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6 Best Road Trips

Chicago to Dakota Black Hills to Yellowstone Road Trip

See the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, Yellowstone and more on this 2,800 mile all-American road trip.

Start in Chicago 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 South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. Beyond lies Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, S.D., hot springs in Hot Springs, S.D., and two national park sites that give you a rare glimpse into the Earth’s underbelly: Wind and Jewel caves.

Head to the Crazy Horse Memorial, the world’s largest monument carving currently in progress. In Sturgis, check out the town’s many festivals and events. Belle Fourche offers a nice rest stop. In Wyoming, Sundance offers easy access to Devils Tower National Monument while farther west, Thermopolis has hot springs and bison. In Cody, you’ll discover Buffalo Bill Center of the West and right before you get to Yellowstone, you’ll find an uncrowded lodging experience. After exploring Yellowstone, head to Billings, Lewistown, Miles City and other Montana towns on your way back to Chicago.

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Map

Start: Chicago

Cloud Gate, a kidney-bean-shaped sculpture in Chicago
Cloud Gate, a kidney-bean-shaped sculpture in Chicago

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, Cloud Gate, the kidney-bean-shaped stainless steel sculpture, Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by architect Frank Gehry, and Crown Fountain which features the faces of 1,000 Chicago residents on two 250-foot glass towers.

South Dakota Plains

Exhibit at the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain, S.D.
Exhibit at the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain, S.D. Courtesy Akta Lakota Museum

Go Full Circle at the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center
Move clockwise through the museum from pre-European to “Two Worlds Meet” to “Broken Promises” and finally “Continuity and Change.”

Badlands National Park

A grassy trail through Badlands National Park
A grassy trail through Badlands National Park. Photo: Adobe Stock

48 Hours in the Badlands and Black Hills
Hit the best of the South Dakota parks with these top spots including national parks, steam trains, wild bison and a legendary store.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Explore nuclear weapon history near the northeast Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

Alternative Rapid Route: Fly Into Rapid City

Dinosaur park in Rapid City, S.D.
Dinosaur park in Rapid City, S.D. Photo: Photo by Jacob Moon courtesy of Rapid City Regional Airport

For an alternative launch point to your road trip, fly into the Rapid City Regional Airport. It’s the most direct route to the Black Hills, Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore. While your main destinations may be the national parks, make sure your travel plans include spending time in Rapid City itself.

Wind Cave National Park

Boxwork on a cave's ceiling at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota
Boxwork on a cave’s ceiling at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. Photo: Depositphotos

Journey deep into the Earth on a tour of one of the world’s most complex cave systems. Want more? Visit Jewel Cave National Monument nearby.

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore at sunset. Photo: Depositphotos

Constructed from 1927-41, the memorial features the faces of four U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Hidden History
Before the faces of four U.S. presidents were carved into Mount Rushmore, this mountain was called The Six Grandfathers by the Lakota Sioux. Learn more.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Korczak Ziolkowski with Oglala Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear in 1948 in front of a scale model of the Crazy Horse Memorial
Korczak Ziolkowski with Oglala Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear in 1948 in front of a scale model of the Crazy Horse Memorial. Photo: Copyright Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation

See the world’s largest monument carving in progress, the Crazy Horse Memorial. Seventy years after the first blast, you can watch crews drilling, carving and removing rock at the memorial still under construction.

Black Hills Adventures

Hot springs pool at Moccasin Springs in Hot Springs, South Dakota
Hot springs pool at Moccasin Springs. Photo: Courtesy Moccasin Springs

Top 6 in South Dakota’s Hot Springs
Hot Springs is home to the world-famous Mammoth Site, far-reaching caves and a watery oases. Nestled in the heart of the Black Hills, residents of this area have been taking advantage of the healing springs for thousands of years. The Lakota called the warm waters “wiwila kata.”

Stage in downtown Sturgis, S.D.
Don’t miss the summer concerts in Sturgis. Photo by Bob Davis courtesy of Official Sturgis Events

Find More Than the World’s Largest Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis
Learn the history of the town’s famous motorcycle rally but also explore its outdoor recreation and year-round events.

Center of the Nation Monument in Belle Fourche, S.D.
Center of the Nation Monument in Belle Fourche. Photo by Jon Larson courtesy of Tri-State Museum and Visitors Center

The Tri-State Museum is near the Geographic Center of the Nation
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.

ATVing through the Black Hills National Forest with Black Hills Outdoor Fun
ATVing through the national forest. Photo: Courtesy Black Hills Outdoor Fun

ATV in the Black Hills National Forest
Ditch the map and follow Black Hills Outdoor Fun on a 4-hour ATV or UTV tour through the national forest. blackhillsoutdoorfun.com

Black Hills Rest stops:

The Lodge at Deadwood
Experience the past in the luxury of today. The Lodge at Deadwood Gaming Resort is one of the newest, most beautiful Deadwood hotels.

Executive Lodging of the Black Hills in Sturgis & Deadwood
Rustic homes, log cabins, luxury accommodations, a clubhouse with a swimming pool, and everything in between.

Super 8 Belle Fourche
Situated on Route 85, our Super 8 Belle Fourche hotel is just minutes from popular attractions like the Center of the Nation Monument and Tri-State Museum.

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
Devil’s Tower in eastern Wyoming. Photo: iStock

The Magic of Devils Tower
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.

Exhibit of bones at the Vore Buffalo Jump in Sundance, Wyoming
Exhibit of bones at the Vore Buffalo Jump in Sundance. Photo: Courtesy Wyoming Office of Tourism

The Other Black Hills in Sundance
In the heart of the Black Hills but away from the commercialization and traffic, Sundance, Wyo., offers a deep dive into the Old West and is the closest town to Devils Tower.

Thermopolis, Wyo.

Thermopolis Hot Springs
Thermopolis Hot Springs. Photo: Grant Ordelheide

The World’s Largest Mineral Hot Spring is in Thermopolis
It’s a small, picturesque town where the elevation is higher than the population. Come soak in the famous mineral hot springs. And at one of the best dinosaur museums in the world, locate the prehistoric dinosaurs beneath Thermopolis on a Dig for a Day adventure.

Working on an excavated dinosaur bone at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis
Working on an excavated dinosaur bone at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis Photo: Hot Springs Travel & Tourism

Find the Wild West in Cody

Buffalo Bill Cody c1892
Buffalo Bill Cody c1892. Photo: Public Domain

Locals like to brag Cody and the surrounding area is where your great American adventure begins. Here is our list of the top 10 things to do in this town founded by Buffalo Bill Cody.

Horseback trail rides from Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Horseback trail rides are one of the many Western experiences you can have from Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Photo: Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Don’t miss:

Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Smithsonian-Affiliated 5-Museum Complex
He rode for the Pony Express, entertained Queen Victoria, called Mark Twain a friend. Learn about the legend and the world and culture Buffalo Bill loved. 

Also:

Rest Stops:

Buffalo Bill [Cabin] Village at Buffalo Bill Village Resort in Cody
These 83 historic cabins maintain the exterior historic cowboy hand hewn log; the interior is a complete, full service non-smoking hotel room.
Read more.

Comfort Inn at Buffalo Bill Village Resort in Cody
The Comfort Inn is located 52 miles from the East Entrance of Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Parks and eight blocks from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Complimentary deluxe continental breakfast.
Read more.

Holiday Inn Buffalo Bill Village Resort in Cody
Cody’s only full-service hotel is conveniently located downtown, 52 miles from Yellowstone’s east entrance and eight blocks from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Read more.

Pahaska Tepee Resort
Originally Buffalo Bill’s hunting lodge, the Pahaska Tepee Resort is the closest lodging to the park’s East Entrance at only 2 miles.
Read more.

Lodges of East Yellowstone
The Lodges of East Yellowstone offer some of the most beautiful views with the closest access to east Yellowstone. Choose between a variety of lodges, guest ranches, hotels and RV sites.
Read more.

Elephant Head Lodge
Less than 12 miles from the park, this small resort sits along a national forest. Stay in a log cabin listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Read more.

Yellowstone National Park

Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on the east side of the park. Photo: Depositphotos

Enter East Entrance

48 Hours in Yellowstone
Only have 48 hours? Make the most of your time by visiting some of our favorite spots in the park.

GyPSy Guide’s Narrated Driving 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.

Bison along Rose Creek in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone.
Bison along Rose Creek in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone. Photo: by NPS Neal Herbert

Watch Wildlife in Yellowstone’s Lamar and Hayden Valleys
Yellowstone’s huge, wide valleys make excellent habitat for wildlife. For your best chance of spotting them, point your compass toward the Lamar and Hayden.
Read more.

Exit Northeast Entrance

Silver Gate Lodging Has the Closest Cabins to Yellowstone
A 1/2 mile from Yellowstone’s northeast entrance, this quiet cabin resort is surrounded by snowcapped mountains and wildlife. silvergatelodging.com

Eastern Montana

Driving over Beartooth Pass, northeast of Yellowstone National Park
Driving over Beartooth Pass, northeast of Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Adobe Stock

Drive the Dramatic Beartooth Highway Northeast of Yellowstone
One of the most breathtaking routes to Yellowstone is the 68-mile stretch of the Beartooth Highway – named a National Scenic Byway’s “All-American Road.”

Overlooking Billings at Swords Rimrock Park
Overlooking Billings at Swords Rimrock Park. Photo: Courtesy Visit Billings

Top 7 Places to Find Food and Lore in Billings, Montana
Northeast of Yellowstone, find a brewery district, gluten-free pancakes and Old West charm in this city of 110,000.

Night sky in Medicine Rocks State Park in Southeast Montana
Night sky in Medicine Rocks State Park in Southeast Montana Photo: by Nathan Satran Photography courtesy of Visit Southeast Montana

Go Big in Southeast Montana
When you drive through the towns of Southeast Montana, like Billings, Glendive and Miles City you’ll notice that the skies are big and that means that when the sun goes down, the stars are big, too. After boating and hiking in Bighorn Canyon and learning about history at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, explore the stars at local parks and recreation areas.

Watch Wildlife and Scenery from a Train in Lewistown
From big game hunting to fishing, camping, biking, hiking and skiing, take advantage of the outdoor recreation opportunities in the beautiful Judith Basin.

The Calvert Hotel in Lewistown, Montana
The Calvert Hotel. Photo by Leah Lensmire courtesy of the Calvert Hotel

Have an Historic Stay at The Calvert Hotel
This historic building is beautifully remodeled to retain the classic design of the past while adding luxury amenities to provide the utmost in comfort.

The Sand Arroyo Badlands in the Charles M. Russel National Wildlife Refuge
The Sand Arroyo Badlands in the Charles M. Russel National Wildlife Refuge Photo: by Bradley Castaneda courtesy Visit Montana

Lose the Crowds in Northeast Montana
Go wildlife watching at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, which hugs the shores of Fort Peck Reservoir. It’s the largest body of water in the state, with more miles of coastline than all of California. Or try your luck panning for gold and see where dinosaurs roamed near these small Montana towns.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Badlands Formations in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Badlands Formations. Photo: Depositphotos

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.

End: Chicago