Midwest National Parks Experience Multi-Day Itinerary
The following is a generalized itinerary for a full 14 day experience meant to simply give you an idea of the possibilities, and further customizable based on each guests’ priorities:
Day 1 (Nashville/Memphis):
Starting our Midwest National Parks Experience, ECA will meet the group at the Nashville airport, at which time we can decide between hot chicken and BBQ. I’d normally recommend hot chicken, but we’ll be hiking for the next few days. After eating and going through supplies, we will purchase any needed groceries/gear and hit the road. Don’t worry, we’ll be back to explore Nashville in more depth at the end of the Experience
3 hours down I-40, our Midwest National Parks Experience continues in Memphis, which gets a bad rap. While we will not be hanging out in certain areas of the town, this city has a rich history that is well worth visiting. First and foremost is the National Black History Museum at the Lorraine Motel. This is where MLK Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray right outside of his hotel room, a shock when you see the real-life location that we all saw in textbooks growing up.
Day 2 (Hot Springs):
Hot Springs is a unique one of the Midwest National Parks, as it mainly consists of a small town in the area with geothermal features. If you’ve never been to a hot spring before, fair warning: it has the sulfur smell that takes a little getting used to. After exploring the area and takin a dip, we will drive north and camp in Ozark National Forest.
Day 3 (St. Louis Arch):
A short drive north from the Ozarks is the 62nd and one of the newest national parks: The Gateway Arch. Now, I personally take issue of a manmade object becoming a National Park (go ahead with a National Monument), but in a sense this “object” did truly serve as the entry point to the “wild west”. Groups can tour the arch, taking a diagonal elevator, and enjoy sweeping views of the city and Mississippi river from the top.
Day 4 (Des Moines/Minneapolis):
St. Louis to Voyageurs is a haul in one trip, so we will stop in Des Moines and Minneapolis to explore the cities, stretch, and eat, before getting back on the road. Minneapolis also features the Mississippi River, which you probably didn’t realize was stunningly clear this close to the headwaters. And yes, we realize that Minnesota and Michigan is stretching it when it comes to “Midwest National Parks”, but why not when we’re in the area…
Day 5-6 (Voyageurs):
Voyageurs is different, and definitely the furthest from the rest of the Midwest National Parks. Located right on the Canadian border, this park is a combination of interconnected waterways, small islands, and lush flora and fauna. We can either spend the day on a ranger led tour, or rent out own watercraft and camp at one of the numerous back country campsites scattered throughout the park. This is a perfect opportunity for anyone to learn how to use a map/compass/bearing, as we’ll have to use those tools to navigate and explore the area.
Day 7-9 (Isle Royale):
Isle Royale is another northern gem, east of Voyageurs and continuing to stretch our definition of “Midwest National Parks”. While the park itself is technically in Michigan, will drive to Grand Portage, the very northeastern town in Minnesota. From Grand Portage, we will take a boat ride to Isle Royale and spend the next two days/nights hiking the length of the island, sleeping in the backcountry, and working towards our pickup point for a boat ride back.
Day 10-12 (Milwaukee/Chicago/Indiana Dunes):
Isle Royale to Indiana Dunes is another big drive, so we will build in time to stop an explore Milwaukee and Chicago along the way. Chicago highlights include the Willis (Sears) Tower, Navy Pier, Michigan Ave, Wrigley Field, and a tremendous restaurant scene. Additionally, Notre Dame is an option for college football fans and Catholics.
Indiana Dunes is without doubt back in the realm of “Midwest National Parks”, but is a bit unique in its operations. The recreational area has been and continues to be an Indiana State Park, and only recently have the surrounding dunes themselves been considered a National Park. Indiana Dunes is primarily a beach located on the shores of Lake Michigan, where families can play in the water, rent a boat, see the Chicago skyline in the distance, and conduct uniquely diverse birdwatching.
Day 13 (Indianapolis):
Heading south, we will stop in Indianapolis. After paying our respects at the Peyton Manning statue (Go Vols) at Lucas Oil Field, this is a perfectly sized city to rent bikes (or scooters if we’re tired) and explore. After a late lunch downtown, we will continue south into Kentucky.
Day 14 (Mammoth Caves/Nashville):
Our final day on the Midwest National Parks Experience has us driving from southern Indiana into Kentucky and Mammoth Caves, the largest cave system in the entire world. While there are hiking trails above, there is very little unique about it outside of a hike through the forest, other than mountain bikes are allowed on these trails.
The caves themselves are where we want to spend our time. Mammoth Caves offers tours from 2 hours that give a feel of the cave, up to 8 hours that will have you covered in dirt and squeezing through crevasses. While it can be scheduled with the park, any desire for higher level spelunking should be discussed ahead of time.
When we wrap up with the caves, we will head back to Nashville, completing our Midwest National Parks Experience. If we move through the caves quickly, we can go to The Parthenon and Love Circle in Nashville. Then we will check into a hotel near the airport, clean up, and cap the trip with a nice group dinner. At that point, I will wish you the best and leave your group to travel to the airport the next day.
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