Regional Guide: The American Midwest

Known for its friendly vibe, salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense folk and affordable cost of living, the Midwestern U.S. has much to offer. 

Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois; photo by Muzammil Soorma on Unsplash

Landlocked as it may be, Midwesterners are as drawn to water as their coastal counterparts. From the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” Door County, to the mighty Great Lakes fringed with fine, sandy beaches, lake living in the Midwest is a real-deal experience. 

Mind you, outdoor activities tend to be weather dependent, requiring some flexibility and — most definitely — a four-season wardrobe.  

Speaking of weather, the Midwest has a humid continental climate, with high relative humidity, appreciable precipitation year-round and temperatures that swing considerably from summer to winter. As a result, summertime highs hover around 85°F and winter temps can dip below 15°F. As for that dreaded lake-effect snow, it’s common downwind from the Great Lakes, in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.  

In short, Midwest summers are hard-earned. They’re also fully embraced, so much so that Midwesterners wear shorts — even pop convertible tops — the second it hits 50 degrees. 

Are you considering exploring the region or even making a move? Here are a few more things to know.  

Hitting the Great Outdoors  

When it comes to outdoor activities, the Midwest is no slouch, be it ice fishing in Northwoods Minnesota, hiking the Black Hills in western South Dakota or skiing Mount Bohemia in Michigan’s UP.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota; photo by Drew Dau on Unsplash

What’s more, the region boasts seven national parks: 

  • Badlands National Park (SD) 
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park (OH) 
  • Gateway Arch National Park (MO) 
  • Indiana Dunes National Park (IN) 
  • Isle Royale National Park (MI) 
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND) 
  • Voyageurs National Park (MN)  

So, yes, the Midwest is more than the sum of its parts. 

On top of being home to Chicago — the third-largest U.S. city — you’ll find quaint beach towns in the “Mitten State”; stunning sand dunes in Indiana; extraordinary limestone cliffs at Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest; and the “sea caves” of the Apostle Islands, off the coast of Bayfield, Wisconsin. 

Want to get far from the sights and sounds of civilization? Ply Lake Superior’s cold, deep waters by ferry to explore a rugged, isolated Isle Royale. Not the hiking type? There’s always Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, the second oldest amusement park in the country. 

Getting a Culture Fix 

Known as “America’s Heartland” for its role in the nation’s manufacturing and farming sectors, the Midwest’s patchwork of small towns and populated cities were long considered the broadest representation of American culture, a fact that remains true as demographics and cultural representations shift. 

Ready for a fun fact? Most national television broadcasters speak with a “Midwestern accent,” despite Midwesterners considering theirs non-existent. Here’s another interesting tidbit: The American Midwest was home to more than a quarter of U.S. presidents. Plus, it was the birthplace of inventors and entrepreneurs, whose technologies fuel the world’s economy. That includes electric lighting, petroleum, airplanes, automobiles, the transistor and steel production.  

Home to 33 professional sports teams, there are nine NFL teams; eight MLB teams; seven NBA teams; and five NHL teams. Plus, there are four annual NASCAR events, along with the Big Ten and Big Twelve. 

Sports not your thing? There are small-town and mid-size city museums of note — Middleton, Wisconsin’s National Mustard Museum; Detroit’s Henry Ford Museum; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; and the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota, to name a few. And, of course, there are Chicago’s world-class museums, like the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium.  

Long an important musical destination, both the Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Symphony Orchestra call the region home. Additionally, the “Great Migration” from the South to Chicago, certainly left its mark, bringing African Americans from Mississippi and, with them, the Delta blues — a foundation of the Chicago blues, Chicago-style Dixieland jazz and, ultimately, rock and roll. 

Midwestern American Cuisine  

In the Midwest — the so-called “the breadbasket of America” — simple, hearty “all-American” fare is the norm. That might mean a Sunday supper of roast beef, grilled steak or meatloaf, accompanied by mashed potatoes, green beans, corn on the cob and apple pie. As chilly weather ushers in the likes of soups and stews, summer eating often revolves around grilled grub and picnic-type fare. As for family-style meals, they really are a thing.  

Here’s some food for thought from Mayflower’s 2021 “Finding Home” survey: 

Crowd-pleasers aside, there’s plenty more to chew on — from hoof to claw, and fin to root and leafy green, the anthropology of Midwestern food runs deep. Beef, pork and poultry are produced in many Midwestern states, while trout, walleye and bass are among the species in Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. 

Over the decades, German, British, Hungarian, Italian and Scandinavian populations immigrated to the region, bringing with them flavors, foods and traditions that have since become the norm. Given Chicago has the second-largest population of Mexican immigrants in the United States after Los Angeles, you’re certain to encounter an abundance of authentic, regional Mexican cuisine here, too. Add that to the fact that the flavors of African American, African, and Caribbean cuisine are well-represented. 

From indigenous foods like Wisconsin cranberries and prairies filled with wheat and corn to European immigrant cuisines, fish boils and fine dining in cities big and small, the Midwest has it all. 

Careers in the Midwest 

There’s good news overall on the job front, given many Midwestern cities have employment outlooks well above the national average. In its 2021 ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey, Milwaukee-based global staffing firm ManpowerGroup North America notes that the employment outlook of Grand Rapids, Michigan (34%) enjoys the second-best nationwide slot, with Des Moines, Iowa, also looking good at 31%. 

Farming, manufacturing and mining remain prominent in the Midwest, though the transportation, machinery and finance sectors also are key. As is the case nationwide, operations research analyst jobs are on the rise and registered nurses are highly sought out. Hospitality and food service workers remain in demand, as do teachers and those with expertise in a wide array of financial and professional services. 

Landmarks Worth Experiencing Firsthand 

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin

Narrowing down the Midwest’s most iconic destinations is tough. However, from Mount Rushmore in South Dakota to the Windy City’s Willis Tower (still the Sears Tower to locals), count on there being landmarks galore. 

Be sure to cross the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge — the longest a suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the fifth-longest in the world — connecting Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. 

Alternately, explore a 400-plus-million-year-old geological marvel — striking, limestone Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. Another must-see: Chimney Rock in western Nebraska, a soaring geological rock formation and recognizable landmark for pioneer travelers on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. 

Really, the list goes on and on. Whatever your interests and wherever your passions lie, the Midwest has so much waiting to be explored — and plenty of good reasons to call it home. 

Basics About the Midwest 

Considering a move to a Midwestern state?  

Ideal for farming, the region boasts fertile soil, allowing farmers to produce abundant harvests of soybeans, corn, oats and wheat along the low, flat, rolling terrain of the Interior Plains.   

As for topographical variation, the Interior Lowlands in the east gradually rise over 5,000 feet in the western Midwest to the Great Plains. Stunning landscapes are found amid the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains; the Great Lakes Basin; and the glaciated uplands of Lake Superior in Minnesota, part of the ruggedly volcanic Canadian Shield. But it doesn’t stop there, given southern Missouri’s Ozark Mountains and the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa and northwest Illinois, where distinctive terrain is deeply eroded yet lacking glacial deposits.  

Animal-wise, the black bear, bobcat and gray wolf were native to the entirety of the Midwest hundreds of years ago. While they and other predators all-but-disappeared regionally due to hunting and agriculture eliminating their habitats, grey wolf, bobcat and mountain lion populations have now expanded into rural areas. State biologists periodically confirm cougars wandering Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan; plus, there are lynx and coyotes, too.  

In terms of Midwestern flora, the region sits amid USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 6 and in AHS Heat Zones 1 through 8, resulting in a typical growing season from April to October. Gardeners in the northern Midwestern states, like North Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota, however, can expect a much shorter growing season. 

Moving soon or recently moved and in the process of settling in? Mayflower is here to help you Every Step of the Way®. Click here to get the ball rolling, and be sure to check out our blog for helpful moving tips — not to mention advice on making your house feel like a home. 

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