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10 Must-Try Nature Hikes in the Midwest

Are you ready to embark on an adventure through some of the most impressive landscapes and forests in the Midwestern United States? Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to explore the great outdoors! In this blog post, I will be sharing a list of 10 incredible nature hikes and walks I've engaged in throughout Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Each hike or walk offers a unique and scenic experience, showcasing the beauty of this part of the country. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a beginner, there's something for everyone on this list. So, let's dive in!

1. Indiana Dunes National Park, Cowles Bog Trail: Visit the countries newest national park and engage in one of my favorite nearby hikes. Grab some lunch and make your way through the forest before arriving at a pristine beach on Lake Michigan. This has become one of my favorite "Chicagoland" area hikes. I often stop by Calumet Fisheries to get smoked salmon and shrimp before jumping on the trail and making my way to a beach so gorgeous you would think you were in another part of the country or world. The trailhead is on Mineral Springs Road, and the beach is only accessible by foot, adding to its charm. It's about a 1.5-mile hike through the forest, generally easy to moderate. The only tricky part is the last 100 meters, where you leave the forest and navigate down a hot, sandy dune to reach the beach.

2. Devils Lake State Park, Wisconsin: Located an hour past Madison, this is Wisconsin’s most visited state park. They have hikes for all levels including an easy walk around the beautiful lake. We completed the challenging (500 feet of elevation in 2 different spots) and rocky entire East and West Bluff Ice Age trail (3.2 miles) over 3 and a half hours. It was one of the best hikes we've completed in years and offered incredible views that evoked memories of time spent in Western Canada and Switzerland in the past.

3. Saugatuck Dunes State Park, Michigan: The 1.5 mile round trip beach trail originates from the parking lot and passes through a heavily wooded forest. It's a beautiful hike that is suitable for all ages and the payoff is a spot on the beach to enjoy Lake Michigan. 4. Mississippi Palisades State Park, Illinois: The hikes at this state park on the border of Illinois and Iowa provide terrific views of the Mississippi and Apple Rivers. On Thanksgiving Day during 2020, we made our 1st visit to this park as we tried to isolate our family instead of having our normal larger family celebration. We enjoyed an amazing sunny day during which we completed the 4.5 mile Sentinel, Sunset and Pine Trail route. This moderate 4.5 mile hike takes around 3 hours and offers terrific scenery and plenty of opportunities to see birds swarming over the rivers. 5. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Benzie and Leelanau County, Michigan: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park is known for its huge scalable dunes, sweeping vistas, freshwater beaches and hiking trails. The hilly Empire Bluff Trail is a 1.5 mile round trip trail through a beech-maple forest, open fields, and dunes ending with a short boardwalk that ends at the edge of Empire Bluff. The bluff rises more than 400 feet above the sandy shoreline of Lake Michigan and affords a truly spectacular view of a large chunk of the national lakeshore.

6. Brown County State Park, Nashville, Indiana: Nicknamed the “Little Smokies” because of the area’s resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains, this is Indiana's largest state park. It has a lot of terrific hikes. Two of my favorites are the the rugged 2.2 mile Fire Tower trail (Trail 10) that crosses deep ravines and hilltops and the 1.5 mile Strahl Lake trail which includes an easy walk around the lake and a more challenging spur that heads to the nature center. 7. Starved Rock, Utica, Illinois: Starved Rock State Park is a top Illinois attraction to hike through it's canyons and see waterfalls in any season. We visit this park a couple times per year and have completed nearly all of the parks hikes. My favorite is the 2 mile (4 miles round trip) LaSalle Canyon hike. This hike takes you through numerous overlooks (including Beehive) and through numerous canyons, including Wildcat and Tonty Canyon, before ending at LaSalle Canyon. I recommend hiking along the top of the canyons before following the trail down into the canyons and returning on the path which runs alongside the Illinois river.

8. Yellowwood State Forest, Nashville, Indiana: Located near Brown County State Park, this park is another good option to engage in some terrific forest hikes. The 4.5 mile Yellowwood Lake trail loops completely around Yellowwood Lake and uses parts of several other marked trails which take you through wooded forest terrain. This hike also requires navigation across a shallow stream at one point. 9. Kal Haven Trail, Kalamazoo and Van Buren County, Michigan: This 33 mile trail is a jewel in the state of Michigan. It is used for walking and cycling. I've been on it at least 5 times over the past 15 years and always welcome a return. There aren't specific hikes but you can jump on at any point along the trail and enjoy a long walk on this tree lined limestone path which passes through many towns between its 2 end points at Bailey Ave (South Haven) and 4143 10th St N (Kalamazoo). 10. Matthiessen State Park, Oglesby, Illinois: Located up the road from Starved Rock State Park, the terrain and canyons at this park are similar to Starved Rock (but often with less crowds). The Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail is a recommended 2 mile moderate hike that takes about an hour with 200 feet elevation gain. These are just a few examples of some the the nature hikes I have most enjoyed in parts of the Midwestern United States. I'm excited to explore some trails in Ohio and Iowa later this year and look forward to sharing those experiences.

Whether you're seeking breathtaking views, challenging terrain, or simply a chance to reconnect with nature, there's a hike or walk on this list for you. So, grab your hiking gear and start planning your next outdoor adventure. Happy hiking!



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