What are flyover states? What is a flyover state? Do I want to keep flying over them, or is there a point to them? And sorry, Jason Aldean fans, we’re not talking about the flyover states song (although Indiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma are flyover states!)
Today, “flyover state” is a pretty broad term. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the time initially referred to a state that sees more air traffic passing over it about the number of flights landing and departing.
Nowadays, the term has evolved. It’s used to refer to every state between the East and west coast, or anywhere in the Midwest, and used as something of a pejorative – if it’s a flyover state, there’s no point in setting down because there’s nothing there.
Baloney. These flyover states may be some of America’s best-kept secrets, and each one is worth visiting. Look at flyover states that aren’t boring and see for yourself!
See Related: Most Beautiful & Best Vacations in the US
Ask most Americans about their knowledge of Arkansas; they might say it’s where Johnny Cash or former President Bill Clinton was born.
They might even tell you it’s the home of Walmart. This is all true and… okay, but it does Arkansas a disservice. If you can say one thing about Arkansas, it’s staggeringly beautiful – there’s a reason it’s known as the Natural State.
Home to 52 state parks, 3 million acres of national forest, the Buffalo National River, and the serene Lake Ouachita, Arkansas is best enjoyed through the great outdoors.
Arkansas has a sub-tropical climate and can get hot and humid, particularly in summer. The northwest highlands are generally a little cooler, and the southeast warmer and more humid. You might see snow in winter, but little more than dusting.
The northwest highlands, home to the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, bordering Missouri, host many parks allowing you to admire Arkansas’ wild side. Dense forests, cliffs, ravines, and cave systems comprise most of the Ozark Plateau and are great for serious hikers and campers looking for natural wilderness.
The historic Eureka Springs in the Ozarks region is a beautiful and tiny must-see town surrounded by mountains, valleys, and forests. It’s a great base camp to experience the Ozarks. The Christ of the Ozarks, Thorncrown Chapel, and Magnetic Springs are exciting attractions. The northwest also has the incredible Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
The Crater of Diamonds National Park in Murfreesboro is unmissable. An area south of the Ozarks with incredible forests, the park includes the last diamond mine in the country. It has opportunities for you to do diamond mining yourself, with chances of turning up a precious gem around 1 in 250 (not bad odds!)
Travelling Arkansas is best done by road as the airports available limit domestic flights around the state. Fortunately, Car and RV rentals aren’t expensive because Arkansas’s beauty is best enjoyed up close. Costs of food, room, and board are meager, with Arkansas being one of the cheapest states in the country to live and visit.
It’s not all cows and cornfields, but let’s face it, the vast plains of this midwestern state do lend themselves to agriculture. Yes, it’s flat, and driving around Iowa can be pretty dull. Iowa has a temperate climate enjoying hot summers and cold, snowy winters.
Because of the less-than-inspiring terrain and weather best described as “meh,” Iowa is best enjoyed indoors, with the best activities around the state capital Des Moines.
A big college town, Des Moines is a young and fine-looking city, and the capitol building is among the prettiest in the nation. The city is jam-packed with fantastic attractions like the Des Moines Art Center and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.
Dining in Des Moines is a real adventure as the city is home to an increasing number of innovative and zany eateries, including Proof, blending American comfort food with Mediterranean cuisine, Fong’s Pizza, the result when pizza and Chinese cuisine have a baby (with tiki drinks and karaoke). Zombie Burger + Drink Lab is a bonkers horror-themed burger and milkshake joint serving incredible culinary creations.
Des Moines is also home to one of American politics’ most important events: the Iowa Caucuses. Thousands flock to Iowa every four years to select presidential candidates for the two main political parties.
If you’re heading outside Des Moines, remember that most of the state’s points of interest will be close to major population centers like Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Few attractions are sprinkled throughout the vast farmland, one a seemingly weird choice. You’ll think I’m odd for recommending a gas station, but the Iowa 80 Truck Stop (or I-80 TA) is no ordinary gas station – it’s the largest truck stop in the world.
Frequently described as a town in its own right, I-80 TA in Walcott has many restaurants, fantastic retailers, a movie theater, and a library. It must be seen to be believed.
When traversing Iowa, flying is a great option to avoid the uneventful landscape, with domestic flights being relatively cheap and six major commercial airports strategically distributed throughout the state.
See Related: Cheapest Places to Fly Around the World
“Oh, but it’s so boring! Dorothy jumped into a tornado to escape it!” Phooey! The Sunflower State rocks! Kansas is beautiful, possessing a mild climate that only sees extremes in summer and winter, its gentle hills, expansive plains, and few forests, especially in the sunflower season.
There’s plenty to do in big and small-town Kansas and great outdoor activities, best summed up by the “8 Wonders of Kansas.” Originally a means of getting visitors into the state, touring the 8 Wonders is a fantastic way to learn more about the state and see it up close.
The first stop is Monument Rocks (Chalk Pyramids), just north of Scott City. These looming chalk formations, reminiscent of rock formations in Utah, are packed with tiny fossils of ancient sea creatures, millions of years old.
Next is the enormous St. Fidelis Catholic Church in Victoria. Built-in 1911 and known as “The Cathedral of the Plains,” St. Fidelis is an impressive spectacle for anyone interested in American architecture.
Onward to Cheyenne Bottoms between Hoisington and Claflin. This stunning wetlands reserve is a gorgeous scape of tranquility, home to millions of shorebirds. Head over to Greensburg to see the world’s deepest hand-dug well, appropriately named “Big Well,” which has been turned into an incredible, subterranean museum.
After Greensburg, head east to Hutchinson, home of Cosmosphere, a brilliant space museum and planetarium hosting the most extensive assortment of Russian space artifacts outside Russia.
Also in Hutchinson is Strataca, a former salt mine and museum allowing visitors to ride mine carts 650ft below the earth’s surface! Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, north of Strong City, should be your next stop to witness the vast, astonishing beauty of one of Earth’s last tallgrass prairies.
The 8th and final wonder is the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home in Abilene. This is where former president and 5-star General Dwight Eisenhower was born and raised after seeing a library and museum additions.
If Kansas ever added the 9th wonder, I’d suggest the Kansas Speedway, which hosts NASCAR events all year and, more recently, the American Royal BBQ Competition. This reminds me; Kansas is the rightful home of barbecue. If you love to barbecue, GO. TO. KANSAS. Kansas has excellent camping and hiking opportunities, with many parks and campgrounds just west of Kansas City.
Domestic flights around Kansas aren’t the cheapest in the US, but the state is easily accessible through domestic flights. Driving to Kansas is highly recommended for the views alone. Because Kansas has a meager cost of living and is very cheap to visit, you’ll have extra cash for ribs and brisket!
Next on our flyover states list is Minnesota. The Minnesotans might be the best thing about Minnesota, but there are more than just great people to enjoy here! The “Land of 10,000 Lakes” is also the land of sprawling farms, as most of the state is flat and well-suited for agriculture.
There are still substantial forested areas in the northern Boundary Waters of the state that border with Canada. Impressive expanses of untouched wilderness are perfect for camping, hiking, canoeing, fishing, or escaping modern life.
Minnesota is famous for its harsh, lengthy winters, which may give you a reason to avoid the state in colder months unless you’re into winter sports. Minnesota’s other nickname is the “State of Hockey.” Still, it should also be recognized for the cornucopia of winter sports enjoyed there, such as skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing, broomball, and ice fishing.
Apart from the stunning northern wilderness, the best parts of Minnesota have to be the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Minnesota’s capital Saint Paul is home to fantastic museums, theatre, music, and the longest stretch of Victorian-era homes in the country on Summit Avenue.
Minneapolis is the state’s nightlife capital, with many great bars and restaurants. Still, plenty to see during the day, such as Target Field Stadium, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, featuring the world-renowned Spoonbridge and Cherry.
No trip to Minnesota is complete without visiting the one and only Mall of America, the largest indoor shopping mall in the country, and also home to one of the world’s largest indoor theme parks in the form of Nickelodeon World.
Minnesota’s domestic beer brewing scene is massive. Summit, Surly, Fulton, and Lift Bridge are trendy names brewing top-rated beers. Flying within Minnesota isn’t great, with sparse commercial airports and airfares on the pricy side. Driving is your best bet, but if you’re visiting in winter and aren’t used to driving in severe cold weather conditions, take all the care in the world.
While the costliest in our list of flyover states, Minnesota’s cost of living, room, and board is decidedly average compared to the rest of the US. Note there isn’t any sales tax on food or clothing; great if you plan to hit the Mall of America! Check out these other historical landmarks in Minnesota to plan your visit.
See Related: Ideas for Weekend Getaways in Minnesota
Also known as the “Show-Me State,” Missouri takes its name from the Missouri River, which feeds into the mighty Mississippi near St. Louis. Missouri’s climate is varied, as temperate climes of the northern Midwest collide with sub-tropical climates from the state’s southeast of Missouri. Terrain-wise, Missouri is mainly made up of beautiful, lush plains, rolling plateaus, and verdant forests, but what lies beneath the surface makes Missouri stand out.
Missouri is a spelunker’s dream, being home to over 6,000 caves and mines, the most famous being the Meramec Caverns in Sullivan, located in the Ozarks, and the Bonne Terre Mine, in Bonne Terre, home of the world’s largest artificial underground lake, which has boat tours and freshwater scuba diving.
Kansas City is home to the striking National WWI Museum & Memorial for history lovers, the curious Noir Arts & Oddities shop for anyone looking for the weirdest possible souvenir, and one of the most incredible artificial structures on Earth; SubTropolis.
Built underground near the river, SubTropolis was designed to be the world’s largest underground business complex. While it remains almost empty and has no ticketed entry, SubTropolis is nearly as big as a city and can be driven through (trust me, you’ll want to drive).
Also, hidden within SubTropolis is a one-of-a-kind paintball complex! St. Louis has plenty to keep you occupied, such as the City Museum, a constantly evolving scrapbook of St. Louis history and culture, the enormous (and free) St. Louis Zoo, and the stunning Gateway Arch that frames the city center.
Not afraid of heights? Catch a ride to the top of the arch and see this beautiful city from the best angle! One of Missouri’s best gems is Silver Dollar City in Branson. A unique, quirky 1880-themed amusement park with tons of rides of varying intensity and plenty of other activities for the whole family, including train rides and paddleboat cruises.
Missouri is surprisingly well-connected for domestic air travel, and airfares are reasonable; however, the state is most pleasant to drive. If you’re more into hiking and camping, you’ll probably enjoy it more if you make it a road trip with an RV.
For costs, Missouri is pretty cheap regarding food, room, and board, so considering what the state offers, she’s a real bargain.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Rolla, Missouri
Last but not least on our list of best flyover states to visit in North Dakota, the perfect getaway for anyone who can’t decide between a hopping city nightlife, delving into American history, or landscapes so beautiful, they’ve earned the state the well-deserved nickname of “Heaven on Earth.
The east of North Dakota has a more temperate climate, getting quite humid in the summer, while the western half is a rider. Across the state, summers are hot but manageable, while winters can be brutal.
The landscape, wherever you go, is to die for; the state is undoubtedly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful in the whole country and home to several spectacular national parks, the most famous and arguably most beautiful being Theodore Roosevelt National Park of Medora in the Badlands.
The park gets its name from the first President Roosevelt, who spent much time in the area the park now covers, living a “strenuous life.” It’s here Teddy Roosevelt started conceiving the idea of national parks, and it’s plain to see why.
The park is a fantastic way to experience yesteryear’s frontier lifestyle, where green pastures meet jagged cliffs, every hillock leads to a more perfect view than the last, and wild horses roam free…as well as the bison, deer, moose, elk, bighorn, cougars, coyotes, prairie dogs, turkeys, AND golden eagles, which also have the freedom to roam. Hiking and camping here are highly recommended, plus there are opportunities to explore this magnificent space on horseback!
If you’re in Medora in the summer, check out the Medora Musical. The live, open-air musical is about the most American thing you’ll ever see and brings the “Old West” to life through song, dance, and fireworks! For those who want to learn more about the history of American frontier life, a trip to Williston will lead you to the Fort Buford State Historic Site and Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site.
Fort Buford, once an essential military supply depot during the American Indian Wars, and Fort Union Trading Post are terrific house exhibits, artifacts, and reenactments that help paint a clear picture of life in the Dakotas for settlers and Natives during those devastating wars.
North Dakota has plenty for the city bug, mainly in the largest (and still relatively small) city, Fargo. For a taste of some of Fargo’s favorites, check out Smiling Moose, a deli with fresh soups and INSANE sandwiches loved by locals. Mezzaluna is the hotspot for finer dining, with new takes on American classics and innovative cocktails.
For beer lovers, the Drekker Brewing Company offers a tour of their sleek brewery and serves delicious beers in their Viking-long hall-themed taproom, and it is a great place to start or end your night out.
The nightlife in Fargo is off the hook, with a crazy number of great restaurants, bars, and clubs, which is wild considering the town has a population of less than 130,000 and is less than 50 square miles.
One of the best attractions is Fargo Theatre. Visiting this art deco marvel from the 1920s is like taking a step back in time, hosting regular movies, live music, and theater performances, and hosting the 5-day Fargo Film Festival every March.
Flying domestically around North Dakota can be tricky, but the authentic charm of the state is the gaps between destinations. North Dakota is best seen from behind the wheel, and RV rentals are highly recommended when traveling.
Cost-wise, North Dakota is a little below average, but considering what she has to offer, just from her natural beauty alone, it’s the bargain of the century. Check out these other significant historical landmarks in North Dakota.
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James is a British-American writer and editor for Via Travelers who has been writing since he was wee. As someone who has spent much time trotting around the globe, James appreciates traveling smart and comfortably, and has every intention of helping VT’s readers do the same!