Portland to Chicago - which route?

Old May 15th, 2021, 08:12 AM
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Portland to Chicago - which route?

Hello, I am currently helping a friend plan their trip. She will be leaving Portland on August 1 or 2, and plans to arrive in Chicago on the weekend of the Air Show (14/15). The original itinerary she planned was:

Portland -> Columbia Gorge -> Teton/Yellowstone -> Black Hills -> Badlands -> Minneapolis -> Chicago.

The problem with this itinerary is that it hits the Black Hills right smack dab in the middle of the Sturgis Rally. While we've both heard the area should be avoided at that time of year, neither of us have actually been there during that time, so we can't judge for ourselves. So we worked together to come up with an alternative itinerary to avoid the motorcycle crowds.

Portland -> Columbia Gorge -> Teton/Yellowstone -> RMNP/Boulder/Denver -> Colorado Springs -> Omaha -> Chicago

Anyways, fam, what are y'alls thoughts? Which is one is better? Is the Sturgis Rally really something to be avoided at all costs? Is the Black Hills still worth it despite the crowds? (she's not a biker by any means, but she does think the rally could be a very fascinating place to people-watch)
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Old May 16th, 2021, 07:48 AM
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Question: Are they going to drive back to Portland after the airshow? If so, consider driving back on the northern route seeing the Badlands and Black Hills/Mt. Rushmore.
With that much time to get from Portland to Chicago, I would take US 20 east from Mountain Home ID and see Craters of the Moon. Continue on US 20 to get to West Yellowstone MT. Spend at least 3 days to see as much of Yellowstone as possible. Head south from Yellowstone/Grand Teton on US 191 all the way to Vernal Utah and see the Dinosaur National Monument. From Vernal, head east on US 40 all the way to Granby CO to get on the road that goes through RMNP. Head east from Estes to get on I-25 north to Cheyenne WY and avoid Denver. Take I-80 all the way to Omaha. There are a couple of sites that are worth visiting along the Missouri River (Lewis and Clark Trail) south of Omaha before heading to Chicago.
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Old May 16th, 2021, 11:00 AM
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I would go 500 miles out of my way to avoid the damn Sturgis rally. 460,000 vehicles come and go that week.
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Old May 19th, 2021, 06:14 AM
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Minneapolis is on I-94 so not on the way in your first itinerary, which is I-90 for the last half.

Sturgis is a hoot. Many people ship their bikes there, pose near them for photos wearing regalia, and don't actually ride anywhere. So great people watching. More than anything Sturgis is a fashion show. There will be packs of slow, noisy, stinky motorcycles on the pretty drives in the Black Hills so up to you if that will interfere with enjoyment. You could just stop at a hotel in Rapid City for people watching in the parking lot and bar. The bikes spill over into Yellowstone, Devil's Tower, and the Badlands so the whole stretch from Yellowstone across South Dakota on I-90 will be a lot of bikes.

I wouldn't think the Black Hills are that interesting for someone already familiar with mountains. If you look at a map you will see that these are the closest mountains accessible for a large part of the country in a single day's drive.

Last edited by tom_mn; May 19th, 2021 at 06:17 AM.
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Old May 23rd, 2021, 12:54 PM
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Originally Posted by tom_mn View Post
Minneapolis is on I-94 so not on the way in your first itinerary, which is I-90 for the last half.
Yeah, I know, we just thought it was worth a detour for a day or two since it wasn't very far out of the way.

I wouldn't think the Black Hills are that interesting for someone already familiar with mountains. If you look at a map you will see that these are the closest mountains accessible for a large part of the country in a single day's drive.
So, are you saying it would be dissappointing to someone who's lived an hour from the Cascades for most of their life? If that's the case, it might be worth avoiding during Sturgis.
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Old May 23rd, 2021, 08:18 PM
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Reply: You canít really lose no matter how you go. The Black Hills area has more than scenery and has a lot of cultural overlay: Mt Rushmore, lots of Indian stuff like Crazy Horse monument, Bear Butte (not far from Sturgis but not heavily visited), Wounded Knee to the south. I-90 runs along the north edge of the Hills, Sturgis is on the north side of the interstate and not in the Hills. You wonít see much scenery from the interstate.

None of the Great Plains crossing interstates is scenic but I think either I-94 or I-90 is slightly better than I-80 or I-70.

if you are set on visiting Minneapolis it might make sense from the NE corner of Yellowstone to go up and over the Beartooth Pass and head toward Billings and I-94. You can visit the less crowded N Dakota badlands that way.
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Old May 24th, 2021, 09:11 AM
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Update: Looks my friend will be leaving Portland a week later than originally planned. This means she'll probably be passing through the Black Hills on the Tuesday or Wednesday after the rally ends. Will this make a difference, or will it still be very crowded and busy a few days after the "official" end?
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Old Jun 15th, 2021, 01:35 PM
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Sturgis bike rally officially is August 6 through 15 2021. Hotels, motels, campgrounds are full months before this date for the entire black hills region. Traffic in the entire black hills region is massive and especially hard to manage with anything larger than a bike. Parking with anything larger than a bike is a nightmare. The week before and after are also heavy bike weeks and accommodations are probably booked.
Additionally, expect full hotels a day drive away esp. along I90 as everyone is driving before/after the rally.
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Old Jul 9th, 2021, 12:54 PM
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It depends on what your friend prefers:

1-94--some attractions, less traffic
I-90--more attractions, somewhat more traffic throughout. Others noted the Sturgis traffic.
I-80--fewer attractions, considerably more traffic when further east; more truck traffic throughout
US-2/US-12/US-212--considerable scenery, the least traffic, few attractions, limited services such as gas or motels, but this can be accounted for in your plans. (Some of these roads could see additional traffic during the rally.)

It is also possible to include a combination of these such as taking one interstate down and the other back. One can also go from one interstate to the other; especially if you don't mind unfamiliar two lane undivided highways.

Last edited by N8826WRjd; Jul 9th, 2021 at 01:07 PM.
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