The United States’s Midwest region is full of hidden gems. This 10-day Midwest roadtrip itinerary will take you off the beaten path to some truly extraordinary sites!

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Midwest Roadtrip Itinerary

I’ll be honest: the Midwest has never been on my travel bucket list. And my guess is, it likely isn’t on yours either. The state of Nebraska is so well aware of its status as the least-visited state in the nation that its self-deprecating slogan is “Nebraska: honestly, it’s not for everyone.”

midwest roadtrip itinerary

I’m not kidding, that’s their slogan ^^

But when COVID shut down international traveling, my family decided to instead check off some states we hadn’t been to yet via a roadtrip: Nebraska, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. What we discovered was that yes, those states ARE full of cornfields and endless miles of cattle ranches. But they are also rich with hidden gems I’d never heard of. In the course of 10 days, we visited 8 national parks and monuments, did several surprisingly cool hikes, discovered fantastic restaurants, and saw countless bison, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and even one pheasant. By the end of the trip, I was wondering why the Midwest HADN’T been on my list before.

So if you’re looking for a true Americana roadtrip full of off-the-beaten-path locations, this Midwest roadtrip itinerary is for you.

Tips for Visiting the Midwest

Transportation

I designed this itinerary as a road trip, i.e. you have your own rental car. You COULD explore the Midwest via train or bus, but it will be harder to visit some of the more obscure locations if you do that.

To rent a car in the US, you must have a valid driver’s license. If you don’t have an American license, consider getting an international driver’s license, which will allow you to rent and drive a car without hassle worldwide. My favorite site for finding car rentals is RentalCars.com. It’s easy to use, and they triage offers from all of the various rental car companies to find you the best deal.

And if you do opt for renting a car, make sure you have all of these roadtrip essentials!

*Pro-tip: avoid renting a car at the airport. Rental places in the same city, but just not at the airport, are significantly cheaper.

Lodging:

Personally, I prefer Airbnb’s and boutique-type places rather than hotels, and my family doesn’t camp. However, I did find it difficult to find quality Airbnb’s in this area. We ended up staying in hotels most of the time because they offered the best value. My favorite site for finding hotel deals is booking.com.

10-Day Midwest Roadtrip Itinerary

Day 1: Omaha, NE

My family flew into Omaha, Nebraska picked up our rental car, and kicked off our road trip from there!

Bob Kerrey Bridge

Omaha’s Bob Kerrey Bridge

Omaha isn’t the state’s capital, but it is Nebraska’s biggest city, so it has enough to keep you entertained for a day.

Things to do in Omaha:

  • Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge
    • At 3,000ft long, this cool bit of architecture is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world. It crosses the Missouri River over the state line into Iowa (so you can check that state off too!).
  • Old Market
    • The Old Market is an area of downtown Omaha packed with adorable restaurants, bakeries, and shops. It’s styled like a renovated Western town and is definitely worth wandering through.
  • Lauritzen Gardens
    • We were here in March, so nothing was blooming, but from pictures, it looks like it’s beautiful other times of the year!
  • Have a steak dinner
    • I mean, you are in OMAHA, after all – the home of Omaha steaks and generally regarded as the steak capital of the world. There are dozens of options to choose from, from high-end, night-on-the-town types of places to more budget-friendly, neighborhood staple spots. We ended up at Brother Sebastian’s, which is one of Omaha’s oldest steakhouses, but I don’t really think you can go wrong with wherever you choose.
    • Check out Best Steakhouses in Omaha
bob kerrey bridge

On the Bob Kerrey Bridge (and checking off another state!)

Where to stay in Omaha:

Omaha is obviously a large city, so you’re not short on options. If you stay downtown near the Old Market, you’ll be within walking distance of the Bob Kerrey bridge, as well as many fun restaurants and shops. We ended up at the lovely Hyatt Place.

Day 2: Lincoln, NE

The next morning, pack and drive a whopping one hour to the next destination on this Midwest roadtrip itinerary: Lincoln, Nebraska. Lincoln is Nebraska’s surprisingly charming capital city.

Things to do in Lincoln:

  • Tour the State Capitol building
    • Visiting state capitols isn’t just for political nerds like me – they’re always so interesting and can teach you so much about a state! And Nebraska’s state capitol in particular is beautiful. The interior is covered in intricate, colorful mosaics, and the top of the tower offers a great view of the city.
    • Free tours are offered regularly Monday-Friday between 9 am – 4 pm. Go here for details.
nebraska state capitol

Doors to the Nebraska Senate chamber

  • Sunken Gardens
    • Like Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens, we were here at the wrong time of year. In March, there’s nothing to see. But the gardens are listed as one of National Geographic’s top 300 must-see gardens in the US, so check them out if you’re there when everything is in bloom! Plus, admission is free.
  • Haymarket District
    • Once upon a time (i.e. the 1860s), Lincoln’s historic Haymarket district was where wagons, equipment, and hay were sold from the local warehouses. Today, those warehouses have been renovated into cute shops, art galleries, nightclubs, and trendy restaurants, as well as the state’s first microbrewery.
midwest roadtrip itinerary

In front of the state capitol building!

Where to stay in Lincoln, NE:

Again, another big city with a decent amount of hotel options. The Marriot Cornhusker is located in an old, historic building in the center of downtown but is incredibly inexpensive – I would absolutely stay there again if I ever return to Lincoln!

Day 3: Scottsbluff, NE (and stops along the way!)

Day 3 of this Midwest roadtrip itinerary is a long driving day – you’re going all the way from Lincoln, on the east side of Nebraska, to Scottsbluff on the west, a solid 6-7 hours. Fortunately, there are some places to check out along the way to break up the drive.

Nebraska may be famous for endless cornfields, but in the springtime, it’s also home to 80% of the world’s population of Sandhill Cranes. And just two hours west of Lincoln, Kearney, NE is known as the capital city of Sandhill Cranes. For any bird lover, this is a chance to get to see one of nature’s great wildlife migrations.

There are designated viewing areas near Kearney (you can go here for details on them), but I’m going to let you in on a tidbit we learned on our trip: you can see the cranes everywhere along the interstate. And I mean everywhere. Once we were within 10 miles of Kearney, practically every empty field had a flock of cranes in it. In fact, the only field that didn’t have a crane was the one by the designated viewing station that we stopped at to try and take pictures (as if the cranes knew where the humans expected them to be and purposely avoided that spot). So….take that for what’s it worth. Just be sure to stop somewhere because they are beautiful birds and this is one of the few places on earth you can see them.

sandhill cranes nebraska

My shoddy attempt at photographing the uncooperative cranes – if you squint, you can see the gray stalks among the yellow stalks….lol

Next stop: Chimney Rock, 3.5 hours west of Kearney. Due to its distinctive shape, and the fact that it can be seen jutting out of the prairie for miles around, Chimney Rock was an important landmark for pioneers heading west on the wagon trails.

chimney rock nebraska

Posing with Chimney Rock

At the site today, in addition to the rock, there’s a small but worthwhile museum that teaches about life on the Oregon, Morman, and California trails. The interactive exhibit is based off of the Oregon Trail video game – so for all of my fellow 90s kids, it’s a great bit of nostalgia! Go here for hours and ticket information.

Midwest roadtrip itinerary chimney rock

Ah yes, reliving all of those times I died on the virtual Oregon Trail

The last stop of the day is Scotts Bluff National Monument. Like Chimney Rock, Scotts Bluff, an 800ft monolith that towers over the surrounding flatland, served as an important landmark for generations of Native Americans and pioneers. Today visitors can drive or hike to the top of the bluff, explore a number of other trails in the park, and learn about life on the frontier at the visitor’s center.

Hiking up Saddle Rock Trail to the summit of Scotts Bluff was a highlight of our trip (and the moment I realized Nebraska actually has really cool hiking trails!), so be sure to include it on your Midwest roadtrip Itinerary.

Scotts Bluff

Scotts Bluff

Where to stay

Spend the night in the small town of nearby Scottsbluff. There aren’t many lodging options in this part of the state. We stayed at the Arcadia Hotel – it looks like a motel from the outside, but the staff were very friendly and the accommodations were clean and comfortable.

Day 4: Toadstools, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore, Needles Highway

The fourth day of the Midwest roadtrip itinerary is a collection of cool rock formations. Rocks that look like mushrooms, rocks carved into faces, rocks that stick straight up out of the Black Hills – I know we don’t usually think of rocks as cool, but I promise, these are cool.

Stop number one is definitely the most obscure and off-the-beaten path, but well worth the detour. An hour and a half north of Scottsbluff is Toadstool Geologic Park. This remote corner of Nebraska is home to a moonscape – the prairie suddenly gives way to a chalky landscape carved into white mounds, ravines, and yes, toadstools. The park is also home to a large fossil deposit.toadstool geologic park

There’s an easy, one-mile loop through the park that takes you through, up, and over some of the formations. It’s very enjoyable and won’t take you long, so don’t skip it if you go! Admission is free in the off-season and only $3 in the summer months. Go here for all the details.

toadstool geologic park

Sittin’ on a toadstool!

After you finish exploring Toadstool Park, it’s time to check out the next state on this Midwest roadtrip itinerary: South Dakota.

Another two hours north of the toadstools is the second stop of the day, Crazy Horse Memorial. The Crazy Horse sculpture has been under construction since 1948 and is still nowhere near completion. Whenever it is finally finished, it will be the second-largest sculpture in the world.

Since its inception, the project has been managed almost exclusively by one family; Korczak Ziolkowski was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder at the time, to design and construct the sculpture. Ziolkowski dedicated the rest of his life to the project, leading construction until his death in 1982, and since then it has been continuously handed down to the latest generation of the Ziolkowski family. The memorial is still operated entirely through private funding.

crazy horse memorial

What the finished sculpture will look like vs. the current sculpture in the background

The site today includes the sculpture (obviously), but also several museums, an educational film, and the sculptor’s original studio. Admission is on the pricier side at $30 per car (and that doesn’t include the separate bus ride to the base of the mountain), but if you watch the film and tour the sculptor’s studio, the visit is well worth it. For all prices and hours, go here.

Just a few miles up the road South Dakota’s much more famous mountain carving: Mt. Rushmore. No Midwest road trip itinerary would be complete without a stop to see America’s granite presidents!

mt. rushmore

A visit here doesn’t take too long, but don’t miss out on the museum or visitor’s center. The ingeniousness it took to complete this sculpture in just 15 years with no human casualties is fascinating to learn about. Mt. Rushmore is the exact opposite of an obscure, unusual place to visit, but I absolutely loved it. It’s patriotic, and a testament to what human ingenuity and hard work can achieve.

We visited Mt. Rushmore on a Monday in March, so it wasn’t too crowded. But this is one of the most visited national park sites in the country and has a triple-decker parking garage with several ticket lines that are evidence of huge crowds in the summer. So if you can avoid it during peak times and months, you’ll probably be glad you did. For hours and admissions information, click here. 

If you are visiting April-October, your last item of the day should be a drive down Needles Highway. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that it closes for the winter, and it was still closed when we were in March. But my mistake is your gain: now you know that if you want to see South Dakota’s Needles (and you do!!), don’t show up in the winter!

*Other day 4 itinerary notes:

  • Depending on your schedule, you could visit Carhenge (instead of stones, it’s a circle made of….cars) on your way to Toadstool Park. It’ll take you an hour out of your way, but when else will you be in that part of Nebraska? I had it on my original itinerary, but we had to get to South Dakota at a certain time.
  • Jewel Cave National Monument is not far from Mt. Rushmore and, unlike Wind Cave, doesn’t require a full day. However, it was closed for an elevator renovation for most of 2020 and was still closed when we were there in March 2021. Otherwise, it would have been on my day 4 agenda.

Where to Stay:

The Black Hills region is very tourist-friendly, with plenty of campsites and hotels to choose from. But it is seasonal; there is more to pick from in the summer than the winter months. We ended up in the town of Keystone, which is literally 5 minutes from Mt. Rushmore, at the Roosevelt Inn.

Day 5: Wind Cave National Park

I had never heard of Wind Cave National Park before this trip, but wow wow wow what an incredibly underrated place. Most of day 5 of this Midwest roadtrip itinerary is dedicated to this lesser-known park.

Going on a Cave Tour:

Wind Cave was the first cave in the world to become a national park, and for good reason. It has 154 miles of passageways within just one square mile, making it the most complex cave in the world. It’s also one of the only caves in the world that, instead of stalactites and stalagmites, has a formation called boxwork. Wind Cave is an extremely unusual and incredible place, and a visit to the national park is not complete without going inside of the cave itself.

wind cave

Wind Cave’s “boxwork”

The tricky thing is actually landing a cave tour. The only way to see the cave is to go on a guided tour, and only a limited number of guests are allowed on each tour. Tickets are only sold onsite on the day of the tour, and they sell it out very quickly. Originally, we had planned on going to Wind Cave the same day as Mt. Rushmore, thinking if we got there a couple of hours before the time of the cave tour we wanted, we’d be fine. WRONG. We showed up and were told tickets had sold out shortly after the park had opened. And this was during the off-season.

So to make sure you get to go on a cave tour, be in line at the visitor’s center when it opens. There are several different options of tours with varying different lengths and difficulty. We chose the Fairgrounds Tour, which is technically the most strenuous with 450 stairs. But the ranger took lots of breaks to tell us about the cave, so it was manageable. The other two main tours, Garden of Eden and Natural Entrance, are shorter and less strenuous but visit different parts of the cave. For prices and tour schedules, go here.

Other things to do at Wind Cave besides the cave:

If you get your tickets when the park opened, you’re going to have at least several hours to kill before you go on your tour. But the good news is, Wind Cave National Park is much more than just the cave – it also has 33,970 acres of protected prairie and forests.

There are over 30 miles of hiking trails to choose from. Some of those trails really get you up close and personal with the wildlife – we did the Cold Brook Canyon trail, which went straight through a prairie dog town! There’s also a loop road that’s perfect for wildlife watching. And there is plenty of wildlife to watch – in addition to hordes of prairie dogs, the park is home to bison, elk, antelope, coyotes, and black-footed ferrets.

wind cave national park

Wind Cave’s expansive prairie

After you’re finished at Wind Cave, it’s time to drive 2 hours to a new state – Wyoming.

Where to Stay

We found an adorable Airbnb about an hour from Devils Tower, right on the banks of a lake. There are also several campgrounds in the area. But Devils Tower is pretty remote and hotels are in short supply.

Day 6: Devils Tower, WY

Day 6 of this Midwest Roadtrip itinerary is a little more leisurely than the previous days, so feel free to sleep in a little bit and relax before packing up and heading to one of the world’s strangest rock formations: Devils Tower.

devils tower

The otherworldly monolith has long stoked man’s imagination. Thanks to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, many modern-day people associate Devils Tower with glowing UFOs and aliens. For the local native Americans, it has been considered a sacred site for centuries, with various origin stories and myths surrounding it. The first white explorers to the area found it to be a source of fascination worth studying for scientific purposes. So it’s no wonder that the US government recognized the importance of conserving an area so incredibly unique, and so in 1906, Devils Tower became the United State’s very first national monument.

Obviously, you don’t HAVE to get up close and personal to the tower to see it – it juts nearly 1200 ft straight up from the nearby Belle Fourche River and can be seen from miles away. But if you’re already in that part of Wyoming…why wouldn’t you go to the park? Take the short one-mile walk around the entire circumference of the tower. You can climb over some of the boulders at its base, squint through a telescope to see an old ladder on its side, and read about the history of the early ranchers and native Americans in the area. And you may or may not see an alien too.

devils tower

For all hours and admissions info, go here.

Once you’re finished exploring Devils Tower, it’s time to drive back to South Dakota (yes, there’s still more to see there!). It’s only 2 hours to Rapid City, you’re next stop, so take your time. You can drive through Spearfish Canyon, an extremely scenic drive through the northern Black Hills. The towns of Deadwood and Lead are also famous mining and gambling towns – my family didn’t check them because I couldn’t find anything worth exploring (and we don’t do casinos), but other people enjoy them and you might too.

Where to Stay

The next location on the itinerary is Badlands National Park. It’s an hour away from Rapid City, but seeing as there’s almost nothing around the park itself, it seemed smarter to stay a couple of nights in Rapid City (unless you’re camping, then you may feel differently). We stayed in a fabulous AirBnB (it was our favorite lodging of the whole week!), but there are also plenty of hotels and other options. It’s the only place on the itinerary you’ll spend two nights.

Day 7: Badlands National Park

If you’re a farmer or rancher, I suppose these really would be “bad lands”- miles and miles of sheer hills, deep crevasses, and no vegetation. But for any lover of earth’s wild places, Badlands National Park is a playground. Day 7 is dedicated to exploring this underrated natural wonder.

But first, on your way to the park, make a stop at Wall Drug Store (you can’t miss it, there are about 60 billboards for it between Rapid City and the Badlands). My dad being a pharmacist, this was a must-stop place on our itinerary, but it’s worth seeing what all the fuss is about.

When it opened in 1931, the owners struggled to turn a profit, since Wall, South Dakota, was essentially in the middle of nowhere. So they started advertising free ice water to weary travelers and, surprisingly, the gimmick worked. Now it’s a bustling road stop where visitors can shop, get homemade donuts, take pictures with the giant jackalope and, yes, get free ice-water – a true American success story.

Wall Drug store

Next, time to start exploring the Badlands! The park is phenomenal, but it isn’t very large – the entire North Unit of the park can be done in one full day without having to rush or feeling like you had to skip something major.

Things to do in Badlands National Park

  • Badlands Loop Road
    • The loop road connects the east and west entrances of the north unit and takes 1-2 hours to do. There are many overlooks along the way and is the best way to see the wide variety of landscapes within the park
  • Sage Creek Rim Road
    • This is an unpaved out-and-back road that goes further west than the Loop Road. This is the best place to see wildlife – we saw dozens of bison and bighorn sheep and several prairie dog towns along this road. And this section of the badlands looks drastically different from the more famous part on the east side.
  • Notch, Door, and Window Trails
    • The Badlands has what’s known as the “wall” that separates the upper and lower prairie. There are three short trails that either go through the wall or offer views beyond it. All three are short, easy, and leave from the same parking lot.
      • The Door Trail takes hikers through an opening in the wall and out onto the badlands shelf itself. The trail is marked by white wooden stakes. It’s a lot of fun and sort of a “make your own adventure” so long as you can always see one of the white stakes. It’s only 0.75 miles; the park lists it as strenous and I have no idea why – it’s entirely flat and not long, and difficult to get completely lost. But it is the only trail that gets you close to the canyon.
badlands national park

End of the Door Trail

      • The Window Trail is less a hike and more a short walk to an overlook. It’s a boardwalk that, after 0.25 miles, ends at a natural window in the wall.
      • Of the three hikes, the Notch Trail was my favorite (it was actually one of the more purely fun hikes I’ve ever done!). It’s only 1.5 miles, and while the park lists it as moderate to strenuous, I’d say it’s moderate at most. It’s level the entire way – the twist is the log ladder you have to climb up to the cliff. Then hikers follow along a narrow cliff shelf before eventually coming out at a “notch” in the wall.
badlands national park

The Notch Trail’s log ladder

Go here for hours and admissions info for Badlands National Park.

Day 8: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

I’ll admit that, while not the longest driving day, day 8 includes the most boring stretch of road on this Midwest roadtrip itinerary: the 4 hours between Rapid City, SD and the North Dakota border. Good heavens, my whole family wished we’d had an IV drip of coffee in the car the morning we did that drive. But, it was worth it. Because at the end of it is Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The park was once the western summer getaway for the then-future President Roosevelt. He built a ranch here and managed a sizeable bison herd for several summers before his political career took off. In the late 1800s, this area was as desolate and remote as it gets (one of the reasons TR found it so appealing). Today, though a highway runs past the entrance gate, that hasn’t really changed. Tucked into the remote northwestern corner of the already remote state of North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park doesn’t get many visitors. But that just means you’ll likely have this park all to yourself (or at least, you’ll only have to share it with the bison herds!).

Technically, this is North Dakota’s version of the badlands, but it looks drastically different from the badlands of its southern neighbor. Here, the buttes are less a desolate moonscape and more a verdantly green river valley. There are more options for hiking, camping, and fishing.

The park is separated into three different units: the most popular and largest is the South Unit; 80 miles north is the smaller North Unit. In between, and only accessible to hikers is the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. You could explore the South and North unit in one day, but you might prefer to do the South on Day 8 and the North Unit on the morning of Day 9 (that’s what we did). The North Unit is about 2 hours from the South Unit.

theodore roosevelt national park

River Bend Overlook

*We did not get to do all of the things in the South Unit I had planned on because a wildfire sprang up near the park entrance while we were in the park…so we had to leave. It was quite the adventure! But I can only give limited advice on some of the hikes because of that.

*We also did not get to do all of the hikes because of the bison. This park has So. Many. Bison. There are warning signs everywhere saying “don’t get close to the bison!!!” So when you see that a particularly large bison herd has designed to explore the same hiking trail you were going to go on, you decide that they can have it. Arguing with an aggressive, 2000 lb cow with horns just seems like a bad idea.

Things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

  • South Unit
    • Loop Drive: The 48 miles scenic drive is a great way to see the park’s many landscapes and wildlife. It takes about 2 hours, not including any stops you make along the way.
    • Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin: This was TR’s first home in the Dakota Badlands. It’s located just behind the South Unit visitor center.
    • Wind Canyon Trail: This is a short, 30 minutes trail with stunning views of the Little Missouri River. This was my favorite of the South Unit trails we did.
    • Buck Hill Trail: Buck Hill is the highest point in the park. This trail is steep but short and offers a stunning vista from the top of the butte.
    • Coal Vein Trail: I’m including this as a trail that you can SKIP. It’s advertised as a way to learn about the effects of coal vein fires on the landscape, but it has no informational plaques. Instead, it’s a boring walk with no views.
  • North Unit
    • Loop Drive: Yes, the north unit also has a loop drive. This one takes an hour and a half and is just as scenic as the one in the south.
    • Caprock Coulee Trail: This is a very pleasant meandering 1.5-mile trail that follows a creek bed in between several buttes.
    • River Bend Overlook: This is the most famous vista in the park, so you don’t want to miss it. The CCC built a log Pavillion for people visiting this specific overlook before the area was even a national park, and that building remains to this day.
Theodore roosevelt national park

View from Buck Hill

Where to Stay

The South Unit’s entrance is in the tourist town of Medora, ND. There might be a hotel or two in the summer, but I didn’t find anything in the off-season. Instead, we stayed in Dickinson, 30 minutes east of the park. That’s also a more convenient location if you end up starting the next day by going to the North Unit.

Day 9: Knife River Indian Villages and Bismarck, ND

Day 9 will either start with you visiting the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park (which is what we did, since our day 8 got cut short by the wildfire), OR you can begin the drive to Bismarck – North Dakota’s capital city.

On the way, make a stop at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, which is about 1.5 hours from Dickinson. I had, admittedly, only included this on my own itinerary because I was stretching to find things to do in North Dakota (no offense, North Dakota). But Knife River ended up being a really fascinating place!

Once upon a time, several different Indian tribes had earthlodge villages along this stretch of the Knife River. These earthlodges could house between 10 and 20 people, along with their horses and other livestock. Today, you can see the shallow depressions in the ground made from the earthlodges.

knife river indian villages

A replica of an earthlodge

knife river indian villages

Me, exploring said earthlodge

The site is open sunrise to – sunset year-round and is free.

After Knife River, head to Bismarck, just an hour south.

Things to do in Bismarck (*NOTE: We didn’t get to do any of these because of COVID).

  • North Dakota State Capitol: during non-COVID times, there are regularly scheduled free tours. Go here for the times.
  • Former Governor’s mansion: This was the governor’s residence from 1893-1960. Admission is free, but hours are limited.
  • North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum: The reviews make this sound like a pretty cool museum, considering the state’s geologic and Native American history.

Where to Stay

Being the state capital, Bismarck has lots of commercial hotel options. But it’s a very industrial city with few boutique or AirBnB-type places. We stayed at a Country Inn and Suites, and it absolutely served its purpose!

Day 10: Fargo, ND (and more!)

The last day of this Midwest roadtrip itinerary features MORE bison and the adorable town of Fargo.

I can’t say the National Buffalo Museum was on my bucket. And my guess is that it isn’t on yours either. Or the world’s largest bison statue, for that matter. But like Knife River Indian Villages, I put things on my itinerary to fill up time. And like Knife River, I was pleasantly surprised by this first stop of the day, just an hour east of Bismarck.

The National Buffalo Museum is, well, all about bison (I know, what a shock). But I didn’t realize just how much I didn’t know about the history of American bison. Once upon a time, millions of bison roamed across the great plains. By the early 1900s, they had been hunted to almost extinction – there were estimates that only 400 of them remained. At that point, a few enterprising ranchers began work to protect the remaining population and that grew into a movement to save America’s greatest mammal.

national buffalo museum

Albino bison are extremely rare; White Cloud was a member of the museum’s herd until she passed away of old age in 2016

The museum was created as both a legacy to that movement and as a way to continue advocating for the preservation of the bison. It’s small but packed with interesting information. There are exhibits about prehistoric bison, a film on the preservation movement, and interactive exhibits for kiddos. The museum also maintains its own bison herd. They were in their “winter pasture” when we visited, so we didn’t see them, but we got our real-life bison fill at several other places on this trip.

national buffalo museum

I have always wondered!

And then just down the street is the world’s largest bison statue. Which, why not, since you’re already there?

national buffalo museum

World’s largest buffalo

Drive one more hour east to the town of Fargo, North Dakota. Fargo is the state’s most populous city and, thanks to things like the TV show Fargo, is likely the only ND city you’ve ever heard of (it was for me!). It’s also my favorite city on this itinerary.

Things to do in Fargo:

  • Main Street: Fargo’s downtown district has lots of trendy shops and some very excellent restaurants.
  • Riverside parks: Both Fargo and its neighbor city, Moorhead, MN, have a lovely river walk on each bank of the Red River. Along this river walk are a series of recreational and historic parks. If the weather is nice, definitely check these out!
  • Visit the Stave Church: One of the parks on the Minnesota side has an exact replica of the stave church in Vik, Norway. It’s free to walk around the church, but there is an admission to tour it and the nearby Hjemkomst Center.
  • Plains Art Museum: This is North Dakota’s largest art museum, so if you don’t feel like you got enough art and culture on this trip, be sure to stop in.
fargo nd

Hopperstad Stave Church

Phew!!! And THAT is how you spend 10 days running around the Midwest. There’s so much to see and do; this is a jam-packed Midwest roadtrip itinerary and it still doesn’t include everything that you COULD do. But it hits the highlights, it’s not too rushed, and showcases just how much the middle of the country has to offer.

And for fun, here’s a map of all the mileage covered on this itinerary:

midwest roadtrip itinerary

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The United States's Midwest is full of hidden gems and amazing places! This 10 day road trip itinerary hits all of the highlights, like Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands, as well as a many off-the-beaten-path destinations. Check it out! #unitedstates #midwest #roadtrip #mtrushmore #devilstower #badlands    The United States's Midwest is full of hidden gems and amazing places! This 10 day road trip itinerary hits all of the highlights, like Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands, as well as a many off-the-beaten-path destinations. Check it out! #unitedstates #midwest #roadtrip #mtrushmore #devilstower #badlands The United States's Midwest is full of hidden gems and amazing places! This 10 day road trip itinerary hits all of the highlights, like Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands, as well as a many off-the-beaten-path destinations. Check it out! #unitedstates #midwest #roadtrip #mtrushmore #devilstower #badlands

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