Discover 20 Unforgettable Midwest Road Trip Adventures!

Escape Cadet Staff

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The Open Road: 20 Midwest Road Trip Ideas

Ever thought about hitting the open road and exploring the heart of America? I did and I’m here to share my insights with you.

Are you tired of the typical beach vacations? Do you crave the thrill of the unknown? Then why not consider a road trip through the Midwest?

In this listicle, I’ll share my favorite Midwest road trip ideas. Each journey will not only offer breathtaking landscapes but also a diverse slice of American culture. Let’s get started.

1. Route 66 Road Trip

photo of road near mountain

Embarking on a Route 66 road trip is like stepping back in time. Just imagine the highway stretching out before you, each mile telling a story of history, culture, and natural beauty. Starting in Chicago, you’ll experience urban splendor, filled with rich architecture and a vibrant food scene. As you drive further into Southern Illinois, the landscape transitions into more natural surroundings, boasting a variety of wildlife and beautiful scenery.

This iconic highway isn’t just a road. It’s a living monument to the America of yesteryears. As you journey down Route 66, there’s a sense of nostalgia, an appreciation for the simpler times these roads represent. Cherish the history and natural beauty that you encounter on your adventure.

2. Door County, Wisconsin

Welcome to the peninsula known as Door County, Wisconsin, situated delightfully between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. As an explorer setting foot in this scenic place, your eyes will be greeted with a collection of eminent lighthouses. These historic beacons of light, with their striking architecture and symbolic stand, offer a glimpse into the peninsula’s maritime past.

That’s not all. Lush parks peppered across Door County are a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re a hardcore hiker or someone who just loves a leisurely stroll, these parks cater to every whim and fancy. For those who enjoy sunbathing or building sandcastles, Door County’s pristine beaches are your perfect destination.

The best part. All these are within driving distance, and you can enjoy all three – lighthouses, parks, and beaches – all in one day. Truly, exploring Door County, Wisconsin is a pleasurable journey for everyone.

3. Great River Road National Scenic Byway

As you pack your bags for your next road trip, consider the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. This sprawling Route 65, unfolding alongside the Mississippi river, makes it an awe-inspiring journey. It’s not the road itself that’s historic, but the charming towns through which it wends that hold a special place in the timeline of our country.

Behind every bend of the road lies an unexpected spectacle, each more breathtaking than the last. From the comfort of your car, you can soak up the expansive river views that shift and change with the passing hours. Believe me, you won’t want to miss it.

4. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Starved Rock State Park, located in Illinois, is a wonderland for outdoors enthusiasts and nature lovers. Believe me, whether you’re into hiking on stunning trails or taking a dip in refreshing waterfalls, this park has got it all. Don’t even get me started on the river activities – they’re just awesome.

Imagine paddling across a serene river, with nothing but the sound of your oar dipping into the water to break the silence. It’s not just about the activities, but the breathtaking views and beauty of this place that leave visitors spellbound. So, if you’re on the lookout for your next travel destination, don’t miss Starved Rock State Park.

5. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Situated in the beautiful waters of Lake Huron, is the charming, laid-back town of Mackinac Island, Michigan. This place is unique for one major reason – no cars are allowed. Yep, you heard it right. Cars are completely banned here.

This brings a slower, more relaxed pace of life that is appreciated by the locals and visitors alike. Instead of congested traffic, expect to see horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and pedestrians filling the streets. It truly gives you a taste of life in the bygone era. A visit to Mackinac Island offers picturesque views, historic buildings and the chance to unwind and unplug. You can learn more about this tranquil island town from the official Mackinac Island website.

6. The Amish Country, Indiana

Indiana’s Amish Country invites you to experience a somewhat simpler, quieter way of life. One of the first things you’ll notice is the horse-drawn buggies. Stepping back into a world without the constant hum of cars can be quite refreshing. It’s certainly a change I’d recommend everyone to experience at least once.

Their homemade foods are a delight that will warm the most discerning of foodies. Imagine peach pies, hand-rolled soft pretzels, and other home-baked goods fresh from their rustic kitchens. Coupled with that is the beauty of their hand-crafted goods. These products are a testament to the patience, labor, and love that goes into creating things with one’s hands. It’s amazing what people can do without modern technology.

The experience of visiting Amish Country can give us a welcomed reminder of the simpler things in life we often forget. A visit promises peace, warmth and an experience that might surprise you. So, why not give it a try.

7. Custer State Park, South Dakota

a group of animals stand in a grassy field

If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, you might want to consider a visit to Custer State Park in South Dakota. It’s a haven for wildlife viewing, offering you the chance to spot a variety of animals in their natural habitat.

The park is also renowned for its scenic drives, where you can take in the beauty of the landscape while exploring. Moreover, there are countless opportunities for outdoor recreation available.

If it’s a dose of nature you’re after, Custer State Park could be your ideal destination. Just remember to respect the wildlife and enjoy the natural scenery responsibly.

8. Minneapolis to Duluth, Minnesota

Imagine this: you’re in your car, ready to embark on a scenic journey from Minneapolis to Duluth, both located in the beautiful state of Minnesota. One of the best parts of this trip is the route along the iconic Mississippi River.

This drive isn’t just about the destination, it’s an appreciation of the journey itself. The sights you’ll take in, including forests, wildlife, and rolling landscapes, are truly breathtaking. This route showcases some of the best natural beauty Minnesota has to offer.

Don’t forget to stop by some of the charming small towns along the way to immerse yourself in local life. Fuel up at a cozy diner. Explore a riverside park. Enjoy hospitality that’s quintessentially Minnesotan. Every part of your drive from Minneapolis to Duluth will be a truly unforgettable experience.

9. Hocking Hills, Ohio

waterfalls close-up photography

Known for its captivating views and myriad of outdoor activities, Hocking Hills in Ohio is truly a gem of the Appalachian region. The area boasts beautiful landscapes, mesmerising waterfalls, and diverse hiking trails. For adventurers at heart, a visit here is a must.

What makes it even more appealing is the raw, untouched beauty of the region. Take in the breathtaking views as you hike through the scenic trails. And don’t forget to explore the beautiful waterfalls. The sight of water cascading down rocky cliffs is enticing and soothing all at once. This is Mother Nature at her most splendid.

For more details on the hiking trails and breathtaking views that Hocking Hills, Ohio, offers, check out this informative piece by Explore Ohio. I can guarantee that once you visit, the appeal of Hocking Hills will stay with you forever.

10. Galena, Illinois: Small-town charm with historic architecture, vineyards, and outdoor activities.

Welcome to Galena, Illinois, a place where small-town charm meets history. The 19th-century architecture captures your heart. But architecture isn’t the only thing that makes Galena worth visiting.

Galena is known for its local vineyards. The vineyards’ unique wines are a must-try experience. The quaint town also thrives in outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and skiing during winter. It’s certainly a town designed for those who love a combination of history and nature.

11. Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota

Imagine sweeping landscapes, rich history, and the awe, inspiring aura of natural beauty – that’s what you’ll find in the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. This region offers an abundance of national parks, fascinating historic monuments, and outdoor adventures for all types of travelers. They provide an illustration of the earth’s history, containing fossils and geological phenomena over millions of years old.

The region stands as a testament to the wonder of Mother Nature, boasting an enticing mix of landscapes from canyons, rugged cliffs, to extensive cave systems. While there, you must visit Mount Rushmore, a historic monument engraved with the faces of four U.S. Presidents on granite cliffs. Make sure to also explore Badlands National Park, known for its stunning otherworldly geological formations.

Remember, exploring the Black Hills and Badlands isn’t just about sightseeing, it’s about immersing yourself in an environment sculpted by the hands of time. Enjoy the grandeur that awaits in South Dakota. (Source)

12. The Ozarks, Missouri

a scenic view of a lake and mountains in the distance

When you consider beautiful mountainous regions in the US, The Ozarks in Missouri should be at the top of your list. Known for its stunning landscapes, this place is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Expect to enjoy activities such as hiking, fishing, and cycling amidst a backdrop of serene mountains and crystal-clear lakes.

That’s not all The Ozarks has to offer though. The region is also dotted with charming small towns. Filled with unique attractions, these quaint places just have a way of making everyone feel at home. So, when you need a break from your outdoor adventures, take a leisurely stroll through town and experience the local culture and friendliness that these charming towns are known for.

13. Iowa Great Lakes

The Iowa Great Lakes is a gem that ensures no fun-lover gets left out. Often overlooked for the oceans, these lakes offer a great mix of water-based recreation options. You have swimming, boating, fishing, you name it. The highlight is of course the beautiful, clean beaches that create the perfect setup for a sunny picnic or a summery day out.

Adding to the fun is a network of state parks located around the lakes. These parks are havens for myriad outdoor activities such as hiking, bird-watching, and camping among others. No matter what you prefer, the Iowa Great Lakes have got you covered almost just like a mini-vacation. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself next summer and feel the magic unfold.

Check out this article from the Travel Iowa website to learn more.

14. Garden of the Gods, Illinois

Have you ever wondered about the extraordinary beauty nature holds? Well, Garden of the Gods in Illinois is just the place to explore this. Comprising captivating sandstone formations and a wide array of trailing paths, it’s a paradise for all nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts.

The formation of these sandstones is considered to have occurred more than 300 million years ago during the Earth’s Pennsylvanian geological period. There’s so much to explore, so why not plan your visit to the Garden of the Gods. And remember, don’t forget your camera to capture the surreal landscape.

Find detailed information about the park on the official website US Forest Service. Happy exploring.

15. Michigan’s Gold Coast

a couple of people walking along a beach next to the ocean

When you think of Michigan, maybe your mind jumps to car manufacturing, Detroit’s music scene, or the Great Lakes. But Michigan’s Gold Coast is another treasure that deserves your attention. With its stunning Lake Michigan beaches, picturesque lighthouses, and delightful coastal towns. It feels like stepping into a landscape painting.

Michigan’s beaches aren’t just for swimming and sunbathing either. The clear waters of Lake Michigan are perfect for sailing, fishing, and even scuba diving. Want a break from the beach. Wander into any of the charming coastal towns and you’ll find unique shops, artisanal food, and warm, local hospitality. And let’s not forget those lighthouses, scattered along the coast like sentinels, each with its own story to tell. Michigan’s Gold Coast is a hidden Midwestern gem that deserves to be on your travel bucket list.

16. Covered Bridge Scenic Byway, Ohio

Imagine a trip back in time, on an open road that swivels past historic covered bridges, picturesque landscapes, and whispers tales of small towns. This isn’t a fantasy but the Covered Bridge Scenic Byway in Ohio. The byway has a good number of alluring bridges that behold a charm-filled past. What’s remarkable about these bridges is that they don’t just connect two places but also centuries of history. The byway itself is postcard-pretty, straddled with beautiful landscapes.

It’s not only about the bridges, though. The historic small towns dotted along the road deserve your attention too. Each town, with its distinct charm, unfolds a unique chapter of Ohio’s rich history. Ohio tourism sites always emphasize this fact. So buckle up for an unforgettable journey through time, right here in present-day Ohio. It’s a haystack of history, beauty, and charm.

17. North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota

If you’re on the hunt for natural beauty, the North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota should be high on your list. This picturesque route, hugging the shores of Lake Superior, promises a dazzling array of waterfalls, wonderfully preserved lighthouses, and breath-taking parks.

The drive encompasses a multitude of natural environments, offering a unique road trip experience. Imagine the cascading waterfalls’ hypnotic melodies, the imposing lighthouses standing guard by the lake, and the fresh air you can breathe in the parks. Beautiful Lake Superior serves as your constant backdrop.

So, the next time you’re planning to hit the road, consider the North Shore Scenic Drive. This journey might be one of life’s simplest pleasures, yet also one of the most enriching.

18. Lincoln Highway, Nebraska

Few experiences offer the same sense of historical depth and beauty as a journey down the Lincoln Highway in Nebraska. This is not just a road, it’s a route steeped in history with landmarks and museums dotting its path.

Take a leisurely drive and marvel at the stunning landscapes that accompany you along the way. From sunrises over rolling fields to sunsets casting golden hues across the prairie, there’s an undeniable charm here.

There’s also a great opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture with visits to nearby museums. Like a time capsule, they tell a story of life on the road in days gone by. Remember, it’s not just about the destination, but enjoying the path that leads you there.

19. Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, you’ll find the intriguing Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. This charmful area reveals the history and culture of ancient Native American tribes who once lived here.

These tribes built mounds in various forms, often shaped like animals, creating a tapestry of man-made landscaping. Their creation remains mysterious, yet they undoubtedly serve as a reminder of the rich historical significance of the area.

Surrounded by nature’s spontaneity, the mounds deliver an immersive experience. It’s like walking through a living museum, where you can feel the echoes of the past. To learn more about this fascinating spot, check out the National Park Service’s information on the Effigy Mounds.

20. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

woman in white long sleeve shirt and black pants standing on brown field near body of near on on with

Located on the coast of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a natural wonder that you wouldn’t want to miss. Imagine miles of sandy hills on one side, and a serene lake view on the other. It’s like living in a postcard.

The dunes aren’t the only attraction. Keep an eye out for the historic lighthouses strategically placed along the shore. There’s even an island to explore if you feel like extending your adventure into the horizon.

So, if you are looking for scenic views, peace, and a piece of Michigan’s history, Sleeping Bear Dunes should be on your list.


Through a journey across America, we’ve discovered the richness and diversity of the natural and cultural beauty it holds. Whether it’s the nostalgia of a Route 66 road trip, the serene allure of Door County in Wisconsin, the historical charm of Mackinac Island in Michigan or Galena in Illinois, or the rugged impressiveness of South Dakota’s Black Hills and Badlands, it becomes clear that America’s charm extends beyond its famed big cities and into the quiet corners of its lesser-known locales.

As we’ve moved through the verdant valleys of Ohio’s Hocking Hills, marveled at Michigan’s Gold Coast, crossed the miraculous bridges of the Covered Bridge Scenic Byway, and gazed at the clear Lake Superior from Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive, not to forget our walks through the natural splendour of Garden of the Gods in Illinois or Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, one thing is certain: America’s beauty is vast, varied, and waiting to be explored.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

What is the best time of year to go on a road trip on Route 66?

The best time to venture out on a Route 66 road trip is during spring or fall when the temperatures are moderate, and the scenery is particularly beautiful.

Are there any special activities to do in Door County, Wisconsin?

Door County, famous for its lighthouses, parks, and beaches, offers plenty of activities such as hiking, swimming, and exploring its rich maritime history.

What is unique about Mackinac Island, Michigan?

Mackinac Island is special as it bans all cars, offering a laid-back lifestyle with horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and pedestrians being the key modes of transportation.

What kind of views can you expect from The North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota?

The North Shore Scenic Drive delivers a dazzling array of waterfall, charming lighthouse, and breathtaking park views with beautiful Lake Superior as its backdrop.

What is significant about the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa?

Effigy Mounds National Monument is historically significant, showcasing the culture and history of ancient Native American tribes who built various form mounds, often shaped like animals.

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