Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park

Top 10 Parks of the Midwest

May 25, 2010, 9:00 am

With the alpine lakes of the west, the rolling hills of New England and the mangroves of the south, some people might overlook the Midwest as a prime destination for outdoor recreation. But the Midwest boasts some of the most beautiful lakeshores, prairies and rivers in the country. From the Boundary Waters, one of the premier paddling destinations in the world, to the clearest spring-fed rivers that make up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the Midwest is home to some of the most magnificent scenery in the lower 48.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, located along the northwest coast of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, covers a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan's eastern coastline, as well as North and South Manitou Islands. The park was established primarily for its outstanding natural features, including forests, beaches, dune formations, and ancient glacial phenomena. The Lakeshore is also home to 1871 South Manitou Island Lighthouse, three former Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard Stations and an extensive rural historic farm district. The park was authorized on October 21, 1970.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Along windswept beaches and cliffs, experience a place where water meets land and sky, culture meets culture, and past meets present. The 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland that comprise Apostle Islands host a unique blend of cultural and natural resources.  Lighthouses shine over Lake Superior and the new wilderness areas. Visitors can hike, paddle, sail, or cruise to experience these Jewels of Lake Superior.

Richard Bong State Recreation Area, Wisconsin
Bong State Recreation Area is fittingly named after Major Richard I. Bong, a Poplar, Wisconsin, native who was America's leading air ace during World War II. The project was abandoned three days before concrete was to be poured for a 12,500-foot runway. Local citizens had the foresight to protect this open space for future generations. In 1974 the state bought the land and it became the state's first recreation area.

The recreation area encompasses 4,515 acres of rolling grassland, savanna, wetlands and scattered woodland. Most of it is in Wisconsin's Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape; a bit at the western edge is in the Southeast Glacial Plains.

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Voyageurs National Park, located in northern Minnesota near the town of International Falls, was established in 1975. The park's name commemorates the voyageurs, French-Canadian fur traders who were the first European settlers to frequently travel through the area. The park is notable for its outstanding water resources and is popular with canoeists, kayakers, other boaters and anglers. The Kabetogama Peninsula, which lies entirely within the park and makes up most of its land area, is accessible only by boat.

The park has several boat ramps and visitor centers on its periphery, though the main body of the park is only accessible by boat or, in the winter, by snowmobile, ski or snowshoe.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

An “Effigy Mound” American Indian culture developed over 1,000 years ago placing thousands of earthen mounds across the landscape of what (today) includes parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois.

Over 200 mounds are preserved intact within the Monument; 31 are effigies in the shape of bears and birds—commemorating the passing of loved ones and the sacred beliefs of these ancient peoples.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas
Tallgrass prairie once covered 140 million acres of North America. Within a generation of European settlement, the vast majority was developed and plowed under. Today less than 4 percent remains, mostly here in the Kansas Flint Hills. The preserve protects a nationally significant remnant of the once vast tallgrass prairie and its cultural resources. Here the tallgrass prairie takes its last stand.

Cuyahoga National Park, Ohio
Though a short distance from the urban environments of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park seems worlds away. The winding Cuyahoga—the "crooked river" as named by American Indians—gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands. The park is a refuge for flora and fauna and provides recreation and solitude for visitors.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
The Boundary Waters is a region of wilderness straddling the Canada–United States border between Ontario and Minnesota, just west of Lake Superior. This area is part of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota, and in Canada it includes La Verendrye and Quetico Provincial Parks in Ontario.

The Boundary Waters region is characterized by a vast network of waterways and bogs within a glacially carved landscape of Precambrian bedrock covered in thin soils and boreal forests. The Boundary Waters is a popular destination for recreationalists pursuing camping, canoeing, fishing, as well as for those simply looking for natural scenery and relaxation.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Arkansas
A 1965 Act of Congress created the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, located in the Ozarks of southern Missouri, to protect the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. It was formally dedicated in 1971. The park's 80,000 acres are used for many forms of recreation and are home to abundant animal and plant species. Canoeing is the most popular activity, with some 1.3 million visitors coming to the area each year. Other activities include horseback riding, hunting, hiking, fishing, camping and sightseeing.

Niobrara National Scenic River, Nebraska
The Niobrara National Scenic River is the premier recreation river in Nebraska and a unique crossroads where many species of plants and animals coexist unlike anywhere else. High water quality and the relatively free-flowing nature of the Niobrara support diverse life while unique fossil-filled sandstone cliffs host over 200 waterfalls.
Visitors can float the river by tube, canoe, kayak or raft from mid-April to mid-October. Most floaters come on weekends in June, July and August, when summer temperatures can soar from the 90s to low 100s.