See the Best of the Midwest with this Ultimate Bucket List

Orange sunset over the water with a lighthouse - Best of the Midwest

Midwest travel doesn’t get the same kind of love drawn by other regions, but there are some amazing things to do there. Despite being derisively known as the Flyover States by people who think they’re just full of boring cornfields (ok, there is a lot of farmland), if you actually travel the Midwest, you might just be surprised by all that this often overlooked region has to offer. The best of the Midwest includes lakeside cliffs, roller coasters, historic sites, incredible museums and more – there’s something for everyone here! This bucket list combines the top attractions in the Midwest, which I have somewhat arbitrarily defined as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Stay tuned for future posts featuring different areas of the United States!

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Top things to do in Illinois

Feel like a kid with a visit to Navy Pier

Chicago, Illinois

Navy Pier with boats in the foreground and a ferris wheel - Best of the Midwest

Photo by Matilda from The Travel Sisters

Navy Pier is among the most visited sights in the area and rightfully so.  Whether traveling with your family, significant other or solo, there is no shortage of activities to keep you entertained.  From the Centennial Wheel to the Children’s Museum to the 12,500 square foot fountain, the pier is worthy of a visit in any season, although it especially shines during the warmer months.  With its proximity to nearby Ohio Street beach, a biweekly fireworks show, an outdoor music and film series, a lovely promenade, outdoor art installations, parks and gardens, Navy Pier is a great spot to enjoy the weather.  Better yet, it is also a great spot to take in the iconic Chicago skyline on foot, from the Ferris wheel and even from the water.  With several sightseeing and dining boat cruises lined up along the waterfront (think everything from an architectural cruise, a speedboat tour, elegant dining cruise to a fireworks tour) there are options no matter your interests.  As an added bonus, Navy Pier is conveniently located in downtown Chicago with several easy transportation options.

See more things to do in Chicago from Matilda from The Travel Sisters

Get your science on at Chicago’s best museums

Chicago, Illinois

T-rex skeleton at the Field Museum in Chicago - Midwest travel

I love exploring a good science museum, and Chicago has two amazing ones. With a whole day’s worth of exhibits and rotating attractions, the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry are some of the best of the Midwest. I love the Field Museum’s collection of dinosaur bones, including the famous Sue – the museum’s famous T-rex. Visitors can also watch scientists excavating fossils that have been brought to the lab from sites in the field.

The Museum of Science and Industry has great exhibits on the science of storms, where you can see a mini tornado in person, space, and transportation. One of the coolest things there is the U-505 submarine, a German U-boat captured in 1944. It’s one of only six that were captured by the Allies and one of only four remaining in the world. An extra ticket will allow you to tour the exhibit and see this massive submarine in person.

See the famous Chicago skyline

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Riverwalk with buildings on both sides - Travel Midwest

Photo by Patti from The Savvy Globetrotter

One of the top attractions in Illinois is the Chicago Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is a pedestrian walkway in downtown Chicago along the Chicago River that is over a mile long.  It offers amazing views of the incredible city skyline and impressive architecture and buildings along the river.  The Riverwalk is a great spot for people watching and you will see locals and visitors walking, jogging, biking, fishing, or just sitting and relaxing on the benches or stairs.  There are plenty of things to do along the way with restaurants, bars, shops and places to sit – there is even a winery where boats will dock for drinks. If you enjoy being on the water, you can take an architecture cruise (one best things to do in Chicago), take a boat cruise, rent a kayak, or hop on a water taxi.  Walking on the Chicago Riverwalk is the only way to explore the river in the winter when the water is frozen and boat cruises cannot operate.

See more from Patti at The Savvy Globetrotter in this one-day Chicago itinerary

See the locations that shaped Abraham Lincoln

Springfield, Illinois and surrounding area

Historic log cabin

Photo by Roxanna from Gypsy with a Day Job

Experiencing the Illinois Lincoln sites should be on every American’s bucket list.  Abraham Lincoln’s life was a demonstration that hard work, integrity, and perseverance, can change the course of one’s life, and also change the course of history.  Every president deserves respect, but Lincoln was among the most remarkable. Learning about his life and times, helps understand our path as a country.

The best place to start exploring the Lincoln sites is in Petersburg, Illinois, at New Salem State Park.  New Salem is the village the Lincoln lived in prior to his life in politics, where he worked as a Postmaster, and began his career in law.  The village has been reconstructed based upon the ruins and archaeological findings, and offers a fun glimpse into pioneer life in the mid 1800s.

After New Salem, move on to Springfield to visit Lincoln’s Home National Monument.  The Lincoln family lived in this home while he served as a state Congressman, and ran for the presidency.   The Lincoln Presidential Library is a must, as a state of the art facility, with a wealth of learning experiences, and wax figures of the Lincoln family for a fun photo op.  Sadly, the last site of the day is the Lincoln tomb. After paying respects, the mood can be lightened by rubbing the nose on the Lincoln bust. Every Illinoisan knows, this brings good luck!

See more from Roxanna at Gypsy with a Day Job

Wander through canyons and waterfalls in the Midwest

Utica, Illinois

Canyon with thin stream of a waterfall

Located just an hour and a half from Chicago, Starved Rock State Park is home to gorgeous natural features that you wouldn’t expect to see in the Midwest. With bluffs overlooking the Illinois River, hiking trails, waterfalls, and more, you can easily spend a weekend exploring its natural wonders. Explore one of its eighteen different canyons or hike along the river trail. It’s also a popular spot for viewing bald eagles. During the winter, many of the waterfalls freeze, turning into beautiful ice falls.

The state park also features a campground and a historic lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

Top things to do in Indiana

Ride top wooden roller coasters at Holiday World

Santa Claus, Indiana

Tall wooden roller coaster
As a major roller coaster fan, I’d been hearing about Holiday World and its collection of amazing wooden roller coasters for years. When I finally got a chance to visit, I was almost giddy with excitement as I lined up for the first one. With three rides ranked in the top 25 on the list of world’s best wooden roller coasters, Holiday World is a must for thrill seekers visiting the Midwest. Holiday World is themed around – you guessed it – holidays, with different areas decorated for Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July, plus an enormous water park that’s included with your admission. There are also smaller rides and a kiddie area, and they recently added a short but fun launched steel coaster to round out their collection. My favorite ride was The Voyage with its endless airtime and swoon-worthy over-banked turns. It’s the best wooden roller coaster I’ve ever been on, dethroning the legendary Beast at Kings Island in Ohio.

If the coasters aren’t enough to bring you there, there are other great perks of visiting Holiday World. Food prices are very affordable by theme park standards – a kids cheeseburger meal cost less than $4 – and adult combos weren’t unreasonable either. There are also free soft drinks dispensed at kiosks throughout the park, so staying hydrated is easy and free. The water park features free sunscreen stations so you don’t have to haul it around yourself. Check out their official website here.

Explore historic covered bridges

Parke County, Indiana

Couple posing in front of historic covered bridge

Photo courtesy of Lindsay from Excursion Everywhere

Parke County, Indiana is known for its historical covered bridges. In fact, there are 31 of them spread all over the county which calls itself the “Covered Bridge Capital of the World.” Most of the bridges were built in the mid-1800s and they were covered to protect the natural timber floors from the elements. Built in a world before modern transportation, most are now easily visited by car in this destination that’s only about an hour and a half west of Indianapolis or 3 hours south of Chicago.

The perfect time of year to visit is in the fall when the bridges are surrounded by trees turning autumn colors. Every October, the county hosts an annual Covered Bridge Festival that draws over 2 million people over 10 days. The festival has different sites around the covered bridges with vendors selling antiques, home decor items, some random stuff, and carnival food. The county seat, Rockville, also offers hayride tours to the county’s most scenic covered bridges. For people who want to get away from the crowds you can camp at one of the county’s parks, such as Turkey Run State Park and take advantage of their hiking trails. The bride pictured here is the “Narrows Bridge” which is located just East of Turkey Run State Park and spans the Sugar Creek.

See more from Lindsay at Excursion Everywhere

Feel like a kid at the best museum in Indianapolis

Indianapolis, Indiana

Kids looking up at a museum exhibit on the ceiling

Photo by Julianne from It’s Five O’Clock Here

You might be surprised to discover that the largest children’s museum in the world is located in the American Midwest, but Indianapolis locals have been in on this secret for years. Founded in 1925, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis clocks in at an impressive 472,900 square feet situated on 29 acres – quite something!
Don’t be fooled by its name, however: the museum is truly engaging for people of all ages. Much like beloved Disney films, the exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis work on multiple levels and create opportunities for thoughtful dialogue between children and adults. You can hang out with dinosaurs in Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World; learn about Anne Frank’s time in the Secret Annex in The Power of Children: Making a Difference; or explore life in modern China through the Take Me There: China exhibit. You can even pretend to be Indiana Jones and excavate a mysterious tunnel (or find a hidden mummy)! As an added bonus, respected glass artist Dale Chihuly’s largest permanent installation of blown glass is housed here – another reason to visit as soon as possible.

See more about visiting Indianapolis from Julianne at It’s Five O’Clock Here

Explore gorges and bluffs at Indiana’s most surprising State Park

Marshall, Indiana

Hiker along a stream through a leafy gorge

Photo by Roxanna from Gypsy with a Day Job

Turkey Run State Park in Indiana is one of those surprising locations, filled with gorges, ravines and sandstone bluffs, that seems as if it cannot be real in the midst of Indiana corn land.  The park is a part of the Rocky Hollow-Falls Canyon Nature Preserve, which is designated as a National Natural Landmark. The dramatic landscape was formed by glacial runoff and melt, and remnants of that are found throughout the park and the preserve.

As the second state park in Indiana, Turkey Run has all of the amenities of a fully serviced state park, including visitor centers, picnic and play areas, as well as a lodge and camping areas.   There are a handful of historic sites including a covered bridge, and a pioneer home. Sugar Creek flows through the heart of the park amidst ancient hardwood forest and rocky outcrops, making lovely scenery for canoeing and kayaking.

For many visitors though, the hiking trails are the highlight of Turkey Run.  There are 12 separate trails, ranging from easy to very rugged. The most challenging trails include suspension bridges and ladder-like stairways, and descend into some very dramatic natural landmarks, such as the Punch Bowl, Rocky Hollow, and Wedge Rock.

See more about Turkey Run by Roxanna at Gypsy with a Day Job

Top things to do in Iowa

See the famous Bridges of Madison County

Madison County, Iowa

Red covered bridge in Madison County

Photo by Jessica from Independent Travel Cats

Madison County is a rural county of Iowa that is famous for 2 things. The first is the covered bridges. The county has been nicknamed the “Covered Bridge Capital of Iowa”  as it has the largest group of covered bridges in a single area west of the Mississippi Valley. There are currently 6 covered bridges in the county, all built of wood in the 19th century, though most have been extensively renovated and even replaced.

The bridges became famous when they were first featured as the setting of the novel, The Bridges of Madison County, a novel written by Robert James Waller. They would become even more well-known when Clint Eastwood directed a film of the same title based on the novel. The film was shot on location in Madison County and shows two of the bridges in the film. Today visitors can still visit these covered bridges of Madison County.
However, bridges are not the only things that draw tourists to Madison County. It is also the birthplace of famous actor John Wayne, and you can visit his house and adjoining museum while in Winterset.

See more about visiting the Bridges of Madison County by Jessica at Independent Travel Cats

See sky high lights near Des Moines

Madrid, Iowa

Neon lights over a bridge at night

Photo by Heather from Trimm Travels

If you’re looking for something cool to see at night while you are visiting Des Moines, check out the High Trestle Trail Bridge! Towering 13 stories above the Des Moines River Valley, the bridge is almost a half-mile long and is designed to look like a mine shaft. Can you see it?

The High Trestle Trail Bridge is part of the High Trestle Trail which is a 25-mile, paved trail running through four counties in Iowa. Having opened in April 2011, it’s a fairly new trail and sees more than 3,000 users each week!

What You Should Know: The bridge is located about 35 minutes north of Des Moines. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead and it isn’t easy to find at night. For GPS, use 2335 QF Lane, Madrid, Iowa 50156. From the parking lot to the bridge is 0.9 miles (one way) and from the start of the bridge to where it lights up is another 0.25 miles (each way). The bridge stays lit from sunset to midnight April 1-October 31 and from sunset to 9 pm November 1-March 31.

See more from Heather at Trimm Travels

Get a glimpse of college life at Iowa State University

Ames, Iowa

Fountain with trees and a tower in the background

Photo by Halef at The Round the World Guys

Understanding American culture means you should also familiarize yourself with the importance of college life. It starts the day a student choose a college and continues well beyond their college years. To do that, consider visiting some of its most exciting college towns. In the Midwest, that’s Ames, Iowa.

Ames is the home to Iowa State University, a campus with 20,000 students which was established in 1858. Here, as in many college towns around the country, students create their own cultures. Some of the great American experiences revolve around student life. And here in Iowa State, it is strong and unique. Greek life flourishes, with many fraternities and sororities working together in philanthropies, events, and social gatherings. Don’t miss Greek Week and Homecoming events, where you can also catch a game with the Iowa State Cyclones football team.

Some Iowa State landmarks you should visit include the Memorial Union and the Central Campus. The father of landscape architecture – Frederic Law Olmstead, who also designed the Central Park in New York – did some great design work here. Fall season is the best time to visit, and Central Park is the place to enjoy the brilliant fall colors from hundreds of maples, oaks, and many other trees.

See more from Halef at The Round the World Guys

Top things to do in Michigan

Step back in time on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island in Lake Huron

Horsedrawn carriage in front of a historic white fort

Mackinac Island is Michigan’s crown jewel and one of my favorite places in the state. This small island located between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas is accessed by ferry and doesn’t allow motorized vehicles. All transportation around the island is on foot, by bike, or in horsedrawn carriage. With its Victorian Era buildings and car-less streets, it feels like a trip to the past.

One of the most popular activities is biking the 8-mile long road that circles the island. There are various stops for scenic views and snacks along the way. An old fort looms above the harbor, and you can tour various buildings, attend military demonstrations, and witness periodic firings of one of the cannons (don’t worry, they only shoot tin foil shots that disintegrate before doing any harm). The most famous hotel, the gorgeous Grand Hotel has beautiful gardens and excellent food.

The island is also famous for its amazing fudge. I’ve tried fudge in different places and never quite found any that is as good as Mackinac Island fudge. You can get it in traditional chocolate flavors or more unique ones like creamsicle and caramel apple. The best part is that if you’ve spent the day biking around the island, you won’t feel bad about having some fudge for dessert. See more of why I love Mackinac Island here!

See sand dunes and world class beaches in northern Michigan

Traverse City, Michigan and surrounding area

Forest leading up to a lakeshore

Photo by Brianna from Archives of Adventure

Traverse City, Michigan is a beautiful small town in Northern Michigan. There is something for everyone in the area, from relaxing along freshwater beaches, wine tasting on the scenic Old Mission Peninsula, shopping in the quaint downtown area, and more. Just a 30 minute drive from Traverse City is an area that Good Morning America once named as America’s most beautiful: The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This incredibly scenic area is a must-visit. You can spend an afternoon on the giant sand dunes, swim in Lake Michigan, enjoy nature walks, and explore cute little towns like Glen Arbor, Empire, or even Port Oneida. The drive along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is always fun to do, but nothing beats driving it in autumn when the leaves turn gold and red. If you have time, you can also drive along scenic M-22, through Fishtown, Leland, Northport, and Sutton’s Bay. If beautiful beaches, scenic roundtrips, and cute small towns are your thing, add Traverse City and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to your Midwest Bucket list!

See more about the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive from Brianna at Archives of Adventure

Escape to nature right in Detroit on Belle Isle

Detroit, Michigan

Domed conservatory with decorative pond

Belle Isle is an island park in the middle of the Detroit River that runs between the US and Canada (it’s only accessible from the American side). Larger than Central Park (and partially designed by the same architect), you’ll forget that you’re only a bridge away from an industrial city. With miles of bike lanes, enough picnic tables to feed an army, great views of the Detroit skyline, neighboring Windsor, Ontario, and the Ambassador Bridge that spans between them, it’s a perfect place to spend a relaxing day. If you’re lucky, you might see a large freighter passing by on its way through.

The island also features a sandy beach that is surprisingly calm for being in a flowing river. You can also tour a conservatory with botanical gardens, see a recently reopened aquarium, explore a nature center, and visit the Dossin Great Lakes Historical Museum which tells the story of the Great Lakes and their shipping legacy. Vehicles that drive to the island pay a small admission fee (if they don’t already have the Michigan State Parks pass), but pedestrians and cyclists can enter for free.

See more amazing things to do in Detroit!

Get a taste of history at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village

Dearborn, Michigan

Vintage yellow, green, and white city bus

I always tell people that if they only visit one museum in the area, they should hit the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village. The museum contains artifacts mainly dealing with American history with a special emphasis on cars (duh – it’s named after Ford himself). There are rotating special exhibits, interactive places for kids (or fun adults) to play, and a collection of former presidential limousines, including the one Kennedy was assassinated in. Another of the top attractions is the Rosa Parks bus – the same one she was riding when her actions started the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. There’s also a large gallery about the history of flight with several historic planes on display.

Greenfield Village is a collection of historic buildings gathered from around the US. Some of the more famous spots include the Wright brothers’ original workshop and a house that belonged to poet Robert Frost. One of my favorite things to do in the village is take a ride in one of the Model Ts – actual original vehicles that are still running and taking visitors for spins around the village all these years later.

See stunning cliffs along Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Alger County, Michigan

Cliffs and arch formations leading into a lake

If you’ve been picturing Michigan as boring, flat cornfields surrounded by lakes, head up to the Upper Peninsula (call it The UP – pronouncing each letter – if you want to fit in) for a change in scenery. Pictured Rocks lies on Michigan’s northern coast along the south side of Lake Superior. The park stretches for 42 miles along the coast and includes several miles of colorful sandstone cliffs that can reach as high as 200 feet above the lake.
There are lots of opportunities for hiking in the park and several scenic drives. Overlooks allow views of some of the most famous rock formations, and there is beach access if you’re brave enough to take a dip in Lake Superior’s chilly waters. One of the best ways to see the cliffs is on a boat tour or by kayak. Being out on the water will give you the perfect view.

Visit the Western Hemisphere’s tallest ski jump

Ironwood Township, Michigan

Ski lift among green trees and a sunset

Photo by Bradley Nelson

The Midwest is known for its flatlands and cornfields, but the Upper Peninsula of Michigan doesn’t quite fit that mold.  Rugged and hilly, the area receives over 300 inches (750 cm) of lake effect snow yearly. This snow makes the Keweenaw Peninsula perfect for winter sports.  Although not technically mountains, the nearly 2,000 foot peaks of the Porcupine Mountains are home to the Midwest’s most bustling ski mountains like Big Powderhorn, Indianhead Mountain, and Blackjack Ski Resorts. It is no surprise then, that the highest ski flying hill in the Western Hemisphere exists in this area.  Copper Peak, a 421-foot ski flying slope atop a 364-hill, opened for business in 1970. It housed numerous sky flying competitions until 1994, when the cost of operations became too expensive and the hill closed. It’s now an adventure ride where visitors take a ski lift and elevator up to the top of the complex for views of the region 26 stories above the ground.  From here, you can see 2,500 square miles, three states and even Canada on a clear day.

See more from Jamie at Jamie Says

Top things to do in Minnesota

Road trip along Minnesota’s stunning North Shore

Northeastern Minnesota

Treeline coast curving along the edge of a lake

Photo by Sophie from The Wanderful Me

In Northern Minnesota, you’ll find an incredible adventure called the North Shore. Spanning from Duluth, MN and running along Lake Superior up to the picturesque town of Grand Marais and Grand Portage, it’s packed full of cool things to do, fun sites to see, and incredible attractions.

If you’re searching for breathtaking sights, check out Palisade Head for some unreal views of Lake Superior! Looking for something more adventurous? Take a hike in Tettegouche State Park. You’ll find hidden waterfalls, awesome hiking, and stunning scenery. You might even get a glimpse of some shy wildlife, like whitetail deer or a bear!

If you’re not into views or hiking, stop at Gooseberry Falls State Park. You’ll find three gorgeous waterfalls a short walk from the parking lot, a beautiful river, and the glistening Lake Superior shoreline. No doubt, the North Shore in Minnesota is one of the best bucket list adventures in the Midwest!

See more about Minnesota’s North Shore from Sophie, Founder of The Wanderful Me

Enjoy a waterfall right in the heart of the city

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Waterfall cascading into a pool surrounded by foliage

On one of  my first solo trips I visited Minneapolis, and while I was there, I fell in love with Minnehaha Regional Park, and the stunning Minnehaha Falls.  Located smack dab in the middle of the city, the park is a wooded oasis in the center of a metropolitan area of 3.5 million residents. The park has a number of features including two historic homes, three formal gardens, and a children’s play area, but the highlight of the park is the waterfall.

Minnehaha Falls originally came to fame when written about by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his epic poem the Song of Hiawatha.  Longfellow ironically never actually saw the falls. He was inspired by the writings of others, and a daguerreotype of the falls.   Today, the 53 foot falls remain the most photographed site in Minnesota, and receive over 850,000 visitors a year.

There are a number of trails through the park allowing visitors to hike the bluffs alongside the Minnehaha Creek on the west, and the Mississippi on the right, and even to the conflux of the two.  In the waterfall area, there are viewing points on the top of the bluff, and stairways to descend into the gorge to see them from the bottom.

See more from Roxanna at Gypsy with a Day Job

Visit a historic lighthouse along Minnesota’s North Shore

Two Harbors, Minnesota

Lighthouse on a cliff along the edge of Lake Superior

Photo by Emily from EmDashed

Split Rock Lighthouse sits atop a sheer cliff in northern Minnesota, on the edge of the seemingly-endless Lake Superior. It’s one of the state’s most iconic landmarks, not to mention one of the most photogenic lighthouses in the entire country. It’s also a must-see stop along the beautiful North Shore Scenic Drive—a highway which runs 150 miles along the lakeshore to the US-Canadian border.

Split Rock Lighthouse was originally constructed in 1910 after a number of devastating shipwrecks in the area. It was officially retired from use in 1969. However, it still lights up once a year on the 10th of November, to commemorate the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975; and it remains a popular tourist attraction the whole year round.

The lighthouse is located in an eponymous state park, about an hour’s drive from the city of Duluth. The rest of the park includes a few other related buildings (such as the old keepers’ houses), as well as a campground, picnic area, and visitor center.

See more about the North Shore from Emily at EmDashed

Top things to do in Missouri

Get lost in the ultimate playground at the City Museum

St. Louis, Missouri

Metal tower with kids climbing in it

The City Museum‘s name contains no clues as to how incredibly fun it is. Started as a madman collection of industrial scraps in an old shoe factory, it’s a larger-than-life playground for kids and adults alike. Featuring multi-story slides, fake caves, a school bus mounted dangling over the edge of the roof, ladders to climb and everything in between, it’s not to be missed on a visit to St. Louis.

Spanning multiples floors of the old factory, you can easily spend a whole afternoon here getting lost in its many rooms. I loved the rooftop area – it requires an additional admission fee – but it’s worth it for the views of the city and fun attractions. Try the mini ferris wheel if you want the best view. Another area featured fake caves that I nicknamed the Chamber of Secrets. Bring good shoes and you may just want some kneepads.

Ride to the top of Gateway Arch

St. Louis, Missouri

Fountain with domed courthouse and the Gateway Arch in the background

The area formerly known as Jefferson Expansion National Monument somehow got promoted to a National Park in 2018 and while I disagree with that, Gateway Arch is still a pretty cool place to visit. You can’t take a trip to St. Louis without seeing the massive arch that towers over the city, and a ride to the top gives you a perfect view over both sides of the Mississippi. Going up in little elevator pods (not a technical term) is cool because the system was designed to keep you upright even as the arch begins to curve toward the top.

While you’re at the National Park, you can also visit a museum about the expansion westward and tour the old courthouse. This site is most famous for the Dredd Scott case in which he sued for his freedom from slavery.

Indulge in the country’s finest BBQ

Kansas City, Missouri

Texas toast, pickles, pulled pork, baked beans, and french fries

Every region has its own special type of barbeque sauce, but no one does it better than Kansas City. Their style of slightly sweet sauce has the perfect flavor and consistency without the vinegar flavor that dominates other regional sauces.

The most iconic is Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, and I can vouch for its awesome flavor. It started out in a gas station, but made Anthony Bourdain’s list of places to eat before your die, so you know it’s legit. I brought a bottle of their sauce home with me that I rationed out for a year because I couldn’t bring myself to use the last of it. Other top choices are Jack Stack Barbeque and Slap’s BBQ. Wherever you end up, come hungry and prepare to leave stuffed to the brim with delicious BBQ.

Top things to do in Ohio

Get your thrills on the world’s best collection of roller coasters

Sandusky, Ohio

Tall steel roller coaster with fall foliage in the foreground

Cedar Point, an amusement park located on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Erie not only boasts beautiful scenery and great beaches, but its skyline is dominated by the greatest array of roller coasters ever assembled. For real, if there was an Avengers of roller coasters, it would be Cedar Point. If you like tall and fast with lots of airtime, look no further than Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force (my favorite of all time), or Magnum. If inversions are more your thing, take a ride on Gatekeeper, Valravn, or Raptor.

There are plenty of rides for kids too with an extensive kiddie area that includes two kids’ coasters. If you don’t mind getting wet, you can hop on one of their water rides or hit the water park next door (separate admission). If you consider yourself a roller coaster fan, you can’t pass up a chance to visit Cedar Point while visiting the Midwest.

Explore Ohio’s natural wonderland

Hocking County, Ohio

Man with a tripod standing near a small waterfall

Photo by Laurence from Finding the Universe

Hocking Hills is a beautiful region of south eastern Ohio, The Hills are primarily found in Hocking County, and the main attraction that brings visitors to the area is Hocking Hills State Park, which encompasses a great many natural attractions from cave, to cliffs and waterfalls. There are also numerous hiking trails throughout Hocking Hills and lots of opportunity for outdoor activities, from caving to zip-lining to camping to climbing.

The park is spread out over seven separate areas, each of which has a number of highlights. This can make for a fun day of exploration, as the attractions in each area are each worth a visit, and most require only a short walk to reach. Particular favorites of ours include Upper Falls & Lower Falls at the Old Man’s cave section of the park, which made our shortlist of the best waterfalls in Ohio.

See more about visiting Hocking Hills from Laurence at Finding the Universe

See the birthplace of aviation

Dayton, Ohio

Old style wooden/canvas airplane

The Wright brothers, famous for making their first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC, got their start right in the Midwest in their bicycle shop in Dayton (that shop is now located in another midwestern bucket list spot – Greenfield Village in Michigan). Orville’s home remains in Dayton though, and you can tour it with a reservation. Stop in to the John W. Berry, Sr. Wright Brothers Aviation Center in the Dayton Carillon Historical Park to see one of the actual planes they built.

You can also see the on the site of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base just northeast of town. The absolutely enormous free museum at the base contains hundreds of aircraft on display, including the former Air Force One on which President Johnson was sworn in after the Kennedy assassination. You can even hop into the cockpit of a fighter jet. There’s a large display about spaceflight and you can walk through a replica space shuttle. Also on the AFB grounds is the Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wright brothers practiced their skills.

While you’re exploring the sites, grab an aviation “passport” book. If you get it stamped at a minimum of 7 of the 16 designated aviation spots in the region, you can get an adorable Wilbear Wright teddy bear – for free!

Meet Fiona the famous hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo

Cincinnati, Ohio

Young Fiona the hippo

Look at that face. She knows she’s a star.

The Cincinnati Zoo rocketed to national fame thanks to social media star, Fiona the baby hippo. She’s growing up and losing a little of that baby cuteness that made her videos go viral, but she’s still adorable and worth a visit. Be prepared to wait your turn, as even though the crowds have died down a bit, she’s still the top draw at the zoo. There is plenty more to see at the zoo, and it’s one of my favorite I’ve ever visited.

If you have a chance to see one of the cheetah runs, I’d highly recommend it. The cheetahs chase a lure that zips along a long enclosure and you get a chance to see just how fast and agile they are. We also discovered that the Cincinnati Zoo is where Sigfried and Roy’s famous white tigers ended up, and they’re absolutely beautiful to see. You can also watch mountain lions “hunt” in their enclosure, as food is hidden in boxes that emit sounds so the animals can track them.

Learn some science at a top museum in Columbus

Columbus, Ohio

Dinosaur skeleton at COSI

Photo by Natalie from Blissmersion

COSI (Center for Science and Industry) is one of the best museums for kids and adults alike in Columbus, Ohio. For younger kids, COSI has the fascinating little Kidspace solely for ages 6 and under. This space includes a fantastic playhouse, a doctor’s office, an eye doctor’s office, a wooden helicopter that’s big enough for play, a farmer’s market, water play, and so much more. For kids in second grade and up to age 11 who are not allowed in the little Kidspace, there is the Big KidLab. Like the space for little kids, the Big Kidlab offers age-appropriate activities in a monitored setting.
But wait, there’s more! COSI always has traveling exhibits to enjoy as well as amazing permanent exhibits like the Dinosaur Gallery. The exhibit contains a mixture of life-size casts and fossils of dinosaurs. Upon entering the dino space, visitors are greeted with a life size Tyrannosaurus Rex cast and a sleek metal and fiberglass recreation of an apatosaurus louisae.

That’s just a small sampling from this large science museum in Columbus!

See more about COSI from Natalie at Blissmersion

Top things to do in Wisconsin

Explore a Great Lakes paradise in Door County

Door County, Wisconsin

Lakeshore with fall foliage in Door County

Photo by Ketki at Dotted Globe

Door County in Wisconsin consists of the Door Peninsula that extends quite far out into Lake Michigan. Easily accessible from the city of Green Bay, the Door Peninsula is one of my favorite places in the state. The Door Peninsula has a long coastline which boasts of some very pretty lighthouses, charming B&Bs, and many state parks to explore the area’s natural beauty.

On the Green Bay side of the peninsula, we love camping and hiking at Peninsula State Park. In summer, the Park’s Nicolet Beach is a busy place while the hikes are full of wildflowers in spring. On the lakeside, we love visiting the limestone cliffs near Sturgeon Bay and the Cana Island lighthouse. If you are in Door County, you have to try the traditional fish boils, which make for a delicious meal.

While Door County looks beautiful in all seasons, it truly shines in fall when the hardwood trees take up vivid colors and the state parks are resplendent in gold, orange, and red colors.

See more from Ketki at Dotted Globe

Visit scenic Lake Superior

Bayfield, Wisconsin

Reddish cliffs along a lakeshore

Photo by Nicole from Travelgal Nicole

There is a lot to do and see in the Bayfield area, but the main attractions are the Apostle Islands and the sea caves on Lake Superior. This area is known as Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Stunning natural scenery, windswept beaches, eight historic lighthouses, nature-carved rock formations, marine wildlife, and intricate sea caves – this is Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The area has twenty one beautiful islands in Lake Superior positioned off the coast of the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin.

This was on my bucket list for years as I wanted to kayak to the sea caves on Lake Superior.  The sea caves are carved from the water and wind coming off of Lake Superior.  You are also able to take a cruise around the islands and see the lighthouses in the area.  Sometimes you even see bears from the boat as they are swimming to cool down in the summer!

See more from Nicole at Travelgal Nicole

Escape to the tropics or desert right in Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Domed structures with gardens

Photo by Miranda from MirandaKnudtson.com

I fully believe the Midwestern USA is severely underrated and not given enough credit as a travel destination. If you’re working your way through a Midwest bucket list, Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a MUST ADD city to your list! Though there are many fantastic breweries and craft breweries, I’d like to introduce you to something unique: Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, more commonly known by the locals as “The Domes.”

The Domes in Milwaukee consist of three large biodomes: a tropical dome, a desert dome, and a show dome that changes themes 5 times per year. What’s especially unique about these domes? They are the world’s ONLY conoidal glass houses, meaning they are slightly more cone-shaped than a perfect sphere.

I absolutely love getting a taste of a tropical or desert atmosphere right here in the Midwest! It’s absolutely amazing how different and gorgeous all of the plants are in different locations of the world. See hundreds of different plant species between the three domes, and even try to spot some animals in the tropical dome! As for the show dome, that’s a mystery that you must find out for yourself!

See more about the Milwaukee Domes from Miranda at MirandaKnudtson.com.

Looking for more great things to do in the Midwest?

Don’t forget to save this post for later on Pinterest!

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About

Kris's suitcase never rests. She's either traveling the United States for business or exploring somewhere exciting and new for vacation. She's a former Disney World Cast Member and loves writing about Disney parks almost as much as visiting them.

2 Comments

  • Madhu September 1, 2018 at 9:39 am Reply

    This looks like a complete exhaustive list..very impressive and inspirational. Surely saving it

  • Sarah - Borders & Bucket Lists September 1, 2018 at 11:46 am Reply

    I’ve actually never been to any of these states before (covers face in shame lol). Looks like a perfect road trip opportunity!

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