Northern Prairies Road Trip

Jun 20th, 2012, 12:15 PM
  #1  
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Northern Prairies Road Trip

Hi Fodor Friends,

I have been researching my next road trip and would love to hear some input. We would like to visit Minnesota, SD, ND, and Iowa in our efforts to see all 50 states. We will be going last week in August-beginning of Sept. Two gals - late 30s. Here is my thought on an itinerary.

Day 1 - Fly in to Minneapolis at night - drive to Stillwater.
Day 2 - Visit river towns, spend night in Stillwater
Day 3 - Drive to Mason City, IA - visit Music Man Square, spend night
Day 4 - Drive to Chamberlain, SD - stop at Corn Palace and Green Giant along the way
Day 5 - Drive to Rapid City, SD
Day 5 - Rapid City area
Day 6 - Rapid City area
Day 7 - Drive to DeSmet, SD - visit Little House on the Prairie activities
Day 8 - Drive to Fargo, ND
Day 9 - Drive to MInneapolis
Day 10 - Minneapolis
Day 11 - Minneapolis
Day 12 - Fly home

How does that look? I tried not to have more than 5 hours of driving any given day (hence random stopping in Chamberlain and DeSmet).
Would love some ideas for what to do around Fargo and Minneapolis - activities, theater, dining (we like anything).
Rapid City area I am thinking Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Badlands, Custer?
Think we will do several B and Bs but thinking of staying in hotel in Downtown Minneapolis (would you recommend?).
Yes, we know we are looking at about 1600 miles of driving, but we are all about the journey too and will stop whenever we see cool things.

Any suggestions would be warmly welcomed. Thank you!
Amere is offline  
Jun 20th, 2012, 01:47 PM
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The Minnesota State Fair runs through Labor Day, beginning August 23rd. I would recommend doing that for part of a day.

Minneapolis/St. Paul has more theater seats per capita than any other city in the U.S. other than New York City. So plenty of options to choose from there, really depends on what you want to see (small locally produced shows or touring productions).

Badlands is a must-see. Never been to Theodore Roosevelt NP but if you can work that into your loop somehow you should try, I've heard nothing but good things about it. Maybe you could visit De Smet, SD in conjunction with your overnight in Mitchell. Then head north on 85 from Rapid City and go to Theo Roosevelt and then go to Fargo? Probably about the same amount of driving but you won't be backtracking.
WhereAreWe is offline  
Jun 20th, 2012, 02:28 PM
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The Theodore Roosevelt NP is work the visit if you have time to fit it in. Other favorites are Mt. Rushmore, and an ultimate tourist trap, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD
boom_boom is offline  
Jun 20th, 2012, 03:57 PM
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Some of your choices seem a bit underwhelming (meaning Mitchell, Mason City, Corn Palace). When you say Rapid City Area there is indeed a variety of possibilities...from
Mt. Rushmore to Needles Highway to Bear Butte Native American site to a Rapid City parade, etc. Not much at DeSmet but of course special to readers. Also not much to actually see at Theo. Roosevelt NP yet very nice with a Western feel. We saw a rodeo there.

Bill in Boston
Ozarksbill is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 06:58 AM
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Living near Minneapolis I think it's a great city, but if it were me I'd take away some Mlps time in favor of some more time in the Black Hills. Custer State Park is wonderful and combined with Mt. Rushmore could easily be a full day. Devil's Tower, Wyoming is an easy day trip from Rapid City and very scenic. On the way to Rapid City, see if you can make time to spend a couple of hours (at least) in Badlands National Park. If you start on the east entrance and follow the loop you will end up at Wall, which of course is home to Wall Drug (which people either love or hate- personally I love it).

Also, Stillwater is very nice, but if you want to head towards Iowa you could take Hwy. 61 south thru several beautiful river towns and you'd be at least heading toward Iowa. There are several towns to choose from for an overnight stop.

Mason City to Chamberlain is going to be a long day, but if you have time for the Spam Museum in Austin (off of I-90) it's very kitschy and fun.

I also think Teddy Roosevelt N.P. would be great if you can somehow fit it in... go north from the Black Hills and then cut east across North Dakota... people say the Medora Musical is lots of fun, perhaps that would be a good overnight stop. Then east and south to De Smet?

I don't think we'll be able to take our western road trip this year due to some house problems, is it ok if I live vicariously thru your post?
Tonia is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 07:03 AM
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ps be sure to stop at the Lewis and Clark Visitor's Center in Chamberlain. There is an interesting display on the Lewis and Clark expedition as well and beautiful sweeping views of the Missouri River and "West River" South Dakota.

If you have time, once you're back on I-90 heading west, just down the big hill across the river is Al's Oasis, a restaurant/grocery store/gift shop/kitschy place but the fun part is the locals eat there so you can grab some 5 cent coffee and enjoy being with all the cowboys and ranchers
Tonia is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 08:05 AM
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Some more thoughts: I agree with Tonia on less time in Minneapolis. With 11-12 days there is an awful lot you could see in those 4 states so it does seem a bit excessive to spend days 1/2 and 9/12 essentially devoted to Minneapolis and/or Stillwater. That's almost half your trip right there. If you find that you fall in love with Minneapolis, then it's worth flying back and spending more time here, but I would spend more time on the road exploring since it's unlikely you'll ever make another trip just to visit North Dakota or Iowa or even parts of South Dakota.

Have you been to Wisconsin, Illinois and Nebraska? Because your route takes you very close to all of those states and you could fairly easily cross the border and cross them off your list if you wanted to.

I would adjust your itinerary and drive south/east along the Mississippi instead of 2 overnights in Stillwater. Plenty of little towns and state parks along that route to explore.

I think that once you leave Fargo, you should head towards the Bemidji/Brainerd area in Minnesota. For sure stop at Itasca State Park and walk across the headwaters of the Mississippi River there, possibly even stay overnight at the park. That could be a problem if it's Labor Day weekend though, but at a minimum make a day trip to the park.

It may even be worth your time to drive across northern Minnesota on US Hwy 2 all the way to Duluth, then take a day trip up Hwy 61 along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Then drive back to Minneapolis for the last couple days of your trip. Again, that may be a busy time if it's Labor Day weekend. I guess the only way to avoid those issues might be to reverse the order of your trip and start by heading north to Duluth, then Bemidji/Itasca State Park before Fargo, etc. I'm fairly sure the stops in Iowa and along the Mississippi River south of Minneapolis will not be as busy over Labor Day as Itasca or the North Shore would be.
WhereAreWe is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 08:34 AM
  #8  
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These are some great suggestions - that's why I love this site! Sounds like I need to reduce time in Minneapolis area. I like the idea of adding another day to Rapid City area - especially since we love national parks! I agree that Mitchell and Corn Palace seem underwhelming - thought it might be a quick stop for lunch on long drive to Chamberlain.
Thank you for the alternate routes - I like that much better than the highway!
For Teddy Roosevelt N.P., I was not sure if finding a hotel would be an issue from the oil boom.
Tonia - when I post a trip report, close your eyes and imagine yourself there!
Yes, I have been to Wisconsin, Illinois, and Nebraska - I really liked Door County, Wisconsin.
Great idea about the state fair! Any restaurant suggestions in Minneapolis and do you think staying in downtown is a good option?
Amere is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 11:12 AM
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I think staying in downtown is the smart thing to do. You'll be in walking distance to a lot of things that way.

I have to admit I don't go out to eat much I have been to Bar La Grassa twice and loved it. Other than that, it kind of depends on what type of food you like, there are tons of good restaurants. Maybe look at the reviews on the citypages.com website??

For Theo Roosevelt, maybe just plan on that being a long day? It sounds like you could just drive through the south unit and head to Bismarck for an overnight, that should avoid the issue of finding a hotel room. If that's too much driving from Rapid City for one day, perhaps you could drive somewhere closer to Medora the night before so you won't have so far to drive in the morning to get to the park.
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Jun 22nd, 2012, 06:15 AM
  #10  
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OK- Does this sound like a better itin.?

Day 1 - Fly in to Minneapolis at night - drive to Stillwater or Hastings.
Day 2 - Drive to Mason City, IA - visit Music Man Square, spend night
Day 3 - Drive to DeSmet - visit Little House on the Prairie activities, spend night.
Day 4 - Drive to Rapid City, SD - stopping at sights along the way
Day 5 - Rapid City area
Day 6 - Rapid City area
Day 8 - Rapid City area
Day 9 - Drive to Medora, ND - musical that night
Day 9 - Theo Roosevelt National Park, then drive to Fargo - or maybe Detroit Lakes??
Day 10 - Drive to Minneapolis
Day 11 - Minneapolis
Day 12 - Fly home
Amere is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2012, 06:54 PM
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Here is a fly for your ointment, Watertown SD has the Terry Redlin museum, worth a stop. I like the town of New Ulm more than Stillwater, it could be on your way. Wall Drug SD, a stop on I90, good place for lunch and to stretch your legs (ultimate tourist trap). While you take in the musical in Medora, be sure to get the pitchfork fondu package, and get your hotel reservations now. We stayed in Dickinson, while there we saw a good museum, pioneer something or another, I can't remember the name but worth seeing.(I'm not kidding about the hotel reservations for Medora)
ziggypop is online now  
Jun 23rd, 2012, 10:03 AM
  #12  
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We are now also throwing around the idea of spending 2 night in Duluth area by the lake - looks like a pretty area - this would be instead of Teddy Roosevelt Park. I will check out New Ulm- thanks!
Amere is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2012, 11:52 AM
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Duluth and the north shore are wonderful, however they just had 10 inches of rain and everything is flooded. Check on the city services before traveling to Duluth.
ziggypop is online now  
Jun 23rd, 2012, 02:03 PM
  #14  
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Wow - thank you!
Amere is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2012, 08:42 PM
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I am in Duluth right now. Yes, they did get lots of rain earlier this week and had lots of damage, however, the lake area and canal park areas are fine - as is the North Shore. This will not affect anyone coming to visit. It is a great place to visit. I also highly recommend the Minnesota State Fair. It is wonderful.
Cali is offline  
Jun 25th, 2012, 07:13 AM
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I too like New Ulm, there is an excellent museum there and a lot of history of the settlers and the US-Dakota War of 1862. This year marks the 150th anniversary of this conflict and there will be many activities and commemorations at the same time you'll be traveling (end of August).

If you go that way you could take Hwy. 14 west of town to Walnut Grove, MN, another location of a Laura Ingalls home. From there it's not too far to I-29 where you could go north to Watertown or south to Sioux Falls.

I'm afraid if you took all of our suggestions you'd be on the road for a month LOL - but what a fun month it would be!
Tonia is offline  
Jun 25th, 2012, 11:52 AM
  #17  
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Almost eveywhere near Duluth was booked - glad I finally found a place. That museum in New Ulm does sound interesting!

Cali - do you have any suggestions for restaurants in Duluth area.
Amere is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2012, 11:16 AM
  #18  
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Does anyone have any restaurant suggestions in the Rapid City region?
Amere is offline  
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