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Drive from Chicago to Yellowstone and back

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We're driving from Chicago to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons and back in early/mid August and seeking itinerary advice for the trip (both directions). Two moms in 40s/early 50s and two girls (7 and 12). We're thinking of taking I90 out there, first night around Worthington MN, second around Gillette WY, then onto Yellowstone through east entrance. Any thoughts about this route/plan? Things to see along the way? And thinking of taking a more southerly route back for variety, any advice on which way and what to see? Would like to make the trips out and back in 3 days each way.

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    If you can make it as far as Luverne MN the first night that will allow for a short stop in Mitchell SD to see the Corn Palace. Second night I would plan on seeing the sunset and light show at Mt. Rushmore. Stay in Rapid City.
    Third day stop to see Devil's Tower on the way to Yellowstone.
    Were you planning on coming south as far as Salt Lake City on your way back? Eastern Wyoming is interesting but most of Nebraska on I-80 is rather boring IMO.

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    I would bit the bullet and drive the entire first day all the way to Rapid City, SD.
    See Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, Mammoth Site, Badlands National Park. I would suggest staying at Custer State Park Resort

    Devils Tower would be a good stop as mentioned.

    From there I would continue over to Red Lodge. Drive The Beartooth Hwy into Yellowstone. I hope you plan to stay in Yellowstone for 3 or 4 days. It's a big park with a lot to see. Grand Tetons needs at least a full day and really more than that.

    I don't know that I would go the southern route. You could swing down south and hit Rocky Mountain National Park, but I think your time would be better spent in Black Hills/Mount Rushmore area or Yellowstone/Tetons.

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    Unless you have 2 rested drivers, don't try to drive from Chicago to Rapid City. It is 14+ hours. Luverne is about 8.5 hours from Chicago.
    There is no sense to arriving at Mt. Rushmore dead tired.

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    I wouldn't drive all the way to Rapid City in one day either.

    However, Luverne doesn't make sense. Sioux Falls is less than 30 minutes away and has far more lodging/restaurant options. Mitchell (home of the corn palace) is about an hour past Sioux Falls (9.5 hours from Chicago). Chamberlain is an hour beyond that but is fairly small. Those 3 (Sioux Falls, Mitchell and Chamberlain) are really your best options that get you a good ways to Rapid City but aren't so far from Chicago that you're completely exhausted.

    Personally I wouldn't base your itinerary around the Corn Palace. It's a curiosity more than anything. I drove past it at night and just looked at the murals on the outside - you can go inside but the main draw is the outside murals. Inside are just photos of previous years. I would not stop early or rearrange an itinerary to see it during normal visiting hours, if you get to Mitchell after regular hours just go look at the outside and move on.

    So, my vote would be to push on to Chamberlain (make a reservation in advance) and stop in Mitchell either coming or going to see the outside, just don't waste a lot of time there. Day 2 drive through Badlands National Park (stop at the Minuteman Missile Site on the way). Drive the main road through Badlands, stop and do a few short hikes (it will be hot), drive up the Sage Creek dirt road far enough to see the big prairie dog town if you want, and then backtrack a little to exit the Pinnacles entrance. The entrance/exit road at Pinnacles will take you directly to Wall and I-90. Grab some lunch at Wall, visit Wall Drug and then head to Rapid City and the Black Hills.

    I appreciate spiro's desire to see all those places in the Black Hills but I think that's way too much for the time you want to spend. See Mt. Rushmore, drive through Custer State Park and then pick one of the national caves to visit. Stay somewhere central to those 3 things, then drive up Spearfish Canyon the next day to get back onto I-90, stop at Devils Tower and push on to either Cody or Yellowstone.

    On the way back, you'd really have to get off the interstate in Nebraska to see anything interesting. Head to Scotts bluff to see Chimney Rock, then drive to Alliance and take the Sandhills Scenic Byway (Hwy 2) from Alliance to Grand Island and back onto I-80.
    http://www.visitnebraska.com/things-to-do/road-trips/byways-itineraries/99-sandhills-journey-scenic-byway

    Beyond that, the Henry Doorly Zoo is Omaha is supposed to be really good.

    Personally, I would allot more like 3.5 or 4 days for the drive out and 2 or 2.5 days to get back. There is far more stuff to do on the northern route through the Black Hills, and the southern route I just described is mostly driving and scenery rather than stopping at various attractions.

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    Thanks everyone for your ideas. Our Yellowstone trip last summer had to be cancelled for health reasons but it's still on the agenda for another year, and I'm very happy to have these suggestions.

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    You should drive from Chicago to Luverne, MN the first day. It only takes 8 or 9 hours from Chicago. Luverne is right next to I-90. There's a nice hotel in town. Then travel 25 miles north to Pipestone, MN and tour the Pipestone National Monument where American Indians mine Pipestone. You can walk the Pipestone trails in about 2 hours. There's a beautiful 15 foot waterfall on the Pipestone creek. Don't forget to buy some turtle, owl or arrowhead pipestone pendants for you and your kids. You can do the whole walking tour in 2 hours.

    On day 2, drive to Rapid City, SD. You can go to Mitchell, to see the Corn Palace if you wish. Definitely stop at Wall Drug to get a free glass of ice water, a 25 cent coffee and even a meal. Wall Drug has every kind of South Dakota souvenir would might want to buy. Wall Drug is only 45 miles from Rapid City.

    My wife, myself and grandson did this trip from Chicago last year. We got to Rapid City, in time to see the July 4th fireworks display from a ridge overlooking Rapid City. There are many things to see and do in the Rapid City area. Make sure that you go to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse sites. They're amazing.

    Make sure that you stop at Devil's Tower which is only 108 miles up I-90 from Rapid City. Devil's Tower is about 10 or 15 miles off of I-90 but the trip is worth it. You can see Devil's Tower and hike around it in 2 to 3 hours.

    Then, of course, continue on to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

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    I'm from the Sioux Falls area and can say don't bother trying to stay in Luverne or Worthington. Make Sioux Falls your stop. It's not that much further. Brandon is a suburb along I90 and they would have a nice hotel that's fairly new. There would also be a newer one at the junction of I90 and I29 by the Flying J. Brandon is maybe 20 min past Luverne and SF is another 10 past that. We'd have things to stop and look at as well if you would like highlights of some sites to see.

    On your way across SD, you can check out the oddities at Porter Sculpture Park. The man makes huge sculptures from metal stuff. It's worth the look around.

    Mitchell Corn Palace is a cute stop for a photo op and that's about it. They redid the outside a year or two ago and it's slightly more classy looking now. There is a GREAT antique mall a block or two from it if you like that sort of thing.

    Next stop is the Chamberlain rest area. Even if you don't need the bathroom break, this stop has a great view of the Missouri River before you cross it. You can also visit our new statue called "Dignity." I have not seen her in person yet, but she is holding a beautiful quilt and I think she's supposed to be about 50' tall. The visitor center has a nice selection of travel ideas and a little museum if you get there after it opens.

    Badlands NP is beautiful. My kids have always loved it and we stop anytime we are going by. It's never busy and it's a nice break from the super boring I90 drive. Wall Drug is also close by and a kitschy place to stop. Be sure to have the kids count the signs as you go across the state...makes the free cup of water all the better! Ha!

    The Minuteman site is good, but not likely that a couple of girls that age will enjoy it as much as they might another location.

    Your drive across SD should take about 5 hours without stops. Not sure what we have for construction this year, but it wouldn't be SD without it. Otherwise, the speed limit is 80 on I90 so it goes pretty fast.

    You could spend a week in the Black Hills, but my top five there would be Mt Rushmore, Custer Wildlife Loop, Jewel Cave, 1880 Train, and Spearfish Canyon. You could pick a stop on the way to Yellowstone and one on the way back.

    I'm not sure on a good loop route back. Nebraska is about as boring as the drive across SD will be and you'd go a LOT of extra miles to head down that way. You could make a loop in WY by leaving SD on the north side of the Hills and come back in on the south side.

    I could give you some ideas in Iowa if you could make a route across there work for you.

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