Although the Midwest United States is sometimes known as “flyover country,” RVing families know what a treasure-trove it is for exciting outdoor adventures, unusual and beautiful scenery, and indeed some incredible national parks.
If you’re planning an RV camping trip with the whole family soon, be sure to put these national parks in the U.S. Midwest on your list!
Hugging the southern shore of Lake Michigan for 15 miles, Indiana Dunes offers so much for families to do: frolic in the waves (yes waves!) of the lake that, at times, looks like an ocean; fly a kite on the beach; traipse through the tall sand dunes; take a hike through towering oaks or marshy wetlands.
Beach parking lots do fill up quickly in the warm summer months, especially on the weekends. So, if you’re keen on experiencing a family day at the beach, plan to make your way there early. Also check out the vast parking lot at Indiana Dunes State Park, which is interestingly enveloped by the national park with access to the Lake Michigan shoreline, but requires its own fees for entrance.
Dunewood Campground at the national park offers 54 RV campsites, where you’ll be wonderfully shaded by tall trees. It’s a bit inland from the lake, though, so if you’d like to be closer to the beach, as well as an electrical hook-up, consider overnighting at the state park with its access to some great wooded trails that lead to the lake.
Nearby Harvest Host: Team Combat is a tactical laser tag activity for adults and tweens/teens (with special kid-sized equipment for children ages 6-9) in Merrillville, Indiana. See all RV camping in Indiana here.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
This national park is located between the urban centers of Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. But there’s nothing urban about its 33,000 acres of rolling hills, wooded forest, stunning waterfalls, and the winding Cuyahoga River.
Consider hiking or biking the Towpath Trail, which follows the historic Ohio & Erie Canal, once an important waterway for transportation in the 1800s. You can bike or hike one way, and then take the scenic train ride back! Or, just kick back and relax for a full 2.5-hour loop through the park.
Nearby Harvest Host: Whetsel Homestead is a small family farm in Norton, Ohio, with mowed nature trails and a catch-and-release pond (bring your own fishing rod). Get more recommendations for RV camping in Ohio here.
Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri
Gateway Arch is one of the country’s newest national parks in the Midwest, having been designated in 2018. It’s smack dab in the middle of St. Louis, so it may not be the easiest spot to navigate in an RV, but you can park in the city’s outskirts and take public transportation to this nifty historical site.
The park commemorates Thomas Jefferson’s vision of the U.S. expansion to the West; the inhabitants who helped shape the history of the area; and Dred and Harriet Scott, enslaved African Americans who sued for their freedom in the Old Courthouse. Learn about these important historic times by strolling the grounds and visiting the museums.
And don’t miss the main attraction: taking a tram ride to the top of the looming, 630-foot Gateway Arch for a bird’s eye view of the Mississippi River into Illinois, as well as downtown St. Louis and beyond.
Nearby Harvest Host: O’Brien Tire & Auto is the oldest continuously running tire and auto repair shop on Route 66, having operated since the 1920s. It’s 15 minutes from downtown St. Louis in Granite City, Illinois.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Technically this national park (and the Badlands below) might be considered a park “out West,” especially since they’re both known for their vast, rugged terrain that goes on for miles and miles, but since the U.S. Census Bureau considers both North Dakota and South Dakota part of the U.S. Midwest, we’re including them here! (Plus, they’re awesome.)
Teddy Roosevelt National Park in the Midwest is composed of a South Unit and a North Unit that are 68 miles apart. There’s also an Elkhorn Ranch Unit, which is the site of Roosevelt’s beloved ranch, but it’s accessible only via unpaved, steep roads — not ideal for an RV! Both main units have their highlights, including scenic drives and overlooks, plus many opportunities to spot the bison herds that make their home here.
For family-friendly hiking trails, consider the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail in the North Unit, where you can pick up a brochure and learn about the flora and fauna at educational stops along the way. The short Ridgeline Trail in the North Unit also has educational literature at the trailhead.
Nearby Harvest Host: Fluffy Fields Vineyard & Winery is in Dickinson, North Dakota. The scenic spot is open year-round.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
The unusual, layered rock formations at the Badlands in the Midwest are a result of more than 75 million years of Earth’s geologic history! They are certainly awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping, and serve as a backdrop for some pretty incredible wildlife viewing. As you drive along the scenic roads, don’t be surprised if you spot bison and bighorn sheep; it’s not unusual for big bison to stop traffic!
Like most of the U.S. national parks, the Badlands has a robust Junior Ranger program for kids. Pick up a booklet at the visitor center, have your kids complete a few educational activities, and they’ll earn a cool badge. Also check out this neat GPS hiking adventure you can do, guided by your phone.
Nearby Harvest Host: Pioneer Auto Museum is in Murdo, South Dakota, about 60 miles east of the Badlands just off I-90. The museum has hundreds of classic cars, tractors, and motorcycles on display.
Have you been to the national parks in the Midwest? We’d love to hear about your trip in the comments below!
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