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The Best Squeeze-It-In-This-Summer Trips in Midwest National Parks

If you’re like us, every year late-August shows up and we somehow can’t comprehend how we managed to get to the end of summer. The school supplies appear in stores and we feel a sense of urgency—fall weather and shorter days are on the way. Time to cram in at least one or two more trips before the summer vacation season ends.  

Indiana Dunes National Park/Photo by Park Chasers

Why Late-Summer Trips Are Some of Our Favorites
While we don’t really think there’s a bad time of year to visit a national park, some of our favorite trips happen in late-summer. There are so many reasons to get outdoors and into a national park this time of year:

  • Some of the best summer weather happens this time of year. Especially in the Upper Midwest, by late August we start to experience some of the best summer weather days. It’s a chance to enjoy cooler mornings and evenings on the trail and some of the most comfortable tent camping temperatures.
  • The crowds begin to thin. Many families wind down the summer vacation season earlier in August to return to sports practices and back-to-school nights. We enjoy that national park campgrounds, trailhead parking areas, and visitor’s centers get a little less congested as summer comes to a close. 
  • Fewer bugs. Not that we don’t like to encounter a creepy-crawly creature every now and again, but in general, we hold to a “fewer bugs the better” policy while we’re out in the parks. Late summer tends to bring dry weather to the Midwest, meaning we can enjoy campgrounds and trail days without mosquitoes and bug spray. 
  • Wildlife watching tends to pick up. As wildlife prepares for winter and the underbrush thins, late summer can be some of the best time for wildlife viewing in the parks. If birds are your thing, migration patterns change this time of year, bringing the chance to see rarer species traveling by.  

If you’re looking for some trip inspiration for a “squeeze-it-in-this-summer” day trip or weekend vacation, we recommend trying out one of these Midwest national park destinations.

Photo by Park Chasers

A Gateway Arch National Park Day Trip 
If there’s only a day to spare in your end-of-summer vacation plans, a trip to Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis might be in order.  When the former Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was re-designated a national park in 2018, the grounds and museum also underwent an upgrade. The newly renovated museum, outdoor gardens, and historic Old Courthouse tour make for a great one-day stop on a family weekend. For a full weekend of exploring national parks, add in stops at nearby Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site and Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Indiana Dunes National Park Beach Day
Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like summer without the sand between your toes. If that’s the case for you, it might be time for one last beach day at Indiana Dunes National Park. By late August, the waters of Lake Michigan near the park average a balmy 74℉. With more than 15 miles of sandy shore to choose from (and around 70 miles of hiking trails in the area), there’s plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the last warm days of summer.

Badlands National Park/Photo by Park Chasers

Bask in the Beauty of the Badlands
During our mid-summer visits to Badlands National Park, it was pretty common to see visitors hop out at scenic overlooks, snap a photo, and get right back into the comfort of air conditioning. The summer heat is in part how the Badlands got their name. But as the season comes to a close here, the temps begin to moderate and the traffic on the Scenic Loop Road through the park thins out. We recommend spending at least two days here—you’ll want plenty of time to hike the Notch and Castle Trails, and to catch one of the stunning sunsets the park is famous for. 

Take a Scenic Drive Through Theodore Roosevelt National Park
To date, every one of our articles here at Hello Ranger have in some way highlighted Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We’re especially fond of North Dakota’s only national park because it has so much to offer so close to home. In the late summer, many of the iconic animals of the west—like bison, mule deer, elk, and pronghorns—can be readily found along the two scenic drives in the park. While the South Unit has more amenities and can be easily reached from I-94, we recommend venturing to the North Unit of the park.

Header 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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