5 Best Midwest Hikes Reviewed in 2018

Last Updated by Ricky Holzer on Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

View other years: 2016 2017

Unlike the previous two years, I did much more exploring in Midwest states other than Minnesota where I live, adding new hikes to the website in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. As a result, this list is much more diverse ecologically than other years, including the waterfall strewn paradise of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the boreal landscape of Minnesota's Boundary Waters, the badlands of North and South Dakota, and the highest point in the entire Midwest in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I will warn you, the best hikes on this list are on the longer side, which goes to show you really have to earn the most beautiful scenery despite there being plenty of drive-up overlooks and quick, easy hikes in the Midwest.

5. Door Trail, Badlands National Park, South Dakota
The outstanding desert-like badlands formation at the end of the Door Trail

The outstanding desert-like badlands formation at the end of the Door Trail

While it's the easiest hike on the list, that doesn't mean that it isn't outrageously beautiful. The trail starts as a boardwalk before dumping you on top of a trail-free badlands plateau. Thanks to the highly erosible nature of the badlands, it would be impossible to maintain any sort of path without severely disrupting the scenery. Hence, you must follow a series of yellow stakes to traverse the top of this desert-like rock formation. You will be surrounded by spiky pinnacles and endless gulches and gullies -- there is no good way to capture this hike in a photograph. If you only leave your car once during your trip to Badlands National Park, this is the hike to do!

4. Cascade Falls Loop, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan
Cascade Falls is the final destination of this scenic hike

Cascade Falls is the final destination of this scenic hike

Located off a remote forest road in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Cascade Falls Trail grants the peace and solitude you won't find at more accessible waterfalls like Agate Falls or Bond Falls. This is more than your standard waterfall hike though, and a short but steep climb before the falls will reward you with distant views of deep green forest and rolling hills, most of which is part of the Ottawa National Forest. As a less traveled trail that is occasionally overgrown, the entire experience also feels much more adventurous than your average hike. Once you finish, you'll likely be able to enjoy the waterfall by yourself, cooling off in its refreshing waters while relaxing to the sounds of nature's white noise machine.

3. Caribou Rock Trail to Rose Falls, Superior National Forest, Minnesota
This hike is filled with overlooks of secluded lakes, like this view of West Bearskin Lake

This hike is filled with overlooks of secluded lakes, like this view of West Bearskin Lake

The hike to Rose Falls is pure adventure. As you enter the rugged Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, you'll greet unspoiled lakes from the top of rocky bluffs and navigate rough and overgrown trails up and down until you reach the cooling splendor of waterfall mist and a picture perfect lakeside picnic spot. Even better, you won't have to share this beauty with hardly anyone. I hiked 7 miles roundtrip to the top of Eagle Mountain (Minnesota's highest point) on the previous day, and let me tell you, this hike is much harder despite being a similar length. Even though you'll emerge from the forest tired, sweat-drenched, scratched, and thoroughly devoured by mosquitoes, I promise the joys of this hike will persevere over the pain in your memories.

2. Black Elk Peak Loop (South Dakota State Highpoint), Custer State Park, South Dakota
The view looking south towards your next destinations: the Cathedral Spires and Little Devils Tower

The view looking south towards your next destinations: the Cathedral Spires and Little Devils Tower

Towering over the landscape at over 7200 feet above sea level, Black Elk Peak is not only the highest point in the Midwest, it's also the highest point in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains! If you are blessed with perfectly clear skies, the scenery is phenomenal, with panoramic views of the entire Black Hills area that extend to Badlands National Park in the east. In addition to the amazing highpoint vistas, this loop route is chock full of the fantastic granite rock formations the Black Hills are known for like Little Devils Tower and the Cathedral Spires that you'll pass on the return trip.

1. Lone Tree Loop to Petrified Forest, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Facing south towards the badlands from the top of the Big Plateau

Facing south towards the badlands from the top of the Big Plateau

While I certainly enjoyed the other hikes on this list, none of them brings a smile to my face quite like this hike in beautiful Theodore Roosevelt National Park. On this 12 mile trek, I saw absolutely everything the park has to offer: stunning badlands rock formations, endless flat prairie grasslands, the oddity that is the petrified forest, and wildlife big and small from prairie dogs to wild horses to bison. The hike starts intensely with an unassisted crossing of the Little Missouri River, which depending on the season and rainfall can be anywhere from a chilly inconvenience to a dangerous hazard forcing you to reroute. The remainder of the journey treks through untouched wilderness where you'll have an unparalleled chance to view wildlife and landscapes most visitors to the park will never see. The loop ends with a triumphant gradual downslope on the Big Plateau Trail where adorable prairie dogs will attempt to distract you from some of the greatest views in the park.



Hopefully reading about these hikes will help you through the cold, dark winter months -- start planning your trips for 2019 now! What were your favorite hikes this past year? Let me know by commenting below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram to share all your adventures!

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