Road trip: Minneapolis to . . . ?
April 21, 2009 8:41 AM   Subscribe

We have four days to take a road trip from Minneapolis to wherever we want. Where should we go?

My friends and I (female, in our early twenties) are looking for suggestions for a fun and manageable four-day road trip out of Minneapolis. Ideally, we'd like to take this trip over a four-day weekend, but we could probably stretch it to five days if the sights or route demanded it.

We're not opposed to driving longish days or visiting our Canadian neighbors, and we're not picky on the natural wonders vs. big city front. We're looking to do this on the cheap end, but we don't want to cut any corners. Basically, we're just looking for a good time, some interesting sights, and the open road.

Destinations we've talked about include Mount Rushmore (Wall Drug, Sturgis, Black Hills, Badlands, etc.), driving around one of the Great Lakes, or hitting up Winnipeg or Toronto, but I thought I'd poll the experienced masses.

So, travelers, where to?
posted by sciapod to Travel & Transportation around Minneapolis, MN (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wall Drug and the Black Hills are awesome - recommended, though in fairness I haven't been out there since I was a wee lad of 10-ish.
posted by jquinby at 8:46 AM on April 21, 2009

Thunder Bay and the drive up the North Shore is easily among the top 5 most beautiful drives in the US.

It may sound strange, but go visit one of the amethyst mines up in TB. They let you dig through the tailings and it's the most fun you can have for $10. I was there when a guy found an amethyst *literally* the size of a basketball. You pay by weight and he paid something like $20US for it.
posted by unixrat at 8:56 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm with Unixrat on Thunder Bay - it's really, really beautiful. If you want something on the wilderness side, I'd actually suggest to drive out to Copper Harbor, MI (in the UP), which'd take about a half day, then take the ferry to Isle Royale, right on the US/Canada border of Lake Superior. There's some incredibly beautiful hiking there.
posted by BZArcher at 9:08 AM on April 21, 2009

If you do decide on Winnipeg, drive either there or back via International Falls & Kenora, along ON-71. That route will take you past some pretty spectacular Canadian Shield scenery.

That said, if you're planning this trip within the next month or so, Winnipeg may not be the best choice.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:14 AM on April 21, 2009

We just drove out the the Black Hills last fall. Mount Rushmore and the scenery are beautiful. The drive from Minneapolis is dull dull dull. Well, maybe not if you take something other than the interstate.

We stopped at both Wall Drug and the Corn Palace on the way. In our opinions, neither were worth the stop. Wall Drug is just a tourist-trap mall like any other now, the Corn Palace was "Huh, that's neat".

The Corn Palace was admittedly a remarkable example of crop art, but that was it. We walked up to it, marvelled at the outside of the building, walked inside and realized there was little else to it aside from a gift shop.

Maybe in-season there would be events going on, but the thing itself is a 15-minute tour.
posted by chazlarson at 9:16 AM on April 21, 2009

Platoon drive and get yourself out to the Rockies.
posted by notsnot at 9:27 AM on April 21, 2009

Another, less distant trip could be into south-western Wisconsin. Its a beautiful part of the country, covered with glacial moraines and kettles. Spring Green has a great Shakespearian theater, and Taliesin is a must see for any architecture fan (Frank Lloyd Wright was born and raised in Spring Green). And speaking of architecture, the freak-show that is House on the Rock is incomparable. Plus, if the weather is nice, you can rent canoes and kayaks on the Wisconsin River.
posted by rtimmel at 9:40 AM on April 21, 2009

If you've read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig, the protagonist's trip starts in Minneapolis and they head out west on Route 12 until Miles City, Montana. It's a great stretch of road with beautiful scenery and way off the beaten path.
posted by drinkcoffee at 9:40 AM on April 21, 2009

I might caution you about driving around one of the Great Lakes, given your time limitation. I've driven around each of the Great Lakes, and doing one in four days would involve too high of a driving vs. sightseeing ratio than I would be comfortable with. OTOH, you did say you're "not opposed to driving longish days," so maybe that would work for you.

I drove around Lake Michigan first, which I did in six days and was still having to skip all kinds of stuff I wanted to see. The rest of them I took 9-15 days each, which was about right for me.

For example, driving around Lake Michigan (starting and ending in Minneapolis) is 23 hours driving time, or around Lake Superior is 26. And that's just for a route that encircles the lake, not one which sticks particularly close to the shore, which would make for an even longer drive.

Lake Michigan leans more towards the "big city" end of things: it's got Chicago and Milwaukee, obviously, but there's also all kinds of resort towns along much of both sides of its shore, and there is some of the "natural wonders" as well. Lake Superior is definitely well towards the "natural wonders" end of your scale: the terrain is much more rugged (but beautifully so, with lots of smallish waterfalls from rivers running towards the lake), and the Canadian side is very sparsely populated, with the exception of Thuder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, with only a handful of very small towns in between them.

Let me know if you have more specific questions about driving around any of the lakes, or want recommendations for things to do along the way.

On preview: if you want to take BZArcher's advice and go to Isle Royale, be sure to make ferry reservations well in advance, as they fill up quickly for the summer. I wanted to go there on my Lake Superior trip but wasn't able to because the ferry was already full on any of the days I could have made it there, and I was calling about a month in advance.
posted by Chuck Carroll at 9:46 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding whoever above about the drive through South Dakota: once you get out of the Minnesota Lakes, there's nothing to look at until you get to the Black Hills. The destination may be definitely worth it, but it's a long time of boring driving.

I recommend the headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca, and lakes country in general, Bemidji/Brainerd are pretty civilized but close to hiking, fishing, etc., and are much closer to Minneapolis than some of the other destinations. Better to spend your time having fun than driving, right?

Also: don't drive down the freeways. Follow the old US highway system (locals probably call them "route" or "US{number}" -- out of Minneapolis is #10 going west, which is excellent for stopping in little small towns and rummaging around. Freeways are boring, if you're travelling for the fun of the trip.
posted by AzraelBrown at 10:03 AM on April 21, 2009

Lake Superior is indeed awesome, and the shores of it between Marquette and Munising are my favorite place in the universe, but I'm going to recommend you do the Lake Michigan circle tour.

Reason? Variety: stunning wilderness and lake views in Michigan's U.P. and west coast; the Mackinac Bridge; Chicago for big-city fun; Traverse City and many tiny towns that are fun tourist trap-y stops. That trip would make for quite an adventure, especially if you haven't been to many/any of those places.
posted by Pufferish at 10:24 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

North shore of superior is great, as is the south shore. Good hiking too.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:41 AM on April 21, 2009

An alternative to the South Dakota badlands, if badlands strike your fancy:

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Much less touristy, less expensive. You can camp in the park, or stay in a hotel in Medora (expensive), or a hotel in Dickinson, about 20 miles away from the park. It's an 8-hour drive if you obey the speed limits.

The park itself is beautiful, and offers a lot of quiet time if you're into that. There are prairie-dog towns along the roads, and you can expect to see Bison on the road once a day.

Other areas .. I gotta echo everyone saying the North Shore drive is awesome. This time of year it shouldn't be too expensive to find a place to stay, either ... in a few months, YMMV. On the way up north, stop at Jay Cooke State Park, around 20 miles west of Duluth. Lots of hiking opportunities.
posted by dwbrant at 11:06 AM on April 21, 2009

The north shore is stunning. For a great day hike, look into the Superior Hiking Trail. I built a few bridges there last summer and I hope they get used!
posted by Sfving at 12:44 PM on April 21, 2009

Thanks, preview! I was about to suggest the Superior Hiking Trail. Not sure what kind of shape the trail will be in though - it depends on when you are planning on leaving. Plus, you'll be relatively close to Duluth in case the weather turns bad. Duluth is a great city if you haven't explored it much before - lots of pretty views.

If you make it all the way up to Winnipeg, do check out the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I also recommend checking out International Falls on the way back.

As for Toronto, 900 miles is a long drive inside a car - about 15 hours each way, as opposed to Winnipeg, which is about 7-8.
posted by antonymous at 12:55 PM on April 21, 2009

Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore, Bear Country USA, Reptile Gardens, Corn Palace, Deadwood (or Deadwood), Black Hills/Badlands...South Dakota sounds fun to me. I took a trip and hit all these spots about 5 years ago and it was pretty awesome. I'd like to go back to Deadwood after watching most of the TV series.
posted by whiskey point at 10:04 PM on April 21, 2009

Did you read the Betsy-Tacy books when you were younger? Visit the sites .
posted by brujita at 10:56 PM on April 21, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great suggestions, everybody! I'll update again when we decide our final destination (so many promising options).
posted by sciapod at 9:31 AM on April 22, 2009

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