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14 Reasons Why You Should Explore the American Midwest
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14 Reasons Why You Should Explore the American Midwest

Picture of Kelsey Grace Pfeifer
Updated: 14 August 2017
Most people look at the Midwest as this vast, boring expanse of land with nothing but Chicago to be impressed by. However, there is so much more than meets the eye in the Midwest, and here are some reasons why everyone should pack up and go exploring that vast, boring expanse of land.

The Midwest touts some way too nice people

It’s no secret that people in the Midwest are overly nice. In fact, Chicago has been called the “New York of Nice People,” thanks to its resemblance to the Big Apple. But it isn’t just the big cities that host this Midwestern hospitality—there are many small places that will show kindness to strangers out of nowhere. Many small Midwestern towns have just enough of a population for everyone to know absolutely everyone, so there’s an element of family acceptance when tourists arrive in these areas. On top of everything, this niceness is scientifically proven—the University of Cambridge analyzed personality traits of 1.6 million Americans on Facebook and found Midwesterners to be the friendliest out of all of them.

Extreme local delicacies

The Midwest should be crowned the winner when it comes to strange food combinations. If it can be fried, the Midwest has undoubtedly fried it. Honestly, if it can be put on a stick somehow, the Midwest has probably done that as well. You can get a Bloody Mary with a meal on top of it at Milwaukee’s Sobelmans, or simply opt for the mac and cheese bun at Des Moines’ Zombie Burger. Both options are equally delicious as they are ridiculous.

Hot Wisconsin Cheese
Hot Wisconsin Cheese | © Ross Catrow/ Flickr

Sports teams are more like a lifestyle

To Midwesterners, sports teams are family, and the stadiums are like church. Whether it’s a weekend at Soldier Field or Lambeau Field, in this part of the country fans can only root for one team. It’s Packers, Bears, Colts, or Vikings, and fights will break out over who is the best football team. Baseball is the same—Cubs or White Sox. And don’t even get started on college sports. Just know that Big 10 loyalty runs deep in the Midwest. So does all sports loyalty, so, if possible, get invited to a legendary Packers vs. Bears party because it’s bound to be legendary!

Green Bay Packers Fans
Green Bay Packers Fans | © Mike Morbeck/Flickr

There are some unbeatable landscapes

When it comes to the Midwest, there is no better place to watch a sunset than one of the thousands of lakes throughout Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Drives through these areas are particularly picturesque due to the lack of civilization. Sometimes a drive through Indiana can lead to hours of looking at green grass and horses. Kentucky is known for its rock formations, and even Iowa has some surprisingly rolling hills. So any pit stop or drive is filled with completely Instagram-able moments.

Some crazy theme parks

The Midwest is definitely most well known for Six Flags Great America, but it also has some other amazing parks. Now, Six Flags Great America does kick all theme parks up a notch, and there is no better way to spend Halloween than at Fright Fest. However, in Santa Claus, Indiana sits Holiday World, a staple of weirdness throughout the whole Midwest. Holiday World has different towns within it, including Halloween, Christmas, and Fourth of July. The Wisconsin Dells also has a lot to offer, with some of the best waterslides in the world.

Holiday World 099
Holiday World 099 | © Jeremy Thompson/Flickr

The Midwest’s weird and mysterious history

Not everyone who travels wants to look at scenery or just eat good food. Some are in it for much more macabre reasons, and for that, the Midwest delivers tenfold. There are age-old mysteries and murders, such as Chicago’s infamous mobsters or H.H. Holmes. There are tours in Milwaukee that even go past Jeffrey Dahmer’s old abode. For those braver travelers there is even the Villisca House in Iowa. The Midwest is simply crawling with history and mystery.

ca. 1930, Miami, Florida, USA: Police mug shot of Chicago Mobster Al Capone. The photograph was taken by the Miami Police Department
ca. 1930, Miami, Florida, USA: Police mug shot of Chicago Mobster Al Capone. The photograph was taken by the Miami Police Department | © Bettmann/CORBIS

There are so many bodies of water

Minnesota is definitely the land of 10,000 lakes, but many don’t realize that Illinois and Wisconsin are also filled with bodies of water where activities take place every summer. Because summer itself is fleeting in the Midwest, there will rarely be a body of water without a slew of boats on it. As for the other Midwestern states, rivers such as the Mississippi and Ohio run through them. One of the best ways to see the Ohio would be from the Big Four Bridge, where you can walk from Louisville, Kentucky to New Albany, Indiana for a mini-adventure.

Panoramic Sunrise over Kentucky and Indiana
Panoramic Sunrise over Kentucky and Indiana | © StevenW./Flickr

World class art

Some may want to visit the Louvre, but Chicago’s Art Institute is home to some of the world’s most impressive paintings. On top of that, Chicago’s theater and comedy scene is unbeatable. Comedians like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler got their start at Second City, while Broadway and film darling Tracy Letts often debuts work at the renowned Steppenwolf Theater. Milwaukee’s Repertory Theatre is equally impressive, and the Louisville Ballet will steal the show every time.

Chicago, Ill., downtown, Oriental Theater, Billy Elliot
Chicago, Ill., downtown, Oriental Theater, Billy Elliot | © Vincent Desjardens/Flickr

The best thrift stores

Some of the greatest things to explore in the Midwest are, without a doubt, the thrift stores. It’s a mystery why they’re so great (or incredibly large) in the Midwest, but these will have some gems for sure. The mom and pop charity shops are a staple throughout, but the more rural you are, the better they get. But Chicago takes the cake. The Salvation Army warehouse downtown is a diamond in the rough, and has every item imaginable. But Hollywood Mirror is an unforgettable experience where a journey in might mean finding an insane 1970s fringe jacket or even a signed poster.

Some unusual activities

While Midwestern people are for the most part normal, they do partake in some interesting hobbies. Because of the harsh winters, most are well versed in skiing, snow-shoeing, and even biathlon. One mainstay in Midwestern activities is snowmobile racing. The races end up looking like a mix between motocross and N.A.S.C.A.R., but with bigger coats. One of the most popular and strangest sports is Show Skiing. People train their entire lives to put on glamorous and sequin-filled shows with death-defying stunts on waterskis and these shows are the highlights of Midwestern summers.

Show skiing is a big sport in the Midwest
Show skiing is a big sport in the Midwest | © Walter/Flickr

World famous music festivals

Sometimes, the world just needs to be blessed with a bunch of amazing artists all in one place at one time, and when it comes to some phenomenal music festivals, the Midwest has it covered. The summer kicks off with Summerfest in Milwaukee, which is literally the largest music festival in the world and tends to book both the mainstream artists and the “oldies but goodies” for some fun right on the coast of Lake Michigan. Chicago’s Lollapalooza finds all the up-and-comers and makes them famous. Some of the notable names have even been known to go out on the town with fans.

Lollapalooza 2014
Lollapalooza 2014 | © Liliane Callegari/Flickr

Beautiful winters

There’s a joke among Midwesterners that only two seasons really exist: winter, and roadwork season. Because of geographical location, winters in the northern Midwest have been known to start as early as September and end as late as June. But if you love snow and cold weather, it’s an absolute dream. The skiing and snowboarding cannot be beat, with places like Cascade Mountain and Alpine Valley Resort. Some towns even build igloos or more elaborate ice castles just for the fun of it.

A Midwestern barn in mid-winter
A Midwestern barn in mid-winter | © Royal Broil/Flickr

Some pretty awesome movies were set here

Movie buffs can rejoice in a Midwestern roadtrip—there are plenty of famous films that have been set here. Hoosiers is an Indiana classic, and the city of Milwaukee certainly plays a cameo in Bridesmaids. But Chicago is home to some of the greatest films of all time, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Rookie of the Year. It’s featured so prominently that it might be considered a character in itself.

The Art Institute of Chicago featured in a famous scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Art Institute of Chicago featured in a famous scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off | © Phil Roeder/Flickr

The architecture is some of the best in the nation

Chicago’s skyline is occupied by some of the most beautiful buildings in the nation, such as the Willis Tower (it’s still the Sears Tower to any Chicago native) the Hancock Building, and Navy Pier. But the houses in the neighborhoods surrounding Chicago are also picturesque and historically well-preserved. Louisville is another city boasting interesting architecture, including one of the greatest college stadiums, the K.F.C. Yum! Center. But when it comes to Midwest architecture, nothing will stop a heart faster than The Milwaukee Art Museum.

Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee Art Museum | © Jim Bauer/Flickr