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  1. #1

    Default From the Midwest to the Northwest

    I am planning a trip from Chicago to Seattle and probably Portland at some point early in the summer. My basic route is to take I-94 from Illinois to Montana, and then take I-90 on to Seattle, and then I-5 down through Portland, and then I-84 down through Idaho, then north on I-15 to Yellowstone. After that, I plan to cross Wyoming on US-14, working my way back to I-90, which I will follow back to Iowa, finally making my way back home on roads I haven’t really traveled on before. Here’s a map of the basic idea:

    This route isn’t written in stone, and I am more than willing to go out of the way to see things.

    Past that, though, I’m not entirely sure what there is to see along the way, though. I’m especially interested in Lewis and Clark stuff as well as the Oregon Trail. I would also like to see some part of the Pacific coast, either by jogging west from I-5, or traveling a more coastal route. I also don’t particularly like “scooping down” into Idaho on I-84, so I hope there’s some way to cross Idaho that follows the dotted line more or less. I also have no idea what might be interesting to see in the Dakotas. I like nature, and I will more than likely be camping most nights, with perhaps some hotels on the coast. I also have a bit of an interest in history and culture, so if there’s anything like that, I would definitely like to know.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Good maps will answer most of your questions.

    Hi and welcome to the Great American Roadtrip Forum.

    You do not say how long you have for this trip. Your map was far too small for me to see any detail.

    Quote Originally Posted by RadicalPi View Post
    Past that, though, I’m not entirely sure what there is to see along the way, though. I’m especially interested in Lewis and Clark stuff as well as the Oregon Trail.
    However, most of those questions can be answered by following the advice in the following paragraph:

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck
    Start with maps. Not GPS, not software, not Google, but real honest-to-god paper maps that show you your entire route, that you can mark up (and erase), that you can stick pins in, and that show something about the land you'll be driving through. Those are your essential tool in any RoadTrip planning process. Start by marking all the places you know you want to visit. Then connect the dots. Then look for more places of interest and scenic routes along the lines connecting the dots. Repeat until you've got as many sites and roads as you think you want.
    If you do not already have them, it would be a good idea to get some good detailed maps, such as are produced by AAA and Rand McNally - or you may prefer a road atlas. These maps show you much more than roads/routes and towns/cities. You will find marked along your chosen route natural and historical attractions, as well as those other things in which you are interested. e.g. US 14 in Wyoming goes right past the Medicine Wheel and the Big Horn Canyon. You will see the many scenic routes marked on the maps. Some of the best are through WY, ID and MT, including the spectacular Beartooth Highway.

    Good maps are invaluable when planning a trip and essential when on the road. Don't be tempted to rely solely on your electronics.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Central Missouri


    Just looking at your map, which is very small: In North Dakota, there is a good Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center just north of Bismarck, at Washburn. Further to the west is the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Both of these are found on maps, as Lifey has pointed out as a necessity.

    In Montana, Big Horn Canyon and also, Little Big Horn National Battlefield is not far from your route. After Billings, Missouri Headwaters State Park, around Three Forks. Up in Great Falls (not marked on your route, but on I-15) is another Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. (Each Center focuses on that area of L&C's journey, so they're all different.)

    Going further on, Grand Coulee Dam near Spokane, Washington.

    For your trip back, why not take a combination of Idaho highways, US-93, and US-20 across the Sawtooth range and the lava fields instead of 84? Craters of the Moon National Monument is VERY interesting, and part of those lava fields I mentioned.

    But get some maps -- either from AAA (free if you're a member) or go to the bookstore/big box store and buy a good atlas. You'll see a lot more than the few things I just mentioned!


  4. #4


    I appreciate the advice about the maps. I will definitely be looking at some to get more detail.

    My primary reason for posting though was to make sure that I didn't miss anything interesting that might otherwise escape my notice. And so, I figured I would tap into the knowledge of this board. If that was a mistake, I apologize.

    That said, there are a lot of good ideas so far. Thank you.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Attractions are where you find them.

    What you are looking for is marked on the good maps mentioned above. You might also like to check out the road side attractions on this site, where you might find some which are not on maps. Other places where I check is on State issued maps, which sometimes have detail not on nationally issued maps. Ranger stations along the way, BLM offices and Forestry personel, as well as visitor centres are other great sources for finding attractions which interest you. I have even had great suggestions from law enforcement personel.


  6. #6


    Hi RadicalPi,

    Highly recommend checking out some travel guide books that cover the regions you plan to travel through in addition to looking at maps and browsing the Internet. Different books/brands excel in different niche areas, some focus on only the big highlights, but I find it useful checking out a few. Nothing like a hard copy book for browsing in both an ordered and disorderly way. Start at a library or browsing at a book store.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Keep asking questions.

    . And so, I figured I would tap into the knowledge of this board. If that was a mistake, I apologize.
    No mistake, ask as many questions as you wish. All others are suggesting is you do a little more research, checking maps and searching the RTA site so that you get a better idea of what might appeal to you along the way. The thing is there are thousands of possible route and attraction options and you haven't told us how much time you have for the trip, so giving you lists of places you may or may not like, may or may not have time to visit is not helpful to you. If you break your trip down into smaller sections and put together a rough itinerary of your day to day travels we will be in a much better position to make meaningful suggestions. I would put Badlands, Glacier NP, Mt Rainier, Columbia River Gorge and the Grand Tetons into the mix and you might want to extend your trip to the Oregon coast where you will find the 'End of the Trail' Lewis and Clark statue.

  8. #8

    Default Yes to the maps

    I see you're already in agreement with the suggestion for some map study. Here are some thoughts which will further encourage you:

    A loop south of I-90 can be made of MT 55 and 41 from Whitehall to Dillon. Along the way you'll pass Beaverhead Rock, a distinctly-shaped mass of bedrock which Sacagawea recognized as being on the route to her homeland and tribe, from which she'd been kidnapped by the Mandan Indians as a toddler some 10 years prior to venturing west with L&C. Getting on I-15 at Dillon for a few miles headed to the south, get off at Clark Canyon Reservoir, which now floods the site of Camp Fortunate, where L&C (fortunately) first met with Shoshone tribesmen and bartered for horses to carry them over the Divide to the west. Here Sacagawea recognized her brother, by then a tribal leader, in a joyous reunion. A large outdoors L & C exhibit, including a large dugout canoe, overlooks the Reservoir. Driving west on MT 324 for a few miles brings you to another large outdoor exhibit where the L&C westbound trail crosses the route taken by the Nez Perce in their flight from Idaho via the long route to Canada. Just west of there, up a graded gravel road, is Lemhi Pass, where L & C first reached the Divide, and where they straddled Sacagawea Spring in the mistaken belief that it was the source of the Missouri River. The BLM has built a nice visitor kiosk on the MT side, and the Spring site is a nicely shaded picnic ground (with a bathroom!). Take a few moments to walk the last 100 yards from the kiosk to the pass, where looking west you'll see exactly what L&C saw, to their great disappointment: Range after range of mountains to the west, so no easy downstream glide to the Pacific. You may descend the ID side along Warm Springs Road (not Agency Creek Rd, which is much steeper and somewhat difficult), stopping by Sharkey's Hot Spring (directly on the road) to ID 28 at Tendoy, thence north to Salmon along US 93. More L&C signboards lie along Warm Springs Rd between the hot spring and ID-28. US 93 then takes you north back into MT within 25 miles or so, down through the very scenic Bitterroot Valley, to I-90 at Missoula. The entire loop, from Whitehall to Missoula, can easily occupy a day's time. There are no services between Dillon and Salmon, so be sure you're topped off with fuel, water, and snacks before leaving Dillon, as Salmon is around 60 or 70 miles distant. Should you choose to avoid Lemhi Pass, you can go north from Grant, MT on a graded gravel road (Bannack Bench Rd) passing Bannack State Park (Montana's first capital and now a restored ghost town well worth a visit on its own merit), to MT 278, pass through the Big Hole Valley to Wisdom, thence west on MT 43 for 25 or so miles to US 93 between Salmon and Missoula.

    As to shortcutting the I-84 route headed back east, it's do-able, but knarly and very slow. Central Idaho is a huge mass of mountains and central to it is over 3 million acres of designated wilderness. In essence, US 12 eastward out of Lewiston, ID, entering MT at Lolo Pass, is the northernmost crossing route (and, interestingly, parallels the Lolo Motorway, which runs the higher ground outside of the canyon and was L&C's westbound route after crossing at Lemhi Pass), while I-84 + US 20 forms the southernmost easy crossing. You can bushwhack from Boise via ID 21 and ID 75 to US 93 at Challis, but ID 21 is (I believe) a 60-75 mile jaunt on gravel roads, with switchbacks over at least two passes, and no services whatsoever between Boise and Stanley. From Challis, eastbounders headed to the Tetons would drop down US 93 to Craters of the Moon NP (another worthwhile stop) thence across the Snake River Plain lava fields via ID 33 to Rexburg, ID, and on over Teton Pass to WY-22 to drop into the Jackson Hole. Jackson Hole can be avoided if desired by taking US 20/26 at Craters of the Moon (which you'd reach from Mountain Home, ID along I-84 if you chose not to crawl through the mountains to Stanley and Challis) through Idaho Falls to US 89 and finally US 191 at Hoback Junction, WY. Taking US 191 south of Hoback through Pinedale is a spectacular drive with the + 11,000' Wind River Range on your left shoulder for +100 miles. At Farson, WY, I'd take WY 28 over South Pass, visiting South Pass City and Atlantic City, to US 287 south of Riverton and Lander, then south through Jeffrey City to Muddy Gap, thence WY 220 to Casper. Adventurous travelers can include some Oregon and Mormon Trail sites by leaving the highway at Boulder, WY and following the Lander Cut-Off to WY 28 between Farson and South Pass City. The Oregon Trail/Mormon Trail used South Pass, and adventurous travelers can see some segments of the trail close to BLM Road 2302 between Atlantic City and Sweetwater Junction, including the site of the Willie's Handcart Company disaster. Essentially everything between Boulder and Jeffrey City is gravel road (Lander Cut-Off and BLM Road 2302), and there are no services or fuel the whole way (although Atlantic City has a good bar/restaurant serving 3 meals a day). Along WY 220, Independence Rock is close to the site of the Martin Handcart Company disaster. From Casper, I'd be tempted to run I-25 south (actually east at this point) to US 18 to Lusk, thence east on US 20 into the Nebraska Panhandle and a stop at Fort Robinson State Park. US 20 enters and crosses the Nebraska Sandhills east of Fort Robinson, and you may also drop down NE-2/71 to Alliance, see "Carhenge", thence southeast for +200 miles through the Sandhills along NE-2, named the "Sandhills Scenic Journey", ultimately bringing you back to Interstate at Grand Island, where I-80 awaits, some 150 miles west of Omaha.

    There are, you will see, innumerable spur routes or other loops all along your westbound and eastbound general routes. A new Rand McNally Atlas, a cup of coffee, and a few hours of daydreaming, augmented by some Interwebs fact-checking, is a splendid way to build a vision of a really great cross-country Road Trip.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Great advice to follow.

    Quote Originally Posted by Foy View Post
    You can bushwhack from Boise via ID 21 and ID 75 to US 93 at Challis, but ID 21 is (I believe) a 60-75 mile jaunt on gravel roads, with switchbacks over at least two passes, and no services whatsoever between Boise and Stanley.
    That is right. That route is not a pleasant one at all. You'd be better of going north from Boise on ID 55 to Banks and then head to Lowman via Garden Valley to pick up ID 21 to Stanley, with a stop at Stanley Lake. ID 75 will take you south to Shoshone. This route passes by the lava fields which come right up to the road (just like in Craters of the moon) and will take you to Twin Falls via the bridge over the Snake River. At the Falls, you will be able to see the Niagara of the west and the canyon where Evil Knievel tried (but failed) to jump the canyon on his motor bike.

    I have driven most of the above post at the suggestion of that member and never been disappointed. But as you can see, just to cover all the suggestions in this thread you would need a month or more - and you still have not told us how long you have for this trip. Hence the inability of anyone to be specific, and all the general advice.......

    Quote Originally Posted by Foy View Post
    A new Rand McNally Atlas, a cup of coffee, and a few hours of daydreaming, augmented by some Interwebs fact-checking, is a splendid way to build a vision of a really great cross-country Road Trip.
    ...........including studying really good maps.


  10. #10


    As for the general outline of my trip, I'm planning on taking about two weeks, or maybe a bit more, depending on what's out there to see. The goal is to travel about 400 miles a day, so that I can see the scenery change without getting overwhelmed. It will just be myself traveling, staying in motels for about half the time and camping the other half. Nothing needs to be particularly fancy, but I do want there to be one or two times where I spend more than one night. My vehicle is a Honda Civic, so it's not the best for off-roading or rough-roading, but it has done a fair amount of both every now and again, albeit not necessarily with ease.

    The primary goal of this trip is to complete my goal of seeing all 48 of the contiguous states. So far, I've done 40. This trip will take care of the remaining 8. What I want, activity-wise, is to do one relatively unique thing for each state, although I have no intention of limiting myself to just one if I find enough interesting stuff.

    The reason that I made this thread is to make sure I don't miss anything obvious, as I have a tendency to do, and so I appreciate all the suggestions so far. I also really don't like that "dip" in my route through southern Idaho, and so I'm glad to get any information on what's feasible, even if my eventual route through the area winds around a bit to stay on decent roads or to see cool stuff.

    Some things that I'm looking at are, in no particular order, Glacier National Park (although it's a bit out of the way), the Craters of the Moon, Yellowstone or perhaps the Grand Tetons, Devil's Tower, and the Badlands. Where I'm having a bit of trouble is things east and west of there, on the plains and west coast. I don't want this trip to be only about the mountains, but I don't know what's out there. I will, though, head out to the library this weekend to do some research.

    I'm also worried about the weather and crowds. I assume that the better the weather, the more people there will be. And so, my goal is to leave as early as feasible. What I've found though is that a lot of things don't really get going until after Memorial Day, so it seems like I'll have no choice but to leave at around that time. Or is that not true? I have nothing against running into people here and there, but too many and I'll start to get annoyed. When I took my trip to the southwest a couple years ago, I remember being the only person for miles and miles, and to the extent that that's possible, without freezing or melting in my tent, the better.

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