Road Trip Overview
It's an all-American road trip: Pioneer legends, natural wonders and wildlife await on this 2,800-plus mile route.
Start in Chicago as your first stop on this incredible route through some of the nation's most stunning prairies, wide-open skies and gorgeous mountain peaks.
From Chicago head west, stopping at the Akta Lakota Museum to discover northern Plains Indian history. Then head to the iconic Wall Drug in South Dakota and Badlands National Park. Beyond lies Mount Rushmore in Keystone, S.D., hot springs in well, Hot Springs, S.D., and two national parks that give you a rare glimpse into the underbelly of the Earth: Wind Cave and Jewel.
Come up for air and head to Custer for Broadway-caliber performances and wildlife viewing at nearby Custer State Park. Then head to the Crazy Horse Memorial, the largest monument carving in the world. This sculpture of Oglala Lakota Chief Crazy Horse is still under construction. Head to Deadwood to walk cobblestone-lined Main Street and to see Wild West reenactments. In Hill City, you'll ride The 1880 Train and in Belle Fourche, you can tour a museum and relax under shaded trees. In Wyoming, Gillette makes a great base to explore Devils Tower National Monument and Thermopolis offers dinosaur digs. After exploring Yellowstone National Park, head to Billings, Mont., and Medora, N.D., en route to Chicago.
Road Trip Itinerary
In Chicago, join locals and travelers alike at Millennium Park downtown. A showcase of who's who in architecture, this interactive park is an adult playground. Check out these three architectural gems.
See Cloud Gate, a kidney-bean-shaped sculpture that’s 66 feet long and 33 feet high. Made with polished stainless steel, the sculpture features an arch that enables you to walk under it and see your contorted reflection in the steel walls. It’s the first public outdoor work of British artist Anish Kapoor in the U.S.
Catch a music show at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, this outdoor concert venue has 4,000 fixed seats and room for an additional 7,000 people on the Great Lawn.
Discover the Crown Fountain, which features the faces of 1,000 Chicago residents on two 250-foot glass towers, each one at the opposite end of a shallow reflecting pool. It's designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, known for creating monumental public art.
Stop 1: Central, South Dakota
Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center
Move clockwise through the museum from "Pre-European" to "Two Worlds Meet" to "Broken Promises" and finally "Continuity and Change."
Wall, South Dakota
If it wasn’t for ice water, the famous Wall Drug in Wall, S.D. may have just been another casualty of the Great Depression that swept the nation and shuttered one business after another.
When it opened in 1931, owners Ted and Dorothy Hustead waited for a steady stream of customers that never arrived. After five years, Dorothy Hustead decided it was time to hang signs on the highway advertising free ice water. The free ice water has brought a torrent of customers in ever since, totaling up to 20,000 people on good days.
Stop by Wall Drug at 510 Main St., in Wall, S.D., for its burgers, 5-cent coffee, a photo of its famed Jackalope statue and of course, some free ice water.
Badlands National Park
Spend a day with a trip to Badlands National Park. The multicolored, crinkled geologic formations of the Badlands draw hikers, wildlife-watchers and geology buffs. Nearby, visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site for a look at two 1960s missile sites preserved for education about the Cold War.
Stop 2: Black Hills, South Dakota
Exit I-90 South before entering Rapid City and head to Hot Springs, S.D.
Hot Springs, South Dakota’s Top 6 Things to Do in Mammoth Country
Hot Springs is home to the world-famous Mammoth Site, a Wild Horse Sanctuary, Evans Plunge, Wind Cave National Park, and a watery oases.
Explore Three National Parks and Monuments in the Black Hills
Journey deep into the Earth on a tour of one of the world’s most complex cave systems at Wind Cave National Park. See the faces of four U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, carved in stone at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. And at nearly 153 miles long, Jewel Cave National Monument is the second longest cave in the world.
Custer is South Dakota’s Yellowstone
Watch more than 1,300 bison roam free at Custer State Park, then head for Custer's historic downtown, a hive of restaurants, shopping and museums.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Near Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, another rock carving in process honors Crazy Horse, the legendary Lakota leader, and his people.
Rushmore Tramway Adventures
Just two miles below Mt. Rushmore, is this outstanding collection of outdoor adventures: President’s Alpine Slide, Rushmore Tramway’s chairlift, Mountaintop Grille and Gardens, Aerial Adventure Park’s ropes courses, and the breathtaking new Pinnacle Zipline Tour.
Hill City is the Heart of the Hills. Ride the 1880 Train.
Climb aboard The 1880 Train, a 2-hour, 20-mile ride aboard an authentic steam train. The historic train runs between Hill City and Keystone, S.D. Then discover the beauty of the 109-mile George S. Mickelson Trail or watch a summer performance of Brule, a New Age blend of contemporary Native American music.
Deadwood, South Dakota Has Been Entertaining Since 1876
History. It’s what you’ll find when you walk in the footsteps of Wild West legends, visit graveyards, and watch re-enactments. Try your luck in gaming halls.
Lodging in the Black Hills
Lodge at Deadwood
Stay at The Lodge at Deadwood Gaming Resort to experience the past in the luxury of today. (877-393-5634, www.deadwoodlodge.com)
Black Hills Vacations
Black Hills Vacations Central Reservations can book lodging, attractions, and packages. (888-636-0626, www.blackhillsvacations.com)
Executive Lodging of the Black Hills
Choose from 50 luxury lodges in the Black Hills. (866-370-3555, executive-lodging.com)
Stop 3: Get Centered in Belle Fourche
On your way west, out of the Black Hills, see silver spoons that traveled on the Mayflower in 1620 and antique saddles at the Tri-State Museum. Then take a selfie at the Geo-Center monument.
Lodging in Belle Fourche
Super 8 (605-892-3361, super8.com)
AmericInn (605-892-3444, www.americinn.com)
Stop 4: Eastern Wyoming
Devils Tower National Monument
Travelers roaming through the northeastern Wyoming prairie will be treated to a strange and wonderful sight: a striking stone column rising seemingly out of nowhere.
Gillette & Wright, Wyo.
The top six things to do when you stop on your way from theBlack Hills to Yellowstone include tours, train spotting, a museum, and a brewery.
Paradise Guest Ranch in Buffalo, Wyo.
For 100 years, folks have been doing week-long vacations at the Paradise Guest Ranch. Go horseback riding, fishing, hiking, and spend time with the family.
Stop 5: Thermopolis, Wyo.
Things to Do in Thermopolis
Stop at favorite restaurants, the hot springs park, and a museum at this small, picturesque town where the elevation is higher than the population.
Wyoming Dinosaur Center
Unearth your inner paleontologist. At of the best dinosaur museums in the world, locate the prehistoric dinosaurs beneath Thermopolis on a Dig for a Day adventure.
Stop 6: Yellowstone National Park
Lodging between Cody, Wyoming and Yellowstone's East Entrance
Elephant Head Lodge
Just short of the park's entrance, stay or eat at Elephant Head Lodge built by Buffalo Bill's family. (307-587-3980, www.elephantheadlodge.com)
Dude Rancher's Association
Experience a real Wyoming cowboy experience by staying at a dude ranch near Cody. (866-399-2339, www.duderanch.org/wyoming-dude-ranch)
Lodges of East Yellowstone
Call Lodges of East Yellowstone to stay in a log cabin right outside the park's entrance, some with home-cooked meals. (307-587-9595, yellowstone-lodging.com)
Buffalo Bill Village Resort
Stay in one of three distinctive hotels at the Buffalo Bill Village Resort in Cody. The Holiday Inn, the Comfort Inn and the Buffalo Bill [Cabin] Village, each are convenient base camp for families, groups and corporate retreats. (307-587-3654, www.blairhotels.com)
Close to the east entrance of the park is Yellowstone Lake, the waterfalls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Spend a day exploring the scenery, hiking, camping and watching wildlife at Yellowstone National Park. See our favorite park itineraries.
GyPSy Guide Yellowstone Tour App
Download the Yellowstone tour app that’s like having a tour guide in your car. GyPSy Guide automatically plays interesting and entertaining commentary as you go.
Stop 7: Montana Gems
Cooke City, Montana
During the summer, exit Yellowstone National Park near this tiny burb to travel over the dramatic Beartooth Highway towards Billings. (In winter, the highway is closed. Exit the park out of Gardiner, Montana instead.)
Here are the top 7 places to find vittles and lore in Billings, including a walkable brewery district, a restored historic hotel, wilderness touched by Lewis & Clark, and a memorial to a famous battle.
Lewistown - The Heart of Montana
From big game hunting to fishing, camping, biking, hiking and skiing, take advantage of the outdoor recreation opportunities in the beautiful Judith Basin. Board the Dinner Train, the Charlie Russell Chew Choo, to ride a scenic 56-mile roundtrip journey with great views of wildlife, full-course prime rib dinner, and music by local area entertainers.
Traveling in August? Don't miss the Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Western Music Rendezvous.
Lodging on the Way to North Dakota
Stay at the Sleep Inn in Miles City, Mont., a good stopping point between Billings and Medora. Receive a $25 gift card from Town Pump when you request the "Stay & Save" package when making reservations. (800-442-4667, www.sleepinn.com/hotel-miles_city-montana-MT081)
Stop 8: North Dakota
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This 3-unit park is known for amazing wildlife (bison and elk), 95 miles of hiking trails, horseback riding, water sports, and inspiring a president.
Medora, North Dakota's Top 6 Experiences
Discover a cabin, national park, and theater devoted to one of the greatest conservationist presidents, Theodore Roosevelt. Plus a 150-mile trail and chateau.
Take the northern route home through North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minneapolis marks the halfway point.