“Midwestern beach” sounds like an oxymoron, right? Wrong! Much to our delight, these landlocked states actually have much to offer the traveler looking to soak up the sun. From the beautiful shores of Duluth’s Park Point Beach to the spanning sandy horizons of Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy, the best of the Midwest can be found in its surprisingly dense population of scenic shores, adventurous camping spots and activities that will make even the most dedicated beach bum reconsider their coastal homes.
The Lake Sakakawea State Park serves as the end of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail that stretches from upstate New York all the way to North Dakota. If you don’t fancy walking the whole way there, the state park is also just a one-hour drive north from Bismarck. One of the largest man-made reservoirs in the US, Lake Sakakawea is named after the 16-year-old woman who proved instrumental in assisting explorers Lewis and Clark on their famous westward expedition. The lake is home to many hiking trails, a swimming beach, plenty of campgrounds, a large marina, and a hearty fishing community.
Located on the mighty shores of Lake Superior, Park Point Beach in Duluth is known for being the world’s largest freshwater sandbar — stretching on for more than 7 miles! The city itself is renowned for its outdoorsy crowd, beautiful lake views and historic inns and B&Bs. It’s also home to the world’s largest freshwater aquarium. Not content with simply living the simple life on the shores of a stunning, massive lake, the town also hosts a huge celebration of arts and culture at the end of June: The Park Point Art Fair. So if you’re looking for more than just sandy beaches – namely, art and adventure – Duluth is your new Midwestern dream.
Boasting more than 2.5 miles of sandy shoreline, Kohler-Andrae State Park has 135 family campsites, plenty of B&Bs, trails for both summer hikers and winter snowshoers and, of course, the beautiful scenic views of Lake Michigan. One of their talking points is how accessible the beach is for people of all abilities — with beach trails specially designed for wheelchair mobility, watersport equipment that is adaptive across a range of abilities and educational programs to ensure that everyone can enjoy the adventurous activities that Wisconsin has to offer.
Located on the north side of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has often been referred to as “America’s Hidden Riviera” because of its undeniable beauty, the most striking feature of the park is, unsurprisingly, its sand dunes. Sitting on more than 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, the park plays host to hulking 450-foot mounds of sand, which give visitors rather a steep descent to the blue waters. If skidding down the sandy bank isn’t exactly your style, the park also boasts a multitude of lakes and streams where travelers can camp, hike, and explore.
South Dakota’s Custer State Park was named one of the world’s top destinations for wildlife. It comes as no surprise then that the land is also one of the nation’s largest state parks, has crystalline lakes to explore and allows visitors unparalleled access to the famous bison herds that inhabit the park’s 71,000-acre grounds. Whether you want to hike, bike or go horseback riding, Custer State Park offers five achingly gorgeous lakes to relax beside after a day full of adventure in the Badlands. Sylvan Lake is perhaps the most beautiful, surrounded by vibrant greenery, clashing rocky hills, and a couple of campgrounds to boot — you’ll never want to leave after a peaceful day on its shores.
Where can you combine your loves of watersports, a Midwest locale and a retro amusement park? In none other than Iowa’s resort town, Okoboji! Yes, Iowa has a resort town and yes, it’s beautiful. Covering over 15,000 acres, Iowa’s “Great Lakes,” as they are known, have sprawling beaches, colorful sailboats, and plenty of fish to catch. The small town also has an old-school amusement park nearby if you’ve had enough of the tranquil beaches, as well as a small nostalgia-inducing theater where you can catch an old flick.
Taking the title as Nebraska’s largest lake, Lake McConaughy enjoys the patronage of many adventurous families, outdoorsy couples, and rowdy kids. Its beaches are naturally white and sandy, its 20-mile length the perfect host for the many sorts of outdoor recreation that draws people to its spanning reservoir. Whether you’re a fisher, boater, skier, hiker or just looking to lounge on its sunny shores, a stop by Lake McConaughy is a must for travelers looking for that perfect Midwestern beach.
Are there any picturesque Midwestern beaches that we left off the list? Let us know in the comments!