The Porcupine Mountains in the rugged Upper Peninsula are home to Michigan’s highest unobstructed viewpoint, one of its highest lakes, and for the first two weeks of October, its most stunningly vibrant forests. To see all of the state’s unsung highlights, hike into Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park from the Summit Peak parking lot off South Boundary Road. Hoof it 2.5 miles to one of three cabins on Mirror Lake (at 1,531 feet, among the highest in Michigan) amid forests of maple, aspen, and birch turning every which hue. The cabins are furnished, but you boil lake water to drink and use an outdoor privy ($60; mi.gov/porkies). Follow Little Carp River Trail for seven miles to see the river tumble in a series of waterfalls. Or make the 2.5-mile hike from the cabin up to the Summit Peak observation tower—just a tick under 2,000 feet—from which you can see Lake Superior and pretty much the whole state.
"You can only dive so much murky water until you’ve got to go someplace where you can see," says Missouri dive instructor Doug Goergens. (That’s right: Missouri.) It doesn’t get any clearer than the waters of Bonne Terre Mine, in the Ozark foothills an hour south of St. Louis. Bonne Terre is a decommissioned lead mine filled with 58-degree water, purified by deep layers of limestone above. Deep-earth diving, Goergens calls it. "We’ve never had a bad day of diving," he says. (Conditions, of course, are exactly the same year-round.) "But every dive is an adventure." Goergens guides divers in a sequential series of 50-plus tours, each revealing different chambers of the labyrinth—all illuminated by more than half a million watts of lighting. You’ll see locomotives and sidecars, immense archways, and caverns 300 feet high. "They chased all these veins of ore, so the geography seems random and inconsistent." But always dazzling. Between dives, stay in the mine’s converted 1909 Depot B&B ($340 for two nights and four dives; 2dive.com).
Anywhere else in the country, pairing road cycling with dairy products would seem, well, uncomfortable. But in Wisconsin, the two mesh seamlessly. Case in point: the 24-mile, crushed-limestone Sugar River State Trail from Brodhead to New Glarus, which traverses pastures, forests, covered bridges, and Holstein territory (wisdairy.com/GetMooving). The main point of interest is the Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus, which proffers no fewer than 88 types of cheese and 25 flavors of fudge. Eventually, the trail leads to New Glarus Woods State Park, 431 acres of oak and maple woodlands and two restored prairies ($14 for a campsite; dnr.wi.gov/org/land/parks/specific/ngwoods). And remember, research suggests that chocolate milk makes an ideal postworkout recovery drink. Prosit!
Illinois has exactly one National Wild & Scenic River: the Middle Fork of the Vermilion in the eastern part of the state. And by definition, nothing man-made can interfere with its flow. Instead, you’re fringed by mixed forests of oak and cottonwood interspersed with stands of pine and some swallow-pocked bluffs. Kingfishers are thick on the river, as are ducks and honkers. Stop by Kickapoo Landing in Kickapoo State Park, where they’ll outfit you with a canoe and shuttle you to Potomac. Then it’s a 12-mile float and a short walk to the Bunker Hill campground, followed by an eight-mile paddle the next day ($48; kickapoolanding.com). Tod Satterthwaite, who runs the landing, suggests you bookend the trip by taking in the Friday-night bluegrass concert in Kickapoo State Park and sampling some corn-fed heifer at the nearby Possum Trot. "Around here," he says, "the local flavor is beef."