When it comes to summer road trips, the East and West coasts seem to take all of the glory. While those dreamy routes do evoke images of Route 66, coastal landscapes, and enchanting forest and mountainous backdrops, we’re here to tell you the Midwest’s hidden gems and sights certainly stack up to their coastal counterparts. With our list of our top picks to see on your Midwest summer road trip, as well as a few places to stop and glamp along the way, we’re hoping to send you off on the Midwest road trip of your dreams.
The Midwest is large, vast, and spread-out, so depending on your route, you may or may not be able to make all of these stops. While we couldn’t cover everything in the Midwest, these are certainly some stand-out options.
Let’s start with Nebraska. An unassuming state in every sense of the world, it’s exactly the kind of place we’re talking about when we say hidden gems. Take the city of Valentine, for example. By all means it’s a small Midwestern town that doesn’t jump out when looking at a map. Take a deeper look, though, and you’ll find it boasts a 70-foot spring-fed waterfall. Outdoor lovers will also enjoy the nearby Niobrara River—a perfect place for canoeing or kayaking, as well as western Nebraska’s beautiful sandhills.
What to see: Valentine, Nebraska
Apart from the mandatory stop in Chicago, we have something a bit more off the beaten track in mind. Tucked away in Geneva, Illinois, you’ll find an original showpiece—a replica of a 9th Century Viking ship—from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. This incredible piece of art came from Norway and ailed through the Great Lakes to make it to the exposition.
What to see: Viking ship replica
Where to stay: Stay in a Tree House near Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
Just 40 minutes south of Wisconsin’s capital city, New Glarus is an obvious choice for the beer-loving and brewery-appreciating traveler on a Midwest road trip. New Glarus is home to one of Wisconsin’s most well-known breweries, the New Glarus Brewing Company, and since its delicious ales are only available in Wisconsin, you better try them while you’re passing through.
What to see: New Glarus Brewing Comapny
Also located in Wisconsin is a lovely spot nestled within the state’s peninsula. With water on both sides, Door County makes for a refreshing stop on your Midwest road trip. Soak up your surroundings, and enjoy the fresh air while making this stop, and don’t forget one of the state parks the area has to offer.
Where to stay: Family-Friendly Cabin Across From Lake Michigan, Wisconsin
If you find yourself in Ohio, stop by Serpent Mound—a 1,330-foot-long effigy mound, which, for those of you who’ve forgotten history lessons past, is a raised pile of earth in the shape of an animal, symbol, or other figure constructed within many different Native American cultures. While historians don’t completely agree on its original purpose (or beginnings, for that matter), I think we can all agree it’s a sight to see.
What to see: Serpent Mound in Bratton, Ohio
Where to stay: Upscale Cabin for Rent in Hocking Hills Region of Ohio
Mix the outdoors with a bit of culture by visiting Missouri. Mark Twain was born in the small town of Hannibal, so stop for a visit to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum and learn about the roots of one of America’s greatest novelists. After that pit stop, head south to the Mark Twain State Park, which is tucked away in the Salt River Hills and offers all sorts of outdoor fun. Picnics, hiking trails, and lake swimming await.
What to visit: Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum; Mark Twin State Park
Where to stay: Riverside Tree House by the Ozark Mountains, Missouri
We hope this list of Midwest must-sees gives you a place to start and a bit of inspiration—here's to a Midwest summer road trip to remember.