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Finding Solace and Solitude in the Midwest National Parks

We’d be remiss in not taking the opportunity to say how different life feels since our introduction here at Hello Ranger. At the same time we’re getting to know many of you in this community, we’re getting to know this new world we live in. The uncertainty, turmoil, and intensity of the past few months afforded us ample opportunity to step back, ask questions, and evolve, and like many of you, we expect many of those internal and external dialogues are happening in nature. While we don’t have more answers than anyone else, one thing we do know is there’s no better place to find the time and space than in a national park. 

Whether you’re seeking solace and solitude, space for healing and reflection, or just a little “leg room” after months of social distancing, the parks are ready to welcome us back with open arms.  Thankfully, the Midwest national parks offer all of us an opportunity to find some comfort and quiet space to continue the conversations we’re only just beginning. They’re not far from home, and the parks tend to be a little less crowded, but they still have a lot of what many of us need right now. 

Today, we’re sharing some of the best places we know in Midwest national parks for reflection and contemplation. We hope it helps a few others in the Hello Ranger Community find what they’re looking for in this season of change.

River Bend Overlook at Theodore Roosevelt National Park/Photo by Park Chasers

River Bend and Oxbow Overlooks, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
When friends and family ask us for national park getaways without the crowds, we often recommend Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. The park averages around 700,000 visitors each year, making it large enough to have popular amenities, but small enough to experience moments of quiet and solitude. It’s one of the things that drew our 26th president—a New York City native—to the area which now bears his namesake.

While there are hundreds of different vistas and trails to discover in the park, two of our favorite spots to recommend are River Bend Overlook and Oxbow Overlook. You’ll find both at the end of the winding 14-mile Scenic Loop Road in the North Unit of the park. From these two points, the stunning views of the North Dakota Badlands stretch as far as you can see, while the Little Missouri River meanders below, as it has for generations. If you stay long enough, you’re likely to encounter a bison or pronghorn wandering through, casually munching on whatever’s in season at the meadow lunch counter. It’s the perfect place to contemplate how life right now can have both a weighty permanence and feel momentary and transient all at the same time.

The Starry Night Skies of Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Contemplating the challenges and enormity of the universe feels a lot easier if you’re up close and personal with it, and there’s no better place to explore the stars and ponder one’s existence than some of the darkest night skies in the Midwest. It’s why we recommend the night skies in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. 

Historically, the park is known for unique landscapes and picturesque vistas, but far from any sources of light pollution, the park offers a whole new panorama after dark. A stunning display of planets, the Milky Way, and up to 7,500 different stars are visible on clear summer nights in the park. Set up your own stargazing plan at any of the overlooks along the Loop Drive, or check out the award-winning ranger program, complete with telescopes, offered in the campground amphitheater.

Paddling at Voyageurs National Park/Photo by Park Chasers

Paddle and Portage in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
One of the things that Minnesotans cherish about Voyageurs National Park are the quiet moments of reflection found with just a paddle in hand. During the summer months, a majority of the park’s acres are available only via boat, canoe, or kayak. Many of the popular wilderness permits include paddle and portage combination trips, camping in places that only see a handful of humans a year.  Even if remote wilderness isn’t quite your style, lake life still offers the opportunity to slow down and reflect on what’s above and below the surface. 

Watch the Sunset at Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
It might be surprising to find Indiana Dunes National Park on a list of national parks for finding solace and solitude. Sandwiched between industrial parks and urban living, trips to Indiana Dunes may not feel like much of a getaway, but for the nearly 10 million people living within an hour or so of the park, it’s one of the best options to spend time in quiet contemplation—especially if you find yourself there at sunset.  

Long summer sunsets over Lake Michigan are some of the best of what Indiana Dunes has to offer.  Find yourself on a ranger-led hike to the top of Mount Baldy, the tallest dune in the park, or on a clear evening, bring the camera for some stunning shots with the downtown Chicago skyline in the distance.

Rock of Ages Lighthouse at Isle Royale National Park/Photo by Park Chasers

Pretty Much Anywhere on Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
If there’s anywhere in the Midwestern national parks that makes the list of solace and solitude, it’s Isle Royale National Park. One of the least visited national parks in the entire National Park Service, we guarantee you’ll find quiet here. The park’s relatively remote location in the middle of Lake Superior and lack of amenities means you can find a quiet space pretty much anywhere in the park; just a few hundred yards from the boat docks, and you’ll begin to unwind. The calmness is contagious here. 

One more thing about Isle Royale: pack it in, pack it out applies to everything except your stress level. Feel free to leave that behind before you board the boat for home.

Header photo: Theodore Roosevelt National Park/Photo by Park Chasers

From their base camp in Minnesota, Amy and Greg Sippl, aka “The Park Chasers,” have been “chasing” the dream of visiting all 400+ units of the National Park Service. They share national park photos, stories, and travel advice to help others do the same. Even though they’ve traveled coast-to-coast, they have always called the Midwest home. As the Hello Ranger Ambassadors for the Midwest Region, they share everything the Heartland has to offer!

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