Seattle 🚗 Boston: Where should we stop along the way?
March 7, 2016 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Where would be fun to stop along the way during a road trip from Seattle to Boston?

I'm relocating from Seattle to Boston and to get my car and cat there, I'll be driving cross-country. I want to do it in 7 days so that it's not too much driving and that I have some time to enjoy myself along the way. That said, I'll have my cat along and I don't want to take more than 7 days, so long detours aren't in the cards.

Here's the basic route I'm planning on doing:

I'm totally amenable to modifications (e.g., going through South Dakota instead of North, or through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) as long as they wouldn't make the total drive time longer than 50 hours.

Given all that, what are some cool things to stop and see along they way? Also, what cities would be fun to spend an evening in? I enjoy natural splendor, off-the-beaten-path attractions, unique dining experiences and unusual movie theaters.
posted by Cogito to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I did this after my dad died in 2008 and my husband and I drove his gigantic cushy car all the way from Boston to Seattle. I actually recommend a very chill approach -- get in the car and just drive east and plan to play it all by ear. Stop for anything that looks interesting and that you have time for on the way. (It is good that you apparently aren't doing this alone as the passenger can check out interesting sites on a cell phone en route.) One of the joys of road tripping in the USA is that a lot of the good stuff is what you stumble across. For example, we tooled through Chicago, and had one of our best lunches ever in a suburb via one of my dining phone apps. We stopped at places with a little weird going on, a la Bill Bryson, like boasts about the best cheese in the world or tacky dinosaurs.
posted by bearwife at 3:41 PM on March 7, 2016

It's criminal to pass that close to Yellowstone without going through the park. Even if you don't get out of the car (which it sounds as though you won't much because of the cat) you can still see some pretty amazing things.

I'd also recommend I-90 and when I do it I divert off the interstate and take minor highways for diversions through the Bighorn National Forest, to Devil's Tower in Wyoming, through the Black Hills in South Dakota (and to Mount Rushmore) and I'm not above stopping at totally corny tourist fare (including the ne plus ultra of corny: the Mitchell South Dakota Corn Palace.)

The route through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan isn't a bad choice, and if you go through northern Michigan rather than swing south around the Great Lakes you can choose whether you want part of your trip to go through Canada.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:58 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I did this after my dad died in 2010 and we drove the car back from Cincinnati to Seattle with a bunch of his stuff in it. We did Illinois/Iowa/South Dakota as opposed to your more Northerly route. Places we stopped on the way back included Devil's Tower National Monument, Mt. Rushmore (much more moving and less cheesy than anticipated), and Wall Drug (just as cheesy as anticipated). We went through Mitchell but didn't go to the Corn Palace. We thought about Yellowstone but were just too exhausted by that point and wanted to get home.

Given the route on your map, I'd say stop in Detroit and go to the Detroit Institute of Arts and see the Diego Rivera murals. Have some Lebanese food; you won't find anything as good out here. Anita's Kitchen in Ferndale is where we went. If you do go through Chicago, try to book the architecture boat tour, it's really worth it.

We didn't plan where we were going to stop much ahead of time, because we didn't want to pressure ourselves too much with how much driving to do in any given day. We used to book a same-night hotel once we had an idea what town we would be in around bedtime. HotelTonight is a newer app that does something similar. You'll need to filter for pet-friendly places to stay, though.
posted by matildaben at 4:00 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well, you will pass right by The Silver Dollar Bar in Haugan, MT, a fun tourist trap. It will be just a bit after you cross into Montana from Idaho.

Butte, MT is a total trip. It's like a ghost city. There is a giant statue of the Virgin Mary looking over the city. You can get a porkchop sandwich
posted by Duffington at 4:11 PM on March 7, 2016

Response by poster: Porkchop sandwiches!?
posted by Cogito at 4:20 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great info, people! Though I am a little disconcerted that two of the comments start I did this after my dad died in 20XX
posted by Cogito at 4:47 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Go hit up Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands in South Dakota. You're going to be close enough that it's worth the detour.
posted by heathrowga at 4:58 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

When you're passing through North Dakota, take a slight detour & visit the sculptures along the Enchanted Highway. We really liked some of them. They guy who makes them has a hotel called the Enchanted Castle in Regent, ND. He converted the town's old school into a castle-themed hotel. We've stayed there twice; it's not fancy, but the beds were comfortable. Gary (the owner) is fun to talk to.
posted by belladonna at 5:20 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In upstate NY, I recommend a short detour through Ithaca. You'd get off the Thruway (I90) at exit 42, then drive through Geneva (small town, not much to see; there is a Wegmans but it's a small one and not that awesome as far as Wegmanses(?) go), to 96A which will take you through the Finger Lakes wine region. There are a ton of wineries, mostly riesling and other sweet whites, but Shalestone in Lodi does reds only and they're really good. Gimme Coffee in Trumansburg (or downtown Ithaca) has amazing coffee - pick up a bag or two of beans on your way. Taughannock Falls State Park is a nice place for a short hike. Ithaca has some tasty restaurants (including Moosewood, a famous vegetarian place) and is a cool place to check out - it would be a great place to stop for the night before embarking on the last leg. Cornell Plantations has some cool things to do nature-wise. Cinamopolis is the indie theater and there's also one at Cornell. There's also a really nice Wegmans in Ithaca (yes, the best thing about Upstate NY is Wegmans). You'd exit Ithaca to the east either I81 to I90 or 79 to I88 (I'd suggest the second b/c it's more scenic) - the whole thing start-to-finish, minus stops, should add about 2 hrs of driving, but it's a better drive scenically - I90 is SO long and SO boring.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:39 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just drive by Mt Rushmore (but don't waste time stopping) -- save it for the Crazy Horse monument just down the street.
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:44 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yep, drive through the Badlands in S.D. They're amazing.
posted by hydra77 at 6:28 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's criminal to pass that close to Yellowstone without going through the park.

Yes times a million.

Exit onto Hwy 212, west of Billings. Just before you hit the Wyoming border you will see some of the most beautiful vistas you will ever see in your life. Go into the park, take the Grand Loop road, come up Hwy 191 back into Montana. Stay in Bozeman, it's a great college town. Now you're back on I-90 again.

I would also go across South Dakota. The time difference isn't very much and you get to see the Badlands. Sioux Falls is a nice town. You'd be passing through La Crosse WI which is also a nice place to look around and stay. I guess I just like college towns. If you like beer, while you're in Wisconsin pick up some New Glarus. It's only available in Wisconsin. And of course, cheese.
posted by desjardins at 6:48 PM on March 7, 2016

I wasn't originally going to mention my dad's death but I was posting right after Bearwife and was struck by the parallel (especially since we're both from Seattle).
posted by matildaben at 8:30 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're for sights I'd definitely go South Dakota - ND is pretty empty, though it has its moments. ND is definitely the easier drive though, the pass through Wyoming that you get can be just a bit twisty, especially if you're going it by night. The UP is lovely, but it's two lane with lots of small towns, and it eats time viciously. Generally though, with the cat stuck in the car, I'd keep to a fairly direct route, since you don't have a huge amount of wiggle room to get out of the car and walk around. It will either be cold, or it will be hot, and if the engine isn't running, the climate isn't being controlled for your cat.
posted by wotsac at 9:19 PM on March 7, 2016

If you are a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder you must see the sites in IA, SD, MN and WI.
posted by brujita at 10:22 PM on March 7, 2016

I did this route when I bought a car from my (still alive) dad in Vancouver, BC and drove Seattle to Boston back in 2004. We took a week to do it, which gave plenty of time for side trips, dawdling, and a full day of hanging out w/ friends in Chicago.

worthwhile detours: Yellowstone (even for a half a day drivethrough), Badlands, random car museums and bookstores advertised on highway billboards, Livingston Bar & Grill (if you feel like having an upscale change from road food in the middle of Montana), wandering off the highway in Hustler, WI to find a local cheese shop, the caves in the Black Hills (which were more interesting and less crowded than Mt. Rushmore), picking up a newsletter in Toledo, Ohio with a coupon for half-price admission to the Cedar Point roller coaster park

skippable/would not do again: Deadwood, Mt. Rushmore, Anchor Bar in Buffalo (ostensible home of the Buffalo Wing), Wall Drug (depending on your appetite for kitsch, this may be a must-see)
posted by bl1nk at 4:41 AM on March 8, 2016

The House on the Rock in Wisconsin is effing bizarre and unforgettable. It definitely ticks your box for off-the-beaten-path attractions, as well as natural splendour (the view from the Infinity Room). It's just an hour west of Madison, though you could probably cut south from the Wis Dells.
posted by Beardman at 7:03 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ooh! I did this in reverse (well, almost, I eventually headed over to PDX once we hit the 82/90 exchange).

Mt. Rushmore is the American Leaning Tower of Pisa. It looks good in the postcards and it otherwise disappointing. The Crazy Horse monument (still under construction) is more interesting, but still not really worth it.

Glacier and Yellowstone national parks are worth it, if you have the time. See Glacier while it still has glaciers. Check out the hot springs in Yellowstone. The parks are incredible.

I fell in love with Butte, I think it's a great place to spend an evening/night. I've never been up to North Dakota, but South Dakota is beautiful and the Badlands are worth a look.

If you've never been, visit Niagara Falls. There is a reason it's famous, the falls are amazing.

Be prepared to be frustrated driving past Chicago where 80 and 90 merge. Look at the incidents listed on the map and plan for delays.

If you see something neat, stop and take a look.
posted by Hactar at 10:46 AM on March 8, 2016

Take Interstate 86 through New York rather than I-90. It might add a couple hours to that leg of the trip (depending on traffic) but is much more scenic and the traffic is mellow once you're west of Binghamton. I-86 terminates at I-90 in northwestern Pennsylvania.

If you're into old fashioned (or weird) dinors, Erie, PA has a bunch of them, many unchanged since the 70s and untouched by Food Network celebrities. Most of them are literal mom-and pop operations that close after lunch. And they spell it "dinor" there, not "diner". I can provide a short list in a later comment if you're interested, or memail me. Erie also is the only place you can get pepperoni balls, which are more or less just dinner rolls stuffed with pepperoni slices.
posted by ardgedee at 2:06 PM on March 8, 2016

I like the Cleveland Museum of Art more than Detroit's, but if you have time definitely see both. Toledo has a smaller art museum but surprisingly well curated, with a glass arts section that's actually pretty great (due to the Libby family)
posted by ardgedee at 2:13 PM on March 8, 2016

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