, approx 40 to 50 minutes)
🚾Park facilities: Parking, toilets, interpretation centre
The Mines of Spain Recreational Area in Dubuque, Iowa has 13 different hiking trails, totalling 21 miles. One of the most popular hikes is to the Julien Dubuque Monument. Julien Dubuque was the first settler in Iowa. The monument, that looks like a miniature castle, was built in 1897. It is Dubuque’s grave site and has great views over the Mississippi River.
It is just a 5 minute walk from the ‘top’ parking area, however this can be extended by following the 3/4 mile Julien Dubuque Foot Trail, from a lower parking lot.
Personally I think of the of best hikes in the Midwest is the Horseshoe Bluff Trail. This trail is 3/4 mile long and takes around 25 minutes. The trailhead has a parking lot with toilets. Following the trail in a clockwise direction, towards the ‘outlook’, it starts with a fairly steep incline. From the overlook, a metal staircase leads down into the canyon between two bluffs. The last section of the trail crosses a wetland area with a pond, great for spotting wildlife.
Maquoketa Caves State Park
🗺9688 Caves Rd. Maquoketa, IA 52060
🚶🏻♀️6 miles of trails
🚾Park facilities: Parking, toilets, water fountain, camping
Another unique place to go hiking in the Midwest is at Maquoketa Caves State Park in eastern Iowa. The park is home to 16 caves with around 50% of them being fairly accessible (the others are a bit of a squeeze and require crawling!). 6 miles of hiking trails connect the caves together.
The caves were first discovered in the 1830s, with ‘Dancehall Cave’ being the largest and longest. It actually passes under the main road and is accessed via a wooden staircase. The cave is tall enough for those using the trail to walk through quite easily. They can be a little dark and slippery, so flashlights may be needed, along with sturdy footwear.
Maquoketa Caves State Park is free to visit. You could easily spend a few hours exploring and not even complete all the trails! If visiting during the summer, there are lots of bugs. The caves are surrounded by thick woodlands, so bug spray may be needed if you are prone to getting bitten. Deers also roam the area. There’s a campground and toilets nearby. For more facilities, such as gas stations and restaurants, the nearest town is Maquoketa, around a 10 minute drive away.
Cedar Valley Trails – Waterloo
🚶🏻♀️Cedar Valley Trails: over 100 miles of trails | Trail 6 ‘The Riverwalk Loop’: 3.2 miles (easy)
🚾Downtown Waterloo: Parking, restaurants, hotels etc | Riverview Recreation Area: Parking, toilets
The Cedar Valley Trails network through Waterloo and Cedar Falls has over 100 miles of paved hiking and cycling trails. Being suitable for cycling, the majority of the trails are flat and paved. There are bike rental companies in Waterloo, if you wanted to cycle some of the trails instead. Trail 6, The Riverwalk Loop starts in Downtown Waterloo. It runs alongside the Cedar River all the way to the Riverview Recreation Area.
Once you reach Harold Getty Lake (where there are public toilets and picnic benches), you can loop round and follow the path back to Downtown. The distance of Trail 6 is approximately 3.2 miles. The trails are very well signposted with information such as distance and explanations of the history.
Konza Prairie Biological Station
🗺100 Konza Prairie Ln, Manhattan, KS 66502, United States
🚶🏻♀️Trail length: Nature Trail (2.6 miles), Kings Creek Loop (4.6 miles), Godwin Hill Loop (6.2 miles)
🚾Park facilities: Parking, toilets, trash cans
A large brown sign with white letters proclaims the Konza Prairie Biological Station on Kansas Interstate 70. A sweep of unbroken prairie beckons travelers to find solace from life’s pressures. Hear the wind rustling in the tallgrass and birds singing. Herons stalk the creek and the hawks ride the thermals far above.
You’re in a timeless landscape, but Manhattan is only a few miles to the north. Every season has its own beauty, but I prefer early fall.
Konza’s trails feed into each other: the 2.6-mile Nature Trail (my favorite), the 4.6-mile Kings Creek Loop, and the 6.2-mile Godwin Hill Loop. Allow 2 hours for the Nature Trail, 3.5 for Kings Creek, and 4.5 for Godwin Hill. Sit on the summits’ benches, soak in the views–and catch your breath.
For a $2 donation, the moderately-difficult trails are open from dawn to dusk. Wear a broad-brimmed hat and carry trekking poles, water, and snacks. Beware of divots and rough patches.
Suggest by Roxie from Roxie on the Road
Riverview Trail – John A Latsch State Park
🗺US-61, Minnesota City, MN 55959, United States
🚶🏻♀️Trail length: 0.7 miles (difficult)
⛰Total elevation: 450ft (592 steps)
🕖Hike duration: 1 hour
🚾Park facilities: Parking, primitive toilet, picnic area
There are a few Midwest hikes that Minnesotans like to talk about. Bean and Bear, the fire tower at Elba and John A Latsch State Park. The park gets the title of State Park, even though there are no amenities, camping, or anything really. All that’s there is an epic set of steps! 592 to be exact bringing you 500 feet above the river. Once at the top, you’ll have an amazing view of the Mississippi River.
Going up is only half the battle. Getting down was absolutely terrifying as your legs are rubber. While this is a difficult hike, we saw people doing it of all fitness levels. Just make sure to take your time and bring some water if it’s a hot day.
Like all MN State Parks, a $7 daily parking permit is required. They have pay envelopes. You can also get in free with an annual pass. This is such a fun roadside stop along highway 61. Not only are the views amazing, but there is a lot to do in the nearby town of Winona.
Suggested by Jenn from DayTripper28
Superior Hiking Trail
🚶🏻♀️Total trail length: 310 miles (moderate difficulty)
🚾Trailheads: Parking, backpacking campsites | State Parks: parking, toilets
The 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) extends from Canada to Wisconsin around Lake Superior in Minnesota. It is designed in sections, making it easy to customize your hike for your needs.
The SHT is a moderate level of difficulty but varies by section. The trail is known for its significant and continuous elevation changes along with the iconic tree roots along the entire footpath.
Hikers are rewarded with some of the most stunning views in Minnesota, including:
- Judge C.R. Magney State Park | A 10-mile one-way hike along the Kadunce River and past Devil’s Kettle Falls.
- Oberg Mountain | A 2-mile loop spur trail with views of Superior National Forest and Lake Superior.
- Ely’s Peak | A 2-mile loop spur trail south of Lake Superior with 360-degree views of Duluth, Lake Superior and the St Louis River.
Black bears and moose are common in this area. Bear spray is not necessary, but hikers should make noise while hiking and use scent-proof containers for food and toiletries.
Find parking for a small fee at the Minnesota State Parks or for free at the SHT trailhead parking lots. Be mindful of leaving valuables in your vehicle. State parks have flush toilets and pit toilets can be found at the backpacking campsites along the trail.
There’s no doubt that the Superior Hiking Trail is one of the best hikes in the midwest!
Suggest by Susan Gleissner of This Big Wild World
The Ozark Trail
🚶🏻♀️The Ozark Trail length: 262 miles | Taum Sauk Mountain to Johnson’s Shutins State Park section: 13.5 miles
🚾State park facilities: Parking, toilets, camping | Backpacking camps along the route
The Ozark Trail is a National Recreation Trail located in Missouri and is 262 miles long. It is divided into sections. It is some of the most rugged hiking in the state. The Taum Sauk Section is 35 miles long. Our favorite part covers 13.5 miles of that section from Taum Sauk Mountain to Johnson’s Shutins State Park. Start at the Mina Sauk Falls Trailhead in Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and be sure to make a stop at the highest point in Missouri.
There are several other highlights along this trail: Mina Sauk Falls, Devil’s Toll Gate, Taum Sauk Reservoir on top of Profit Mountain, and “Scour” path in Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park. There are several backpacking camps along this 13.5 mile trail. You can see more at Happy Trails Hiking.
Suggested by Kay from Happy Trails Hiking
Devil’s Staircase Segment – Wisconsin Ice Age National Scenic Trail
🚶🏻♀️Trail length: 0.9 miles one way | 1.8 miles return
🕖Hike duration: 20 minutes one way | 40 minutes return
🌳Trailhead: Riverside Park, Parkside Dr, Janesville WI
🚾Park facilities: Parking, toilets, baseball diamond, splash park, play area, pavilions
The Wisconsin Ice Age Scenic Trail is a 1,200 mile hiking trail that stretches from Lake Michigan all the way to the Minnesota border. Glacial ice cut through Wisconsin over 12,000 years ago, shaping the landscape that we see today. The Ice Age Trail follows some of the most scenic parts of this terrain.
For a hardcore hiker, the full route can take between 8 to 12 weeks to complete. However, it can be split into different sections. The Ice Age Trail Alliance has shorter multi-day hike itineraries. But for those looking for a short hike, the Devil’s Staircase Segment in Janesville is a great easy hike.
The trailhead starts in Riverside Park. There’s plenty of parking and toilet facilities in the park. A short set of stairs leads up to the Ice Age Trail. Once at the top, head to the right to follow the Devil’s Staircase Segment. It runs through the woodlands alongside the Rock River. While on my hike, I was lucky enough to see a large owl resting in a tree! True to its name, there are some stone stairs on this segment. They can get slippery when wet, so take care.
The trail crosses a golf course before turning into the Arbor Ridge segment. You can simply turn around and follow the trail in the opposite direction but to Riverside Park. The Ice Age Trail through Janesville covers 10.3 miles, so it can easily be extended for those after a longer hike.
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