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Three Midwest parks to cater to your summertime plans
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harpers Ferry, Iowa
There is a small exhibit area with a movie theater and plenty of very knowledgeable rangers in Effigy Mountains. The hiking trails that cover the area take you past American Indian mounds and deposit you on rocky outcroppings overlooking the majestic Mississippi River. Eagles, egrets, herons and hawks regularly fly the skies in this area and you might run into a few deer while you hike. The trails are moderately strenuous and some are handicap accessible. Make sure to take You must go to Firepoint, if it's possible. On inclement days, this trail is often closed but the view is stellar. Camping is not allowed at the park, but there are many campsites in the area.
In the fall the colors of the trees along this river will take your breath away. Largely unknown, even in the area, this area offers camping, hiking and canoeing with an eye toward complete immersion in nature. I recommend starting at the beginning, at the park headquarters in St. Croix Falls. In the summer, the park gets crowded, especially on weekends, and camping space is on a first come, first serve basis. Cell phone service is dicey in the area, but that's part of the appeal. Keep an eye out for eagles, as well as fish, deer, bats and more stars than you've ever seen in the night sky.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Empire, Michigan
Hiking in the sand is completely different from hiking trails in the forest. For starters, regular hiking boots feel like dead weight while climbing the dunes of this magnificent park. Start at the visitor center in Empire. Get a map and your bearings and head out along the scenic drive. Read all the information and follow the trails where you can. Admire the changes in the flora between the parking lot and the lakeshore. Be careful, because on really windy days, it can feel like you're being sandblasted. There are tours available to two adjacent islands and a lighthouse (not often seen in the midwest). The park is open all year and the dunes are beautiful in every season.
Deb Montague is a Seed.com writer.