Must-See Scenic Drives and Attractions Driving West from Cincinnati to Seattle
August 4, 2010 4:35 PM   Subscribe

What are some must-see scenic drives and attractions to be found on a one-way roadtrip West from Cincinnati, OH to Seattle, WA. Mid-40s opposite-sex couple who love photography, don't like hiking very much but appreciate a good hot spring, and are what you would call "foodies". We're thinking about the Badlands and Black Hills, but what else? Also, what stretches of road can we avoid to stave off boredom, and where should we drive instead of them? We can go a bit out of our way, but would like to be back at our jobs within a week.
posted by matildaben to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Badlands and Black Hills are a BIG yes as both are amazing and not crowded. Also on your way you must stop at Mitchell, South Dakota, to see the Corn Palace -- awesome. If it's open when you go, stop at the Porter Sculpture Garden. It was closed on my drive through, but it looked amazing from what I could see form the road. If you can, drive through the Badlands at night (in addition to your daytime trip). Creepy in an awesome way! In Wall, S.D., just outside the Badlands, go to Wall Drug.

In the Black Hills, see Mount Rushmore and also the Crazy Horse memorial (in progress). I didn't think Deadwood was very interesting (unless you like casinos). Spearfish canyon is a lovely drive.

It's a bit off the interstate, but Devils Tower in Wyoming is INCREDIBLE.

If you have time to venture to Yellowstone, I can't recommend it enough. It's incredible, amazing, fantastic, wonderful, special... can't say enough about it. Grand Teton NP is also beautiful and wonderful.

You're going to an AWESOME part of the country! Have a great time. You'll be surprised how much ground you can cover just gazing at the weird and wonderful landscape of the west... before you know it, you've driven hundreds of miles.
posted by hansbrough at 4:44 PM on August 4, 2010

I've made this drive several times, and my first thought is that one week is very ambitious if you want to do any sight-seeing at all. To do Cincinnati to Seattle and back in seven days you'd have to average close to 700 miles a day.

I've driven the northern route (I90) and the more southern route (I80) and found that both have good scenery once you get far enough west, but there's going to be a day of driving, either through South Dakota or Nebraska, that will bore you to tears. I'm not sure that's avoidable. I didn't have time to do any sight-seeing on my trips, so unfortunately I can't recommend anything along those lines.

Have fun, though! I'd love to make that trip again.
posted by Balonious Assault at 4:55 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oopsie... now I see you said a one-way trip. Less ambitious, more time to enjoy it. Have even more fun!
posted by Balonious Assault at 4:59 PM on August 4, 2010

I made that trip, from Cincinnati to the West Coast, 35 years ago and never came back. Well I did come back to Cincy a few times to visit. Now I can't stand to go East of the Continental Divide. Breathing humid air makes me uneasy now.

Driving cross USA like that will be memories for a lifetime. I love to make that drive and haven't done it in a decade. Go through Colorado Rockies, Estes Park area, See Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, Black Hills, check out some books and pictures from the Lewis and Clarke expedition for ideas. Get a good camera and media to store pics on.

Don't miss the Columbia Gorge. Hells Canyon, Come down Interstate 84 and then go north to Seattle. Eastern Washington is kind of boring, relatively.

Take a different route home so you can work in different places out of the way of each other. Glacier National Park is up north but very, very nice if you go the northern route either direction.

Admire the Aspens in the West while they still exist. You should allow two weeks minimum. It will be worth it. If you do it in less time you will be missing it! Have a superb trip!
posted by nogero at 5:21 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: Based on doing it last year, I'd say a few things about this drive, foremost that you should expect a few long boring stretches and try to plan around them so you end up stopping in more interesting places. The Black Hills and the Badlands are beautiful, but everything to the east of that along the interstate in South Dakota is a wasteland, bereft of even Subways — it's probably best to just eat before entering the state and not bother stopping, for the underwhelming tourist-trap Corn Palace or anywhere else, before the Badlands. Rapid City is a fine place to spend a night (or two, if you want to do more exploring there). From there it's a long day's drive to Cody across the similarly bleak and boring plains of eastern Wyoming, and then over the lovely Bighorn mountains. Cody is a great stopping place (recommended lodging: Cody Cowboy Village) if you want to head into Yellowstone, which I'd very much recommend; it's beautiful even if you only take a leisurely drive through. From there you can head north into Montana, maybe staying somewhere like Bozeman (nice town) or Butte, and then you can stop again perhaps at Coeur D'Alene for the last night before Seattle.
posted by RogerB at 5:48 PM on August 4, 2010

I live in Nebraska and I can tell you I-80 is not an awe-inspiring drive. If you do happen to go that route, the mosquitoes in Ogalalla are large enough to carry away a small child.
posted by JV at 6:23 PM on August 4, 2010

Wounded Knee monument was incredibly powerful for me.

I agree with skipping the corn palace, hokey.

Columbia Gorge is amazing.

Can you get off interstates? Wherever possible, that is worth doing.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:03 PM on August 4, 2010

Stay off the interstate as much as you can once you get past the Black Hills. In Wyoming past Gillette take Highway 16 through TenSleep Canyon & stop at the hot springs in Thermopolis. Then 20 & 26 to the Tetons & Yellowstone. In fact Rte 20 all the way across Idaho is pretty spectacular.
posted by TDIpod at 7:18 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: Seconding TDI's advice about backroads across Wyoming. I've made the drive west from Cincinnati many times, and that's an amazing drive. If you take that route (which misses the monotony of 80 across Nebraska or 70 across Kansas), I'd suggest heading up through Chicago and catch I-90 there and go up through Madison and across southern Minnesota.

This will give you the once-in-a-lifetime chance to stop in Austin, MN and see the National SPAM museum.
posted by krakedhalo at 9:10 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: Agree with seeing The Badlands, the Black Hills and Devil's Tower. The Bighorn National Battlefield is along I90 and I recommend it as well. It's a little out of your way, but you can take a drive through Yellowstone National Park as well.

A note on time: you can get from West Yellowstone (the town) to Seattle in a day's drive, it's about 700 miles. There is quite a bit of construction along all of I90, so be prepared for minor detours and some delays. I was delayed near Snoqualmie Pass for about an hour while they did some blasting.

Here's my blog of my recent road trip along quite a bit of I90.
I feel weird doing this but self-links are allowed if helpful.
Feel free to delete this if considered inappropriate/not helpful.

posted by deborah at 11:47 PM on August 4, 2010

If you can manage it, head for Lava Hot Springs, just east of Pocatello Idaho. Cute little town, inexpensive and very nice (read clean, modern) hot springs pools and the kicker is two-fold. At the far end of town there is an olympic sized pool with 1, 3 and 10 meter diving boards and a couple of water slides...the pool is kept warm year round by the hot springs; and running through the town is the Portneuf river, which the locals (and every adventuresome tourist) float on inner tubes. the river is mellow (calf deep) and...also fed by the there are pockets of lovely hot water all along the route, which is only a few miles and ends up right at the campground near the swimming pool. it's a hoot in a small town kinda way.
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:05 AM on August 5, 2010

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