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6 Best Road Trips

Chicago to Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone Road Trip

Take the All-American Road Trip to Yellowstone, starting in Chicago.

Public lands tend to conjure images of towering peaks and sandstone arches, tumbling waterfalls and calving glaciers. But here on the Great Plains, a different kind of natural beauty abounds.

Meadowlarks, their yellow bellies glowing in the sun, sing their distinctive song. Blue skies stretch as far as the eye can see over rolling prairies that give way to badlands and forests. President Theodore Roosevelt said of his home in North Dakota that’s now his namesake national park, “it was here that the romance of my life began.” The plains hold many beautiful things, if you look closely.

Road trip from Chicago or fly into Rapid City Regional Airport in South Dakota where five diverse national park sites lie within a few hours of each other. At Badlands National Park wildlife is abundant, from bighorn lambs leaping over colorful rock formations to bison grazing in a sea of grass and prairie dogs chirping their warnings.

Bighorn lambs in Badlands National Park
Bighorn lambs in Badlands National Park (Photo: Michael Hancock)

Go underground at Wind and Jewel caves, where stalagmites reach for the ceilings, see the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore or learn about our country’s nuclear history at Minuteman Missile Site.

From Rapid City, head west through the Black Hills towns of Sturgis and Sundance towards the rock monolith rising out of the prairie at Devils Tower. The plains give way to the Bighorn Mountains as you drive the stunning Bighorn Scenic Byway through Ten Sleep and Worland to reach the healing waters of Thermopolis. Learn about two tribes that reside on the Wind River Indian Reservation as you make your way towards the wildlife and natural wonders of Yellowstone.

The drive over Beartooth Highway towards Red Lodge, as you exit the park, will make you feel as if you’re on top of the world at 10,947 feet. Mountains turn into the Great Plains again as you find outdoor recreation and big city culture in Billings. Stay in a historic hotel in Lewistown before exploring the charming towns that make up southeastern Montana. There’s so much to explore in the heart of the U.S.

Road Trip Map

Start: Chicago

In Chicago, join locals and travelers alike at Millennium Park downtown. A showcase of who’s who in architecture, this interactive park is an adult playground. Check out these three architectural gems, Cloud Gate, the kidney-bean-shaped stainless steel sculpture, Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by architect Frank Gehry, and Crown Fountain which features the faces of 1,000 Chicago residents on two 250-foot glass towers.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Badlands National Park in South Dakota (Photo: Abby Krim)

2 Days in the Badlands and Black Hills
Hit the best of the South Dakota parks with these top spots including national parks, steam trains, wild bison and a legendary store.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Explore nuclear weapon history near the northeast Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

Wind Cave National Park

Journey deep into the Earth on a tour of one of the world’s most complex cave systems. Want more? Visit Jewel Cave National Monument nearby.

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore at sunset.
Mount Rushmore at sunset. (Photo: Depositphotos)

Constructed from 1927-41, the memorial features the faces of four U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Hidden History
Before the faces of four U.S. presidents were carved into Mount Rushmore, this mountain was called The Six Grandfathers by the Lakota Sioux. Learn more.

Crazy Horse Memorial

See the world’s largest monument carving in progress, the Crazy Horse Memorial. Seventy years after the first blast, you can watch crews drilling, carving and removing rock at the memorial still under construction.

Black Hills Adventures

Spearfish Falls in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Spearfish Falls in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Alternative Rapid Route: Fly Into Rapid City
For an alternative launch point to your road trip, fly into the Rapid City Regional Airport. It’s the most direct route to the Black Hills, Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore. While your main destinations may be the national parks, make sure your travel plans include spending time in Rapid City itself.

Rapid City Guide
If you’re looking for a basecamp to explore some of our most iconic national park sites in South Dakota, stop and stay in this City of Presidents.

Find More Than the World’s Largest Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis
Learn the history of the town’s famous motorcycle rally but also explore its outdoor recreation and year-round events.

The Lodge at Deadwood
Experience the past in the luxury of today. The Lodge at Deadwood Gaming Resort is one of the newest, most beautiful Deadwood hotels.

Follow That ATV
Everything is included – equipment and gas – when you do a 4-hour tour on majestic trails with Black Hills ATV/UTV Tours.

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

The Magic of Devils Tower
Travelers roaming through the northeastern Wyoming prairie will be treated to a strange and wonderful sight: a striking stone column rising seemingly out of nowhere.

The Other Black Hills in Sundance
In the heart of the Black Hills but away from the commercialization and traffic, Sundance, Wyo., offers a deep dive into the Old West and is the closest town to Devils Tower.

Gillette’s Top Six
Dubbed the “Energy Capital of the Nation,” the Wyoming towns of Gillette and Wright are home to an enormous bison ranch and an ever-evolving, eclectic culinary scene.

Buffalo and Kaycee, Wyo.

6 Ways to Experience the Old West
Go on a trail ride, visit a saloon and learn about Wyoming’s history in the towns of Buffalo and Kaycee, Wyo.

The Scenic Route to Yellowstone

The best way over the Bighorn Mountains on the way to Yellowstone is U.S. Hwy. 16, known as the Sweet 16. Passing through Ten Sleep, it’s also known as the safest route because of the road’s gentle curves and lower-grade hills.

Thermopolis, Wyo.

Soak at Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis east of Yellowstone
Soak at Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis east of Yellowstone (Photo: Getty Images)

The World’s Largest Mineral Hot Spring is in Thermopolis
It’s a small, picturesque town where the elevation is higher than the population. Come soak in the famous mineral hot springs. And at one of the best dinosaur museums in the world, locate the prehistoric dinosaurs beneath Thermopolis on a Dig for a Day adventure.

Wind River Range

Feel the Wind in Your Face
In the shadow of the Wind River Range, the communities of Riverton, Lander, Dubois and the 2.2 million-acre Wind River Reservation offer incredible outdoor recreation and Wyoming history.

See Bighorn Sheep
The largest herd of bighorn sheep in the Lower 48 live just outside of this Wyoming town. See them just 90 miles from the park.

Yellowstone National Park

Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on the east side of the park.
Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on the east side of the park. (Photo: Depositphotos)

Enter South Entrance

2 Days in Yellowstone
Only have a couple of days? Make the most of your time by visiting some of our favorite spots in the park.

Early Birds and Night Owls
Bluebird days are great, but Yellowstone comes alive when the sky lights up at sunrise and sunset.

GyPSy Guide’s Narrated Driving Tour App
Download the Yellowstone tour app that’s like having a tour guide in your car. GyPSy Guide automatically plays interesting and entertaining commentary as you go.

Watch Wildlife in Yellowstone’s Lamar and Hayden Valleys
Yellowstone’s huge, wide valleys make excellent habitat for wildlife. For your best chance of spotting them, point your compass toward the Lamar and Hayden.

Exit Northeast Entrance

Silver Gate Lodging Has the Closest Cabins to Yellowstone
A 1/2 mile from Yellowstone’s northeast entrance, this quiet cabin resort is surrounded by snowcapped mountains and wildlife.

Eastern Montana

Curve on Beartooth Highway near Yellowstone
Curve on Beartooth Highway near Yellowstone (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Drive the Dramatic Beartooth Highway Northeast of Yellowstone
One of the most breathtaking routes to Yellowstone is the 68-mile stretch of the Beartooth Highway – named a National Scenic Byway’s “All-American Road.”

Montana’s Charming Town of Red Lodge
From incredible outdoor recreation in every direction to world-class rodeo and unique glamping, plus a scenic drive on the stunning Beartooth Highway, Red Lodge is a can’t-miss stop.

Savor the City in Billings, Montana
In Montana largest city, you’ll find an airport, James Beard nominated restaurants, craft breweries and museums. But this is still Montana, which means Billings is also nestled amongst incredible outdoor recreation and the vast history of the American west.

Go Big in Southeast Montana
When you drive through the towns of Southeast Montana, like Billings, Glendive and Miles City you’ll notice that the skies are big and that means that when the sun goes down, the stars are big, too. After boating and hiking in Bighorn Canyon and learning about history at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, explore the stars at local parks and recreation areas.

Watch Wildlife and Scenery from a Train in Lewistown
From big game hunting to fishing, camping, biking, hiking and skiing, take advantage of the outdoor recreation opportunities in the beautiful Judith Basin.

Have an Historic Stay at The Calvert Hotel
This historic building is beautifully remodeled to retain the classic design of the past while adding luxury amenities to provide the utmost in comfort.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Badlands Formations in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Badlands Formations in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Photo: Depositphotos)

This 3-unit park is known for amazing wildlife (bison and elk), 95 miles of hiking trails, horseback riding, water sports, and inspiring a president.

End: Chicago