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Outdoor Recreation
How to Get Your Adventure Fix in the Midwest Students camp outside in hammock

I was born in Ames. So was my mom, and so were my grandparents and my great grandparents. Growing up I never understood how a family could stick around in the same boring town for such a long time, but here I am, a proud Cyclone in (yeah, I know) Ames!

I think Ames has a lot to offer. Being a centrally located city in the state of Iowa, we’re a day trip from either warm(er) Missouri weather, or the beautiful north shore of Minnesota. We have plenty of tasty restaurants, some shopping, and the most beautiful campus. That being said, however, it can be easy to exhaust your resources. After a while, I’m too broke to eat at The Cafe every day and I’m itching for something new and exciting to do. I love the outdoors – rock climbing and hiking especially – so after a fair amount of research, I present to you (drum roll, please) a list of my personal favorite day and weekend-long adventures within and around Iowa:

The North Shore, MN

I’m sure all you Minnesota natives know this already, but oh boy, Minnesota is underrated. The north shore should not be considered part of the midwest. Beautiful forests, foggy pebble beaches, and incredible hikes in this not-too-touristy corner of the universe make it one of my all time favorite places. From Ames, it’s about a 5 hour drive to get to any of the north shore hot spots. Some of my personal favorites include:

  • Tettegouche State Park
  • Split Rock Lighthouse
  • Gooseberry Falls
  • Cascade River State Park

Maquoketa Caves State Park, IA

Who ever said Iowa doesn’t have exciting landscapes? Maquoketa Caves State Park is known especially for the abundance of caves (hence the name) within it that are perfect for exploring. If caves aren’t your thing, there are also plenty of hikes within the state park that are perfect for beginner hikers or those looking for a relaxing day out in the woods. Maquoketa is also a hot spot for canoeing, kayaking, geocaching, and winter sports. From Ames, this state park is about a 3 hour drive East. The perfect day trip for escaping your studies!

Canoe in the Boundary Waters, MN

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is chalk full of everything you could possibly want: canyons, cliffs, and thousands and thousands of beautiful lakes. Believe it or not, this area is approximately 1 million acres in size coming in with over 1,200 miles of canoe routes, so it’s not too unreasonable to say a weekend here would go by very quickly. Bordered by Voyageurs National Park and Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park, the Boundary Waters are the perfect spot for any water-lovin’ adventure seeker.

The Birkie Trail, WI

This trail is perfect for every season! Located in Hayward, Wisconsin, the Birkie Trail is approximately 67 miles in length. Trail-goers have the perfect spot for hiking, biking, and skiing. The area is beautiful all year round and it’s only about a 5.5 hour drive from Ames, making it a reasonable weekend destination for adventurers of all sorts!

Badlands National Park, SD

Like the North Shore, the Badlands are a stark contrast to your typical midwestern landscape. The colorful rocks in this area are striking, the variety of wildlife is incredible, and Badlands National Park features enough recreational opportunities to try something new every day any time of year. If you trek a bit further west, you’ll find yourself in the Black Hills near Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore. Custer State Park is a huge draw, measuring in at 71,000-acres – the area is home to bison, cliffs, and an abundance of trails and campsites to keep you entertained.

Well, well, well. There you have it. My top five hot spots for getting your adventure fix in the midwest. If you decide to check any of them out, I would love to see them. Tag @isuorp in any of your Instagram photos, or shoot an email to us at so we can hear all about your travels!