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America’s Best Day Hikes: Midwest

Beaches, wildlife, and prairies in Minnesota, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, North Dakota, Kansas, and Illinois make the Midwest a hiker's paradise.


Best Safari Hike
Custer State Park, SD 12 miles (Difficult)
This canyon-prairie-wildlife-river adventure has it all. The one-way route through French Creek Gorge includes 30-plus stream crossings and even a short swim (or steep-climb detour) at The Narrows, at mile five. Along the way you’re likely to see bighorn sheep, elk, and pronghorn antelope. Start at the eastern trailhead on the park’s Wildlife Loop Road, where the creek vanishes temporarily as the water sinks into the karst topography before reappearing downstream.
Season March-October Info

Hawk Ridge, MN 8 miles (Moderate)
Keep your eyes skyward on this four-mile stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail: The out-and-back route passes the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, one of the best places in the country to spot migrating raptors as they fly from as far as the Arctic to South America. Start at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth and hike to Martin Road, passing through quiet forests to the Reserve’s overlook on Skyline Parkway. Here, you’ll have eye-level views of ospreys, eagles, peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, and more than a dozen other raptor species as they float on updrafts along the 600-foot-high bluffs above Lake Superior. As many as 100,000 raptors congregate here each season as they make their way around Lake Superior (raptors avoid flying over large bodies of water). Peak migration starts mid-September and continues through October.
Season April-October

Craig Lake State Park, MI 8 miles (Moderate)
Get the best of everything at one of the most remote state parks in the Upper Midwest: solitude, wildlife, and a slice of the North Country Trail. Hike this loop clockwise around two-mile-long Craig Lake on a rough trail that meanders through woods and hidden marshes and across streams. The NCT skirts the eastern shore, and the whole route offers a good chance to see moose, black bear, herons, loons, and beaver. Bonus: Besides the usual camping options, there’s a rustic lodge with cabins located just steps from the trail (call 800-44-PARKS for reservations). The park is a mile west of Michigamme. Season May-October; summer is hot

Zaleski State Forest, OH 10 miles (Difficult)
No time for the entire Zaleski Backpacking Trails network? No worries, this 10-mile sampler on the South Loop tours the best scenery: dense oak-hickory forest, sheer cliffs, overhang caves, and deep ravines. Meander up and down hills shaded by silver maple and white oak, and look for beaver, grouse, and wild turkey along the way. The South Loop turnaround is well-marked (or add the Middle Loop for an 18-mile epic).
Season Year-round; best colors and weather occur late August through October
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Petrified Forest Loop, ND 14.5 miles (Moderate)
Explore a remote area of Theodore Roosevelt National Park on this loop, with a good chance of seeing bison, pronghorn, and elk. From the Peaceful Valley trailhead, take the Big Plateau Trail and ford the Little Missouri River. Cruise past badlands to join the Maah Daah Hey Trail, then continue to an ancient fossil wood forest. Head east along Petrified Forest Plateau to close the loop, passing a prairie dog town.
Season May-October

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