As more and more people continue to discover their love for The Great Outdoors, our national parks become increasingly more crowded.
That's understandable, but for those of us who are long-standing annual national parks pass holders or remember the days of not needing a reservation to enter Yosemite or Rocky Mountain National Park, it can frankly be a bit frustrating.
There is some good news, however: America has some incredible state parks that give their national siblings a serious run for the money.
With over 6,600 state parks across the U.S., we can't possibly do them all justice in one blog. So here, we highlight six of the best state parks in the Midwest. Once you start exploring, you'll quickly realize there's a lot more to this region than just some "flyover states!"
From waterfalls and caves in unexpected places to historic fire tower lookouts and islands you can't drive to, we promise you won't feel like you're missing anything by choosing to visit one of the best state parks in the Midwest, as opposed to a national park!
Psst...before we dive into our favorite Midwestern state parks, did you know that The Wander Club carries a huge selection of US State Park Tokens? Now you can add these to your already-awesome collection of travel memories!
Best State Parks in the Midwest
1. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Proving that not all of the Prairie State is, well, prairie, Starved Rock State Park is home to numerous canyons (a whopping 18 of them, to be exact), 13 miles of hiking trails, and several waterfalls.
Somewhat surprised? That's exactly what makes it one of the best state parks in the Midwest. You'll feel like you're in a different time and place at Starved Rock — certainly not just 1.5 hours from Chicago.
In addition to hitting the trails and waterfall-chasing, you can enjoy horseback riding or get on the Vermillion River in a kayak, canoe, or on a raft. Plus, there are a bunch of cute small towns worth stopping in on the drive out from Chicago.
Even in the winter, there's plenty to do at Starved Rock. The hiking trails become snowshoeing trails and there's something especially magical about a frozen waterfall!
Don't miss: Wildcat Canyon, which is one of the park's easiest to access, also happens to be home of its deepest canyon and tallest waterfall, clocking in at around 125 feet.
2. Devils Lake State Park, Wisconsin
Wisconsin is perhaps best known for its Great Lakes shorelines and its history deeply (and deliciously) rooted in dairy products and beer. Tucked into an inland part of the state along a much smaller lake, however, you'll find one of the best state parks in the Midwest: Devils Lake.
Just north of Madison and situated directly along the famous Ice Age National Scenic Hiking Trail, Wisconsin's largest state park offers an endless amount of recreation and adventure.
Most notable is the park's rock climbing, which is widely considered among the best in the entire Midwest. Soaring quartzite rock formations overlook the lake, promising a variety of fun and scenic challenges for all experience levels.
There are also two large sandy beaches, excellent kayaking and paddleboarding, camping, and in the winter, opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. You can even scuba dive in the lake!
Don't miss: Hike East Bluffs Trail, a moderate 2.6-mile loop that gets you to the park's high points and most iconic rock formations.
3. Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
Hocking Hills is widely considered and referred to as a broad area, but it's technically a state park. We don't mean "just" a state park by any means, though — it's about 2,000 acres, has over 25 miles of hiking trails, and contains six distinct areas comprised of caves, waterfalls, and more.
It's hard to believe Hocking Hills is just an hour outside of Columbus, when you consider the variety of adventure you can experience. In addition to the garden-variety state park activities like hiking and biking, Hocking Hills offers rappelling, rock climbing, zip lining, disc golf, exploring caves, canoeing, and so much more.
Don't miss: Old Man's Cave and Ash Cave, both of which are easily accessible and offer a ton of bang for the buck, including waterfalls and dramatic rock formations.
4. Mackinac Island State Park, Michigan
Aside from being one of the best state parks in the Midwest, Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw, by the way) is also one of the most unique. Situated at the exact point where Michigan's lower and upper peninsulas (known affectionately as the "U.P.") meet, Mackinac Island feels like it belongs in another century.
No vehicles are allowed on the island and there's no airport, either. That means the only way on and off the island is via ferry. Once on Mackinac Island, you can get around by hitching a ride on one of the many horse-drawn carriages or rent a bike and explore.
You can easily visit as a day trip from Traverse City or Mackinaw City (don't even get us started on the spelling...), but we recommend making a night of it and booking a room at the iconic Grand Hotel. Be sure to enjoy a drink on the front porch — the world's largest!
Don't miss: Hike or bike to Arch Rock, an impressive natural arch with picturesque views of Lake Huron. The entire trail is about 2.2 miles from downtown, and the entire length is easy-going and paved.
5. Tettegouche State Park, Minnesota
Situated on the shores of the wild, impressive (and wildly impressive!) Lake Superior, Tettegouche is easily one of the best state parks in the Midwest. It's a haven for hikers, bikers, and paddlers, with miles of trails, dramatic bluffs and sea cliffs, and rugged inland lakes that can only be accessed via a serious trek.
Aside from the quintessential North Shore scenery, Tettegouche State Park has plenty of fun things to do. Explore and try to find sandy beaches along the lakes (one of the best, while small, is at Nipisiquit Lake!), check out the famed suspension bridge over High Falls, and count how many waterfalls you spot.
Don't dismiss this state park in the winter — Minnesotans know how to do winter, and that means exploring the park's Nordic trails on snowshoes or cross-country skis.
Don't miss: High Falls, a 60-foot waterfall, and its picturesque suspension bridge
6. Brown County State Park, Indiana
Consistently named one of the best state parks in the Midwest, Brown County will shatter pretty much everything you thought you knew about the region. In fact, it's so un-Midwestern that the park is well-known as the "Little Smokies."
That's right, Brown County State Park has rolling forest-covered hills stretching as far as the eye can see (almost literally; it's a massive 16,000 acres) and it's undoubtedly one of the best places in the U.S. for leaf-peeping come fall.
Brown County State Park isn't just pretty to look at. Explore the park's multi-use trails by foot, on a bicycle, or on the back of a horse, go fishing in one of its two lakes, or look for unique photo ops, including historic covered bridges.
Don't miss: Climb up Lilly Lookout, a 75-foot former fire tower that offers incredible views of the surrounding area. It's situated right near Trailhead #10 near a park office.