Large carnivores are recolonizing parts of North America and Europe as a result of modern management and conservation policy. In the midwestern USA, black bears Ursus americanus, cougars Puma concolor and grey wolves Canis lupus have the potential to recolonize provided there is suitable habitat. Understanding where large carnivores may become re-established will prepare resource professionals for the inevitable ecosystem effects and potential human–carnivore conflicts associated with these species. We developed individual and combined models of suitable habitat for black bears, cougars and wolves in 18 midwestern states, using geospatial data, expert-opinion surveys, and multi-criteria evaluation. Large, contiguous areas of suitable habitat comprised 35, 21 and 13% of the study region for wolves, bears and cougars, respectively. Approximately 12% of the region was considered suitable for all three species. Arkansas, Minnesota, Texas and Wisconsin had the highest proportions (> 40%) of suitable habitat for black bears; Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin had the highest proportions (≥ 20%) of suitable habitat for cougars; and only in four states in the study region was < 29% of land suitable wolf habitat. Models performed well when validated by comparing suitability values of independent sets of known carnivore locations to those of random locations. Contiguous areas of suitable habitat typically spanned multiple states, thus coordination across boundaries and among agencies will be vital to successful conservation of these species. Our models highlight differences in habitat requirements and geographical distribution of potential habitat among these carnivores, as well as areas vital to their persistence in the Midwest.