Why I Love Backpacking in the Midwest

Lloyd Vogel


I’ve spent my entire life living in the Midwest. Growing up in Milwaukee and living in Minneapolis as an adult, I’ve got a fairly ingrained affinity for the part of the country most folks just fly over, drive through, or generally consider to be some type of farmland. Moooooooooo!

Sure the coasts have mountains and oceans, but there is a beauty and simplicity to Midwest hiking. My aim in this article is not to convince you to abandon your high-elevation adventures, big vistas, or desert trails, but instead to try and share some of the joy that I’ve found in places like the Superior Hiking Trail, Isle Royale, and the Porcupine Mountains.

While I could probably ramble for pages, we’ll keep this thing condensed to five main points for why I love hiking in the Midwest. 

1. Accessibility


While not the sexiest reason in the world, one of the best things about Midwestern hiking is its accessibility. Without massive elevation changes, there aren't sketchy mountain passes, elevation sickness, endless switchbacks, or self-arrests. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it generally means there are less physical risks and less technical skills required. Anyone who hikes the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) will know there is nothing “flat” about it, but the elevation gains and losses are less extreme than in other parts of the country. While AWESOME for seasoned hikers looking to take down some serious miles, the low elevation of most Midwest locations also makes for great first-time hikes, shakedown hikes, or hikes with friends. Oppressive permitting systems aren’t particularly common, and hikes in the Midwest tend to be pretty easy to get to. Even Isle Royale is reachable by both boat and plane! Thinking about doing a longer thru-hike? If you complete the Superior Hiking Trail and still like hiking… you’re good to go!

2. No Grizzlies


Sure there are bugs, ticks, leeches and black flies… but no grizzlies! While this can also be said about other parts of the country, hiking in the Midwest does not involve the risk of running into a grizzly bear. Having had a pretty scary bluff charge experience with a grizzly several years back, knowing there aren’t grizzlies lurking around each bend is a pretty freeing thought. While no bear canisters or bear spray are required, proper food storage is still important with the presence of black bears and other wildlife who'd want a go at your food. 

3. Subtle Beauty

Mountains? Peaks? Nope! Lots of nice browns and greens to stare at… YES! Prairies, green tunnels, views of water obscured by brush? Simple and unpretentious beauty that finds its comfort in the stillness, the details, and in the slow changes one observes over long stretches. Fall is unbelievable, spring mud is intense, and the pops of color you do get rewarded with are certainly appreciated to the fullest. When backpacking with my dad on the Centennial Trail in South Dakota as a child, my dad once remarked “what an amazing array of browns.” And, as I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve said that a couple dozen times myself. The subtle beauty of the Midwest just might grow on you. 

4. Solitude

While remote trails exist all over, many Midwest trails are less traveled than those that frequently make the rounds on the top 10 lists. You’re often more likely to run into day hikers than you are to run into fellow overnight or thru-hikers, and frequently those you do encounter will be confused about what you are up to. While places like the North Shore of Lake Superior do have decent crowds due to a couple of big state parks, this traffic is a tiny fraction of what is found at places like Yosemite or Glacier. This doesn’t hold true everywhere, but it isn’t uncommon to spend a day or more on the SHT, North Country Trail, or Ice Age Trail without bumping into anyone.

5. Close to Home

The biggest reason why Midwesterners love Midwestern backpacking is because… it’s close! Duh. It’s what we’ve got, and we’ve got to appreciate it for what it is instead of holding it to account for what it is not. We don’t take the mountains for granted, we look forward to leaving the Midwest and hiking elsewhere, and when others complain of “bad bugs”, we typically just brush it off. There are incredible spots to backpack in the Midwest, and if you venture out our way… we’ll tell you all about them!!



Lloyd is the Co-Founder and CEO of Garage Grown Gear. An avid backpacker and paddler, Lloyd first entered into the outdoor industry through trip-leading and outdoor education. Based in Minneapolis, MN, Lloyd is a huge fan of small brands, light packs, and large meals.

Trail talk


Ben H

Ben H

The Ozark Trail in southeastern MO is also a gem. Like the SHT, it’s hilly and rugged and the thru hiking season starts at least two months before it does in MN.



No SNOW! I won’t be able to get into the Uinta Mountains in my area of UT until after the snow melts… which means August/September time frame.

Mechanical Man

Mechanical Man

While I have done many high altitude trails, I have also done the Superior Hiking Trail, Border Route, Isle Royale and Kekekabic trails in Minnesota, the Centennial and Maah Haah Dey trails and the Ozark Highlands Trail and have found them very enjoyable and free from people, in fact I never encountered another thru hiker on any of them.



6. The Flatness



6. Not a lot of altitude change.

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