road trip advice going through San Francisco and Seattle
August 7, 2004 3:29 PM   Subscribe

On a whim, I'm driving from Milwaukee to San Francisco to Seattle and back to Milwaukee again. I'll be going through WI, IL, IA, NE, CO, UT, NV, CA, OR, WA, ID, MT, WY, SD, and MN and am looking for some tips on sights I shouldn't miss. Any suggestions?

I also forgot to ask, anybody know of any free wifi hookups in any of those states? It would be nice to access the internet from my own laptop. Muchas gracias!
posted by bakiwop to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That is a nice long trip, and this is a good time of year for it. The things I have seen in those states that were worth it from my perspective are:

Natural Stuff: Palamint Valley, CA, Death Valley, Lava Butte area in Oregon, Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, take the scenic route through the Badlands in SD

Fun Stuff: world's largest ball of postage stamps [NE], 60 foot tall Jolly Green Giant [MN], Museum of Questionable Medical Devices [MN], Maryhill museum [and world's second largest stonehenge, WA]
posted by jessamyn at 4:04 PM on August 7, 2004

IL: The New Park.
posted by azul at 4:49 PM on August 7, 2004

Since MN is the last state on you're itinerary, it's only right that you finish it up in Darwin, to see the biggest ball of twine... would probably be worth checking out before you go.
posted by crunchland at 6:18 PM on August 7, 2004

If you'd like to add an extra state into your itinerary pretty easily, you can go through the southeast corner of Wyoming on your way between Nebraska and Colorado -- i.e., instead of taking I-76 to drop down to Denver from western Nebraska, go via I-80/I-25. Additionally, if you do decide to add in Wyoming, I would strongly suggest taking Hwy 287 between Laramie, WY (less than an hour west of Cheyenne) and Ft. Collins, CO (about an hour north of Denver) instead of I-25 between Cheyenne and Denver -- it's only a few extra hours, but the far superior scenery is really what makes the detour worth it. (From Ft. Collins you can get back on I-25 and continue to Denver to connect to I-70 into Utah.)

Here's a little more about some sights in and around Laramie, including the legendary Vedauwoo rock formations (very popular with rock climbers, but also a great place for hiking or just to have a picnic).
posted by scody at 6:29 PM on August 7, 2004

Road Trip USA.

free wifi by state.
posted by obloquy at 6:40 PM on August 7, 2004

If you spend some time near Madison, stop by Dr. Evermore.
posted by interrobang at 6:41 PM on August 7, 2004

If you haven't been to Devil's Tower it's certainly a great stop.

You say you'll be in Montana ... Glacier National Park is probably out of your way, being all the way up at the Canadian border, but it's one of the most amazing national parks. And it's not as well known as places like Yellowstone and Yosemite. (Speaking of which, if you haven't been to those two, they might be close to your route and are definitely must-sees.)
posted by dnash at 6:53 PM on August 7, 2004

I second the jessamyn with the Maryhill Museum. In fact, the entire Columbia River gorge is spectacular including all the waterfalls.

Or Highway 101 up the Oregon coast up through Astoria.
posted by karmaville at 6:53 PM on August 7, 2004

Wall Drug is right on I-90. You cannot possibly miss it and, frankly given how bleak that portion of SD is, you won't want to miss it.
posted by nathan_teske at 6:57 PM on August 7, 2004

Don't Border's have free wifi? I know the one in boring little Eau Claire WI does .
posted by substrate at 8:41 PM on August 7, 2004

I second Devil's Tower: you really need to see it first hand. Also: Mount Rushmore, while surrounded by tacky tourist traps, is itself located in a very beautiful natural setting and the snack bar there served (2001) a fine soft serve ice cream cone that seemed to weigh about a pound.
posted by cardboard at 9:12 PM on August 7, 2004

Museum of Questionable Medical Devices [MN].... is closed. The devices were donated to the Science Museum of Minnesota; some of them are on display.
posted by punishinglemur at 9:59 PM on August 7, 2004

I'm not sure which route your taking: you could be coming into Utah from Colorado on either Hwy 40 or I-70... and then leaving Utah on I-80 as it crosses the salt flats.

On I-40, you'll enter Utah near Vernal... the Vernal area has some great dinosaur museums and "live" digs, and areas along some roads are actually good spots for just tumbling through the rubble to find "common" fossils of fish and snails and the like. Just north of Vernal is the Red Fleet Reservoir which is really really beautiful (think Lake Powell without all the noise and the fecal mater).

Travelling west on Hwy 40, you'll pass just south of the High Uintahs (a great, wild hiker's paradise)... but it's a barren stretch... about an hour away from Park City you'll get back into the high country where aspen forests really make for a beautiful drive... dropping down from there you'll enter Heber Valley. In Heber Valley, I'd suggest you stop at Granny's Drive-In (511 South Main — on the right side as you drive North along Main Street — which is Hwy 40) for the best milk shakes in the state... it's on Main Street, "down town". If you have more time, I'd suggest taking the Heber Creeper, which is a coal-fired steam locomotive which is a nice ride... but it is a little sooty, so wear something that can get dirty.

From Heber, you can either go North to Park City, or continue West through Provo Canyon — which will take you a little out of your way. Why might you want to try Provo Canyon? Well, it's home to the middle Provo River which is touted as some of the best fly fishing in the lower 48. It's also home to the Sundance Resort (and Robert Redford)... if you make it that far, you should probably take the Alpine Loop up through the aspen groves and over the back the mountain... where just before you exit the loop, you should check out the Timpanogos Cave National Monument. From the end of the loop, you have quick access to I-15, go North and catch I-80 West downtown.

If you go through Park City instead, be sure to check out the Historic Main Street (and 390 Main, which is a damn fine restaurant)... and (if it's still open) take the silver mine tour. Also try the Alpine Slide (think luge... minus the snow), and several of the resorts have summer music programs and make their trams available for riding. Down by the freeway, there's some great outlet shopping.


On I-70, you'll come into Utah down by Green River (not to be confused with Green River, WY)... where you're at the edge of Red Rock country — be sure to take the side trip down to Moab and all the national parks in the area.

Depending on how you want to proceed, you can take a nice tour of the national parks down there and come out in Cedar City — home to one of the best Shakespeare Festivals in the country, which has shows past Labor Day (into October, I believe). You could also just mosey back up to I-70.

If you go to Cedar City, just stick on I-15 all the way up to Salt Lake City.

If you head to I-70, you can take it to I-15 (which is nice enough, I guess), or turn off of I-70 and take one of the state roads through all the small towns... I would suggest Highway 6. One warning: there's a canyon you come through just as Highway 6 nears I-15 in Spanish Fork, UT... that stretch of road is the most dangerous stretch of highway in the US for accident fatalities: drive carefully, and KEEP THE SPEED LIMIT.

If you're in the area around lunch time (MON–SAT), take highway 89 before you get to I-15 and go North, through Springville (called "Art City, Utah)... and eat at the Art City Trolley Café (256 North Main Street/Hwy 89, just North of "downtown" on the right.) If you like art, Springville also has one of (if not _the_) oldest art museum in the state... and they often have lovely exhibits all available for a donation.

Now get over to I-15 and head up to Salt Lake City.


You're now in Salt Lake City...

You have to go to Temple Square — a lovely oasis in the middle of Salt Lake City (and minutes from the highway). It's the most visited spot in the state, and is home to the famous Mormon Temple, the Tabernacle (of Mormon Tabernacle Choir fame), the Family History Library, and other sites. Very lovely.

Now transfer to I-80 and head West.

Be sure to stop and smell the Great Salt Lake. It's an amazing environment... but there's not anything really close to I-80 that I can recommend as a destination.

At the Nevada border, you'll want to gas up (if you didn't in SLC), as it's a long (long) haul across North Nevada.

E-mail me directly if you have questions.
posted by silusGROK at 11:06 PM on August 7, 2004

Oh! I third the Columbia River Gorge... and encourage you to check out the hostel in Bingen, WA (just across the river from Hood, OR).

Fun place... beautiful, beautiful area.

And if you're in the area, definitely check out Mount Saint Helens.
posted by silusGROK at 11:09 PM on August 7, 2004

... And I missed this: while you're in Salt Lake City, you should take a tour of Kennecott Mine, which until recently was the largest open-pit mine in the world.

Now I personally don't approve of open-pit mining, but that doesn't change the awesome experience of seeing such a feat of engineering up close.

Also, a little bit of trivia: _all_ the metal for the 2002 Winter Olympic games medals was mined here. Very cool.
posted by silusGROK at 11:55 PM on August 7, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you all so very much for the tips and suggestions - they are very much appreciated! I will be leaving early tomorrow morning and have much preparation to take care of. To all of you - safe travels!
posted by bakiwop at 7:02 AM on August 8, 2004

Oh, I forgot one - Dinosaur National Monument. Very very cool if you are into fossils - the vistor center has a huge enclosed cliff face that's full of fossils. Also the scenery around that area is just amazing and sort of otherworldly, as it used to be the bottom of an inland sea.
posted by dnash at 10:34 AM on August 8, 2004

If you're in Madison, Wiscowsin on any Saturday between late May and early October, don't miss their weekly Farmer's Market situated around the beautiful state Capitol. It runs from around 6AM-2PM and is more than just a wonderful foodfest; it's a people-watchers' delight.
posted by lometogo at 11:04 AM on August 8, 2004

The best advice I can give is to stay off the Interstates & stick to the 2-lanes USs.

And Crater Lake, OR has the bluest water you'll ever see.
posted by i_cola at 1:52 PM on August 8, 2004

I think the Iowa State Fair starts soon.
posted by Dick Paris at 2:34 PM on August 8, 2004

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