9 Amazing Trips to Take in the Midwest

 Midwestern getaways everyone should experience at least once.

Chicago River Cityscape at Sunset
Photo: Mlenny/Getty Images

Whether you're looking for a once-in-a-lifetime destination or a place you can return to and build on tradition year after year, the often-overlooked Midwest offers a myriad of getaway options. From a record-breaking wildlife migration in the Great Plains to the majesty of the region's national parks to can't-miss events, here's our list of quintessential Midwest trips everyone should experience at least once.

Sandhill Cranes Migration in Nebraska

Sandhill Crane Migration in Nebraska
Bill Frakes Photography

Every spring, roughly one million sandhill cranes traverse central Nebraska, giving new meaning to the term "flyover country." These majestic creatures find overnight solace in the vast, flat, and shallow Platte River. This migration is one of the largest of any kind in North America, and the largest crane migration on the planet,making it a must-see in the Midwest.

Consider checking out the Crane Trust for its overnight VIP experience, complete with heated bird blinds. The National Audubon Society's Rowe Sanctuary offers another excellent viewing option, with (free) daily guided tours at sunrise and sunset. To observe the natural beauty of the cranes in another way, visit the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island. An architectural marvel on its own, this institution organizes an annual "Wings Over the Platte" exhibit that changes every year, but always pays homage to the birds.

Viking's Mississippi River Cruise

Viking River Cruise on the Mississippi River
Courtesy of Viking Cruises

While Viking may be best known for its ever-popular European river cruises, its Mississippi River offering is also worth planning a trip around. Built specifically for river use, the state-of-the-art Viking Mississippi sets sail in Minnesota, nestled on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, and continues through the heartland before concluding in New Orleans, Louisiana. Stops in the Midwest include Red Wing and St. Paul in Minnesota; La Crosse in Wisconsin; Burlington and Dubuque in Iowa; and Hannibal and St. Louis in Missouri. Not so enchanted by the Mississippi? Consider another of Viking's regional options, a cruise expedition to all five Great Lakes.

Weekend in Chicago, Illinois

Millennium Park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Chicago
Massimo Borchi/Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

One of the best cities in the U.S., according to Travel + Leisure's 2022 World's Best Awards, Chicago is a must-visit Midwestern destination. Stop by the Art Institute of Chicago, catch a game at Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs), or attend a show at the birthplace of improv, The Second City. Visitors might also enjoy a classic Chicago deep dish tour (book with Finger Licking Foodie Tours or James Beard award-winning food journalist Steve Dolinsky) and the CAFC Chicago River cruise.

For lodging, lay your head at any of T+L's World's Best Award winners; there's sure to be an ideal pick for every type of traveler. If you're searching for a quieter home base, Deer Path Inn — another reader favorite — in nearby Lake Forest is a lovely choice in the area.

Mackinac Island in Michigan

Aerial view of Mackinac Island, Michigan
tomprout/Getty Images

Known as the "crown jewel of Michigan" or "pearl of the Great Lakes," Mackinac Island offers a nostalgic feel since no cars are allowed here. Step back in time with a stay at the iconic Grand Hotel, with its record-breaking front porch and formal dinner dress code. Bike around the island, once a national park, or opt for a kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding excursion with Great Turtle Kayak Tours. One of the best small towns in Michigan, Mackinac Island also earned the top spot in T+L's 2022 World's Best Awards for best continental islands in the U.S.

Indy 500 Race in Indiana

Cars racing during the Indianapolis 500
Courtesy of Indy 500

Considered the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," the Indy 500 is a can't-miss experience in the Midwest. ​​Held annually in the Indianapolis area, this race draws visitors from around the world for its epic 200-lap feat. It's noteworthy for many reasons, starting with the fact that its home — Indianapolis Motor Speedway — is the oldest continuously operating racetrack in the country. The Indy 500 is also the largest single-day sporting event globally. While there, a great option for lodging is the Bottleworks Hotel. Formerly the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Indianapolis, it now serves as a boutique hotel only a 20-minute drive from the speedway.

Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota

Night sky filled with stars at Voyageurs National Park
Courtesy of Explore Minnesota Tourism

Experience abundant natural beauty in northern Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park. As one of the least-visited national parks in the U.S., visitors won't need to battle crowds to earn some respite. Though its daytime activities, like guided paddling excursions and hiking tips, are lovely, the 218,000-acre park shines as an after-dark destination. An International Dark Sky Park, this area meets stringent light population regulations and boasts northern lights views, epic stargazing, and a night ranger program.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland, Ohio
Lesley Ann Miller/Getty Images

The world's only Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. For a truly exceptional experience, travelers can time their visit to coincide with the induction event concert when new inductees strut their stuff for legions of screaming fans. Any time of year, music enthusiasts may book the Rock & Roll Suite at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown for an on-theme lodging pick.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame remains a dedicated museum space all year, too, with the "Right Here, Right Now" gallery featuring outfits from stars like Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Harry Styles. Rotating exhibits keep the content fresh, and famous artifacts like Johnny Cash's touring bus and Prince's guitar from the Purple Rain tour draw interest to the permanent galleries. Other highlights include Stevie Nicks' black dress from the "Rumours" album cover, Flavor Flav's clock pendant necklace, and Elvis' gold lamé suit.

National and State Parks in South Dakota

Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Cavan Images/Getty Images

The stunning Black Hills area of South Dakota offers two distinct national parks, an impressive state park, and cute small towns, making it an ideal Midwestern getaway. Badlands National Park highlights include the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway, with its 16 scenic overlook points; ranger-led night-sky viewings in spring, summer, and fall; and the 10-mile Castle Trail hike. Meanwhile, Wind Cave, one of America's oldest national parks, has one of the world's longest and most complex cave systems. Visit the cave itself, hike the 30 miles of trails above the surface, and check out the intact prairie ecosystem.

The 71,000-acre Custer State Park also deserves a spot on your must-see list. It's home to the Wildlife Loop Road, which traverses 18 miles of prairies and hills, offering up a chance to see bison, deer, elk, and more. Pro tip: Plan an early May visit to see baby bison and other newborn animals. South Dakota visitors can also get a taste of rodeo life with annual events such as the Black Hills Roundup in Belle Fourche and the Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival.

Great River Road

Great River Road, Stockholm Fall Winding Road in Stockholm, Wisconsin
Courtesy of Travel Wisconsin

While plenty of noteworthy drives are found in the Midwest, the Great River Road stands out among the pack. Winding through five states before heading toward its southern terminus, the Great River Road is designated a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road. Some of the best stops along the journey can be found in the Midwest, including the headwaters, Twin Cities, Lake Pepin, Dubuque, and St. Louis. And while this trek is lovely all year long, it's most awe-inspiring as the leaves turn in autumn.

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