Best Backpacking Trails in the Midwest

You would think that the Midwest wouldn’t have much in the way of hiking and backpacking opportunities worth mentioning.  Geographically speaking, it is a relatively flat region compared to what you would find along the Atlantic seaboard or in the Rocky Mountain regions.

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With the exception of some rolling hills here and there, there is not much in the way of real mountains to see, but don’t let this fool you. There are numerous forested areas with some excellent trails that meander through them.  The following is a listing of our picks for the best hiking and backpacking trails in the Midwest:

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The top pick in the state of Illinois would be the River-to-River Trail which is situated in the Shawnee National Forest.  For people living in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, they are only a 5 to 8 hour drive from the forest and this 176-mile long trail that runs from the Mississippi River to the Ohio River.  Located in southern Illinois, the trail takes in some spectacular landscapes and rock formations.


Located within the boundaries of the Hoover National Forest is the Charles Dean Wilderness area, home to some of the best hiking/backpacking opportunities in the Midwest.  Despite the 40 miles of hiking trails, the top pick is the Lake Monroe trail which is also a favorite of campers and kayakers.  It is a remote location with plenty of overnight camping available to the visitor. 


Lower Michigan

Extending across the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan is the Huron and Mainstee National Forests with its 1 million acres of public lands and 330 miles of hiking/backpacking trails.  The 120-mile long North Country Trail runs through the Mainstee National Forest but there are also some excellent loop hikes in the area. 


With 742 miles of hiking/backpacking trails, the Mark Twain National Forest offers an abundance of excellent trekking opportunities.  Coinciding with the Eleven Point Scenic River is the 44-mile long water trail.  You can find every difficulty classification here, ranging from easy to strenuous as well as a wide variety of landscapes.  One of the better backpacking adventures is the 30-mile long is the Ozark Trail’s Current River Section. 


The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is one of the 11 hikes that are denoted as National Scenic Trails.  It doesn’t get a lot of attention which is surprising where this 1,000-mile long path is concerned because of the accessibility it provides the hiker to see some exceptionally scenic areas.  The trail runs close to Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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