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While it’s a term most people are at least familiar with, few can precisely define it. “Flyover states” is a term that National Geographic says started “as a way for Midwesterners, Southerners, and people from the plains and mountain states to define themselves relative to the rest of the country.”
An analysis of air traffic data several years ago ranked the most flown-over states based on the ratio of flights passing over to flights landing, and West Virginia came out as No. 1. But there’s a reason for that – its geography between major hub cities means that it will be flown over more. A state like Alaska or Hawaii would obviously not be flown over by domestic travelers.
All we know is that in these common flyover states, there are some fabulous towns that have plenty to offer. On your next flight, instead of passing them all by, you might want to plan a stop to explore.
Rapid City, South Dakota
You might be surprised to learn that there are so many things to see and do in or near Rapid City that you’d need to spend months here to enjoy it all. It’s home to the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Geology, a Dinosaur Park and Bear Country USA, with black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, elk, and buffalo. Custer State Park, one of the largest state parks in the country, is just 30 miles away. There, visitors can marvel at a wide range of easily spotted wildlife like buffalo, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, and the friendly wild burros. There are miles and miles of hiking trails and sparkling lakes for swimming, paddling, fishing, and more too.
One of the best family vacations in the Midwest, Dubuque sits along the Mississippi River, offering adventures on the water along with plenty of interesting history to explore. Kayak, canoe, water ski, jet ski or enjoy other sports on the river and then learn more about its history at the National Mississippi River Museum. Visitors can also watch for eagles on Lock & Dam #11 and take in a panoramic view by riding the Fenelon City Elevator. There are a wealth of shopping and dining options downtown too.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Lake Geneva offers a wide range of fun indoors and out, including golf courses, water parks, hiking and biking trails. There’s a 20-mile path that circles the lake for tranquil strolls and more active workouts while the lake itself is popular for swimming, sailing, and sunset cruises. It’s one of the top spots for colorful foliage during autumn while offering activities like corn mazes, apple and pumpkin picking. Enjoy decadent treatments at stress-melting spas, a wide range of shopping venues, and outstanding restaurants.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City has a mix of Midwestern and Southern charms, with everything from art deco-style architecture to honky tonks. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is one of the city’s most popular attractions with its large collection of art and artifacts focused on the American West, along with an old western town, Native American art, and an interactive dress-up area for kids. At the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, check out the floor-to-ceiling 55-foot glass sculpture, which swirls, wraps, and spirals to the sky. The 17-acre Myriad Botanical Gardens is a beautiful urban park right downtown, while Lake Hefner is ideal for a tranquil stroll in the sunshine. Cattlemen’s Steakhouse is a must for trying the city’s famously delicious steaks. The oldest continuously operated restaurant here, it’s been featured on multiple food-based TV shows, including “Man vs. Food.”
Indianapolis is a highly walkable city with a long list of things to do, including visits to first-class museums like the Indianapolis Museum of Art which includes one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, an incredible Tiffany Studios window, and a significant collection of African art. Families with kids will appreciate the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which includes an antique carousel. There are many opportunities for scenic strolls and bike rides (rentals are readily available), including the eight-mile Cultural Trail. There’s also a great zoo, a historic district, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which draws visitors from every continent to watch major racing events, including the world’s largest single-day sporting event, the Indianapolis 500.
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
One of the most charming small towns in the U.S., White Sulphur Springs is best known for the landmark Greenbrier Resort which offers a wealth of activities of its own along with a rich history, but you’ll want to consider other options too. If you’re here in the summer, you can learn more about the Civil War at the annual 1862 Battle of Dry Creek reenactment. Or check out one of the many festivals like the Dandelion Festival over Memorial Day weekend or the autumn Freshwater Folk Festival. Nature lovers can enjoy the Greenbrier Valley Trail and the Monongahela National Forest nearby.
Yellow Springs, Ohio
Yellow Springs is one of Ohio’s most charming and colorful small towns. It’s a great place for those who like art and the downtown area is a great place to go to watch street performers as well as to shop and dine. The Yellow Springs Street Fair is renowned for its handmade crafts and its tasty food, while nature is a hop, skip and a jump away, with John Bryan State Park and the Glen Helen Nature Reserve ideal places for a hike.
Medora, North Dakota
Medora is a charming Old West town located where the majestic Badlands meet the Great Plains. Visitors can enjoy stagecoach rides along with a wealth of shopping and dining venues. It’s also the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park with its colorfully painted canyons and serene prairies which Theodore Roosevelt often visited. Watch for the abundant bison and prairie dogs, hike, horseback ride, or whiz across a zipline. After a day of exploring, come back to take part in the interactive Pitchfork Steak Fondue dining experience that includes live music or snag tickets to Medora Musical, a high-energy, country-western variety show with singing and dancing.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Nestled in the Ozarks, Eureka Springs was established in 1879 as a spa town. One of the most charming small towns in the South, it’s surrounded by more than 60 natural springs that are ideal for a relaxing soak, while the historic downtown district features magnificent Victorian-era buildings along its winding streets. It’s a shopper’s paradise with over 100 one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques, fine art galleries, and craft emporiums. All around town, there are typically artists working in their studios who display their creations. Visitors can also enjoy a ride on an old-fashioned steam train, zip-line adventures, and plenty of nightlife, including live music and plays.
Set along the banks of the Big Blue River, Seward is one of the most charming towns in Nebraska. It’s known as the “Fourth of July City,” thanks to its elaborate and extremely popular celebration for Independence Day that’s been held annually since 1868 with concerts, parades, and a spectacular fireworks show. If you aren’t here for those festivities, there are plenty of things to do. Head to Nebraska National Guard Museum to learn about Nebraska military history or visit the Bartels Museum, which has more than 75 displays featuring fossils and minerals from around the world, including an impressive collection of agates and jade carvings. Explore the fun little shops, enjoy the eateries and tasty brews with occasional comedy nights and other events at Bottle Rocket Brewing.
The capital city of Illinois is best known as the hometown of President Abraham Lincoln and it offers lots when it comes to history but there are plenty of other things to do too. Learn more about Lincoln at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, which has living history interpreters and visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The Illinois State Museum is a natural history museum where you can learn about Native American life, fossils, and local artists. Tours of the State Capitol building and the Old State Capitol are available and during the warmer months, enjoy cheering on the local college league baseball team or cool off with a dip in Lake Springfield.
Lake Ozark and Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Lake Ozark is one of the main towns on the Lake of the Ozarks, one of the world’s largest man-made lakes. It boasts over a thousand miles of shoreline with something to do for all ages, from challenging golf courses and amusement parks to boating, fishing, and a wide range of other water sports. There are marinas for renting gear and vessels too, including pontoons, paddleboats, water skis and WaveRunners. If you want to stay on land, there are trails to hike in the forest with bluff-top views too.
Bardstown is often ranked among the most picturesque towns in the country. Rand McNally named it among the “Most Beautiful Small Towns in America.” It’s located in the heart of Bluegrass country, known as the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” with some of its local distilleries dating back as far as 1776. Join in the celebration of the drink at the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival held in September and anytime you can enjoy the downtown area with its historic buildings, eclectic boutiques, and enticing eateries. My Old Kentucky State Park hosts The Stephen Foster Story a Broadway-style musical about the composer of the state’s anthem.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Located in the southern region of New Mexico, Las Cruces is a historical city that’s jam-packed with culture, art, dining, and nightlife venues while being surrounded by nature. It’s home to the Organ Mountains, which offers some epic hikes, while the Organ Mountain Desert Peaks National Monument is a great place to go for fishing, biking, or camping. It makes a great base for exploring one of the state’s most unusual landscapes. White Sands National Park is less than an hour’s drive away and boasts snow-white sand dunes that are considered one of the world’s greatest wonders, some that are as high as 60 feet. Ranger-guided walks through the dunes are available.