Our Favorite State Parks: Midwest

Part 3 of our 4 part series detailing our favorite midwest state parks.

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Categories: Camping  

Did you know there are over 10,230 state parks in the US? No matter where you are located, you should not be far from a beautiful natural destination where you can hike, camp, play, and relax in the great outdoors.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of our series, we introduced you to our favorite state parks on the West Coast and in the Mountain Region. In this post, we are going to share a few Midwestern state parks with you that you will love.

Why State Parks are Awesome

Wondering why we focused our series on state parks instead of national parks? We are recommending state parks for one simple reason: they are often overlooked. They can offer you incredible outdoor experiences with fewer crowds and lower fees than many national parks.

Without further delay, let’s check out some of the best state parks the Midwest has to offer.

1. Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is among the most beloved state parks in the Midwest. Located in the northern part of Illinois, it is a little more than an hour and a half away from downtown Chicago.

Starved Rock State Park

This park features 2,630 acres of stunning natural environments to explore. The dramatic canyons and waterfalls you will find in the park are the result of the Kankakee Torrent, which was a flood that happened more than 14,000 years ago.

Why You’ll Love It

Along with more than 13 miles of trails to hike through the canyons, you will be able to enjoy water-based activities like fishing and kayaking. If you happen to be visiting during the winter months, you may spy bald eagles.

As for the scenery, you will love relaxing near shaded pools with beautiful rock walls enclosing you in secluded tranquillity. The sound of delicate waterfalls will serenade you as you lose yourself in the splendor of nature.

Be sure to place reservations in advance, as this is a very popular destination.

2. Grand Portage State Park

If you head to the border between Minnesota and Canada, you will discover a majestic place called Grand Portage State Park. The dominant feature is the state’s tallest waterfall, cascading 120 feet. In total, there are 278 acres to enjoy.

Why You’ll Love It

The main attraction at Grand Portage State Park is of course the falls themselves. But you will also love the trails and boardwalks, one of which is accessible by wheelchair. Indeed, the park is also free, so it boasts a lot from an accessibility standpoint. There are sheltered spots where you can have a picnic lunch.

Grand Portage State Park

Some resources say that you cannot camp at this park, but that is not the case. NPS provides information here on backcountry campsites. So, if your goal is to really get away from it all and enjoy some peace and privacy, this may be the perfect park for you to pitch your tent.

3. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

On the south shore of Lake Superior is the biggest state park in Michigan, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Comprising an impressive 59,020 acres, this park offers so much to see and do. You can hike, backpack, swim, or head out on a boat on the famous Lake of the Clouds. You also can learn more about the park by taking part in an interpretive program.

Porcupine Mountains State Park

We also recommend that you stop at the visitor’s center early in your visit. You’ll find a relief model there that gives you the lay of the land and makes it easy to plan your experience.

Why You’ll Love It

At Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, more than 90 miles of trails await you, taking you deep into the old-growth forest. As you explore, you will discover streams, rivers and waterfalls. Be sure to drop by in autumn so you can marvel at the fiery colors of the fall leaves.

Like Grand Portage State Park, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park offers backcountry camping. You will need to grab a permit from the visitor’s center. When you arrive at your campsite, a metal fire ring and a bear pole will be waiting for you.

Tips for Camping at Midwest Region State Parks

Here are a few recommendations to help you get the most out of your camping experience at Midwestern state parks.

  • Check booking requirements. Are spots at the campsites at the park you want to visit first-come, first-served, or do they require a reservation? How quickly does the booking schedule fill up? These are questions you need to ask in advance. That way, you can plan ahead and make your reservations or arrive early as needed to secure your spot.
  • Have a backup plan. We always suggest that you have a plan B in case you cannot camp for whatever reason (i.e. weather, full campsites, etc.).
  • Look up amenities. Some campsites at Midwestern state parks may have ample amenities. Others may offer almost nothing. Make sure you know what amenities are ready for you and what you need to provide on your own—especially if you plan to stay in the backcountry.
  • Take a pop-up canopy tent with you. You will probably be camping in a tent, or maybe in a recreational vehicle. But bringing a canopy tent along can make your experience more enjoyable. You can set up chairs beneath it, and maybe a picnic table. It also is an ideal spot to store extra gear that does not fit in your camping tent.
  • Be ready for the weather. Midwest weather is notorious for changing in unexpected ways. So, pack layers of clothes, coats, a waterproof tent, and other supplies to be prepared for surprises.

Discover These Midwest State Parks Now

Excited to check out some of the Midwestern state parks on this list for yourself? Place your reservations early if they are required, and get ready for an amazing camping experience. To discover East Coast parks, read on to Part 4 of our series.