5 Best Midwest Hikes Reviewed in 2019

Last Updated by Ricky Holzer on Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

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Hiking probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Iowa, Illinois, or Missouri, but trails from each of those three states comprise the entirety of my top Midwest hikes of 2019. Interestingly, each of these hikes highlights the power of water to erode rock into fantastic formations from high bluffs, to cliffs, to caves. The real takeaway from hiking this year is learning to find beauty everywhere, even if others say there isn't any where you are.

5. Effigy Mounds Trail to Hanging Rock, Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa
The view of the Mississippi from Hanging Rock

The view of the Mississippi from Hanging Rock

The only reason I had ever heard of Effigy Mounds National Monument is because I saw it on the back of one of the national park quarters. Rich in cultural history, the park is home to ancient burial mounds in the shape of bears and other animals (hence the name "effigy" mounds). The park sits in the Driftless Area, a part of the Midwest that avoided the flattening effects of glaciers during the last ice age, preserving the high bluffs pictured above. This hike explores the entirety of the northern half of the park, stopping at several viewpoints of the scenic Mississippi River Valley and passing some of the largest effigy mounds in the park.

4. Bridal Veil Falls and Hickory Ridge Mounds Loop, Pikes Peak State Park, Iowa
Bridal Veil Falls trickling over the limestone overhang

Bridal Veil Falls trickling over the limestone overhang

Another park in the Driftless Area only a few minutes from Effigy Mounds National Monument, Pikes Peak State Park (not to be confused with the 14,000 foot peak in Colorado, which was also named for explorer Zebulon Pike) is often listed as one of the most scenic places in Iowa. This hike is shorter and prettier than the previous hike on this list, featuring views of the Mississippi River Valley, prehistoric burial mounds, and Bridal Veil Falls as pictured above. The trail is almost entirely shaded, making this a perfect place to hike in the hot summer or in the colorful fall.

3. Shut-Ins Trail Loop, Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri
A spectacular springtime view of the East Fork Black River from the Ozark Trail

A spectacular springtime view of the East Fork Black River from the Ozark Trail

Though the main reason I visited this part of Missouri was to summit the state's highest mountain, the adjoining Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park was the most memorable place during the trip. The park is named for the hard, erosion-resistant rocks that "shut in" the East Fork Black River, creating spectacular rock formations, rapids, and and waterfalls. In the summer, the wide, shallow river becomes a sort of natural waterpark where St. Louis residents come to beat the heat. This trail in particular took me by surprise; I was expecting some nice views of the river and the formations, but I was astounded by hidden waterfalls caused by recent rains that cascaded down short cliffs in various places along the trail.

2. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Everyone and their mother from Chicago has probably been to Starved Rock State Park, but that doesn't make this hike any less worthwhile. With some of the prettiest scenery in all of Illinois, this hike hits many of the park's main scenic attractions, including views from the top of Starved Rock and Lover's Leap, Wildcat Canyon Falls, and LaSalle Canyon. Whether you want to escape the hot city with some shady trails, enjoy fall colors or spring flowers, or even see frozen waterfalls and bald eagles in the winter, Starved Rock does not disappoint. My only advice is to leave early to beat the crowds, but even if you can't find a parking spot here you can still visit nearby Matthiessen or Buffalo Rock State Park.

1. Maquoketa Caves North to the Natural Bridge and Twin Arch Cave, Maquoketa Caves State Park, Iowa
The trail as it meanders under the 50-foot high Natural Bridge

The trail as it meanders under the 50-foot high Natural Bridge

Without a doubt, Maquoketa Caves State Park was my favorite park I visited this past year. Located outside of an unassuming farm town in Eastern Iowa, this small plot of forest hides a system of 13 caves and dramatic limestone cliffs covered in ferns and greenery. This hike explores the northern half of the park and passes 7 of those caves in addition to the natural bridge pictured above. If you hunger for more adventure after this short loop, the labyrinth of trails on the southern half of the park will satisfy you.



What were your favorite hikes this past year? Let me know by commenting below or on Twitter and Instagram!

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