The northern Wisconsin–Michigan Upper Peninsula border country has some of the best whitewater rafting in the upper Midwest. The dam-released Menominee is the most reliable and the most like a wild western river: It starts at a ten-foot drop over Misicot Falls and puts rafters in the shadow of 200-foot cliffs. Kosir’s Rapid Rafts operates half-day trips on both the Menominee ($43)—from Niagara, Wisconsin, to Norway, Michigan—and Wisconsin’s Peshtigo ($23; kosirs.com). The latter can taper off in August unless a good rain pumps it up. If the water’s low, paddlers can run it themselves in one of Kosir’s inflatable "funyaks" and feel like the masters of their own destiny. Kosir’s has a wooded campground right at the Peshtigo takeout ($8).
"Picture a shattered chalkboard with edges that go every which way," says climbing instructor Peter Graupner of P.J. Asch Otterfitters ($50 for a half-day guided climb; pjaschotterfitters.com). That's Noah's Ark, a route at Interstate State Park—one of the top climbing areas in Minnesota, and the most easily accessed. Just 49 miles from the Twin Cities, Interstate (aka Taylors Falls) has a hundred basalt routes of varying difficulty. There's Rosebush, a blocky, 50-foot-high, chimney-shaped hunk of rock, and AC (as in air-conditioning), a 70-foot-high crack, named for the cool air that shoots through it off the St. Croix River. Camp at the park and, should the rock heat up by noon, spend the rest of the day splashing in and out of a canoe on the St. Croix ($35 for a daylong canoe rental from P.J.).
The streams, waterfalls, and pine-oak-dogwood forests in 4,954-acre Hawn State Park make for a temperature-controlled backpacking jaunt just 60 miles south of St. Louis (mostateparks.com/hawn). The park has a 15-mile trail network arrayed in four loops. The best for backpacking? The two loops of the ten-mile Whispering Pine Trail. The north loop plays tag with Pickle Creek and leads to waterfall pools framed by sandstone benches and towering shortleaf pines—ergo, opportunity for relief from August in Missouri. You can camp anywhere in the backcountry, as long your site is a hundred feet from the trail. "Whispering Pine" isn’t just a moniker, by the way; Missouri’s native shortleafs are known to mutter quietly behind your back.
"It’s a little bit like Utah—only a lot wetter," says park interpreter B.T. Jones of Petit Jean State Park’s canyons and hollows (petitjeanstatepark.com). Indeed, any resemblance to the Southwest—slots, massive rock formations, even a cave painting—eventually succumbs to Arkansas lushness. Many of the park’s 22 miles of interconnecting trails were carved from stone by the CCC in the 1930s. Ninety-foot Cedar Creek Falls is the big draw, featuring a settlers’ log cabin from the 1850s. The park’s Mather Lodge itself is a massive work of stone and timber that looks very national park–like ($65). In fact, its namesake was 1920s NPS honcho Stephen Mather, who dinged Petit Jean as a national park (too small) but urged its preservation.