midwest National Parks road trip travel

National Parks of the Midwest

The Midwest is home to 24 unique and amazing National Parks. For this list we are considering the Midwest from the Mississippi River out to Utah and the 18 states that make up this area. Just like the National Parks on the East Coast, not all states have a national park located in them. In fact a few states contain half of the national parks on this list.

The Midwest has the smallest National park that comes in at only 91 acres and the first national park in the US. Each one of these national parks has something unique to offer. Within these parks are some of the most interesting geological formations and landscapes. Plus each park is great for astrophotography and stargazing.

Arches

Arches National Park located in Utah is home to more than 2,000 sandstone arches. The most famous one is Delicate arch. However, there are many, many more to hike out to. Check out Dark Angel or the Devils Garden. 

Grab a bike and ride on of the many trails or hop in the car and take a scenic drive. Backpacking and camping are also popular at Arches NP. 

Arches National Park is also a great location for astrophotography and astronomy. Light pollution is very low here and the sandstone arches make for some interesting elements in night time photography.

FOUND: 11/12/1971

LOCATION: Utah

AREA: 76,678 acres

THINGS TO DO: Rock Climbing, Hiking, Camping, auto touring, backpacking

TIME TO VISIT: Fall thru Spring

Badlands

Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota and has some stunning views. Be sure to keep a lookout for bison, prairie dogs, or the endangered Black-footed ferret. Another thing to point out is that some of Dances with Wolves with Kevin Costner (1990 movie) was filmed here. 

FOUND: 11/10/1978

LOCATION: South Dakota

AREA: 242,755 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, Camping, breathtaking views

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Big Bend

Big Bend National Park is located along the Rio Grande River which forms the Mexico-US border. Big Bend national park is also an international dark-sky park. On clear nights you can see thousands of stars and even the Milky Way.

This national park is also a great place to do some bird watching. Over 450 species of birds have been found within the park. 

For a great view hop in your car and take the Chisos Basin Road. It is 6 miles long and goes 5,679 feet above sea level. Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is another popular route. 

FOUND: 06/12/1944

LOCATION: Texas

AREA: 801,163 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, Backpacking, Bird Watching

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in Colorado along the Gunnison River. Parts of the canyon only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day which is why it gets its name. The sun just can’t penetrate the steepness of the canyon.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is a great place for advanced rock climbers and whitewater kayakers. The area is known for its difficulties. 

Hiking can also be done within Black Canyon but are on unmaintained trails and some require Class 3 climbing skills. A scenic drive is available for all visitors to enjoy. Camping is another popular activity here. 

FOUND: 10/21/1999

LOCATION: Colorado

AREA: 30,779 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, Rock Climbing, Kayaking, camping, scenic drive

TIME TO VISIT: Spring to Fall

Bryce Canyon 

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is home to some interesting structures. You will find hundreds of hoodoos. These tall, multicolored sandstone formations are something you have to see in person. 

Although the name Bryce Canyon, would suggest it is one large canyon. It is in fact not a canyon at all. It is a collection of natural amphitheaters. 

There are eight maintained hiking trails within Bryce Canyon NP and can all be done within a day. They range from easy hikes of 1-2 hours up to strenuous hikes that take 5 hours or longer. A scenic drive is popular among visitors and has 13 different viewpoints of the amphitheaters.  

FOUND: 02/25/1928

LOCATION: Utah

AREA: 35,835 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, scenic drive, photography, cross-country skiing

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park is also located in Utah. The park has four different districts to explore: Green and Colorado Rivers, the Needles, Island in the SKy, and the Maze. Each district is unique although they all have a desert atmosphere.

Mountain Bikers and four wheelers love the trails within Canyonlands NP. Each year it is becoming a more popular activity. Hiking and backpacking are also very popular. The Island in the Sky district is the most popular area in the National Park.

This is another national park that offers some breathtaking views. On October 14, 2023 you can see the Annular Solar Eclipse from Canyonlands National Park.

FOUND: 09/12/1964

LOCATION: Utah

AREA: 337,597 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, Backpacking, four wheeling, mountain biking

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park is located in south central Utah. It gets its name from whitish dome formations similar to what you would find on many capitol buildings.

Canyoneering has become a popular recreational activity in recent years. Hiking and backpacking are also highly popular activities that can be done in Capitol Reef NP. Auto touring is also an increasingly popular activity. Some of the routes take you to major points of interest. You can even find a route that passes the Temples of the Sun and Moon.

FOUND: 12/18/1971

LOCATION: Utah

AREA: 241,904 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, Backpacking, scenic drive, camping, canyoneering, rock climbing

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico is home to 117 caves with the longest cave being 120 miles in length. The largest limestone chamber in North America (the Big Room), is found within Carlsbad Caverns. It is an impressive 625 ft wide, 4,000 ft long, and 255 ft high.

Bat flight viewing is available at Carlsbad Caverns NP. It is held in the amphitheater in the early evening before sunset. Watch as thousands of bats take flight for the night. Seventeen different species of bats live within the National Park.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

FOUND: 05/14/1930

LOCATION: New Mexico

AREA: 46,766 acres

THINGS TO DO: Bat watching, spelunking, 

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch is the smallest National Park. It comes in at just 91 acres. Come see the arch that was built to commemorate the expedition by Lewis and Clark. 

FOUND: 02/22/2018

LOCATION: Missouri

AREA: 91 acres

THINGS TO DO: sightsee

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Glacier

Glacier National Park is located in Montana and is home to 26 glaciers. Each of the glaciers are rapidly receding. There is a chance that they will all be gone by 2030. 

Glacier NP is both an UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. At one point there were 150 glaciers. Only 25 remained in 2010 and are retreating each year.

Fly Fishing is popular within the park. Hiking is also very popular. Glacier National Park has close to 700 miles of trails. Tours on the larger lakes are also available on historic wooden boats.

FOUND: 05/11/1910

LOCATION: Montana

AREA: 1,013,126 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, Backpacking, fishing

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is one of the most well known national parks. The canyon is 277 miles long, up to 15 miles wide, and up to one mile deep. It is considered one of the Wonders of the World and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Grand Canyon NP is made up of two different areas: North Rim and South Rim. The North Rim is closed during the winter. The South Rim is open year round. Hiking trails can be found at both locations. 

Helicopter tours are popular from nearby Las Vegas and Phoenix. Although they can no longer fly within the canyon. At least not within the National Park. 

“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled through-out the wide world … Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But you can keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

President Theodore Roosevelt

FOUND: 02/26/1919

LOCATION: Arizona

AREA: 1,201,647 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, Helicopter tours

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Grand Teton

Grand Teton National Park is located just 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The Teton mountain range runs through the park that helps create the perfect backdrop for photography or just plain old sightseeing.  

Mountain and Rock Climbing are popular here. This is mostly because the trails are accessible by road. Most of the trails to the peaks are established and well marked and can be completed in one day for fit and experienced climbers. 

Around 200 miles worth of hiking trails can be found within Grand Teton National Park. Plenty of campsites can be also found at Signal Mountain, Lizard Creek, Flagg Ranch, and others. You will find plenty of hiking trails close to the campgrounds.

FOUND: 02/26/1929

LOCATION: Wyoming

AREA: 310,044 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, boating, mountaineer, snowshoeing, fishing, camping

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in Colorado. Some of the sand dunes are as tall as 750 feet. The tallest sand dunes in North America are located within Great Sand Dunes NP. The sand dunes make up an area that is about 30 square miles. 

Rent sand sleds and take a trip down one of the many sand dunes in the area. Stay the night and look up since Great Sand Dunes national park is an International Dark Sky Park.

FOUND: 09/24/2004

LOCATION: Colorado

AREA: 107,345 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, sandboarding, sand sledding, Stargazing

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in Texas. Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas. El Capitan, the 10th highest peak in Texas, was once used as a landmark by travelers. 

FOUND: 09/30/1972

LOCATION: Texas

AREA: 86,367 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, History

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has some of the best preserved archaeological sites in the US. The area was home to the Ancestral Puebloans. Six Hundred cliff dwellings are found at Mesa Verde National Park.

Ranger guided tours are available at some of the different cliff dwellings within Mesa Verde NP. Balcony House, Fire Temple, and Oak Tree House are some of the sites that offer tours. Check out Cliff Palace for something really unique even if a tour isn’t available.

FOUND: 06/29/1906

LOCATION: Colorado

AREA: 52,485 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, History

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest National Park located in Arizona gets its name from the petrified wood found around the area. The National Park is known for its fossils. A lot of the fossils are from the late Triassic Epoch around 225 million years ago. Many dinosaur fossils are protected throughout the park.

No overnight parking is allowed and there are no campgrounds within the National Park. Sightseeing by vehicle is a popular activity at Petrified Forest NP. You can not remove any fossils or Petrified wood that you find.

FOUND: 12/09/1962

LOCATION: Arizona

AREA: 221,390 acres

THINGS TO DO: Sightseeing

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Rocky Mountain

Rocky Mountain National Park located in Colorado has some stunning views. The towering mountain ranges are breathtaking. This was also one of the first designated World Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO.

Hiking is popular at Rocky Mountain NP and is suitable for all visitors including those with disabilities. The trails range from easy paved ones to more strenuous trails weaving around the mountains. Most of the trails are only open during the summer months. 

FOUND: 01/26/1915

LOCATION: Colorado

AREA: 265,807 acres

THINGS TO DO: Rock Climbing, Mountaineering, bouldering, hiking, wilderness camping. 

TIME TO VISIT: Spring to Fall

Saguaro

Saguaro National Park in Arizona is named after the large cactus that is found all around this area. This is the only place where Saguaro cactus grow naturally.

Saguaro National Park has 165 miles of trails for hiking. Biking and Horseback riding can be done on select trails and roads. 

FOUND: 10/14/1994

LOCATION: Arizona

AREA: 92,867 acres

THINGS TO DO: Sightseeing, Hiking, Horseback riding

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Theodore Roosevelt 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is the only national park named after a President. There are approximately 100 miles of scenic drives and trails to take while visiting. 

Theodore Roosevelt NP is an amazing spot for stargazing due to the dark skies. It is even possible to see the northern lights in the right conditions. 

FOUND: 11/10/1978

LOCATION: North Dakota

AREA: 70,446 acres

THINGS TO DO: Scenic drives, hiking, stargazing

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Voyageurs

Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota is named after French fur traders. Unique landscaping which was formed by glaciers is a big draw to this national park near the US-Canada border. 

Fishing is a very popular activity at Voyageurs NP. Northern pike, Smallmouth bass, walleye, and many other species can be found in the surrounding waters. Boating is another wildly popular activity here. 

Stargazing has become increasingly popular at Voyageurs National Park. The park is currently (2023) trying to become a dark sky park. 

FOUND: 04/08/1975

LOCATION: Minnesota

AREA: 218,222 acres

THINGS TO DO: Boating, fishing, stargazing, hiking, ice lake driving, winter camping

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

White Sands

White Sands National Park is located in New Mexico. The national park is within the White Sands Missile Range and does close from time to time when tests are being conducted. 

The largest gypsum dunefield on earth is within White Sands NP. The dunes here can be as tall as 60 feet. Many visitors like to go sledding on the many dunes throughout the park. 

FOUND: 12/20/2019

LOCATION: New Mexico

AREA: 146,344 acres

THINGS TO DO: Sledding, hiking, photography

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Wind Cave

Wind Cave National Park is located in South Dakota. It is one of the longest caves in the world and the first cave to be designated a national Park. Wind Cave National Park was also the 6th national park established in the US.

FOUND: 01/09/1903

LOCATION: South Dakota

AREA: 33,970 acres

THINGS TO DO: Sightseeing, cave tours, camping

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is located mainly in Wyoming but parts are also in Montana and Idaho. It was the first National Park in the United States and most likely the first national park in the world. Hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, and more are found all around this 2.2 million acres national park.

There are over 2,000 campsites at a dozen different campgrounds within Yellowstone National Park. You might want to spend a night or two since many of the famous attractions are crowded with people and you might not see everything in one or two days. Old Faithful erupts every 90 minutes or so and you are bound to find many, many people waiting to see it erupt. 

DId you know that over half of the world’s geysers are found in Yellowstone National Park? 

Yellowstone NP is also the location of one of the world’s largest supervolcano. The Yellowstone Caldera is the largest volcanic system in the US or North America. Only the Lake Toba Caldera in Indonesia is larger.

FOUND: 03/01/1872

LOCATION: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

AREA: 2,219,790 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, Sightseeing, Camping, photography

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Zion

Zion National Park in Utah has some of the best trials and scenic drives out of all of the Midwestern national parks. The Angels Landing trail could have the most scenic view out of any national park.

The views around Zion are truly breathtaking. Plus they are some of the easiest to see for guests of all ages.

FOUND: 11/19/1919

LOCATION: Utah

AREA: 147,242 acres

THINGS TO DO: Camping, Hiking, Rock Climbing, Sightseeing, scenic drives

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round


As you can see, the Midwest of the United States has some pretty amazing National Parks. Every national park here makes for a great time. It doesn’t matter if you are taking a scenic drive, hiking miles of trails, camping, or stargazing. You are bound to have an amazing time. Be sure to also check out our list of all 63 national parks.

Have you visited any of these amazing locations? If so, how many have you seen? Which one was your favorite National Park that you visited? Let us know in the comments below.

This post may contain affiliate links. It is at no extra cost to you for clicking a link, but helps me out. For more info click here.

If you are planning on checking out all or any of these amazing places be sure to pick up a National Parks Passport. You can get your passport stamped at all the different locations within the National park system. Places like Gettysburg, Washington, DC, Independence Hall, Everglades NP, and so much more. 

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