Where to from here?
February 28, 2017 4:52 PM   Subscribe

My friend and I will have a week in the US in July, starting from Minneapolis/St Paul. Where should we go? Give me your recommendations.

My brother is getting married in Minneapolis/St Paul this July. I'll be arriving there from Australia about a week before the wedding, but will also have a week afterwards to travel/explore. I'll be travelling with a friend. We are planning to hire a car, trying to be somewhat budget conscious, and can fly out from anywhere (i.e. we don't need to return to MSP).

We thought of places like Yellowstone, but have been advised that it's a very hot and crowded time to be visiting. Is that the case?

I like walking, nature, history, interesting buildings, art galleries, museums and good coffee. I don't like fishing, hunting or watching team sports. I've seen very little of the USA before and am open to any suggestions!

Thanks in advance.
posted by tworedshoes to Travel & Transportation around United States (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yellowstone will indeed be (very) crowded in July, but that's not a reason to avoid it if you're ok with crowds. Much of the U.S. will be hot and humid in July, so be prepared.

It's a big country, so at once you have many options and many logistical limitations. If you're looking for nature, you'll be so close to the Great Lakes that you may wish to start there. I quite like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which will be glorious that time of year. Or drive through Chicago for your fill of museums and coffee before continuing on to the dunes at Silver Lake State Park, then go through Ann Arbor and Detroit before flying home from there. That relatively regional trip is a lot of driving, but a few hours less than a drive to Yellowstone and seemingly hitting more of your items of interest. Even as an American, that would be a totally legit trip--you'd have the opportunity to get off the Insterstate and do local highways to see small town USA, which is something I tend to encourage people to try--Interstates can speed things up, but they are soulless, hypnotizing ecosystems of their own, far from a reflection of the regions they plough through.

Look at the map a bit and poke around at the many state and national parks. There are quite a lot of them, and if your interest is avoiding high heat it's probably best to stay closer to the Great Lakes--head south or west and you're in for two very different kinds of guaranteed summertime heat. It'll be there where you're going, too, but lakeside is as good a way to temper summer as any.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:27 PM on February 28, 2017

Actually, Minnesota isn't a bad place for you based on your interests. Here's what I'd do:

-Drive across MN and WI to the Lake Michigan coast, maybe Door County (the Cape Cod of the Midwest!), spend a day on the beach there, then down the coast to Chicago.
-Spend a day or two in Chicago. Go to the art museum and take a look at some of the architecture. It's the best city in the US for architecture, by far.
-Follow Route 66 out of Chicago as far as you want to go. If you want to make it all the way to LA, you could do it in two days with two drivers. Or if you'd prefer to stop and see sights along the way (or just not worry about a deadline), it could take a few. Make sure you stop at Ted Drewe's in St. Louis for some frozen custard.
-Spend a day in LA. You won't have time to see everything, but catch a little bit, at least.
-Fly home from LA.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:29 PM on February 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Some stuff in Minneapolis and St. Paul:

The Walker Art Center
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Mill City Museum
There are other historical and art museums as well, and a lot of art and theater inside the Twin Cities. There are a lot of places to walk around, including the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary.

If you're really into hiking and perhaps canoeing, consider the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota, up on Lake Superior, or a day trip up to Duluth.

Chicago is about an eight hour drive from Minneapolis, and there are a ton of great museums there as well. I would opt for that over Los Angeles, just because going to LA means spending a ton of time in a car in terrible traffic, where in Chicago you can easily park and take the transit around and also summer in LA is really really hot.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:42 PM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some good suggestions above. I'd say it depends on how much time you want to spend in the car to see more of the country.

On one end of that spectrum, keep it regional by starting with a few days doing nature by going up to Duluth and across northern Wisconsin/edging into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before dropping down to Chicago for several days in a fantastic city and then leaving from there.

On the other, you could see a lot of country (mostly from the car) by driving to Seattle and flying from there. Looks like 24+ hours of actual driving total including mostly boring plains before a detour up to Glacier National Park (spectacular ; busy in July, but not insane like Yellowstone), then a mixed mountains/plains drive to Seattle to do your city thing (with a side of nature close by if you want more).

Somewhere in the middle of those two, you could drive to Denver (13 hours, so doable in one long day, including the farmland of Iowa and plains of Nebraska). Denver is a really nice city with plenty to do for several days, including lots of craft breweries and legal combustibles, if that's your thing. Then go up into the mountains next door, either finding a place as a base for a few days of nature or by taking day trips out of Denver. Then fly from there.

One thing I'd suggest is to try to have your accommodations reserved before leaving Mpls., at least for times you aren't out on interstates or in cities. In summer they're likely to be in high demand in any remote-ish or touristy area.
posted by ClingClang at 7:58 PM on February 28, 2017

I have been in Yellowstone in late June, right before the 4th of July. It is busy, but doable. You likely won't get accommodations in the park, but could find them in Jackson Hole, WY about an hour away. I live in California now and I think the National Parks of the West are, simply, unbeatable. I am from Minnesota however and the Midwest in the summer is pretty damn awesome. I would seriously consider doing some things there and come back for another trip for Western sightseeing.

If you to stick to MN.... Here is a rec.... waterfalls!

Chicago is also incredible if you can pop over there for a couple days!
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 8:11 PM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you haven't been to Minneapolis/much of the US before and have only one week, given your interests, it may make more sense to simply stay put in Minnesota. There is a lot to do in the Twin Cities, and it also doesn't hurt that it's a bit more more budget-friendly to stay in the area.

For walking and hiking: You can walk around Lake Calhoun, and/or make a 2-3 day trip up to Duluth and hike a portion of the Superior Hiking Trail. There are also numerous state parks that you could hike in, and some offer affordable cabin rentals. If you're driving around in the MN/WI area, you could stop at one of the several Pizza Farms for dinner afterwards-- they're open only in the summers and it makes for a really relaxing and tasty evening.

Museums: The Walker and the sculpture garden are still under construction... I'd probably recommend the MIA over the Walker, though. (Plus, the MIA is free.) One museum that is more unique to Minnesota specifically is the American Swedish Institute. The Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona (about a two-hour drive from Minneapolis) is also a very well-curated collection and not too far from the cities-- all the pieces in their collection are somehow related to the theme of water. It may be small (I'd say it's a two-hour museum), but they have a fantastic collection and even have one of the copies of Washington Crossing the Delaware and some works by Monet there!

If you want to visit a cute town, you could visit Lanesboro (lots of cute bed and breakfasts, small art galleries filled with art by local artists-- I've enjoyed chatting with the artists there, biking by the river, the world's best pie) and see a play at the Commonweal Theater. Of course, there's also the Guthrie in the cities for theater as well.

Have fun!
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:27 PM on February 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would absolutely go to Yellowstone, even if it is crowded ("hot" is unlikely, it's often the coldest spot in the continental US). Last July it was 29 degrees F (-1.6 C) in Yellowstone (overnight).

I haven't been to Australia but you're not going to see anything like it there. You don't have bison, bears, wolves, elk, coyotes, moose. I don't know if you have geysers but you don't have this.
The caveat is that there is no way you will be able to stay in the park, everything is booked up by now. You'll have to stay or camp in a nearby town.

Here is what I would do, because I prize nature and gorgeous scenery over everything:

Day 1: Drive from Minneapolis to Badlands National Park (South Dakota). It's mostly boring between Minneapolis and there so you can make good time.

Day 2: Explore Badlands NP, Black Hills National Forest, and Rapid City. See the Akta Lakota Museum and meet and learn about Native Americans.

Day 3: Drive to Cody, WY. Mostly a boring drive but there's Bighorn National Forest in the middle of it. Cody is a cowboy town/tourist trap.It's close to Yellowstone and if you got up early that morning you'll have time to explore.

Day 4: Spend the day in Yellowstone.

Day 5: Go south to the Grand Tetons - gorgeous scenery - and Jackson Hole, WY. Lots and lots of art galleries and gift shops for rich people.

Day 6: Drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park, maybe? Someone with more knowledge of the area can chime in on where to stay.

Day 7: It's a short drive to Denver from there.
posted by AFABulous at 8:40 PM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you're sticking around the Twin Cities for a bit, St. Paul's Summit Avenue has some nice historic houses.

I nth the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Boundary Waters, the Great Lakes, and Chicago ideas as well.
posted by azalea_chant at 8:51 PM on February 28, 2017

It's mostly boring between Minneapolis and there so you can make good time.

If interstellar space was flat and green, travel between stars would be just like this stretch of road.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 9:11 PM on February 28, 2017

Anywhere you drive to west of Minneapolis (e.g. Yellowstone) is going to involve endless driving through relatively flat, empty scenery. Since you're coming from Australia, I assume you have access that kind of tedium whenever you want it. So I'd recommend sticking to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Chicago -- or even just Minnesota, using some of the great suggestions above.

(Full disclosure: I am a Minnesotan.)
posted by paper chromatographologist at 5:43 AM on March 1, 2017

If you go the Route 66 route, be sure to stop in Springfield, Illinois, to see the wonderful Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and sample the best American food has to offer -- the horseshoe.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:00 AM on March 1, 2017

Price out that one way car rental and decide if that will save you money over a cheaper flight to Denver and a rental car that you drop off at the same place. Both Delta and Sun Country will get you there for under $200 on a Sunday or Monday in July. Don't use Spirit or Frontier. These are domestic flights, so you'll need to pay extra for your luggage unless you fly Southwest Airlines (they are worth a look).

Here is an itinerary that starts and ends in Denver and goes to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. It lasts 8 days, but you could probably cut out one or two stops. Don't miss the first day, Rocky Mountain National Park, though!
posted by soelo at 8:37 AM on March 1, 2017

From here in Mpls, I would go north to Grand Marais (via Duluth, seeing Lake Superior) and be done with it... OR JUST FLY. The US is huge and as others have said, driving near here is boring, open plains. Fly to SF, Seattle, and drive near those!
posted by gregglind at 3:20 PM on March 4, 2017

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