When travellers think 'America', they think of sunny California or the crisp charms of New York. Yet America's heartland – that chunk of country wedged right in the centre, brimming with prairies and farmland – attests to the untapped potential of 'real' America. From Omaha's indie music scene to Minnesota's 10,000 lakes, discover America's hidden heartland with our insider tips.
NEBRASKA – Carhenge, indie music and Omaha
If you took a map of America and folded it in half, then in half again, Nebraska would be right at the central crease. It’s tucked smack dab into the middle of America. Landlocked, it’s filled with charmingly mannered people and very few tourists.
Sample just-picked corn
Nowhere else will you find corn this sweet – or this omnipresent. Roughly 93% of Nebraska’s land is used for corn. Simply popping into a local grocery store will provide you with corn from nearby. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a homemade sign while driving offering corn from the farm. Get some. It will probably still be warm from the sun and fresh picking.
If the juicy yellow kernels aren’t to taste, don a red shirt and go to rally your cry with thousands of others in Nebraska’s unofficial national pastime: supporting the Cornhuskers, the University of Lincoln’s football team.
Imagine Stonehenge. Replace the stones with cars. Now stick it in the middle of Alliance, Nebraska – and voila, you have Carhenge. Carhenge uses vintage 1950s and 1960s cars to mimic the dimensions of its more famous sibling. Planted boot down, the cars rise to 5m (17ft) tall. It’s open 24/7 and admission is free.
Explore local music
Omaha, Nebraska has a thriving indie music scene. Thanks to Saddle Creek Records, bands develop fast in this state of corn and cows. Favourites include the industrial beats of The Faint, the angry rock of Cursive, and the internationally known Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. The best place to watch Omaha’s burgeoning talent is at the unassuming Sokol Club. Located on the corner of Martha and 13th Street, the Sokol Club runs a regular line-up of emerging indie bands. The audiences tend to be small but passionate. This means you can get close to the stage, bobbing your head to the underground beat – and often for under a tenner.
KANSAS – Fountains, walks and roller coasters
Drive down from Nebraska and you’ll hit Kansas City. Twice. On the border between two states, Kansas City straddles Missouri and Kansas. This position was a source of conflict during America’s Civil War, where thousands of pro- and anti-slavery forces poured into Kansas City, giving it the name ‘Bleeding Kansas’. Today, it’s known more as the Paris of the Plains: extremely walkable and full of fountains.
Visit Worlds of Fun
Strap on your walking shoes, throw on your shades, and get ready to mingle with the locals at the Midwest’s largest theme park. With fewer queues than Disneyland, Worlds of Fun offers dozens of roller coasters and hundreds of games. A local favourite is ‘The Timberwolf’, an old creaking wooden roller coaster structure.
When you’re tired from the heat and the thrills of dropping from great heights, take a break to sample that other American institution: fair food. Choices will range from the deceptively simple hot dog to the delightfully warm, sweet, deep-fried funnel cake. You can sit on a bench and watch the Midwest families go by.
Fountains and shopping
Unlike most Midwest cities, whose vast distances tend to necessitate cars, Kansas City’s central square is extremely walkable – hence its nickname as the Paris of the Plains. Park the car at Country Club Plaza. From here you can make your way through numerous local and national shops, finding fashionable bargains at mid-America prices. Beat only by Rome in the number of fountains, you’ll see some impressive structures while strolling through the Plaza.
MINNESOTA – Lakes, skis and snowmobiles
Known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota dazzles with outdoor offerings. To fully enjoy all this relatively tourist-free state has to offer, skip the urban Twin Cities centre. Head instead to the state’s many rivers, hiking trails and looming forests.
Hire a snowmobile…
If you’re in Minnesota during the winter, be prepared for foot after foot of snow. While cross-country skiing is a great way to explore the white winter tundra, channel your inner adventurous American by hiring a snowmobile. Small and fast, these tiny ski-perched vehicles are designed to plough through acres of snow; and with more than 32,000km (20,000 miles) of trail, Minnesota has plenty of snowmobile routes. Snowmobiles can be hired from many hotels. You can also rent them from places like Snowmobile Concierge, RapidsRental and Brainerd.
…or a waterski
After winter comes months of beautiful spring, summer and fall. In summer, the days are long and hot, perfect for indulging in watersports on one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Waterskiing (invented in Minnesota in 1922) is king amongst watersports. It involves strapping two thin blades to your feet, holding to a rope and being pulled behind a boat. The brave can flip and try not to trip as the boat rushes along. Madden Gull Lake is a prime spot to rest your weary head while engaging in watersports adventures.
No matter what Midwestern state you choose to visit, you’ll find welcoming people, a slower pace and local untouched charm.
Insider tips: The best way to get around is by renting a car.The distances in the heartland are vast, and public transport is often spotty. For lodging, try bed and breakfasts – you’ll meet mild-natured Americans while sampling delicious homemade food.