National parks are the ideal destination for travelers looking to reconnect with the beauty of nature. The U.S. National Park Service has officially designated 62 such parks preserving every variety of environment, ecosystem, native wildlife, and historical sites contained within. Millions of visitors flock to these parks every year, both from the U.S. and abroad, to take in the sights and enjoy some outdoor rest and relaxation. This article is part of a five-part series about national parks in different regions of the United States and focuses on the Midwest.
In this article, we’re going to the badlands—Badlands National Park, that is. The wide expanses of open prairie are the perfect spots for hiking and wildlife viewing. Wind Cave National Park will take you deep into more than 80 miles of dark, rocky passages, so make sure to bring a flashlight. Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota features historical remnants from the life of the famous outdoorsman, as well as plentiful opportunities to camp, hike, catch sight of a passing herd of bison, and canoe or kayak along the Little Missouri River. And Gateway Arch National Park, though distinctly more urban than the average park, offers several important glimpses into U.S. history.
Whatever your destination, as you’re planning your trip, be sure to purchase travel insurance and visitors insurance to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your pocketbook against any unexpected calamities that may occur.
Midwest U.S. National Parks Travel Insurance
If you’re visiting the U.S. from abroad, we recommend purchasing visitors insurance as a short-term health insurance plan in case you get sick or injured. However, with so many different plans to choose from, how do you even start? The best visitors insurance plan depends on what you want out of it.
Fixed coverage plans are cheaper but provide limited coverage; comprehensive coverage plans are more expensive but have a much broader and deeper array of benefits. Most fixed coverage plans have a deductible that must be met per accident or illness, while comprehensive plans may cover up to 100% of the policy maximum after you’ve met the deductible. You can compare any two plans using the Fast Compare feature on our website. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call or email and speak with one of our licensed, experienced adjusters.
For more information about national parks of the U.S., see the following links:
- Northeastern U.S. National Parks Travel Insurance
- Southeastern U.S. National Parks Travel Insurance
- Western U.S. National Parks Travel Insurance
- Midwest U.S. National Parks Travel Insurance
- Southwestern U.S. National Parks Travel Insurance
Midwest U.S. National Parks to Explore
Badlands National Park (South Dakota)
Badlands National Park, located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, was established as a national monument in 1939 and became a national park in 1978. Covering more than 375 square miles, the park presents a rugged landscape of peaks, eroded buttes, pinnacles, sharp divides, ridges, and gullies in the midst of the largest undeveloped mixed grass prairie in the country.
The park is divided into three units. The North Unit contains park headquarters and Badlands Loop Road, and it is surrounded almost entirely by the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. To the south are the Stronghold Unit and the Palmer Creek Unit, both included in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux. The Oglala Lakota tribe co-manages the Stronghold Unit with the National Park Service.
Badlands National Park offers a wide variety of family-friendly activities. If you're considering a scenic drive, look no further than the Highway 240 Badlands Loop Road, off of Interstate 90, which runs through the north unit of the park. Hiking trails include Door Trail, Window Trail, Notch Trail, Cliff Shelf, Saddle Pass, and Medicine Root Loop. The Fossil Preparation Lab allows visitors to watch paleontologists at work on fossils of ancient species like the saber tooth cat, rhinos, horses, alligators, and more. There are a number of campgrounds with amenities and backcountry camping opportunities. Finally, the Ben Reifel Visitor Center includes a bookstore, interactive exhibits, and information about park ranger programs, and it lies within easy distance of the Cedar Pass Lodge.
Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)
About an hour and a half southwest of Badlands National Park lies Wind Cave National Park, still in the southwest corner of South Dakota. The cave system was established as a national park in 1903 by then-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. It consists of a large expanse of prairie grassland and, more interestingly, a series of limestone caverns with more than 80 miles of explored passages. The park's name comes from the reversible wind that flows either into or out of the cave, depending on the external air pressure. The park is known for its honeycomb-patterned rock formations called boxwork; about 95% of the world's known boxwork formations reside in Wind Cave.
Wind Cave National Park and the adjoining Custer State Park form a game sanctuary that houses wildlife like deer, antelope, bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, a wide variety of birds, and more.
Ranger-guided tours of the caves are usually available all but three days out of the year. Tickets are first-come, first-served, and reservations for large groups are available. There are six tours of various difficulty levels; some involve bending, stooping, and crawling to make it through certain passageways. The website discourages people with claustrophobia, heart or respiratory conditions, knee or back problems, or various other physical limitations from participating if they don't think they'll be able to. As of June 2019, tours have been indefinitely suspended due to elevator maintenance issues.
Meanwhile, the visitor center offers free interpretive programs and exploration talks. There are also talks at the Natural Opening to the cave every hour on the hour between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. The park offers guided bird-watch tours, tours of the Sanson Ranch and Buffalo Jump, a wide variety of hiking trails, backcountry camping opportunities (which require a free permit), and horseback riding.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located in western North Dakota, was established as a national memorial park in 1947 and became a national park in 1978. Named in honor of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his passion for the American West, the park contains the site of his cattle ranch—the Maltese Cross Ranch—which has since been converted to a museum. The park covers an area of about 110 square miles and is divided into three sections: the North Unit, the South Unit, and Elkhorn Ranch.
The area consists mainly of sprawling grassland prairies. The South Unit features a petrified forest, a shallow canyon, and badlands. The central Elkhorn Ranch portion, Roosevelt's former property, includes various historical sites from his life. The North and South Units each have a visitors center, and all three units include a scenic driving route with access to various overlooks and hiking trails.
Wildlife in the park incudes several hundred bison in two distinct herds, deer, elk, wild horses, prairie dogs, coyotes, and almost 200 bird species. Wildlife viewing is another popular draw of the park, and many visitors seize the chance to get as close as they safely can.
Other park activities include camping and backcountry camping, hiking on almost 20 trails ranging from easy to strenuous, bicycling, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing during the winter. During the summer months, the Little Missouri River offers the perfect route to canoe or kayak along a number of recommended segments. The segments range from a quick three-mile jaunt to a five-day, 107-mile span from Medora in the South Unit to Long X Bridge in the north. The National Park Service does recommend checking the weather report and the water depth to make sure the route is calm enough for a quiet, relaxing float through the wilderness.
Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)
Gateway Arch National Park, located in St. Louis, Missouri, was established as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in 1938 and gained its current name and national park status in 2018. The park is unique in that it's located in an urban area. It consists of 91 acres on the Mississippi River that includes many historical buildings from the city's earliest days. The park’s three main components are the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse, and the Museum at the Gateway Arch.
The main draw is the Gateway Arch, a 630-foot, stainless steel, catenary arch that opened to the public in 1967. The arch has been called "The Gateway to the West" and stands as the tallest manmade monument in the Western Hemisphere. The arch (and the park) lie close to the starting point of the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition from the beginning of the 19th century.
The Old Courthouse, which finished construction in 1864, is the only part of the park that lies west of Interstate 44. The courthouse was the site of local trials in the Dred Scott case, which eventually elevated to the Supreme Court and deepened the tensions between the North and South that led to the U.S. Civil War. The courthouse was included in Gateway Arch National Park to commemorate the landmark case in the slavery debate.
The Museum at the Gateway Arch, which lies directly beneath the arch, finished construction in 2018. The museum features exhibits about the western expansion of the United States and the construction of the arch itself. An in-house theater plays a documentary, "Monument to the Dream," about the construction process. Also inside are a gift shop, a cafe, and several other galleries with displays about the history of the city.