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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.
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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Badlands National Park is a national park in southwestern South Dakota. This park is marked by rugged terrain and formations that resemble a science fiction landscape of another world. These rock formations take on the shapes of domes, twisted canyons and slanted walls, often striped in different colors. The formations contrast sharply with the rolling hills and prairies in which they stand. In addition to the rock formations, the park contains the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. The most endangered land mammal in North America, the black footed ferret, was re-introduced to the 64,000-acres Badlands Wilderness Area. The park also contains the world's richest fossil beds from the Oligocene epoch, dating back around 20-35 million years. While the badlands terrain may appear to be barren, there is a great variety of wildlife and plant life here. The wildlife includes nearly two hundred species of birds, (mule and white tail) deer, prairie dogs, pronghorn, big horn sheep, and bison.
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.
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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.
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a United States National Park comprising three geographically separated areas of badlands in western North Dakota. The park was named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. The scenery changes constantly in relationship with the seasons. Both main units of the park have scenic drives, approximately 100 miles of foot and horse trails, wildlife viewing, and opportunities for back country hiking and camping. One of the most popular attractions is wildlife viewing. The park is home to a wide variety of Great Plains wildlife including bison, feral horses, elk, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer and mule deer, prairie dogs, and at least 186 species of birds including golden eagles, sharp-tailed grouse, and wild turkeys. Bison may be dangerous and visitors are advised to view them from a distance. Bison, elk, and bighorn sheep have been successfully reintroduced to the park.
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:
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.
In addition, many of the major cities have airports with service offered by both international and US domestic carriers.
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:
Greyhound covers some routes into the Midwest.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The Midwest is a patchwork of big cities, small towns and farming communities. Being the epicenter of the American Industrial Revolution, it attracted an influx of immigrants and African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, resulting in a diverse ethnic culinary experience from the heavy German, Irish, Polish and African-American urban populations to rural Amish and Mennonite cooking traditions. Big Midwest cities, like Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, are known for their bratwurst, kielbasa, Italian sausage and good old American hot dogs. Smaller, rural clusters, like the German Amana Colonies, in east-central Iowa, is home to some of the best German-American food in the Midwest. Known for family-style dining, the Amana Colonies provide hearty foods the Midwest is known for.
Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin have heavier Scandinavian influences. Large Hispanic, pan-Asian, Middle-eastern and Indian now add spice to this international potpouri.
Locally grown food is seasonally available in rural areas, often at roadside stands. Spring crops include salad greens, radishes, sweet peas and spinach. Summer's abundance includes sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, onions, melons, berries, apples, cherries, peaches and pears. The agricultural abundance can be excellent in season and seems to encourage large helpings year around.
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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