Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Park – Harrisburg, Illinois
As part of the Shawnee National Forest, The Garden of the Gods rivals the western Rocky Mountains for its sprawling views and breathtaking hikes. The dramatic rock formations are unlike anything else in the Midwest. The park is open year round, but for the best views take the famous Observation Trail mid-summer or early fall.
Mammoth Cave- Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave looks more like something out of a Jurassic Park film than it does a landmark in Kentucky. However, it has often been cited as the most wondrous natural attraction in the whole state. The stalagmites and stalactites are the forms of myth, and the water elements are super unique. The tours are not for the faint of heart … or the claustrophobic.
Cave-in-Rock – Cave-in-Rock, Illinois
While the name lacks some majesty, the landmark does not. Cave-in-Rock is one of the coolest natural landmarks in Illinois, mainly known for it’s 55ft cave, which was carved out of water thousands of years ago. The state park that Cave-in-Rock lives in also overlooks the Ohio River, providing guests with spectacular views from any angle. Once you’re done exploring the cave, there is always the famous Cave-in-Rock Restaurant and Lodge to visit for some traditional southern fare.
Wildcat Canyon – Oglesby, Illinois
Mainly Illinois is recognized as a fairly flat state with gorgeous bodies of water. However, many don’t realize the phenomenal hiking and trailblazing that can be experienced there. Perhaps one of the most gorgeous places to explore is Starved Rock State Park, with such natural wonders as Wildcat Canyon, where a gorgeous Midwestern waterfall sits just waiting to be photographed.
Apostle Islands – Near Bayfield, Wisconsin
Lake Superior may look and feel like a freshwater ocean, so it should be no surprise that it comes with its own islands too! The Apostle Islands, just off the coast of Bayfield, Wisconsin, are quaint spits of land atop some of the most gorgeous ‘sea caves’ in the world. While the trees are pine instead of palm, this is a total Midwesterner’s paradise.
Cave of the Mounds – Blue Mounds, Wisconsin
The Cave of the Mounds is simply a treasure trove of brilliance. The tour through these ancient rock formations is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and leaves little left to be desired. Perhaps one of the greatest selling points of this cave is the pathways lined by crystal formations. The caves also have activities where guests can unearth fossils and even crack their own geode!
Eagle River Chain of Lakes – Eagle River, and Three Lakes, Wisconsin
Perhaps the best fishing lakes in Wisconsin also hold an awesome secret – the Eagle River/ Three Lakes Chain of Lakes is actually the largest inland chain of lakes on the entire planet. The 28 different lakes are all connected by small channels, most big enough for a canoe or kayak to pass through. Standing alone, these lakes are all gorgeous in their own right, but knowing they’re all connected truly shows how great this planet is.
Maquoketa Caves – Maquoketa, Iowa
Formed by a glacier thousands of years ago, this cave looks like it belongs in the rain forest, not in Iowa. The Maquoketa Caves State Park actually contains more caves than any other state park in Iowa. The large cave for which it’s known for, was recognized for it’s unique stalagmite and stalactite formations, however those were stolen by souvenir hunters. People have been known to find pottery and other historical articles in the caves.
Crystal Lake Cave – Dubuque, Iowa
Discovered in the late 1800s, this cave mind boggles all who visit. Perhaps one of the most gorgeous caves in the United States, Crystal Lake Cave is known countrywide for it’s bright white mineral stalagmites and stalactites. Beyond just these formations, the cave also sports some photo-worthy Helectites and Anthodites. The real-life tours are fantastic, but you can also take a virtual tour online at their website.
Seven Pillars – Peru, Indiana
Sometimes just referred to as “The Cliffs,” the Seven Pillars rock formation is an exceptional spectacle of wind and water erosion, located right on the shore of the Mississinewa River. There is little known about this formation, and it is one of Indiana’s best kept natural secrets. The tribes of the Miami Nation of Indians in the area often use the spaces behind the pillars as meeting places, and there was even a trading post there at one time!