Northern U.S. Roadtrip Ideas

Dec 26th, 2012, 06:23 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 5
Northern U.S. Roadtrip Ideas

Reposting to the U.S. Forums:

Hi everyone,

I'm a big roadtrip fan, and it looks like I'll finally be able to afford to add a few more states to my trip list this year I'm planning to rent a car and drive from Portland, OR to my family in Detroit, MI and then fly back. The trip will go through the following states, mostly via freeway:

- Oregon
- Idaho
- Montana
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
- Minnesota
- Wisconsin
- Michigan

I'm looking to hit the highlights in each state (i.e. Mount Rushmore) ; I know there's a lot to do in each state by itself, but this is more of a quick tour. I'm also driving mostly through Oregon and Michigan, since I've lived in both states for some time.

Is a trip like this possible in 1-2 weeks? I was originally thinking I could do this in a week, but now I don't think it's possible.

Please let me know your tips on timeline and places to visit. It's a really rough plan at the moment, and I wanted to get idea of how much time before I start planning all the specifics.

stantheman286 is offline  
Dec 26th, 2012, 06:42 AM
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You got several replies on your other thread of the same name including mine.
Follow up with new questions on your other thread.
tomfuller is offline  
Dec 26th, 2012, 06:46 AM
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What time of year are you going? Are you planning to hike, raft, kayak, etc at your stops?

If you can take a side trip to Yellowstone NP for a couple of days before you head to Mt. Rushmore. Visiting Rushmore is pretty quick, less than a day. Then go to the Badlands NP in South Dakota.
emalloy is offline  
Dec 26th, 2012, 08:37 AM
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"You got several replies on your other thread of the same name including mine.
Follow up with new questions on your other thread.

No he didn't get 'several replies' on his other thread, only tomfuller's. The rest were about him re-posting over here on the US board where it belongs and more will have a chance to see it.

So definitely post your 'follow up's here - not over on Travel Tips.

stantheman286: You could certainly could drive it in one week. If you really mean mainly a 'road trip' and not a 'stop everywhere and see lots' trip. The answers to emalloy's questions will help us give you better suggestions/advice.
janisj is offline  
Dec 26th, 2012, 11:11 AM
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It's less than 40 hours of driving so you can easily do that in a week or less. But 2 weeks would give you the chance to slow down and see a lot more things.

Time of year is the most important variable on this trip, some roads and interesting stops are not open year-round.
WhereAreWe is offline  
Dec 26th, 2012, 12:30 PM
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My husband and I just drove from WI to Oregon (the reverse of what you are doing). It took us 10 days, but it felt a bit rushed... especially in Yellowstone. Here are some highlights from our trip. I'll skip Oregon assuming you are the expert!
-Couer D'Alene, ID- it's a great little town, but I also heard that Sandpiper ID is beautiful
-Missoula MT- If you like to fly fish and you are there during fishing season, it's a great place. They also have some top notch white water rafting. I lived in NYC for 15 years, but one of the top pizzas I ever had was at Bob's Biga in Missoula. Seriously. Add it to your list. That alone is worth the trip
-Big Sky, MT- It's a small community to the west of Yellowstone. The mountains are picturesque. The restaurants are fantastic. If it's winter, plan on skiing. If it's summer- fly fishing. The town square hosts events, so I would recommend staying as close to the center of town as possible.
-Yellowstone- The hot springs are breathtaking. Old Faithful is worth the wait. It erupts every 90 minutes or so. The color of the grand prismatic springs are so vibrant- it almost looks fake. Very cool.
-Cody, WY- This is on the east of Yellowstone- the town that Buffalo Bill started. Again, depending on time of year, there are fishing options, white water rafting, and rodeos
-Custer State Park is a great place to stay. It doesn't compare to Yellowstone, but the lodging is nice and the restaurant is solid. Expect for bison to be standing in the road.
-Mt Rushmore- was my biggest disappointment. I insisted we needed to stop there as it is a national treasure. It was really a tourist trap. I was there for all of 15 minutes.
-The Badlands- definitely worth it. Fantastic natural beauty
-The Corn Palace- it is completely cheesy, but it is the heart of america. It's free and a 10 minute diversion off of the highway. How can you drive by a building with a mural made out of corn?
-Madison WI- it's where we started our trip (we used to live there). Great food, great beer, lots of live music venues. If you go in the summer, there are so many outdoor events on the weekends.
Have a great trip!
Browns is offline  
Dec 26th, 2012, 02:35 PM
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Browns, I love Biga Pizza, too. I live in MT, and we go to Biga every time we pass through Missoula. It's wonderful!

Some MT suggestions:

(hard to do both on this trip, though)

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park (near Bozeman)
Custer Battlefield (near Billings)

Missoula is a fun town and so is Bozeman. Bozeman has the Museum of the Rockies which has a wonderful dinosaur display. Missoula has a great downtown, white water rafting on the Alberton Gorge, and good restaurants (for MT).
kureiff is offline  
Dec 26th, 2012, 04:00 PM
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This trip should serve to whet your appetite for places like Glacier and Yellowstone, both of which you will want to spend more time.

Maybe you can go through N. Dakota on one leg and S. Dakota on the other. In ND, see T. Roosevelt National Park. It's a great park and its scope seems to fit your schedule.

Badlands in S. Dakota is also a must-see. Browns has some good suggestions there, but I wouldn't drive through the area without seeing Mt. Rushmore, especially on the kind of trip you are describing.
edjim is offline  
Dec 27th, 2012, 01:50 AM
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Find a copy of "Blue Highways" by William Least Heat Moon at your local library. One portion of his 'around America on back roads' covers this trip.

Also "Driving Home" by Jonathan Raban brilliantly covers the State of Washington portion of this trip. Raban is an expat Englishman who has long lived in Seattle but can still bring a fresh eye to the American landscape and what we have done to it. He has also written a book on the Badlands that I have not read.

Finally, Ian Frazier's "On the Rez" and "Great Plains" will help you understand what is passing by outside the window and how it got that way.

All these books are brilliantly written.
Ackislander is offline  
Dec 28th, 2012, 03:46 PM
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Sorry I got confused with the other thread.
You asked about the times for the Empire Builder trip.
These are scheduled times which sometimes get stretched due to things beyond Amtrak's control.
PDX - WFH 14 hours overnight.
WFH - WTN 10.5 hours morning to early evening
WTN - MSP 12 hours overnight
MSP - CHI 8 hours daylight
You would probably be better off spending 48 hours between trains instead of just 24 hours.
This spring my DW and I took the Empire Builder from Spokane to Chicago without any stopovers. From Chicago we took the Lakeshore Limited to Cleveland where we rented a car. Three consecutive nights on trains in coach is a bit tiring.
On the way back we got off the train in Cat Bank MT. We rented a car to go see the east side of Glacier.
Our train from Cut Bank to Spokane arrived nearly an hour early.
tomfuller is offline  
Dec 31st, 2012, 02:40 PM
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simple math.
40 hours driving divided by 12 hours per day driving =3.33 days of nothing but driving. Rental cars breakdown, there are detours, etc. You will be driving past many, many photo opportunities. It really depends on what your vacation style is.
ziggypop is offline  
Jan 1st, 2013, 12:34 PM
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Hi everyone, sorry for the delay, I wasn't getting notifications about the replies.

@emalloy I'm shooting for July-August timeframe. I'd like to do some dayhiking and sightseeing. I did want to go to Yellowstone, although I thought I might need to get a permit.

@Browns wow, thanks for all the tips! Yea, I've driven MI to CA twice and that was about 41 hours, so I know a week is doable, but I feel like you really need 2 in order to not feel rushed.

@Ackislander great to hear there are some books out there, my first search didn't really turn up anything on this route, so I will definitely hunt around at the library.

To everyone else, thank you so much for all of the tips, these all sound great. In terms of my style, I would like to take it a little slower, since I know this is easily 3-4 days of straight driving as @ziggypop points out. From what I've heard, I'd say a two week trip in summer is what I'd be shooting for, though with the amount the vacation I have this year, I might have to push it off.

stantheman286 is offline  
Jan 1st, 2013, 12:58 PM
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Just for future ref . . .

" I wasn't getting notifications about the replies."

There is no 'notification' feature on Fodors. Just check in every day or so and click on your name. If there are any new posts on any of your threads the title will be bold blue. If the title is grayed out -that means there is no new activity since the last time you looked.
janisj is offline  
Jan 1st, 2013, 01:56 PM
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Thanks @janisj, I noticed that notifications aren't available right after I said that, I'll keep a close eye on my posts from now on
stantheman286 is offline  
Jan 26th, 2013, 02:35 PM
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Posts: 243
What highways are you taking in MN and WI? I have a lot of tips and ideas.
Googs is offline  
Jan 27th, 2013, 04:17 AM
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stantheman, Yellowstone is another National Park, but one of the most awesome of them all. Your only problem there will be finding lodging. If you want to stay in the park, you will probably find that it is already all booked. If you keep calling you may get lucky as people make reservations long in advance and then cancel when time gets close. Otherwise look at places like West Yellowstone or Cody or Gardiner and make a reservation that you can cancel in case you do get in park lodging.

Badlands NP and Mt. Rushmore could be on your route too.

If you do go to a few NPs, get the park pass ($80) at the first one you have to pay to enter. It is good for a year and good at all park service areas, since the entrance fee is $25 at some of them it pays for itself quickly.
emalloy is offline  
Jan 27th, 2013, 06:54 AM
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Jamie Jensen writes about road trips. He loves avoiding freeways and going for the two lane highways. Have a look at his website or better yet his book Road Trip USA.
Another good resource is
hetismij2 is offline  
Feb 12th, 2013, 05:46 PM
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hotel reservations are impossible in the oil boom areas, I stayed at a BnB in Glendive called ,
at a minimum I would take I90 east and I94 west. Are you still looking for info?
ziggypop is offline  

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