Things to see while driving from NW Ohio to SE Wyoming?
August 28, 2009 9:31 PM   Subscribe

Road trip with my mom.


* We're driving to Traverse City, MI, taking a ferry to Green Bay, WI, then have planned stops in Madison, Minneapolis, the Badlands, Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore, the Corn Palace, and Devil's Tower. We'll end up in Laramie, WY.

* I have no idea what to do in Madison or Minneapolis, in particular

* We are two women, 30 and 54 years old, and will have 2 little dogs with us

* We'll be camping the whole way, and are pretty low-maintenance people

* We both like nature, art, museums, and odd places (a la Corn Palace)

If anyone would love to recommend spots, we're all ears! Thanks!
posted by elder18 to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
That's going to be a lovely road trip. I will be honest with you and say that I think Wall Drug and the Corn Palace are rather extremely overrated, but the Badlands and Devil's Tower are pretty fantastic. And Mt. Rushmore, well, it is what it is. Its an anomaly. It is something you have to see, however. And the drive will be breathtaking. As someone plagued by the road itch, I'm jealous.

Minneapolis has lots of great art, music and especially theatre. Check out what's playing at the Orpheus. Depending on when you're going to be there, go to St. Paul and check out a live recording of Prairie Home Companion! And you should totally go to the Musical Instrument Museum (totally rad). Minneapolis is a surprisingly unique, diverse and cultured city. It has everything from great high art to hipster awesomeness.

Madison I know nothing about, save they actually have a pretty damn decent orchestra. You wouldn't think it, but they do.

Traverse City is a lovely neck of the woods. Tourist season is ending there now, so it will hopefully be quiet. The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes are pretty sweet. But don't go too late in the day (I had a rather wild experience getting lost in the dunes after dark. It was cool at the time, but I was very young). While you're by TC, you should go to the Interlochen Arts Academy. It's one of the oldest performing arts boarding schools in the country, is extremely beautiful, and has really incredible concerts almost every night of the week. There is also almost always great art to see there too. It's one of my favorite areas of the country. There's also a great campground across the road from IAA, on a beautiful lake.

Road trips in the midwest are special things. Have a wonderful time!
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:08 PM on August 28, 2009

Check out the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison. The University of Wisconsin Arboretum is also nice.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:15 PM on August 28, 2009

MMOCA (Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) is also definitely worth a look. It's not that big (neither is the Chazen), but the benefit is that you can see the whole thing before your feet start to hurt. Both of them are free, by the way.

If you'll be in Madison over the weekend, hit the giant farmer's market surrounding the Capitol on Saturday morning. If the weekend is after Labor Day (i.e. during the school year), the Chazen holds free classical concerts in the early afternoon on Sundays. And if the Prairie Home Companion recommendation above appeals to you, you can also attend a live taping of "Whad'ya Know?" at Monona Terrace.

Odd places? There's the House on the Rock near Spring Green, WI, sorta-but-not-quite on the way toward Minneapolis. That definitely fits the bill. (And Taliesin is also right nearby.) And I think there's a Houdini museum in Appleton (between Green Bay & Madison), his hometown, but I've never been.

In South Dakota, the Badlands are indeed amazing. You may want to spend a lot of time exploring. And the Black Hills have far more to them than just Mt. Rushmore. Jewel Cave and (I think) Wind Cave, both right around there, are state parks that give really breathtaking cave tours.

I agree that the Corn Palace gets old fast, but since it's right on your route, it's definitely worth a quick stop. Wall Drug is practically the definition of kitsch and can be a mobscene, but plenty of people are into both those things.
posted by sesquipedalia at 11:47 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Whad'ya know?" What a great recommendation!

And how could I forget House on the Rock. Yes. Totally sweet!!
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:39 AM on August 29, 2009

Arg. It appears the link to the Musical Instrument Museum I gave you is to a similar museum in Arizona (i.e. not helpful at all!). There is indeed a cool musical instrument museum in Minneapolis, but it appears they don't have a website [sigh]. Apologies. Still worth checking out in Minn., however!
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:51 AM on August 29, 2009

My wife and a friend and I did a very similar trip last summer; Cleveland to Billings, camping the whole way.

We did the House on the Rock, which is quite the bizzare spectacle. In southern Minnesota we followed US 14 and stopped at several Laura Ingalls Wilder-related museums and related historical spots. I think the favorite of these was a museum in the tiny town of Burr Oak, IA, just south of the MN border; I didn't go into that one, and was told I'd missed out.

Near Sioux Falls we visited Pipestone National Monument, which is a native American pipestone quarry that has a nice walking trail and is easily accessible from I90. Just north of Pipestone we accidentally drove through Lake Benton, which is home to a huge, spectacular windfarm that brought tears to my wife's eyes.

We followed South Dakota route 34 (parallel to I90, about 20 miles north.) This took us to the Big Bend dam, which we crossed and took routes 10 and 1806 past Fort Defiance (didn't stop) and through the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Indian Reservations and a corner of the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, thence into Pierre. Nice campground on the Missouri river, by the Oahe dam (Oahe State Park?). Great breakfast at Pier 347 coffee shop in Pierre.

Stopped at Wall Drug. Left quickly.

Just east of the Badlands is the Minuteman Missle National Historic Site. This site hasn't yet been fully developed by the park service, but you can look down through glass into an open missle silo and see an (unarmed) training missile. You can use your cellphone to hear a recorded explanatory spiel, but we were luck enough to arrive when Ranger Cody (the young ranger, with a background in military history, assigned to this nascent site) was there to talk with us personally. This was a surprisingly interesting stop. Because it's not fully developed, there is very little signage. It's very close to I90, though -- exit 131, I think. It's easy to find once you get off the freeway, because there's nothing else there.

Drove through the Badlands. Spectacular, but I'd been there before so I felt a bit jaded.

The scenery around the Black Hills / Rushmore is beautiful, but much of the area is also very tourist-trappy. In Wind Cave National Park we took a spectacular drive on Prairie roads N5 and N6 (we took notes). This is a beautiful, little-used route across the park -- gravel and dirt roads that take you well away from the crowds and give you the chance to see a lot of wildlife (buffalo, antelope, prairie dogs) and beautiful vistas. We ate a picnic lunch on a bluff with beautiful views all around and no noise but the wind, nobody else in site. A map of the route is available at the park's visitors' center.
posted by jon1270 at 3:15 AM on August 29, 2009

For some reason this is coming out in reverse, West to East, but I did a roadtrip that ook me through those states are here are some highlights not already mentioned:

Custer State Park near the Badlands/Rushmore in the Black Hills was a wonderful surprise and I tell people about it every chance I get. We stopped in to look and stayed 3 full days. The wildlife is amazing - all the big Western species (pronghorn, moose, bison, bighorn sheep) and not that hard to find them, either. Wonderful hiking. Beautiful scenery. There's a company that does trail rides - I did a 3-hour afternoon one for something like $40 and it was highly memorable.

The Badlands has a huge section that's not sand formations, but gentle rolling prairie. Awesome.

In Chamberlain, SD, we wandered off the highway and found ourselves at St. Joseph's Indian School. On the site of the school is the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center, open to the public which was one of the most fascinating museums I've ever seen. Interesting place.

Both Madison and Minneapolis have downtown areas that you can while away the time wandering around in. Minneapolis has a cool college-y area with kitsch and vintage shops and bookstores - I think it's called Hennepin? In the middle of the city is a National Park that borders the Mississippi River on both sides. It's a great, scenic walk to walk around it - over two bridges and up and down the banks. There's even a working locks system, and they give talks/demos frequently.

I'd look for some foodie stuff in and around Madison. Wisconsin is full of these indie cheesemaking places (list on the links sidebar) where they generally have cheese tastings daily and a bewildering array of locally produced cheese. It's amazing, like something you'd find in Europe - they're famous for the cheese for a reason!

Not far from Madison is Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's childhood and adult home and archiectural school. They have a fantastic tour and it's really a cool place.
posted by Miko at 6:46 AM on August 29, 2009

My mom and I took a similar trip last summer this time of year and had a great time. I agree with other folks that the Corn Palace is a fun but quick stop. Admire the outside, then wander inside to the see the murals that line the gymnasium.

If either of you are a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, you can visit the Ingalls Homstead in De Smet, which is about an hour and forty minutes north of Mitchell. Regrettably, we were not able to make the detour, so perhaps someone else can chime in that's been there.

I would plan on spending at least a couple of hours at the Badlands. They are unlike anything else in America. If you visit when the sun is at its highest, put on sunscreen. Bring binoculars (we forgot ours and had to get some along the way). Our stop at Wall Drug was fast.

My mom really loved Mt. Rushmore. It was still fairly packed with visitors at this time of year when we visited, but otherwise it was really cool. If you have time for a scenic drive, try Spearfish Canyon which is a National Scenic Byway. The Black Hills are breathtaking.

I really enjoyed Devil's Tower. The different colors of moss that grow on the sides are neat. We took Hwy 14 off the Interstate and then followed the rest of it back to the Interstate. If you like wildlife, you should see plenty in the morning or twilight. We saw flocks of turkeys, several deer, antelope, and coyotes we got there late in the evening as the sun was about to go down). Keyhole State Park is nearby.

You're going to have a great trip.
posted by Coyote at the Dog Show at 8:19 AM on August 29, 2009

Response by poster: Just to clarify for those who might look at my profile and see my gender as male, my wife posted this question (with my permission). Hence the reference to a 30 year old woman. I am, in fact, a 28 year old man. A very manly one, too.
posted by elder18 at 8:40 AM on August 29, 2009

Definitely take some time to eat good food in and around Madison. The Farmer's Market is great; it takes place on both Saturday and Wednesday. While you're around the Square, definitely go inside the Capitol. It's a stunning building with lots of lovely nooks and crannies. Around the Square, try Fromagination for wonderful cheese and gourmet treats. If you have more time to stay and eat, Harvest and L'Etoile are fancy but welcoming (both are nationally known); L'Etoile also has a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch. The Old Fashioned is meant to be like a sort of classic Wisconsin supper club with better ingredients; it's very tasty and a local favorite. Ian's Pizza, just off the square on State St., has giant slices of pizza in great combinations like mac and cheese (best seller -- don't knock it 'til you've tried it!).

Also, take a walk or drive around the UW-Madison campus; it's beautiful. I'm biased because I'm a double alum and work here :) Drop me a line and I'll give you a tour!
posted by Madamina at 9:48 AM on August 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone! Fabulous suggestions. I should've mentioned that we're both huge foodies, so thanks for reminding me about all the cheesy delights. And I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder...
*scribbling notes frantically*
posted by elder18 at 11:19 AM on August 29, 2009

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