It’s hard to think of the Midwestern United States as a place for backpacking and backcountry camping. However, there are a number of great backcountry camping sites to be found in the middle of the country! Take a chance to appreciate the often forgotten wilderness of the Midwest, whether you’ve lived there your whole life or you’ve recently moved to the region. You don’t have to travel far to find great backcountry hiking. Here is some of the best backcountry camping in the Midwest.
Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
The River-to-River trail is 127.5 miles long. It’s a beautiful trail, open to both dogs and horses. You’ll get a great view of natural Illinois landscapes and wildlife. The trail is very rough in parts, though (you’ll see this a lot in this article) do not feel the need to hike the whole thing. There are numerous campsites along the trail. All the River-to-River Trail campsites offer ample opportunity to refill water. Camping here offers some of the most rugged living you’ll be able to find in the State, and it’s a great opportunity few people know about.
The Ozark Trail: Current River Section
Near Van Buren, Missouri
The Current River Section of the Ozark Trail is 26.4 miles long. You’ll need to keep your dogs on a leash. There is no formal campsite along the trail itself, but there are several great spots to set up a campsite, including along a gravel bar alongside the river a bit past halfway down the trail. Be mindful of the river level and the weather, as the Current River does flood and close the trail or move debris around.
North Country Trail
North Dakota, northern Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York
This very long trail (4,600 miles) spans multiple states, a common feature of many backcountry trails in the Midwest. The Wisconsin section, in particular, offers spectacular views of waterfalls and long vistas. In the fall, it’s a great way to see trees in their fall foliage from the third week of September to the middle of October. There are a lot of opportunities for backcountry camping along the trail. Certain areas have designated backpacking campsites and others require a camping permit. You can camp near Wren Falls for an incredible view you probably weren’t expecting a Midwestern backcountry trail. Be prepared for some pretty rough camping in the wilderness, especially if you are making a very long trek along the North Country Trail.
Superior Hiking Trail
This is a 310-mile hike in total. It overlooks for Lake Superior for much of its length. It is a peaceful hike, with beautiful campsites available next to the Great Lake. These campsites are designated. They have a fire ring, 2-6 tent pads, some benches, and a backcountry latrine. Make sure to thank the Superior Lake Trail Association for their upkeep! There are no fees required for these campsites, though the trail does pass through several state parks, which will require reservations and a fee.
Ice Age National Scenic Trail
This trail is a 1,200-mile trek through the state of Wisconsin. It traces the edge of an ancient glacier, hence the name. There are numerous camping options along the trail, some of them located in state parks and others privately owned. It’s very important that anyone doing backcountry hiking on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail the only camp in designated areas because so much of the land belongs to private landowners. You’ll find more primitive campsites only in the northern parts of the trail. The Ice Age Trail Alliance is currently in the process of establishing more primitive campsites. There are also a series of more developed (to one degree or another) campsites on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Good planning is very important for camping on this hike. Ice Age National Scenic Trail campsites are spaced very widely, especially for long-distance backcountry hikers.