Where should we go?
April 16, 2008 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Planning a multi-state road trip - where should we go and what should we see? States include: IL, MN, SD, NE, WY, CO, UT, NV, and CA.

In June my SO and I will be taking a road trip from Chicago, IL north to St. Paul, MN - then west through South Dakota and Nebraska (to the Chimney Rock National Park) and then west to southern California.

What are some interesting things to see along the way? We'd really love to pick the hive-mind for recommendations of any cool/interesting places to stop along the way. Any fantastic local events, delicious food & drink, haunted ghost towns, picturesque roads, historic spots and natural wonders -- anything we'd be silly to miss.

Length of trip is no option, if it's cool, we want to see it. We probably won't get the chance to travel for awhile after this trip, so we want to make it a good one.

posted by Lizc to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Monument Valley is worth a detour
posted by wabbittwax at 10:27 AM on April 16, 2008

Uh, you need to set an upper limit on time. Really. It's insane how much to see out there. Unfortunately, Glacier National Park isn't really clear up over the pass until July, or I'd recommend that.

Here's a ton of Utah recommendations, including my own.

JUst for the shit of it, I'd recommend driving down the Eastern side of the Sierras once you get to California. There's old ghost mining towns (Bodie), freakish bubbly rock formations (Mono Lake), access to Yosemite, and down the way is Manzanar, Whitney Portal, and Death Valley. It'll be balls hot in DV by June (I'm headed there this weekend) but it's something to experience - 120+ F. THen you can go out and get sun-bleached in Joshua tree, where the air itself makes you feel like you're on acid.
posted by notsnot at 10:31 AM on April 16, 2008

Seconding monument valley, skip Nevada and go through Arizona, much prettier.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:35 AM on April 16, 2008

Best answer: When we did our cross-country road trip a while back, I enjoyed the US Mint tour in Denver, and the Budweiser factory tour in Fort Collins. Money and beer!
posted by jaimev at 10:51 AM on April 16, 2008

Best answer: Since you will probably take 94 into St. Paul, I would recommend a detour in Wisconsin to the House on the Rock, a place that deserves a visit for any serious road trip. It's directly west of Madison, WI
posted by rabbitsnake at 10:53 AM on April 16, 2008

When I did a northern states cross-country trip I remember really enjoying South Dakota. There's the dynamited president rock (Mt Rushmore), which is neat, but really it was the gorgeous open landscape, the buttes, the ravines, the indian reservations (which often let you camp on the land for pretty cheap if you want)... It was just vast open space. We also had a fun night in Rapid City at some local bar playing pool, if I recall correctly.
posted by mdn at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2008

Carhenge in western Nebraska might break up the boredom.
posted by Atom12 at 11:02 AM on April 16, 2008

Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:05 AM on April 16, 2008

If you are going thru NV, I highly recommend taking state road 93 south from Wendover to Hwy 15 in Las Vegas. Along 93 you can see wild horses and pronghorn antelope, amazing scenery, and very few people. Amazing landscapes, if you like mountains and sagebrush as much as I do. Also, from 93 south you can visit a secret lake not listed on most maps that is rather oddly beautiful, in the middle of alkaline salt terrain. It's locally called Blue Lake, you reach it on an unnamed dirt track road off of 93 (it has a sign pointing to Blue Lake, if I recall). Ask locally. Also, going west on 80 you can stay at Elko, and learn about local Basque history and cuisine.
posted by wowbobwow at 11:08 AM on April 16, 2008

I've recommended the Nebraska sandhills many times before, and I'll do so again, because in half-a-dozen cross-country road trips, it's one of my favorite drives.

Here's what I wrote in response to an earlier question:

The Nebraska Sandhills ... are amazing. 20,000 square miles of rolling sand dunes covered with prairie grass, cattle ranches, and small towns.

Small towns like Mullen (pop 550), smack in the middle of the Sandhills, which has one of the more enjoyable historical museums I've been to.

Small towns like Thedford (pop 182) whose museum contains a world-class collection of barbed-wire samples.

Small towns like Burwell (pop 1100), in the southeast corner of the Sandhills, home to Nebraska's Big Rodeo, one of the oldest outdoor rodeos in the country.

Larger towns like Alliance (pop. 9000) , in the Northwest corner of the Sandhills and home to Carhenge.

The best way to experience it is to drive Highway 2 from Grand Island to Alliance...

As far as food and drink is concerned, Roadfood is a fantastic resource for really good places to eat that aren't crappy generic chain restaurants or fast food crap-holes. There's a book as well, but the web site has many more listings.
posted by dersins at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Go see the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Austere and beautiful. If you're lucky, a storm will come in while you're there and you'll get to put Wanted Dead or Alive on the radio while lightning plays in the distance like my friend and I when we drove from Cleveland to Portland.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2008

Best answer: Absolutely check out Roadside America for some fun stuff.

Joshua Tree is incredible but not during the summer - it can reach 125 F. Don't under any circumstances, miss the Grand Canyon if you haven't ever seen it.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:22 AM on April 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Seconding Badlands, walking around in it if you can. It's gorgeous and a tad disturbing, like being in a mixed up fun house. There's a lot of tourist traps from there to the border of Colorado, and while I'd skip most of them (barring Wall Drug, if you like lots of shopping with a veneer of history), but Mammoth Site was also mind-blowing. Lots and lots of mammoth skeletons, still being excavated.

About all I can say about Wyoming is bring a kite if you have one. Seriously. ;)
posted by artifarce at 11:37 AM on April 16, 2008

Also, while Yellowstone is indeed amazing, judging by your route it's probably far out of your way. You're going to be cutting through the SE corner of Wyoming, while the park makes up the NW corner--driving through Wyoming would be 4-5 hours of nothing.
posted by artifarce at 11:41 AM on April 16, 2008

Best answer: If you're going into western Nebraska to see Chimney Rock you should swing by Fort Robinson for a night, where you can stay in the fort's old military barracks. They have a lodge serving meals made from the tasty bison that roam around in the park, or you can head into Chadron to have a nearly 2-lb hamburger at Sioux Sundries.

Here's a good example to Ft. Robinson scenery. You can take a horseback ride or jeep ride to the top of the bluffs. Stagecoach rides are also available.

This Fort is also where Crazy Horse was killed. They have many historic native American and military artifacts.

Toadstool Park out there is also interesting (as well as very desolate and deserted) but I would choose either to see that or the Badlands in SD, since the formations are kind of similar.

Here's a list of western Nebraska attractions.
posted by Ostara at 12:46 PM on April 16, 2008

i agree with wowbobwow that the eastern route through nevada is quite pretty.

if you're in the mt rushmore area, though, i personally found the nearby crazy horse monument to be much cooler. there's madness, and there's genius, and then there's that interesting line between the two. the crazy horse monument is one of those projects that straddles that line.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:52 PM on April 16, 2008

Hoo boy, lots of cool and some really remote places in my home state of Nevada. Here's the state parks link. I recommend:

Great Basin National Park - along the Nevada - Utah border along Hwy 50.. Climb Wheeler Peak and take a tour of Lehman Caves there. Damn cool.

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park - a bit east of Ely Nevada on Hwy 50. Cave Rock State Park (I think it's called) is nearby too and thats a great place for solitude and lovely scenery.

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. The park ranger there will be so glad for company he'll probably adopt you. And he's a really nice guy.

Lake Tahoe - duh. For the best views go up the Mount Rose Highway just over the summit (State Route 431 just a little south of Reno on US 395 or about 30 miles north of Carson City on US 395).

If your path heads further south, there's always Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas or, of course, Hoover Dam.

Along the way you stop by Rachel, Nevada along the Extraterrestrial Highway (near what was formerly called Area 51 - now called the Groom Lake Facility). That's not a joke or self link btw - the highway really is called that. The Lil' Ale'Inne Cafe in Rachel used to serve a mean ice cream soda. Been a while since I've been there though.

And personal notes for places to see;

Stay at the Bristlecone Inne in Ely Nevada and try, if you can, to get the odd corner room (I forget the number sorry) at the "L" in the building. We call it "the pimp room" when we work out there and its all kinds of 70's naugahyde furniture, red carpets, gold lamee (sp?) sinks etc. You just want to start humming jazzy porn soundtracks as you walk in. Just wonderful.

If you're on I-80 and passing through Elko, Nevada, follow the signs and head a little southeast to Lamoille and the Ruby Mountains. Incredible, gorgeous place to have lunch and not too far out of your way.
posted by elendil71 at 12:57 PM on April 16, 2008

I did a similar drive in reverse last summer. Mt. Rushmore was a letdown, but its worth it to detour to Devil's Monument. From Buffalo Wy. I strongly recommend you take Rte 16 through Ten Sleep Canyon to Worland, then south through Thermopolis and through The Wind River Canyon. You can then go north on 287 to the Tetons, then back south to Salt Lake City. Yes, it's a zig-zag, but It is absolutely the most scenic route through Wyoming. Oh, and I got a speeding ticket in worland, so get a radar detector.
posted by TDIpod at 1:22 PM on April 16, 2008

Best answer: I second House on the Rock, Spring Green WI. Then instead of taking Hwy 94 to Saint Paul take Hwy 61 along the Great River Road. Beautiful scenic drive.

Pipestone National Monument is pretty cool in Southwest MN. It’s where the rock for peace pipes is quarried. I think it's the only place it exists.

Everyone headed through central SD on Hwy 90 must stop at the Corn Palace and Wall Drug. YOU JUST MUST!

Head through the BadLands. Maybe even camp there. You can also visit a Prairie Dog Colony.

Near Mount Rushmore (agreed pretty lame but still worth a stop) is an archeological Mammoth Site and Crazy Horse.

I think heading west towards Yellowstone makes more sense. There you can visit Mammoth Hot Springs , Old Faithful, the Grand Lodge - Yellowstone Inn, Fountain Paint Pots.

But you could head south to Chimney Rock. My experience is that Hwy 80 is really flat, straight, boring to drive and often a member of my party got dysentery at this point.

The drive south from Yellowstone through the Grand Tetons is beautiful. Keep heading south past the Great Salt Lake and the Mormon Tabernacle.

Head down to the Grand Cannon and then west to Las Vegas. Take the Extraterrestrial Highway and visit the Little Alie Inn and on to California. There are several Ghost Towns along that route. If at all possible take a day trip up the coastal highway.

Sorry I'm wiped out after that. Definitely Check Out Roadside America as Sophie1 suggested. We always consult them before we head out on a road trip.
posted by thewalrusispaul at 3:58 PM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you are in South Dakota make a point to spend time on the Pine Ridge Reservation. There's the Wounded Knee Museum and try to eat at Bette Black Elk's restaurant. She runs it out of her home near Manderson. Tables are set up in the living room of her ranch style home and they are very friendly people. Yummy Indian Tacos.
posted by readery at 5:01 PM on April 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

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