In a recent post in our RV Lifestyle Facebook group, a member named Rhonda posted, “Looking for ideas for Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. We know these are areas often overlooked but have beauty and history.”
Our RV community came to the rescue with nearly 150 comments and lots of excellent suggestions of things to do in the Midwest.
While Rhonda included a couple of southern states in her post, we’re going to focus on the Midwest states she mentioned in this article. I’m going to round up a bunch of the members’ different suggestions and organize them by state.
Then, you can add these often overlooked destinations to your itinerary!
Best Things To Do in the Midwest States
The Midwest actually consists of 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
If you’ve followed RV Lifestyle for any length of time, you know Michigan and the Great Lakes are one of our favorite places to explore. We’ve written an entire Adventure Guide for each (see ebook bundle here). And the Dakotas are known for Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone. (We also have a Yellowstone 7-Day Adventure Guide).
So, to Rhonda’s point, we’re going to focus on the Midwest states most often overlooked: Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and Nebraska.
Since our community members gave SO many great suggestions, I’m going to list as many as possible and link you to where you can explore them further.
(Psst… I didn’t realize how much there is to do in Nebraska!)
Best Things to Do in Iowa
From the iconic covered bridges of Madison County to the real-life Field of Dreams, here are some of the best famous and lesser-known things to do in Iowa.
- Covered Bridges of Madison County
- Pela: annual tulip festival in May and home of Wyatt Earp
- Effigy Mounds National Monument: over 200 sacred American Indian mounds, many shaped like animals
- Great River Road National Scenic Byway: road trip along the Mississippi River
- Field of Dreams: tour the iconic movie setting & baseball field where “reality mixes with fantasy”
- Rock Creek State Park: premier camping destination in central Iowa
- Ledges State Park: one of Iowa’s “one of Iowa’s most historic and unique nature destinations”
Best Things to Do in Illinois
I owe most of the following list to two members of our RV Lifestyle Facebook group. Karen and Kevin, thanks for making my job easy! In truth, I owe thanks to every single member who contributed to this entire article. Thanks so much!
- Cahokia Mounds: remains of “most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico”
- Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield Home
- Rend Lake: one of the largest lakes in Illinois known for great fishing
- Starved Rock State Park: waterfalls, bluffs, and rugged canyons
- Ulysses S. Grant Home
Kevin’s Suggestions (I’m just copying and pasting his post here since he explains it so well. He even included the links!):
“Greetings Rhonda! Far Southern Illinois is often overlooked by travelers after a long day of travel, but offers a number of interesting places to camp as well as a variety of things to do.
Cairo, Illinois, the Southernmost point of Illinois is home to the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers that can be viewed from an elevated platform in Fort Defiance State Park.
Also in Cairo, you will find the Cairo Customs House Museum. Built in the late 1860s, it was one of the furthest inland points at which US Custom Houses were located.
There is also the Magnolia Mansion. A Victorian Era Mansion that has been restored as a museum and is open to the public.
Moving north from Cairo, you can visit Superman’s hometown, Metropolis, Illinois and take your photos with his statue, and visit other related attractions.
While in the area you are in or very near the Shawnee National Forest with a huge variety of camping opportunities as well as recreational opportunities.
Public camping and recreation areas aren’t limited to Shawnee National Forest. Southern Illinois is also home to several State Parks.
Giant City State Park, Makanda, Illinois — home to fantastic scenery, camping, trails, and a Lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps that is stately in its organic beauty and serves excellent meals.
While at Giant City State Park, you are just a few miles from one of the area's most recognized attractions — The Bald Knob Cross of Peace near Alto Pass Illinois.
Ferne Clyffe State Park near Goreville is another State Park in far Southern Illinois that is known for its hiking trails and camping opportunities.
(Can we all give a round of applause to Kevin?!)
Best Things to Do in Kansas
When most people think of Kansas, they picture tornadoes and yellow brick roads. But there are so many wonderful (and real) things to do in this beautiful midwestern state.
- National Orphan Train Museum: learn the “forgotten history” of 250,000 orphaned children taken by train from eastern cities to the Midwest
- Lovewell State Park: Lovewell Lake is a “hidden gem” for anglers and outdoor lovers
- Flint Hills: unique tallgrass prairie ecosystem
- Council Grove Reservoir: great recreational lake for boating and fishing
- Lake Meade State Park: fishing and lakeside camping
- Praire Dog State Park: a colony of 300 prairie dogs, 1886 school house, adobe home, and great camping
Best Things to Do in Nebraska
When I first started reading the comments, I did not expect such a long list of recommendations for things to do in Nebraska. That’s what makes our RV Lifestyle community so great! Your input is always so valuable!
Many of the following locations (especially the Archway and Scotts Bluff) were mentioned multiple times.
- The Archway: Native American and pioneer history that “tells the story of the adventurers who followed the Great Platte River Road and helped to build America”
- Fort Kearney State Historical Park: first fort built to protect travelers on the Oregon-California Trail
- Fort Robinson State Park: where Crazy Horse was killed
- Scotts Bluff National Monument: 800-foot landmark towering above the North Platte River that helped guide pioneers
- Chimney Rock: a massive natural landmark for countless pioneers journeying west
- Homestead National Historical Park: honoring the Homestead Act of 1862 that enticed millions of people to cultivate the frontier with the promise of free land.
- Arbor Lodge State Park: Family home of J. Morton of Morton Salt, who founded Arbor Day
- Gothenburg: Pony Express Capital of Nebraska
- Lake McConaughey: largest reservoir in Nebraska known for family-friendliness, fishing, and water sports
- Pioneer Village: museum housing the most comprehensive collections of Americana
- Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo: “one of the world’s top 5 zoos”
- Geographic Center of the U.S.: Just so you can say you’ve been to the exact center of the United States
Join our RV LIfestyle Facebook Group
As you can see, our RV Lifestyle Facebook group is a valuable resource and a fount of information. Join the conversations! Share and learn from fellow RVers.
Do you have destinations to add to this post?
Let us know about them in the comments! You can see all our “Destination” posts right here.