7 Midwest Historic Sites That You Can Visit for FREE

The Midwest of the United States is rich in the history of its many Native American tribes and early French settlements.  History enthusiasts can visit and enjoy countless historical sites from the Mississippi River to the Great Plains. Best of all, plenty of options exist for people who want an affordable historical experience.  Here are seven examples of Midwest historical sites scattered all across the region.

Fort Atkinson State Preserve, Northeast Iowa

In 1840, the United States government constructed a frontier post in the northeast corner of Iowa. Located not far from the borders of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the garrison would become Fort Atkinson. Built during the resettlement of Native Americans, the fort’s purpose was to keep the peace between various tribes. And keep American settlers from encroaching on Native American land. The tribe that was removed from this particular area was the Ho-Chunk or Winnebago people.

Although the fort was active for less than a decade, the Iowa government purchased the site in 1921. It was restored in the 1960s. Visitors can take a free self-guided tour of the place, which includes the original barracks, blockhouses, a rock shed for gunpowder storage, and more.

Effigy Mounds, Iowa-Wisconsin Border

Visitors to the beautiful and surprisingly hilly region of northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin (an area known as the “Driftless Zone”) can drive to Effigy Mounds National Park, just north of Marquette, Iowa. This park holds some of the famous and mysterious effigy mounds and earthworks created by groups now known as the Effigy Moundbuilders.

The mounds are large earth structures created in the shape of animals, including bears, birds, deer, turtles, and more. The exact purpose of the mounds is still unknown, although most agree they served a religious purpose of some kind.

Today, visitors can see these mounds for free at sites like Effigy Mounds National Monument. To visit the mounds requires a hike up a large, steep hill to the peak of bluffs that overlook the Mississippi River. Ensure you are thoroughly prepared for the hike to experience the incredible view at the top.

Chimney Rock, Morrill County, Nebraska

As the first of many hardy pioneers began their long and arduous treks from Missouri to the west coast, many set out across the wide-open plains of what is today the state of Nebraska.  These emigrants and adventurers did not exactly have Interstate 80 to follow.

Instead, Chimney Rock served as the most crucial landmark for wagon trains and emigrants headed for the three principal routes through the Rocky Mountains ahead.  These routes were the California, Oregon, and Mormon trails.  The unusual formation is a mountain some 300 feet high made of Brule clay and volcanic ash with a sandstone spire rising over 4,000 feet above sea level.

Maintained by the Nebraska State Historical Society, Chimney Rock is also a federal National Historic Site.  One big bonus for visitors is that Scott’s Bluff National Monument is only 23 short miles to the east.

Abraham Lincoln’s Home, Springfield, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln is considered by many to be one of America’s greatest presidents. Before Lincoln guided our nation through the Civil War, he was a mild but promising lawyer in Illinois.

His home in Springfield, the capital of Illinois, has been restored and is open to visitors. Lincoln shared this home with his wife and family and even held a funeral for one of his sons here. This is the spot where friends and neighbors came to wish him good luck as he prepared to take office in Washington.

Although parking in the area may require payment, entry into the house, which includes a guided tour, is free.

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, South Dakota-Iowa-Nebraska Border

There are numerous Lewis and Clark centers along the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. On the border between South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, this site has a free interpretive center and an impressively-large statue of Lewis, Clark, and their famous dog, Seaman.

The center, which features historical information and displays, is entirely free. While in the area, visitors can also see the burial site of Sergeant Charles Floyd, the only person to die during the entire expedition.

Monuments Rocks National Landmark, Oakley, Kansas

Kansas may be known for its vast plains, but there are some natural wonders to explore, like the Monuments Rocks National Landmark. Also known as the Chalk Pyramids, the natural rock formations are made of chalk, and they are believed to have been formed over 65 million years ago. The site was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1966.

The monument is also home to a wide variety of wildlife. Some of the animals that can be found at Monuments Rocks National Landmark include bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and American bison.

The Monuments Rocks National Landmark is free to access and open to the public year-round.

The Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

The Black Hills National Forest is home to a significant amount of Native American history and various historic events, including the Gold Rush. In 1874, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the area quickly became a hot spot for prospectors. The forest was heavily damaged but has since been restored and is now a popular tourist destination.

Today, the Black Hills are known for scenic beauty and abundant wildlife. The forest is home to bison, deer, elk, and a variety of other animals. There are many activities that can be done, including hiking, backpacking, and biking, which are just a few of the options.

The Black Hills National Forest is open and free of charge for your enjoyment! Fees may be charged for parking, and permits are required for some activities and locations, including camping.

The Midwest May Surprise You With Its Beauty and History

The American Heartland has always stood for antislavery, free labor, entrepreneurial values, and social equality. The Midwest is a rich source of history and beauty. There is so much to see and explore in this region, from the stunningly scenic lakes, rolling plains, and rugged mountains to the historic sites and monuments.

Next time you’re driving through the Midwest, be sure to put one of these free historic sites on your list! These sites are a great way to learn about the history of the United States and a great place to enjoy the natural beauty of the Heartland.



  • Chris Kane

    Chris Kane is a military veteran and former business owner currently living in the Des Moines, Iowa, metro. Chris is an inveterate entrepreneur and avid web developer who is not shy about sharing his opinions.

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