Miles of sandy beaches, national parks, Instagrammable attractions, and one of the world’s richest fossil beds are just a few of the things you’ll encounter on this road trip through the Midwest. That’s right, this sometimes overlooked region has more than cornfields and country roads. Whether you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, a day in the city, or all of the above, this itinerary is sure to please all types of travelers as you check off bucket-list-worthy destinations from Ohio to the Dakotas, and everywhere in between.
Don’t sleep on these must-visit stops throughout the Midwest.
Midwest Midas locations
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Badlands National Park, South Dakota
The otherworldly terrain of Badlands will make you feel like you’re on another planet. Home to one of the world’s richest fossil beds, the more than 200,000 acres of land feature a variety of geological formations and grass prairies, where visitors can spot the likes of roaming bison and bighorn sheep. The land has been called home by many Indigenous nations, including the Oglala Sioux tribe, whose people live on the Pine River Indian Reservation in the Badlands today. Archaeologists and paleontologists have uncovered fossils and artifacts of all kinds within the national park’s boundaries, making it a popular location for scientific research.
Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri
Known as the Gateway to the West, this Midwest attraction represents St. Louis’ role in U.S. expansion. Visitors can take tram rides to the top of the 630-foot Gateway Arch, where views can reach as far as 30 miles away on a clear day. There are also guided tours, riverboat cruises, and the Old Courthouse (currently closed for renovations), which is also the park’s museum. Since the park is located in the heart of downtown St. Louis, there’s plenty to do nearby, including free attractions like the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, Forest Park, and the St. Louis Art Museum.
Millennium Park, Illinois
Home to one of the most photographed landmarks in the U.S., Chicago’s Millennium Park is a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The park’s Cloud Gate statue (more commonly known as “The Bean”) has become one of the city’s most iconic sights and is one of the world’s largest permanent outdoor art installations. The 33-foot-tall Bean, sculpted by artist Anish Kapoor, makes for an exceptionally Instagrammable backdrop with its reflecting, metallic surface that captures the Chicago skyline and the park’s surrounding landscapes. No matter the season, you can catch crowds snapping pics of this unique, mercury-like work of art as they pass through the city.
Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
Grab your beach towels and sunscreen and make your way to the sandy shores of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Park. Explore the 15,000 acres of shifting dunes and diverse biological habitats on more than 50 miles of paved and unpaved trails winding throughout the park. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day at the beach or a challenging hike to the top of a towering dune like Mount Baldy, this park offers the best of both worlds—plus, it’s less than an hour from Chicago, making it an ideal stop on your way to or from the city.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
With views that rival any oceanic coastline, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a magical destination, all year round. Filled with sandy beaches, hiking trails, freshwater lakes, forests, and challenging dune climbs, this is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. It’s also an ideal location for nighttime stargazing, with monthly night sky viewing events and astronomy programs held by park rangers from May through October. Sleeping Bear Dunes is conveniently located near popular Michigan vacation spots like Glen Arbor, Leland, Traverse City, and Suttons Bay, to name a few.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, Indiana
Start your engines and get ready for a high-speed museum tour unlike any other. You don’t have to be a racing fan or car enthusiast to appreciate the history on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. From racing artifacts and race cars to a behind-the-scenes look at the famed Indy 500 and Kiss the Brick tours, visitors can see why hundreds of thousands of fans flock to Indianapolis each year to watch their favorite drivers speed around the 2.5-mile track. With plenty of one-of-a-kind photo opportunities, this stop is a must when passing through the Crossroads of America.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Less than an hour away from Cleveland, Ohio, you’ll find one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the perfect escape from the city, with more than 125 miles of trails, waterfalls, the picturesque Cuyahoga River, and so much more. Despite being so close to a major urban setting, this park offers an abundance of outdoor activities ranging from hiking and biking to water sports, bird-watching, horseback riding, and even sledding and tubing during the winter months.