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Midwestern United States

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Travel Guide North America USA Midwestern United States

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Introduction

Gateway to the west

Gateway to the west

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The Midwest isn't generally high on international tourists minds, except for Chicago, as a place of interest. Generally thought of as being flat and dull, with row after row of corn as "high as an elephant's eye." But the Midwest includes some amazing sights that are off the usual tourist track, and some of the great outdoor adventures for the camper, hiker or kayaker.

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Geography

The vast central area of the U.S., into Canada, is a landscape of low, flat to rolling terrain in the Interior Plains. Most of its eastern two-thirds form the Interior Lowlands. The Lowlands gradually rise westward, from a line passing through eastern Kansas, up to 1,500 metres in the unit known as the Great Plains. While these states are for the most part relatively flat, consisting either of plains or of rolling and small hills, there is a measure of geographical variation. In particular, the eastern Midwest near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains; the Great Lakes Basin; the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri; the rugged topography of Southern Indiana and far Southern Illinois; and the Driftless Area of northwest Illinois, southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, and northeast Iowa exhibit a high degree of topographical variety.
Proceeding westward, the Appalachian Plateau topography gradually gives way to gently rolling hills and then (in central Ohio) to flat lands converted principally to farms and urban areas. This is the beginning of the vast Interior Plains of North America. As a result, prairies cover most of the Great Plains states. Iowa and much of Illinois lie within an area called the "prairie peninsula", an eastward extension of prairies that borders conifer and mixed forests to the north, and hardwood deciduous forests to the east and south.

Geographers subdivide the Interior Plains into the Interior Lowlands and the Great Plains on the basis of elevation. The Lowlands are mostly below 1,500 feet above sea level whereas the Great Plains to the west are higher, rising in Colorado to around 5,000 feet.
The Lowlands, then, are confined to parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Missouri and Arkansas have regions of Lowlands elevations but in the Ozarks (within the Interior Highlands) are higher. Those familiar with the topography of eastern Ohio may be confused by this; that region is hilly but its rocks are horizontal and are an extension of the Appalachian Plateau.

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Regions and States

Regions

States

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Cities

The Bean

The Bean

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  • Chicago is the Midwest's jewel on Lake Michigan, Chicago is a city of blues and jazz clubs, deep dish pizza, shopping on the golden mile and Oprah.
  • Detroit is motortown, USA, and home to Joe Louis and one of the world's most important centers for automobile production. The downtown core is slowly revitalizing itself after years of abandonment and neglect, and the suburbs surrounding the city offer some inexpensive and interesting trips for tourists.
  • Minneapolis-Saint Paul These cities, right across the river from each other are know as the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. Its most known for its hockey, and for hosting the largest indoor mall in America, hosting over 520 stores, a amusement park, an underwater adventures, a waterpark, and attracting over 40 million visitors per year. It's also know as the "Icebox" of the nation for having such extreme cold temperatures.

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Sights and Activities

The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes, consisting of Lake Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario, are some of the most amazing features of the United States and are located mainly on the Canadian border with the Midwest. These giant bodies of freshwater seem like oceans and offer great opportunities for relaxation and adventure. If you want to hang out on the beach at Union Pier, hike the Superior Trail or explore the wilderness of Isle Royale National Park there is plenty to do along the shoreline.

Mount Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore, S.D.

Mt. Rushmore, S.D.

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Mount Rushmore is the iconic monument to US political history that is carved into the side of a solid granite mountain. It consists of the faces of four famous US presidents. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. In fact the statue is a compromise as the original design also included the upper bodies of the presidents. The design is by Gutzon Borglum, who also was the supervisor on the project, but it was his son Lincoln Borglum, who finished the project in 1941, which is also the year in which his father died. There is a visitor center, named after Lincoln Borglum near the mountain, where more information about the construction of the monument can be found. In the evening Mount Rushmore is illuminated for two hours after sunset.

Wisconsin Dells

The Wisconsin Dells is an intense regional vacation destination. Starting after World War II people from the surrounding states started to visit the Dells to see the amazing river bluffs abroad old World War II landing craft, known as duck boats. The area has grown into a sort of mega-resort aimed to towards family boasting countless water parks, mini golfs courses, go cart tracks, odd museums, duck boat rides and other family oriented entertainment. Starting in the 90s Indian Casinos were built nearby making the elderly folk in droves for nickel slots. Interestingly though the natural beauty is still there and great hikes and rocking climbing can be found at Devil's Lake. Official website:

Other Sights and Activities

  • The Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, is currently the tallest building in North America. It was also the tallest building in the world until 1998. Completed in 1973, it has 108 floors and measures 1450 ft (442 m) from the ground to the roof. The Skydeck is Chicago's highest observatory and was remodeled this last year with two clear glass floor balconies that hang out over the side of the building. Located on the 103rd floor or 1353 feet (412 metres) above street level, it gives visitors an amazing bird's eye view over Chicago.
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a great place to relive the greatest moments in rock history! Located in Cleveland, Ohio the legendary memorabilia fills the halls, from Tina Turner to Jimi Hendrix. The Rock Hall also features special art exhibits, concerts and music classes.
  • Carhenge, located outside of Alliance Nebraska, is an example of the more quirky side of the USA. Carhenge is a replica of Stonehenge made out of crushed cars and shows the creativity of middle America.
  • The Wilder Trail is one way to truly experience the midwest. It travels to several of the homesteads that the famous frontier children's writer Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in, or more correctly suffered in. It starts in Pepin, Wisconsin and meanders through Independence, Kansas to Walnut Grove, Minnesota to De Smet, South Dakota. There are other Wilder sights scattered throughout the midwest including Missouri.
  • Gate Way Arch is the famous arch and a symbol of how St. Louis was the gateway to the west.

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Events and Festivals

  • The Indianpolis 500, usually called the Indy 500, is one of the most important auto races held every year in the USA. If your planning to attend this event make sure to have tickets and a hotel room far in advance.
  • RAGBRAI is an annual crazy and fun 7 day bike ride, not race, around Iowa. Remember this is not a race and to register early to get a spot!

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Weather

The climate of the upper Midwest is typical of a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. The region's location in the Upper Midwest allows it to experience some of the widest variety of weather in the United States, and each of the four seasons has its own distinct characteristics. Temperatures during the summer months of June to September can hit 40 °C on some days, though generally it is more like 25 °C to 30 °C during this time with pleasantly warm nights. From December to March is wintertime with temperatures plumitting sometimes to -40 °C although this is quite rare and mainly in the northern part of the region. Heavy snowfall can strike the Midwestern states during this time as well although mainly in the northern part of the region. Spring and autumn are good months for a visit, avoiding the cold or hot conditions.

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Getting There

By Plane

In addition, many of the major cities have airports with service offered by both international and US domestic carriers.

By Train

There are several trains travelling from states and cities in the Midwestern United States to the south, east and west of the country. Most trains arrive and depart in Chicago.
The main trains include:

By Bus

Greyhound covers some routes into the Midwest.

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Getting Around

By Plane

The midwest is dotted with airports, from small town single runway terminals to Chicago O'Hare International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the entire world. Many carriers offer services in around the midwest.

By Train

Most of the trains mentioned above in the getting there section also stop in a number of other places within the Midwesern United States. There are a few more which only travel between states in the midwest. These include:

By Car

Highways are generally in excellent shape. Speed limits are strictly enforced, and sherrif departments can demand payment for fines prior to leaving the jurisdiction. Drinking and driving laws are strict and punishments are severe.
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

By Boat

The SS Badger travels between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin once or twice a day between late May and early October. The trip takes around 4 hours and costs $67 one way, $110 roundtrip for adults.

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Sleep

Hotel and Motel Chains

There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:

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This is version 52. Last edited at 19:15 on May 16, 13 by Sander. 15 articles link to this page.

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