The Midwest is my home. I have always lived in Iowa, and my home state is not flat like many people think it is. I often hear of people referring to the Midwest as flat and boring. If you have not visited the Midwest because you believe it is flat and dull, I’m going to show you differently. The Midwest is filled with rolling terrains that are sure to pique your curiosity. Each of these terrains offers incredible views that you will appreciate and wonder why you have never visited.
1. Allamakee County, Iowa
You can easily spend one full week exploring Allamakee County. Take a drive on Roller Coaster Road in northeastern Iowa. This road is what it appears to be. It’s a one-mile stretch of gravel road that offers a fun drive. You will go up and down as you hop in your car to take the drive. Roll down the windows and let the fresh, country air blow through your hair. Enjoy the beautiful countryside as you experience this beautiful region of Iowa, known as the Driftless Area. This exhilarating drive takes five minutes. If you enjoy it, turn your car around and do it again. Elsewhere in the county, the Mississippi River and the Yellow River State Forest offer endless outdoor experiences.
2. Monument Rocks, Kansas
Monument Rocks in northwestern Kansas is a national natural landmark. These large chalk formations, rich in fossils, were the first landmark chosen by the U.S. Department of the Interior to have this title. They lie south of Kansas I-70, off of U.S. Highway 83. There are signs along the highway that tell you where to turn. This national landmark is six miles east of the road. You will drive on several miles of gravel roads to get to them. They are 70 feet tall, and if you happen to visit on a clear day, the skies, with the rich chalk formations, make for a beautiful photo opportunity.
You can walk around the rock formations, but you cannot climb them. Wear sturdy shoes, as the terrain is rocky and uneven. These rock formations are worth your 30-minute visit. I have never seen anything so majestic that is surrounded by prairie and farmland. Nearby Oakley, Kansas, is home to the first designated historic byway in Kansas, Western Vistas Historic Byway. This scenic byway offers fossil hunting and views of the rugged landscape.
3. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Theodore Roosevelt National Park sits on the western edge of North Dakota. It is home to the North Dakota Badlands. The highest elevation in the park is 2,865 feet at Peck Hill. You can explore the park and see the rocks, petrified wood, and fossils that lie all around. As with any national park, you cannot take any park resources home with you. Numerous rock formations that tower along your drive through the park are incredible.
It’s easy for your mind to wander as to what life would be like thousands of years ago in this area of the Midwest. The bison roam freely, and you can often get a glimpse of them strolling in the valleys. Pack a picnic lunch, and if you are lucky, you will find yourself surrounded by a herd of buffalo as you indulge. Ask me how I know? It’s happened to me, and it’s an experience that I will talk about for years to come. After you leave the park, spend time in the charming mountain town of Medora.
4. Flint Hills, Kansas
The Flint Hills are located in central and eastern Kansas and are home to the continent’s largest remaining tract of tallgrass. You’ll traverse rolling hill after rolling hill as you drive through the Flint Hills. Grasslands surround you as you meander through this area of the Midwest. If you visit in late summer, you will experience the magic of the Kansas sunflowers, along with numerous wildflowers. Sunsets are spectacular in the Flint Hills and are an opportunity to connect with nature in the heart of America. Hop on KS-177 in Manhattan, Kansas, and travel the Flint Hills from Manhattan to Council Grove for an epic road trip through the Flint Hills. Continue south for more scenic views in Kansas.
There are several pullouts along the route. Take advantage of every one of them. They each offer fascinating views of the rolling hills, prairies, and tallgrass that sweep across this area of the United States. You can spend one full day in the Flint Hills, or you can choose to spend a whole week. Kansas has many museums, hiking trails, parks, scenic drives, and historical sites to keep you busy. Each time I find myself trekking across Kansas I-70, I make it a point to stop at the Flint Hills Overlook that sits between I-70 and Manhattan. The last time I stopped here, it was sunrise, and it was a magical time to visit.
5. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park sits on the western side of South Dakota, off of I-90. The highest elevation in the park measures at 3,340 feet at Red Shirt Table. This national park is home to a large number of fossil remains. You can learn more about fossils along the Fossil Exhibit Trail. The park is unique because you can have grasslands on one side of you and not the other side, a beautiful rock formation that towers towards the sky. There are numerous hiking trails throughout the park, and many trails will remind you at the trailhead to watch for rattlesnakes. If you are visiting in the summer, hike early in the day as it can get sweltering in the heat of the day. After you have spent a full day exploring the park, swing into Wall Drug for supper.
6. Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota
Iron Mountain Road is located in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, near Mount Rushmore. This windy, twisty, hilly drive offers some magnificent views of Mount Rushmore. As you travel up, down, around, and exit each tunnel, look for Mount Rushmore in the distance. With 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 tunnels, and 3 wooden pigtail bridges, this is one drive you will remember. There are several pullouts along the route that offer views worth getting out of your car to experience. You can climb the rocks and enjoy a picnic lunch at one of your stops. Driving Iron Mountain Road is one drive that you will talk about forever. I traveled this road as a child, and I have traveled it many times since. This windy, hilly drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the Midwest.
7. Madison County, Iowa
Many people think that all of Iowa is flat. Madison County is home to many bridges (immortalized in the novel, musical, and film The Bridges of Madison County) over a curvy, hilly landscape. I love driving the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway. The bridges are in beautiful settings, which often include a stream with a beautiful natural backdrop. The forests and hills bring additional beauty to the world-famous bridges. As you drive through Madison County, you will wonder how far the next bridge is. Look ahead, as you will come up over the hill, turn the corner, and behind the forest is a bridge. Summer is a prime time to explore Iowa’s hilly area, as the wildflowers are in full bloom.
After you explore the bridges, drive into Winterset, and experience a taste of the West at the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum.
Travel safely when you explore these areas. Take plenty of water with you and make sure you have a full tank of gas before you head out. Dress in layers during colder seasons. Remember to pack out what you take in and to leave no trace so that others may enjoy what you found. Many of these areas of the country are on two-lane paved or gravel roads. You will want to stop at the local visitor’s center for an update on road conditions before you head out.