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7 Awesome Midwestern adventures for water-lovers

You’ll be surprised by the number of top-notch beachfront, lakeside, and waterfall adventures these states have to offer.

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

Before you start planning to hop in the car or aboard a plane to head to one of the coasts, know that there is an abundance of remarkable, yet overlooked waterside adventures right in the midwest that will leave you craving for more.

So pack a swimsuit and stop by one or more of these midwestern states to fill your days with exploration, new perspectives, and unforgettable memories by the water this summer. The midwest will mean something new to you by the end of this list.

1. Kayak to the Sand Island Sea Caves, Wisconsin

Photo: Allison Herreid

Spend the day paddling through breathtaking sandstone sea caves while visiting the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. You’ll experience both peace and sheer excitement while weaving in and out of rock formations on these vibrant waters.

2. Camp at Buckhorn State Park, Wisconsin

Photo: Robin Pfeifer

Halfway between Milwaukee and Minneapolis, you’ll find a beautiful wilderness campsite along the shores of Castle Rock Lake. Enjoy a remote weekend getaway with friends fishing or swimming in the calm lake or huddled around the warm glow of an evening campfire.

3. Watch a Sunset at Cuyuna State Recreational Area, Minnesota

Photo: Jordan Mileski

On a warm summer night, nothing beats sitting around a campfire with friends and watching the sunset. The glass-like, calm waters of this lake reflect the sun’s light in the most picture-perfect way. An added bonus is that this area is rarely frequented, which means that it’ll likely just be you, your friends, and the night sky.

4. Kayak the Boundary Waters' Seagull to Saganaga Loop, Minnesota

Photo: Emily Kent

Located in Northeastern Minnesota within the Superior National Forest, this wilderness area is a must-visit. Peacefully paddle through the water while surrounded by trees, open sky, and the sounds of wildlife. Stay until evening to experience unforgettable zero light pollution stargazing.

5. Camp on South Manitou Island, Michigan

Photo: Shalee Blackmer

For a truly secluded overnight outing that will challenge you to get out of your comfort zone, this adventure is for you! South Manitou Island is located off of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and is only accessible by a two-hour ferry ride. The island is meant for straight-up backcountry camping that provides opportunities to see hundred-foot sand dunes, rocky shorelines, a lighthouse, and a shipwreck. 

6. Kayak to Turnip Rock, Michigan

Photo: Shalee Blackmer

To see some unique and obscure natural rock formations in the waters of Lake Huron, spend the day paddling around Turnip Rock. In addition to this natural wonder, you can explore nearby sea caves by kayak just several hundred feet away.

7. Hike to Ghost Dance Canyon, Illinois

Photo: Lucas Bremer

This hike will take you by a series of stunning free-flowing waterfalls in Dixon Springs State Park. You’ll find yourself stopping to stare at the force of cascading water more than once. Camping is available at the state park if you wish to stay the night.

Cover photo: Lucas Bremer

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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