Midwest Scenic Trails

Magazine Features, Outdoor & Adventure

Cyclists, hikers and those seeking a beautiful stroll can delve into a multitude of scenic trails in the Midwest

The Midwest is filled with picturesque landscapes that are perfect for groups seeking a little adventure. Hikers and bikers can embrace the region’s variety of trails that offer challenges and leisurely riding opportunities. With many surrounding attractions and restaurants, these trails can be anything from a weekend getaway to a weeklong vacation. Here are some of the best hiking trails in the Midwest.

Katy Trail in Missouri

Spanning the Missouri countryside, this 237-mile trail is America’s longest “rails-to-trail” project. More than half of the eastern portion follows Lewis and Clark’s path up the Missouri River through serene farmland into the state’s picturesque small towns. The trail welcomes hikers, runners and cyclists alike, offering 200 miles of uninterrupted terrain. With several restaurants along the trail, in addition to a bed and breakfast inn, motels, campgrounds and shopping excursions, this adventure offers enough attractions for a weekend getaway.Visitors can also combine their hike with a wine tasting tour, sampling some of the finest wines Missouri’s wine country has to offer. bikekatytrail.com

Minnesota’s Paul Bunyan State Trail

Stretching 120 miles, the Paul Bunyan State Trail is Minnesota’s longest trail and the longest continually paved rail-trail in the U.S. Extending from Crow Wing State Park to Lake Bemidji State Park, the trail can be used for hiking, biking, mountain biking, in-line skating and snowmobiling. The surrounding region’s rich culture makes the trail more than simply a daytime hiking adventure. Having been previously occupied by the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes, this region is home to indigenous people to this day. In addition to its cultural history, towns along the trail act as popular vacation destinations, providing trail access points, rest areas and other services. paulbunyantrail.com

Little Miami Scenic Trail in Ohio

The fourth-longest paved trail in the United States, the Little Miami Scenic Trail spans 78 miles through five southwestern counties in Ohio. This trail makes up part of the statewide Buckeye Trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail and the statewide Ohio-to-Erie trail. Divided into two distinct personas, the trail offers visitors the best of both worlds. South of Spring Valley, visitors will pass canoe liveries, quaint eateries, the Ft. Ancient State Historic Site and various other contemporary attractions of Kings Island. North of Spring Valley, the route links larger urban cities, Xenia and Springfield, through the vibrant village of Yellow Springs. Must-see attractions include Xenia Station, a restored railroad station at the hub of four trails that meet in Xenia, and John Bryan State Park. miamivalleytrails.org/trails/little-miami-scenic-trail


Historic Little Miami State Park Maineville. Photo Credit: FLMSP

Iowa’s Wabash Trace Nature Trail

This 63-mile Iowa trail can be traveled by foot, bike, ski, snowshoe or even wheelchair. The opportunities are endless as visitors can watch birds and wildlife, identify diverse animal and plant life, picnic, visit the trail towns, or stargaze at night. Parallel to the Wabash Trace is an off-road multi-use trail approved for use by hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. There are several bridge crossings shared between the off-road and the main trail. The area offers several lodging options that can accommodate whatever experience you are seeking, whether it be a bed and breakfast, hotel, primitive camping option, or if you prefer, your own RV.

There are many attractions beyond the trail that make this Iowa destination more than just a day trip. Visitors can enjoy an outing at the American Legion Country Club, putt some holes at the Fairview Hills Golf Course, or take a dip at Shenandoah’s Wilson Aquatic Center or Malvern’s Public Pool. Those who want a break from the outdoors can visit the Historic St. Patrick Catholic Church, the Shenandoah Historical Museum or the Sugar Clay Winery. wabashtrace.org

Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho

Named one of the 25 top trails by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, this paved, wheelchair accessible 73-mile trail is perfect for cyclists, in-line skaters, walkers, Nordic skiers and snowshoers, and wild-life enthusiasts. Stretching through the Idaho panhandle between Mullan and Plummer, the trail threads through the historic Silver Valley along the Coeur d’Alene River through scenic farmland to Plummer. Twenty trailheads act as entry points, and the trail is lined with 20 waysides to stop for a picnic.

The trail’s unique landscape makes it one of the state’s best birding locales, bisecting all of the major low-elevation habitats in North Idaho. Visitors will have the chance to experience mixed conifer forests, wetlands, agricultural fields, urban streetscapes, cottonwood groves and deep water. These diverse conditions offer a potential list of 189 species in addition to 48 very rare species, with elk, white-tailed deer and moose being most common. parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/trail-coeur-d-alenes

Coeur d' Alenes Trail Chatcolet Bridge credit Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation

Coeur d’ Alenes Trail Chatcolet Bridge. Photo Credit: Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation

South Dakota’s George C. Mickelson Trail

Located in the heart of the Black Hills, this South Dakota staple is perfect for a variety of outdoor activities from biking to horseback riding to bird watching. With its mild slopes, the trail is accessible to visitors of all ages. While most of the trail does not exceed a 4% grade, the trail’s longest incline, the 19 mile stretch from Deadwood to Dumont, is its most strenuous portion. The 109-mile trail consists of more than 100 converted railroad bridges, four rock tunnels and 15 trailheads. Each trailhead includes parking, self-sale trail passes and tables. Four-hour trolley rides are offered to ensure that everyone can enjoy the trail’s beauty, regardless of physical limitations. gfp.sd.gov/parks/detail/george-s–mickelson-trail

By Jamie Fischer

For more travel ideas, download our current issue of Leisure Travel Guide.


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