Essential RV Heartland:
8 Must-See Destinations
in the “Middle” of America
by Meggen Taylor
America is a place of infinite beauty and discovery. And while there are some people who might think the only places worth visiting are along the coasts…they would be completely wrong.
We’ve put together an itinerary of eight often overlooked states that offer surprisingly stunning and varied landscapes and activities of all types for all ages. If you were one of the people who doubted what middle America offers, you just might be happily eating your words by the end of this trip.
We figured it would make the most sense to start in the south and head north just in time for late summer—but obviously you can take this route in either direction depending on your location and the time of year. We’ve also put together a list of RV parks in each state where you can hang your hat for a few days of local exploration.
Oklahoma: “The Sooner State”
Oklahoma, known as “The Sooner State”, is comprised of surprising landscapes—ranging from the rolling, timbered hills in the east to the vast high plains that stretch from the Panhandle region into Texas and New Mexico with red rocks and soil giving visitors the feel of being in the Southwest. The state’s east-central region is mostly made up of the lowlands of the Arkansas River that extend south from Colorado and Kansas, and by the Red River that forms nearly all of the state’s southern border with Texas.
Located in the Kiamichi Mountains and Ouachita National Forest is Big Cedar Cabins and RV Park, a rustic stop surrounded by breathtaking mountain and forest landscapes that allow visitors to truly decompress and get away from it all.
Each RV site comes with water, electricity, sewer, and free Wi-Fi. The park also offers guests a place to do their laundry, shower rooms and bathrooms, and both ice and firewood are for sale for guests. Sites with a fire ring and picnic table are also available upon request. Well-behaved pets are welcome.
For those who want to explore the region during their stay, the 1.8 million-acre Ouachita National Forest offers endless recreational activities including extensive trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Visitors can also learn about the area’s rich history at wayside exhibits along the scenic drive or experience informative educational programs that outline the region’s unique mineral, botanical, and prehistoric history.
Should guests prefer to cool off with water-based activities, there are plenty of spots for fishing, non-motorized boating, and simply enjoying the region’s streams, lakes, and rivers. Regardless of what you choose to do (or not do), the area will most certainly get you back to nature with its quiet and primitive surroundings.
Arkansas: “The Natural State”
Arkansas’s official name, “The Natural State”, does not disappoint when it comes to providing endless scenic beauty including mountains, dense woodlands, caves, streams, rivers, and hot springs. One part of the state in the northwest corner that is a must-visit destination is the rugged Ozarks region, known for its hiking trails and limestone caves including Blanchard Springs Cavern.
If you are searching for a place to hunker down that’s close to a quaint downtown area with shopping and dining—and also offers hot springs to soak your aching muscles and bones in—then Eureka Springs is the spot for you. Known for its well-preserved Victorian architecture, the city is built around its natural springs. You can park your RV at Green Tree Lodge, which is a little over a 3-hour drive from Big Cedar Cabins and RV Park. Situated in the countryside, yet roughly two miles from Eureka Springs, this park offers guests an outdoor pool and a wood-fired pizza oven.
RV guests have access to free Wi-Fi, laundry, and either 50-amp gravel pull-through sites for RVs up to 45’ in length, or 30-amp grass sites that back up to the forest for RVs up to 27’ in length. All of the sites are level and offer guests water, electric, and sewer hook-ups, picnic tables, and individual campfires. The park is kid and pet friendly and has an on-site store that is open 24 hours, seven days a week, offering guests firewood and snacks as well as personal and camping supplies.
If you are looking for a few other places to visit, check out Hot Springs National Park: home to the oldest federal reserve in the country and 47 hot springs that originate from Hot Spring Mountain with an average temp of 143 degrees. For centuries, the waters from these springs have been acclaimed for their medicinal benefits.
If you want to get lost in over 1.2 million acres of dense forest wilderness, then a trip to the Ozark National Forest is a must-do. You can mountain bike the famous IMBA Epic Upper Buffalo Headwaters Trail or hike the 218-mile Ozark Highland Trail. For those who prefer water to land, the Buffalo National River is the crown jewel of the region with over 150 miles perfect for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.
For those who want to get the feel of being on a safari without leaving the country, you can check out Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. The refuge houses over 90 animals on a 460-acre ranch, including more than 60 big cats. You can take a guided tour and see the park’s lions, tigers, bears, and more.
Missouri: “The Show Me State”
Missouri, known as “The Show Me State”, is a land of rolling hills, fertile plains, historic rivers, and well-watered prairies. The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers made the state the main water supply for west-bound settlers in America’s early years, while the navigable waterways boosted the state’s status as an agricultural supplier in more modern times.
Just over a 4.5-hour drive from Green Tree Lodge guests can hunker down at Big Creek RV Park located in Annapolis, Missouri—situated right along the clear, spring-fed Big Creek. The park offers 65 spacious and well-maintained sites (21 are pull-through sites) that offer full hookups, cable TV, and free Wi-Fi. The park has clean, private restroom and shower suites, planned events that appeal to all age groups, and a helpful staff that is available to assist you in any way to ensure that your visit is a memorable one.
The park is located near some of Missouri’s most popular attractions including: Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, Elephant Rocks State Park, Taum Suak Mountain State Park, Fort Davidson State Historic Site, St. Joe State Park, and the Black River. Located on the Black River, Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a narrow channel of unnavigable hard rock that weaves its way through shut-ins creating a natural waterslide in some areas. This park is the most visited in the state and the fifth most visited park in the U.S.
If photography is one of your go-to hobbies, a visit to the Elephant Rocks State Park with its huge granite boulders is a must. The largest rock formation is 27-feet tall, 35 feet long and 17 feet wide, making it perfect for photos and hiking. St. Joe State Park is Missouri’s third largest state park and offers trails for horseback riding, hiking, ORV riding, as well as a lake for fishing and swimming. You can also visit the Mark Twain National Forest for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and ATV riding permitted in select areas. This is another amazing location for both amateur and professional photographers.
Kansas: “The Sunflower State”
You will see some of the most beautiful light-kissed plains and prairies while driving through the state of Kansas, known as “The Sunflower State” and also referred to as “The Wheat State” since it grows more wheat than any other in the U.S.
With so much nature-oriented fun already packed into this trip, we selected the next RV park with fun for the kids (and folks who are kids at heart) in mind. Located a little less than 5.5-hours from Big Creek RV Park is Worlds of Fun Village and Oceans of Fun Park, the largest amusement park complex in the Midwest.
The park offers concrete sites for both back-in trailers (55 feet) and pull-thru configurations (100 feet). Each site includes water, 50-, 30-, and 20-amp electric service, sewer, satellite TV with premium channels, and free high-speed Wi-Fi. Additionally, each site features an outdoor patio with a picnic table and charcoal grill to whip up the perfect BBQ at the end of your day.
Guests at the park receive the best possible pricing on admission to the Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun parks that have over 236-acres of rides for every age, water slides, refreshing and relaxing pools, the Surf City Wave Pool, and the park’s newest addition for 2020, the Riptide Raceway—featuring the world’s longest mat racing waterslide. If rides aren’t your thing, the parks also offer a variety of entertainment and dining options.
Iowa: “The Hawkeye State”
Situated between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, “The Hawkeye State” is known for its rolling plains and cornfields. Iowa is also referred to as “The Corn State” because 90-percent of Iowa’s land is dedicated to agriculture.
After getting your fill of amusement park fun and entertainment the next stop should be Lazy Acres RV Park, which is a little shy of five hours from Worlds of Fun. Lazy Acres is an RV park built by RVers that offers 81 pull-through sites and 12 back-in sites. Some 85 sites offer water, sewer, and electric hook-ups while eight sites offer only water and electric. No rig is too big for this site to accommodate! The park also offers group RV sites that can accommodate up to four RVs encircling a large fire pit and four picnic tables.
Each site is well graveled, level, and positioned in a way to provide maximum privacy for guests. All of the sites have picnic tables and fire pits. The park also has a slew of amenities, including a separate handicap-accessible bathroom and shower area, a commercial-grade laundry facility, a small store where guests can purchase essentials, and a recreation and banquet room for family gatherings. The park was built with fun in mind and has a game room, playground, miniature golf course, Frisbee golf course, sand volleyball court, sand beach, paddle boats, splash pad, and more.
For those who want to explore the area (and cool off), Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area is the perfect place to spend a day at the beach. The lake offers one of the region’s best places to fish and is stocked with crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and muskellunge. There are four launch sites around the lake with seven ramps for sailboat access, leisure boating, and fishing. If you are looking to make more of a unique visit to a tourist attraction while in Iowa, travelers can head over to Brandon to see the world’s second largest frying pan. (The largest is in Long Beach, Washington.)
Nebraska: “The Cornhusker State”
This Midwestern state is known for its prairies of the Great Plains, the panhandle’s spectacular rock formations, and the soaring dunes of the Sandhills.
After driving a little less then 7.5-hours, which is one of the longest legs so far on this trip, travelers can rest their heads temporarily at Fishberry Campground, the Sandhills’ premier RV park. Located on a working ranch five miles from Valentine, Nebraska, this family-run campground sits on one of the largest sand dunes in the western hemisphere and has some of the most stunning sunsets in the Midwest.
The park has 22 pull-through sites between 80 to 100 feet with easy entry and exit, full hookups (most with 50-amp electric, water, and sewer), and private fire pits and picnic tables. Each site offers visitors laundry facilities, free Wi-Fi and impeccably maintained restrooms and showers. The campground also offers a picnic pavilion with a built-in fireplace perfect for family gatherings on the ranch or watching the fish jump in the property’s pond. Leashed pets are welcome.
If you are looking to cool off, the park is a short drive to the Niobrara River, one of the most beautiful attractions in Nebraska that is perfect for kayaking, tubing, and hiking around the breathtaking bluffs and waterfalls.
South Dakota: “The Mount Rushmore State”
This sparsely populated Midwestern state, known as “The Mount Rushmore State,” is where rolling prairies give way to the extraordinary Black Hills National Forest: home to two historical monuments carved into the towering granite peaks—Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial.
Located in Black Hills National Forest, what some consider one of the most beautiful places on earth, is Black Hills Trailside Park Resort, which is less than a four-hour drive from Fishberry Campground. Sitting at an elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level, guests can enjoy comfortable weather all summer long.
The resort offers 35 full hook-up sites for RVs, outfitted with 50-amp electric. It is also pet friendly and offers free Wi-Fi and cable. The Mickelson Trail runs through the resort and offers over 100 miles of trails for bikers, hikers, and horseback riders to explore the spruce and ponderosa forest. There is also Spring Creek, an active trout stream that runs all the way through the campground, that is perfect for fishing.
Less than an hour away travelers can also explore the 100-mile Centennial Trail through wilderness including meadows of wildflowers, granite crags, and steep canyons where you may spot some of the region’s wildlife, like turkey, elk, mountain goats, bison, and bighorn sheep. The park is a short drive to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. Whatever you decide to do, Black Hills Trailside Park Resort offers the perfect home base.
North Dakota: “The Peace Garden State”
Known as “The Peace Garden State”, North Dakota is dominated by the Great Plains that give way to the rugged Badlands near the Montana border where the Theodore Roosevelt National Park spans the Little Missouri River.
With the last leg of the trip just shy of a seven-hour drive, Willston FoxRun RV Park offers the perfect destination to end your trip whether it is for a few days or longer. Situated five miles north of Williston, North Dakota, the park is the perfect location for easy access to town as well as recreational areas surrounding the park.
Sitting on top of a hill elevated high above the surrounding landscape, the location offers sweeping views of the Missouri and Little Muddy River valleys. Regardless of where your site is located within the park you will have stunning views of the natural beauty that surrounds the property.
Open year-round, the park offers its guests water, sewer, garbage service, and ample space with sites that feature an average 33 feet by 80 feet. The entire property is connected with wide roads that give the park a spacious feel rather than feeling cramped like many parks. The park also provides high-speed internet, two shower facilities, and washers and dryers, in addition to recreational areas with a TV and mini theater. Pets are welcome as long as they are well behaved and up to date on their shots.