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Jonathan Stull | 05.24.2017

This great country of ours has divided into a culture of coasts, where the physiognomy is as diverse and rugged as the people who live there. No idle speculation, perhaps there’s a relationship to explore there. Too often overlooked is the Midwest, whose humble geography is less dramatic and violent, a place paved by glaciers in the great Ice Age that ended more than 20,000 years ago and paved again by motorists passing through the Heartland to promises kept west of the Continental Divide.

“The people I know from outside it,” wrote Philo, Illinois-native David Foster Wallace, “distill the Midwest into blank flatness, black land and fields of green fronds or five-o’clock stubble, gentle swells and declivities that make the topology a sadistic exercise in plotting quadrics, highway vistas so same and dead they drive motorists mad. Those from [Indiana/Wisconsin/Northern Illinois] think of their own Midwest as agronomics and commodity futures and corn-detasseling and bean-walking and seed-company caps, apple-checked Nordic types, cider and slaughter and football games with white fog banks of breath exiting helmets.”

Somewhere between the cornrows and windbreaks and endless miles of interstate is a wilderness experience worth visiting, not by virtue of its contrast against the wild coasts but for its own value—and we found a few of them for you.

  • Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota: The Midwest is known for its wind, and the appropriately named Wind Cave National Park celebrates the element. The nation’s seventh-ever national park and the sixth-longest cave in the world is under permanent protection and home to 95 percent of the world’s boxwork formations, an exceedingly rare calcite formation. Also, bison—always a crowd-pleaser.
  • Paint Mines Interpretive Park, Colorado: Never a state to miss out on the fun, Colorado delivers yet another unique experience at Paint Mines. Hike through unique clay and rock hoodoos that date back 55 million years. Think white sandstone and other formations that cover the color spectrum.
  • Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, Ohio: Limestone can be found throughout the Midwest, a region of rock pocked with sinkholes and caverns. Add limestone gorges to that list. Clifton Gorge encompasses 268 acres of old-growth forest and waterfalls in the limestone gorge created by the Little Miami River.
  • Buffalo Creek + Sal Hollow Loop, Kentucky: The Bluegrass State delivers Mammoth Cave National Park, and above the caverns is a trail network that spans 84 miles of pristine old-growth wilderness. Buffalo Creek and the Sal Hollow Loop showcase the best of the park above-ground, with creeks and waterfalls that disappear into the caves below.
  • Lakeshore-North Country Trail: Miners Beach to Beaver Creek: Thru-hikers gravitate to the coasts and the Rockies, but the Midwest has its own thru-hiking gems. The North Country Trail is one of them, and this section abuts the beautiful waters of Lake Superior. The section between Miners Beach and Beaver Creek should only take you a couple days, but packed in those miles are scenic views and cerulean waters unlike anything on the coasts. Plus, campgrounds are close enough to the water than you can paddle the trail instead of hiking it.


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