Stories in the Great Lakes

Roam the Midwest: Take a Nature Road Trip

A close-up of a road map between cities in the Midwest region of the United States.

You don’t have to go far to experience nature's joy and breathtaking wonder. Let's go!

Midwest Road Trip No matter your interest, TNC has a wide variety of accessible preserves around the Midwest for you to explore. © pablohart/Getty Images Signature

From rolling prairies adorned with wildflowers to the lapping waves of lakes both Great and small, the Midwest is brimming with wildlife and landscapes that tell the story of the region’s rich ecological tapestry. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, a hiking enthusiast, or simply seeking the tranquility of nature, TNC’s nature preserves in the Midwest make an excellent excuse for a road trip any time of the year.

So pack your bags, set your sights on the open road and prepare to connect with nature in a way only the Midwest can offer.

Plan Your Trip

This Midwest road trip, which travels from Minnesota and loops back to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, takes you through jack pine savannas, desert-like prairies, rolling grasslands, unique wetlands, and, of course, lake shores.

Click the points on the map for a brief introduction to each state's highlights, then scroll down the page for a more detailed overview of each preserve on the map. 

Explore nature throughout the Midwest. RETURN
Field of flowers under a sunset.
Biodiversity A diverse array of plants in bloom at Miller WMA in Minnesota. © Richard Hamilton Smith
People walking down a woodland trail.
Paul Bunyan Savanna One of 5 jack pine savannas in Minnesota, Paul Bunyan Savanna is home to woodland and prairie wildflowers that bloom from spring into fall. © Christina Hausman/TNC

Brainerd, MN

Paul Bunyan Savanna

The Paul Bunyan Savanna is one of Minnesota's remaining jack pine savannas. Located near the railroad, it escaped development in the heart of Brainerd, a city of 14,000 in Minnesota lake country. The Nature Conservancy acquired the preserve in 1986.

If you stop at this 164-acre preserve on your summer road trip, enjoy the hiking trails maintained by the Northland Arboretum ski club! The preserve is located adjacent to the Paul Bunyan Trail, a popular walking, hiking and cycling trail. Keep an eye out for wildflowers like our state flower, the showy lady’s slipper, which blooms in June. You may also spot Blanding's turtles, a state-threatened species, in the savanna and the surrounding wetlands.

Visit Paul Bunyan Savanna

Located near Brainerd, MN in Crow Wing County


Follow State Highway 210/371 to NW Seventh Street. Go north on NW Seventh a few blocks to the adjacent Northland Arboretum entrance. Parking is available at the Arboretum for a $3 fee.

Green and yellow prairies next to a lake.
Seven Sisters Preserve Climbing to the top of one of the biggest hills in Minnesota will give you a panoramic view of the hills and Lake Christina in this preserve. © Minnesota Seasons

Near Ashby, MN

Seven Sisters Prairie

Climb to the top of the “mountain” at Seven Sisters Prairie for a panoramic view of the prairie hills and Lake Christina. The view is spectacular in the spring when the wildflowers bloom and in the fall when the hills turn russet and tan, and flocks of canvasback ducks cover the lake.

This enormous hill in the middle of Minnesota is, of course, not a true mountain, but it can feel like it as you climb 190 feet to the peak. Lake Christina is shallow, only about 4 feet deep on average, and is an important stop for migrating waterfowl. Bring your binoculars and see how many different birds you can spot!

Visit Seven Sisters Prairie

Near Ashby, MN in Otter Tail County


Take the Ashby exit off I-94 and go north through town on Hwy 78. Seven Sisters Preserve is the notable ridge on the north side of the road about three miles east of Ashby, along the shore of Lake Christina. Park in front of the gated road leading into the gravel pit.


Sunset over a lake.
Sunset at Lulu Lake Created by glaciers long ago, Lulu Lake is a kettle lake and one of Wisconsin's highest quality natural areas. © Fauna Creative
Prairie wildflowers under a blue sky.
Spring Green Preserve Home to prickly pear cactus, sand blows and lizards, the sandy prairie at Spring Green Preserve is sometimes called Wisconsin’s Desert. © John Harrington

Spring Green, WI

Spring Green Preserve

Tucked between Highways 23 and 60 just northeast of its namesake town, the Spring Green Preserve is a unique gem well worth visiting. Known as the “Wisconsin desert,” this dry bluff prairie ecosystem features sandy soils that support prickly pear cactus, a variety of wildflowers and native grasses, tiger beetles, pocket gophers, and more. The prairie itself provides crucial habitat for declining grassland bird species.

Walk the trail from the parking lot off Jones Road up through the open prairie with sand dunes and dry grasses, into a black oak barrens, and then up to the top of the bluff to enjoy spectacular views of the Wisconsin River Valley.

Visit Spring Green Preserve

Located in Sauk County, just north of Spring Green


From the intersection of US Hwy 14 and State Hwy 23 near Spring Green:

  • Travel north on 23 for 0.5 mile to intersection with Jones Road on the right (east)
  • Travel east on Jones Road for 0.75 mile; the preserve is on the left
  • Turn left into a dirt access road marked Angelo Lane — you'll see it just past a driveway to a house trailer (fire #E5196A). Note: In rural areas, a fire number is akin to a house number.
A sandhill crane flying over a lake at sunrise.
Lulu Lake A great place for birdwatching, you might spot osprey, sandhill cranes, purple marterns and more at Lulu Lake. © Fauna Creative

Near Milwaukee, WI

Lulu Lake Preserve

Just 45 minutes southwest of Milwaukee find the headwaters of the Mukwonago River and the jewel in its chain of lakes: Lulu Lake. Hike the trail system at the preserve or put in a canoe or kayak at adjacent Eagle Springs Lake and paddle down the connector to enjoy the crystalline waters and wild rice beds of Lulu Lake itself.

The preserve’s high-quality stream, wetlands, and oak openings provide habitat for rare fish and mussels and many native plants and animals. Come in spring for the ephemeral wildflowers, or summer and fall for pocket prairies in full bloom. A great place for birdwatching, you might catch osprey nesting, purple martens, sandhill cranes, warblers, and more.

Visit Lulu Lake Preserve

Located 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee, WI


From Milwaukee (a 35-minute drive):

  • Take I-43 south to East Troy, then take State Hwy 20 west to Cnty Hwy N. 
  • Take Cnty Hwy N north to Troy Center, where it will change to Nature Rd. 
  • Take Nature Rd. 1.5 miles north and turn right at a driveway marked N9564 — the number is clearly marked. This is a private road leading to the preserve.

From Madison (a 75-minute drive):

  • Take US Hwy 12 about 8 miles past Whitewater to the junction of 12 and State Hwy 20.
  • Go straight onto 20. At the intersection of 20 and Cnty Hwy J, continue straight on J to Nature Road at Troy Center.
  • Turn left and take Nature Rd. 1.5 miles north
  • Turn right at a driveway marked N9564 — this is a private road leading to the preserve.
Yellow and purple prairie wildflowers in bloom under a partially cloudy sky.
Nachusa Grasslands In summer, the Nachusa Grasslands explode in colorful wildflowers. © TNC
A bison and her calf.
Calf Season Bison calves are born at TNC's Nachusa Grasslands Preserve in the spring, typically from March to mid-May. © Charles Larry

Near Franklin Grove, IL

Nachusa Grasslands

Until recently, you had to travel to Wyoming or other western states to see wild bison roaming. Today, you can see these giant mammals—which weigh 1,000 to 2,000 pounds—in Illinois. Consisting of 4,000 acres of restored, remnant prairie, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve is home to a herd of about 100 bison that roam 1,500 acres of lush rolling hills.

Beyond bison-viewing, visitors of all ages can enjoy capturing nature photography, birdwatching and hiking five unique trails at Nachusa. From vast rolling meadows and lively wetlands to oak woodlands and savannas, visitors can explore the preserve’s diverse habitats home to more than 180 bird species and over 700 native plant species.

Start at the Visitor’s Center to get to know more about Nachusa’s history, ecosystems and restoration work. When you arrive at the Center, follow a gentle slope to a pavilion featuring interactive exhibits perfect for curious kids to discover the wonders of the preserve’s flora and fauna. A hand pump with potable water and two self-composting restrooms are also available at the Center. With water bottles refilled and bathroom breaks taken care of, you can hike around the Center or drive to one of five trailheads to begin your expedition!

Visit Nachusa Grasslands

Located near Franklin Grove, IL


From Chicago and points east:

  • Take I-88 West (East-West Tollway)
  • Exit at Route 251 North (Rochelle) to Route 38 West (To get on 38 West in Rochelle, you need to follow a few signs due to one-way streets.)
  • Travel through Ashton and into Franklin Grove (approx. 16.5 miles), go two blocks past Casey's gas station and turn right (north) at Daysville Road/1700E (sign: Franklin Creek State Park)
  • Travel 1.5 miles north to Naylor Road/1950 North, then turn left (west) and go 2.2 miles to Lowden Road/1500 East
  • Turn right (north) and go one mile to entrance on left.

From South:

  • Take I-39 to Route 38 West
  • Then, follow previous directions. (Route 38 makes a few turns in Rochelle so follow signs.)
  • From North (I-39):
  • Take I-39, and exit at Route 64
  • Go west towards Oregon, Illinois for 16 miles to Daysville Road/1700 East, which is just before Oregon
  • Go left (south) on Daysville for 2.5 miles to Lowden Road/1500 East (just past LaVigna Restaurant)
  • Turn right and continue southwards on Lowden Road for eight miles (you will pass Flagg and Stonebarn Roads) to entrance, on the west (right) side of the road.



A flock of snow geese in flight over a wetland.
Migratory Bird Hotspot Found along the Illinois River, our Emiquon preserve is a critical stopover point for tens of thousands of migrating birds each year, including massive flocks of snow geese. © Laura Stoecker

Southwest of Peoria, IL


Have you ever seen a flock of 10,000 snow geese? At Emiquon Preserve, you can catch a glimpse of tens of thousands of migratory birds taking respite along their migration routes during spring and fall. Whether you tune in to our live migration camera at home or plan a trip out to admire the waterfowl in-person, Emiquon’s 6,000-acre wetland habitat is a must-visit spot for birders.

While migration season may be Emiquon’s busiest time, the preserve offers a wide range of recreational activities year-round, including hiking, birding, wildlife viewing, paddling, boating, hunting and fishing. The preserve offers ample parking and beautiful views of its wetlands on short trails that are easy for the whole family to use. Explore bustling wetland and restored prairie habitats and the diverse plant and animal species that call it home using the preserve’s hiking trails, kid-friendly observation decks, pavilions and boardwalks. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars for a chance to observe iconic wetland wildlife like river otters, softshell turtles, herons, egrets and more.

Visit Emiquon

Located about an hour south of Peoria, IL


Parking lots are along the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway (IL-78/97)

From Springfield: Take IL-97 through Havana. After crossing the Illinois River, merge right onto IL-78/97.

From Peoria: Take IL-24 west. Turn left onto IL-78/97 toward Havana.

From Chicago: Take I-55 south. Take exit 145 toward McLean. Turn right onto US-136. After crossing the Illinois River, merge right onto IL-78/97

A green forest next to a body of water.
Green's Bluff This picturesque nature preserve, located in Owen County, Indiana, consists of two separate properties, each with its own loop trail. © Ron Leonetti
A collection of monarch butterfly art pieces.
Monarch Festival logo Festival de la Monarca in East Chicago, Indiana. © Fauna Creative

East Chicago, IN

Festival de la Monarca

As the iconic orange and black monarch butterfly flutters on the fine line of being added to the Endangered Species List, we can see and celebrate them before they start their fall migration. They travel up to 100 miles per day as they make their way south, primarily to the oyamel fir forests of Michoacán, Mexico. At the end of summer, a generation of butterflies born in the United States and never been to Mexico flies on a 3,000-mile journey symbolic among many Mexican communities in the Midwest and eastern United States. The environmental factors that drive monarch butterflies southward also hold meaning for conservationists: Their migration is now threatened by temperature changes, habitat loss and other human impacts.

In East Chicago, TNC and its partners host a community event every fall to commemorate this journey. El Festival de la Monarca raises awareness and unites the surrounding community through educational activities, music, art and dance. This year’s event on Saturday, September 7, marks the celebration’s seventh anniversary. This unique, noncommercial event connects children and adults with nature they can relate to in a highly urban environment. Admission is free! And yes,  you will see butterflies at this event as they’re released to join the migration to Mexico. Watch a video here

Visit Festival de la Monarca

A trail in a green woodland.
Green's Bluff This preserve includes two separate properties, each with its own loop trail to hike among diverse woodland habitats. © Matt Williams

Spencer, IN

Green's Bluff

It’s hard not to look up and around when you step into Green’s Bluff in south-central Indiana. The towering sandstone cliffs provide awe-inspiring views while the cool, green air from the forest, will fill your lungs with the fresh breath of pure nature. You can choose from two separate properties to hike, each with its own loop trail. Green's Bluff features an upland forest, rocky bluffs and a lush floodplain forest along Raccoon Creek. The steep bluffs are home to a grove of eastern hemlock trees, a species that is only found in Indiana on steep, north-facing slopes that provide a shady, cool environment.

You might even see a great blue heron rookery, cave entrances and remnants of an old grist mill along one of the trails. This preserve was established in 1985 and has seen a flurry of activity in the last several years to make it easier and more accessible for everyone to visit.

In recent years, TNC has partnered with the Hoosier Hikers Council (HHC) to create new trails at the preserve. The rough terrain of Green’s Bluff mandated that most trail work be done by hand; i.e., no machines were used. Enjoy the trails at Green’s Bluff, and thank the tireless HHC volunteers who created them! Watch a video to see our amazing volunteer in action here.

Visit Green's Bluff

Located near Spencer, IN



From Bloomington, travel on S.R. 48 west for eight miles to the junction with S.R. 43 (where S.R. 48 ends). Take S.R. 43 north about five mles to the village of Freeman. About 1.5 miles past Freeman turn left onto Sherfeld Road. This road comes to a "T" after about a mile. Turn left and go about 0.4 mile to where the road ends. You'll see a Green's Bluf Nature Preserve sign at the trailhead.

From Spencer, travel on S.R. 46 east. Just past McCormick's Creek State Park turn right on S.R. 43. After about five miles turn right on Sherfield Road. This road comes to a "T" after about a mile. Turn left and go about 0.4 mile to where the road ends. You'll see a Green's Bluf Nature Preserve sign at the trailhead.


Head north on Heddings Rd/CR 75E to Sherfield Rd/CR 525S. Turn right onto Sherfield Rd/CR 525S. Travel one mile and then turn right (south) onto State Highway 43. Travel 1.9 miles and turn right onto E Porter Ridge Rd/CR 675S. Travel about 2 miles. Parking for Raccoon Woods Trail will be on the right (north) side of the road.



Green forested hills under a partly cloudy sky.
Edge of Appalachia Preserve Sitting at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the Edge of Appalachia Preserve System is one of the most biologically diverse natural systems in the midwestern U.S. © TJ Vissing
An aerial view of a wooden viewing deck on a forested rocky outcrop.
Buzzardroost Rock Overlook The Christian and Emma Goetz Buzzardroost Rock Trail at the Edge of Appalachia offers one of Ohio’s most spectacular views of the Appalachian foothills. © David Ike

West Union, OH

Edge of Appalachia Preserve System

The Richard and Lucile Durrell Edge of Appalachia Preserve System in southern Ohio hosts an extensive network of 27 miles of scenic hiking on five different trails that wind through rugged woodlands, prairie openings and clear streams. Each trail offers a unique glimpse of the state’s abundant flora and fauna, with more than 100 rare plant and animal species making their home within the preserve system. As you explore “The Edge,” keep an eye out for Cerulean warblers and other neotropical birds that abound during warmer months. The preserve also shelters endangered species like the Indiana bat, green salamander, and Allegheny woodrat.

Whether you’re hiking, birdwatching, paddling or simply enjoying the peaceful trails, the Edge of Appalachia offers an immersive nature experience for families. It’s a protected corridor for migratory birds and wildlife, making it an essential stop on any Midwest summer road trip. Notably, the Christian and Emma Goetz Buzzardroost Rock Trail offers one of Ohio’s most spectacular views that hikers can enjoy after a moderately difficult hike through a rugged forest. Looking for something a bit easier? Visitors to the E. Lucy Braun Lynx Prairie will enjoy exploring three interconnecting loop trails, with a combined length of 1.3 miles and no steep hills to climb.

Visit the Edge of Appalachia

Located near West Union, OH


From West Union:

  • Turn left (east) onto State Route 125. Travel east on SR 125 for about 7 miles toward the village of Lynx.
  • To visit Lynx Prairie, follow SR 125 into Lynx, then turn right (south) onto Tulip Road. Follow Tulip Road south .8 miles and turn left onto Cline Road. Follow Cline Road for .7 miles to the parking area and trail head. Public access to Lynx Prairie is available from a trail beginning in the east corner of the parking area.
  • To visit Buzzardroost Rock, follow SR 125 toward the village of Lynx. Watch for the sign on the right as you go up a large hill. Turn right off SR 125. (Owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and Cincinnati Museum Center)
  • To visit The Wilderness Trail, follow SR 125 toward the village of Lynx. Take a left on Lynx Rd. then take the next left on Shivener Rd. (gravel). Parking lot at the end of Shivener Rd.
  • To visit the Dr. George Rieveschl Jr. Creek’s Bend Overlook, and the Joan Jones Portman Trail, travel east on SR 125 about 6 miles, turn right (south) onto Waggoner Riffle Road and continue on Waggoner Riffle about 2 miles to Creek’s Bend Overlook. Parking area located on the right, behind the wooden fence.



People standing on a wooden dock overlooking a wooded pond.
Visiting Bliss Pond Located at the Grand River Conservation Campus, Bliss Pond offers outdoor adventures from hiking to fishing to birding. © Kent Mason

Near Rock Creek, OH

Grand River Conservation Campus at Morgan Swamp

Covering more than 2,000 acres, Morgan Swamp Preserve in northeast Ohio is one of the largest privately protected wetland communities in the Buckeye State. The preserve is part of the larger Grand River Lowlands, a wetland system that originated around 12,000 years ago when a massive glacial lake deposited thick layers of silt and clay. These wetlands play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the state-designated Wild and Scenic Grand River, which serves as an important tributary to Lake Erie. Visitors can explore more than three miles of hiking trails revealing unique wetland, forest and wet prairie habitats. Keep an eye out for beavers and otters as you traverse this serene preserve.

Nestled within Morgan Swamp, the Grand River Conservation Campus offers an array of recreational opportunities for families. Here, you’ll find nature trails, an accessible fishing pier at Bliss Pond and a canoe/kayak launch on the Grand River. Families can enjoy a day of exploration, wildlife-watching and picnicking amidst the natural beauty. The campus also boasts a children’s playground and nature play area. The Dr. James K. Bissell Nature Center provides educational opportunities for those curious about the local flora and fauna, including summer programs for children and adults. Whether you’re hiking, birdwatching or simply immersing yourself in nature, Morgan Swamp promises an unforgettable experience for all ages.

Visit Morgan Swamp

Near Rock Creek, OH



From the north:

  • From Interstate 90, travel south on State Route 534 for about 7 miles to its junction with State Route 166/Footville-Richmond Rd.
  • Travel east on Footville-Richmond Rd. for 3.4 miles to the Morgan Swamp parking lot.

From the south:

  • From U.S. Route 6, take State Route 45 north for about 3.2 miles to Footville-Richmond Rd.
  • Travel west on Footville-Richmond for about 1.6 miles to the Morgan Swamp parking lot.

Visit the Grand River Conservation Campus


From the north:

  • From Interstate 90, travel south on State Route 534 for about 7 miles to its junction with State Route 166/Footville-Richmond Road
  • Travel east on Footville-Richmond Road for 2 miles to Windsor-Mechanicsville Road.
  • Travel 1.8 miles south on Windsor-Mechanicsvile Road to Callender Road.
  • Travel 1 mile east on Callender Road to 3973 Callender Road.
  • Driveway on north side of road before (to the west of) bridge

From the south:

  • From U.S. Route 6, take State Route 45 north for about 2 miles to Callender Road
  • Travel west on Callender Road for about 1.5 miles to the 3973 Callender Road
  • Driveway on north side of road before (to the west of) bridge
A bald eagle perched in a tree.
Bald Eagle Erie Marsh Preserve in Michigan offers refuge to tens of thousands of migratory birds in the spring and fall, including bald eagles. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
Sunbrust behind white clouds over a body of water.
Erie Marsh Preserve Erie Marsh Preserve is managed as part of the USFW's Detroit International Wildlife Refuge, preserving critical habitat for migratory birds and fish species. © Jason Whalen

Monroe, MI

Erie Marsh Preserve

Located on western Lake Erie’s North Maumee Bay, Erie Marsh is a birder’s paradise. Representing 11% of the remaining marshland in southeastern Michigan, the preserve contains one of the largest marshes on Lake Erie and plays a huge role as a migratory stopover and nesting site for birds. Keep an eye out for shorebirds, waterfowl, land birds and, in the fall, raptors—not to mention other wetland locals like muskrats, water snakes, bullfrogs, and native fish who can now access new breeding and spawning areas for the first time in more than 60 years, thanks to a decade-long restoration project. The trail system, which follows a series of raised dikes that divide the wetland types, can take you through the middle of the marsh past the sulfur spring or out along the edge of Maumee Bay. Bring your binoculars, set up a spotting scope or keep your eyes peeled for the many wetland species you could encounter.

Visit Erie Marsh Preserve

Near Monroe, MI


Preserve parking is available next to cottages owned by the Erie Shooting and Fishing Club.

From Monroe, Michigan:

  • Take I-75 south of Monroe, to Exit 2 (Summit Road).
  • Head southeast on Summit Road approximately one half-mile to the first place on the left where you can execute a U-turn to head north.
  • Make the U-turn to head north on Summit Road.
  • Follow Summit 0.2 miles to Bay Creek Road, turn right (northeast) on Bay Creek and follow it 0.8 miles to Dean Road.
  • Dean Road will be the first road on the right. Turn right (east) on Dean and follow it until you see the Erie Shooting and Fishing Club cottages.
  • Park here and head north on the trail to access the dike area trails.
A rocky lake shore at dusk.
Carl A. Gerstacker Preserve Located at the Northern tip of Lake Huron, this preserve features one of the most spectacular limestone bedrock shorelines in Michigan. © Ron Leonetti

Dudley Bay, MI

Carl A. Gerstacker Preserve at Dudley Bay

Perched at the northern tip of Lake Huron, Carl A. Gerstacker Preserve at Dudley Bay features one of the most spectacular limestone bedrock shorelines in Michigan. Enjoy five miles of beautiful shoreline across four bays on Lake Huron, two small islands, Big and Little Trout Lakes, and parts of two creeks. Carry in your kayak or canoe for a summer paddle on Lake Huron, take a beautiful autumn hike on the trails with the Travelstorys audio tour full of stories, fun facts, and historical notes about the preserve, or bring your skis and snow shoes for a winter visit. Throughout the year, watch and listen for a variety of animals, including the loon, pileated woodpecker, osprey, wolf, and migratory songbirds like the American redstart and magnolia warbler.

Visit Carl A. Gerstacker Preserve at Dudley Bay

Dudley Bay, MI


From Cedarville, Michigan:

  • From the intersection of M-134 and M-129, travel east on M-134 12.4 miles to the Conservancy preserve sign on the left (north side of the highway). For trail access, turn left on the small road next to the preserve sign. The road continues a short distance to the trailhead.
  • For lakeshore access, continue past the preserve sign for less than 1 mile to a large shoulder on the right (south) side of the highway. There is a second preserve sign here, and access by foot to Lake Huron.