With the Appalachians to the east and Rockies to the west, the relatively flat American Midwest doesn’t call to mind a hiking destination. But that’s dead wrong. Instead of coastlines there are lakeshores. Instead of continuous mountain ranges, there’s rolling loess higher than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. In the north, terrain varies from the Badlands of the Dakotas and the Pictured Rocks of Lake Superior; in the south are lush forests nestled between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Rethink the flyover states and hit the trailheads of the American Midwest — these fifteen are your starting points.
Geographic center of the contiguous United States.
Elk City State Park
How Long: 12 miles
Found In: Montgomery County, Kansas
Which Is: 2 hours southeast of Wichita; 90 minutes north of Tulsa, OK
The Draw: The park offers some of the best hiking in Kansas while the lake and its rivers offer up bass, crappie, catfish and saugeye to fishermen.
Don’t Miss: The Green Thumb Nature Trail loop runs for one mile and empties out onto stunning views of Elk City Lake.
Their state beverage: milk.
Whitetail Trail to Lookout Hill
How Long: 8 miles
Found In: Ponca State Park, Ponca, NE
Which Is: 2 hours north of Omaha; 90 minutes south of Sioux Falls, SD
The Draw: The park features 20 miles of trails, and fishing, boating and hunting. The highest point in the park, Lookout Hill, offers views of the rolling hills of Ponca’s State Park in the Missouri River valley and across into South Dakota.
Don’t Miss: 400 miles across the state is Nebraska’s highest point, Panorama Point. Yea, it’s just a hill.
The birthplace of iced tea.
Lower Rock Creek to Cathedral Canyon
How Long: 5 miles
Found In: Mark Twain National Forest, Fredericktown, Missouri
Which Is: 1 hour 45 minutes south of St. Louis; 3 hours 30 minutes north of Memphis, TN
The Draw: Jagged cliffs, sheer drops and boulders littering the creekbed. Trout fill the canyon’s deep pools and there are plenty of cascading waterfalls and nooks and crannies to explore on the short but intense hike.
Don’t Miss: Your footing. Seriously.
The Hawkeye State.
Sylvan Runkel State Preserve
How Long: 12 miles
Found In: Loess Hills State Forest, Harrison County, Iowa
Which Is: 2 hours west of Des Moines; 60 minutes north of Omaha, NE
The Draw: The secluded ridgeline takes you above forests in a 12-mile loop around rolling grassy hills.
Don’t Miss: The “loess” is accumulated wind-blown silt piled up to 200 feet high. The only other places where loess reach these heights outside of the Iowa/Missouri region is along the Yellow River in China — a bit of a longer roundtrip.
Look carefully, and you might see Lebron James.
How Long: 2.5 miles
Found In: Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, OH
Which Is: 70 minutes southeast of Columbus; 2 hours northwest of Charleston, WV
The Draw: The trail is short but includes views of cascading waterfalls, circles a gorge and overlooks the rest of the park from some of the highest cliffs in the state.
Don’t Miss: Hocking Hills has five other major hiking areas that total over 25 miles in the park. Look for the hemlock-lined trails at Cedar Falls, massive rock formations in Old Man’s Cave and waterfalls at Ash Cave.