For those of us lucky enough to live in this part of the country, we’re blessed with some of the most country and the most amazing vistas to be had. From majestic shorelines to dense forests, from desolate rock formations to historic sites, there’s something for just about everyone looking to escape the noise and confusion of our concrete-filled world. Even better is the fact that all of this is about a day’s drive away (or oftentimes much closer). If you have an itch to get into the wild, here are our favorites from across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas.
Grand Portage National Monument — At this national monument located just a few miles from the U.S-Canadian border along the shore of Lake Superior, you’ll travel into the past and explore the partnership of the Grand Portage Ojibwe and the North West Company during the North American fur trade. Follow pathways into a distant time and experience the sights and smells of a bustling depot reconstructed in its exact location. Along with a reconstructed Ojibwe village, you’ll find the historic stockade along with its canoe warehouse, kitchen, and great hall. Along with living history demonstrations, don’t be surprised if there’s an archeological dig in progress while you’re there.
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park — Located in Mandan, North Dakota, this park is rich in both military and early Native American history, as well as once being an important infantry and cavalry post. It was from this fort that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh cavalry rode out on their ill-fated expedition against the Sioux at the Little Big Horn. Portions of the military post, including the Custer House, have been reconstructed. Visitors can also visit On-A-Slant Indian Village, where reconstructed earthlodges depict the lifestyle of the Mandan Indians, who occupied this site from about 1575-1781.
Badlands National Park — With geology unlike any place else in the United States and an otherworldly eeriness, this striking South Dakota landscape boasts a maze of buttes, canyons, pinnacles and spires. Skeletons of three-toed horses and saber-toothed cats are among the many fossilized species found here. Wildlife abounds in the park’s 244,000 acres and can often be seen while hiking, camping and traveling the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway. And for you movie lovers, it’s also where some of the scenes from Val Kilmer’s movie, Thunderheart, were filmed.
Big Bay State Park — This mile-and-a-half of secluded beach is one of Wisconsin’s best secrets, tucked away in a bay on Madeline Island’s shore of Lake Superior. In order to get there you’ll need to take a car ferry out of Bayfield, but it’s worth the extra effort to see some of the most undisturbed wilderness around. While there, be sure to stop at Big Bay Point, where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the park and Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands, and nearby Michigan.
Temperance River State Park — Located about 50 miles northeast of Two Harbors, this park covers a stretch of the Temperance River and the Lake Superior shoreline. Dramatic river gorges await as you hike along the Superior Hiking Trail and the edge of the Temperance River gorge. You’ll experience stunning waterfalls surrounded by pine, spruce, cedar and birch forests. The trail to Hidden Falls is especially beautiful.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore — Along the windswept beaches and sandstone cliffs of northern Wisconsin, visitors to this stunning Lake Superior shoreline experience where water meets land and sky, culture meets culture, and past meets present. The 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland coast host a unique blend of cultural and natural resources. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has more lighthouses than any other site in the National Park System. The visitor center at the Bayfield Headquarters is a good place to begin your visit to the national lakeshore.
Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park — Looking for something a little different? Head to Soudan, MN and go underground for a tour of this former iron ore mine that until recently was also used as a high-energy physics lab. Numerous historic buildings and archeological sites dot the park grounds including rock quarries, historical rice pits, and mining test pits. Lake Vermillion offers boating, fishing and swimming.