Living in southern Wisconsin, I sometimes feel like I have exhausted my options for a challenging and scenic day hikes. I'm happy to drive 3-5 hours to make a weekend trip out of it. Does anyone have any suggestion that might be hiding in your local area?
Starved Rock/Matthiessen State Park is a real gem. And I also recommend eating at the Cajun Connection if you go down that way!
Looks like 4.5 hrs will get you to Copper Falls State Park. Some pretty amazing water falls will make you forget you are in the Midwest.
You are fairly close to the Black Hills of South Dakota. I grew up in North Dakota and the Black Hills were a shock to me. They are a real deal mountain range right in the Midwest! Head to Spearfish or Rapid City and check out a local shop. I really enjoyed Crow Peak but I am sure there are many more. You would cross the Badlands on the way there which are also well worth a stop, or more.
@paultrusty I’ve done the drive to the Badlands and Rapid City, and it is well outside of five hours, although totally worth it.
I am currently living in Michigan and one of my favorite day hikes is at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I have hiked this network of trails several times, and it never gets old! My all-time favorite hike is the Chapel Loop, a 10.4-mile loop that takes you past forest, waterfalls, and a beautiful beach and lakeshore.
If you are looking for a weekend backpacking trip, you could split this trail into two days and camp at one of the campgrounds!
Here is a link to a post that someone created about this loop.
Here is a picture of the map:
I market the typical route in green, but you can follow the trail I marked in red for a slightly shorter path. I recommend travelling counter-clockwise, heading out towards Chapel Rock first, then heading towards the Grand Portal Point and Mosquito Campground.
Hope you get the chance to explore this beautiful place!