Letting loose on the open road is a treasured American tradition, and the Midwest contains some of the country’s most iconic and historical roads, not to mention some pretty stunning scenery. Read on for our picks of the routes you won’t want to miss this summer, whether you’re already in the Midwest or planning a trip just for these destinations.
Route 66, Chicago to Tulsa, IL, MI, and OK
Be swept away by the kitsch and nostalgia permeating the Midwest portion of one of the nation’s most iconic highways. Stop in Springfield, Illinois to pay homage to where Lincoln built his career, then grab a corn dog at Cozy Dog Drive In as you peruse the Route 66 memorabilia. Next, cruise by Meramec Caverns to see Jesse James’ hideout, and finish off at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma to round out your all-American road trip.
Route 7, AK
Hundreds of miles of tree-lined highway culminate in a singularly stunning national park. For your first stretch break, stop at Hot Springs National Park for a soak in one of the 47 thermal springs bubbling up to 143°, then cross the Arkansas River towards the Ozark National Forest. This is the true gem of the drive, featuring picturesque waterfalls tumbling into strikingly blue lakes, plus similarly scenic gorges, canyons, and more.
Cranberry Highway, WI
Festooned with delicate pink blossoms in the summertime, the 50-mile stretch of Cranberry Highway takes you past thousands of acres of marshland riotous with color. Duck into any of the local cafes for treats made with the region’s fresh cranberries, then finish off your visual and gustatory tour with a stop at the Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese Company to see cheese-making in progress and sample their famous cran-jack variety.
Lewis and Clark Trail, IL, MO, KS, IA, NE, SD, and ND
Though the full Lewis and Clark Trail extends over 4,600 miles, the region from Illinois to the Dakotas showcases some of the Midwest’s best. Take a journey back through history to discover this region through the intrepid explorers’ eyes. For the full historical experience, start with Camp River Dubois in Hartford, Illinois for some info on the original expedition to set the tone, then stop in the Sergeant Floyd River Museum and take a stroll along the riverfront in Sioux City, Iowa. Cap it off at the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in North Dakota to learn about the Northern Plains Indians, and take in the quiet beauty of the forested peninsula.
US 12 Heritage Trail, MI
Laid out along an ancient Native American trail in 1825, the US 12 Heritage Trail traces the historical route between the east and west shores of Michigan. Not only is this a lovely way to wind through Michigan’s greenery, it’s also home to the US 12 Heritage Trail Garage Sale, held from August 12–14 this year. Each year, individuals clean out their attics to present an impressive display of wares ranging from antiques to homemade jams, which are up for sale everywhere from front yards to local businesses and farms. You’ll find live entertainment at many stops, plus the chance to meet and socialize with a variety of people — allow some time to listen to their unusual stories and you won’t be sorry.