Check Out These Four Midwest National Parks

National parks help protect the beauty of the land. Learn what these four different parks have to offer.

There are so many national parks to explore that it can be tough to know where to begin. Sometimes it’s a matter of geography – which one is the closest to me? – and sometimes it’s all about the activities the park offers. 

Located in the Midwest or curious about the area? If you want to visit a national park in the region, you have plenty of options. Here we’ve narrowed it down to four park areas, including two that offer campsites and two that do not. Take a look at Buffalo National River, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Ozark Scenic Riverways, and Scotts Bluff. 

Buffalo National River in Arkansas

Buffalo River in Arkansas
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If you’re thinking, “That says National River, not National Park,” you would be 100% correct (in fact, none of the parks on this list include “park” in their official name!). The first option we have for you is the national park that contains America’s First National River and was established in 1972. It runs for 135 miles and is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the continental U.S. 

You can paddle certain stretches of the river, but make sure you check river levels before your trip. There are also a variety of campsites, from fairly primitive (vault toilets and no water) to fairly developed (electric and water hook-ups for RV camping). Some of the campsites are free, while group sites can cost up to $50 a night. Group sites are limited to 10-25 people, so $50 is a great deal once you split it up!

Save some time for hiking the trails and star-gazing, too. If you’re interested in learning about the history of the area, check out the Boxley Grist Mill. 

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas

Tallgrass Prairie in Kansas
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While there’s no camping on the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, there’s plenty to do during your visit. There are over 11,000 acres, so there’s plenty of tallgrass and plant life to see. You can also take a tour of the historic buildings or go hiking. There are special events throughout the year and plenty of Junior Ranger activities for kids as well. 

Why is it so important to preserve tallgrass? Well first of all, without the preservation tallgrass would be extinct, which is wild to consider when you realize that tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America. 

Now, most of it is farmland, but not all – the last 4% are intact in the Kansas Flint Hills. Visit the area that contains over 500 species of plants, 150 species of birds, 39 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 31 species of mammals. Stay in Strong City or Cottonwood Falls and explore the historic towns while you’re there!

Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri

Alley Spring and Mill in Missouri
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Head east to Missouri to check out the first national park area that was created specifically to protect a river system. You can canoe, swim, boat, or fish in the Current and the Jacks Fork rivers, which are both spring-fed, cold, and clear. 

If you’re floating down the rivers, during your trip you can camp on any gravel bar as long as you are not within a half-mile of a designated campground. However, camping within 50 feet of a river access, landing, or mouth of a cave is prohibited. 

If you’re driving in or hiking into the area, then you must camp at designated camping areas within the park. There are a variety of campgrounds available, including some that are fairly developed and some that are less so. The backcountry and primitive campgrounds that only have basic amenities do not take reservations and are free during the off-season. 

There’s plenty of history to learn about in the Ozarks, dating back to even before the Civil War. You can also learn about the Rural Ozark Women Ethnographic Study and Missouri Folklore during your stay. If you’re fishing during your trip, make sure you have the right license!

Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska

Scotts Bluff in Nebraska
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Five rocks are the stars of the show at Scotts Bluff (which was historically called Scotts Bluffs): Crown Rock, Sentinel Rock, Eagle Rock, Saddle Rock, and Dome Rock. To be specific, the bluffs are the range of hills that parallel the river and offer beautiful views of the largest isolated landmass in Nebraska. While you won’t be able to camp at the national monument, you can find lodging options in Kimball, Nebraska.

Because the rocks are so easy to spot, Scotts Bluff has been used as a landmark for ages by the Native Americans, people traveling along the Oregon Trail, and many more. The landmark wasn’t called by its current name until the 1830s. Scotts Bluff was named after Hiram Scott, a fur trader who may have died near the bluffs in the 1830s.

The Scotts Bluff National Monument contains 3,000 acres of land to explore, including four miles of hiking trails, the 1.6 summit road which allows you to take in the views from the top of Scotts Bluff, and of course, plenty of plants and wildlife. Learn about the geology and paleontology of the bluffs at the Visitor Center.

Whether you want to camp by the river or you’d rather hike around a beautiful bluff, the national parks in the Midwest can help you do either one and so much more. There really is no such thing as “flyover country” when you actually take the time to explore the region.

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