Two months literally on the I-90 road between Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Not going to lie but I wasn´t always moving in the car…I did move around by bicycle a bit and I took one bus (yes during Covid era)! Of the 2 months I was gone about a month of it was traveling while another month was hanging out in South Dakota and exploring locally. This trip was a road trip with my parents and quite frankly I was just the passenger on their trip. No worries as I did have some say in the stops we made :D.
I will go through each state we visited and try to keep it short on descriptions, stories and highlights.
SOUTH DAKOTA (SD)
Starting here because ultimately I spent the majority of my time here. Most know about Western SD (SoDak) because of the Blackhills and Badlands or this that and the other (um Mt. Rushmore). That side is the prettier side for most since shortly after there it becomes mainly rolling hill flatness and never-ending fields of crops (corn, soybean and wheat mainly). Being as the largest export in SD is brewing/distilling dregs aka animal feed you may never know meat packing and ethanol is also on the top 10 list unless you go off the main roads.
Most never make it past the Western side on road trips or if they do cross they stay on the 1-90 until Sioux Falls or maybe stop at some bizarre road side attractions before then (time permitting) like Wall Drugs (awesome marketing story here and eclectic stop), Corn Palace (unique and designs changes each year) or Porter Sculpture Park (right off I-90 some very unique art by a local artist).
Here are some places to add to your list on the East side of SD:
Sioux Falls (pronounced Sue falls after the local Native America tribe) has come a long way since I last visited. My grandparents were from South Dakota so I have been plenty of times to this state. The biggest city close to where we stayed is Sioux Falls. It is also SD´s largest city…but not it´s capital…that would be Pierre (in the middle, kind of). Sioux Falls (or SF as they sometimes refer to it…being from the West Coast SF will always be San Francisco for me) was maybe 50 minutes away, going 80 mph on the 29. Yes, the speed limit is 80 here…also most of Montana and a chunk of Wyoming and Idaho too…and these might be the only states like this (nope Texas has 85 somewhere, damn!).
Watertown was actually my favorite stop in SD and I think it is because of Lake Kampeska and the fact that it isn’t so well known. Maybe also because of Dempsey’s Pizza and Pub, voted as one of best pizza’s in US. The downtown is in the middle of I guess gentrification as the city tries to encourage more people to visit and I agree that area needs work but no need to wait…Watertown already has hidden gems you just need to dig a bit to find them.
Again lots of trails for biking/walking…I biked around the lake (13 miles) …which was nice…and they say the zoo is great here. If you like art you might also check the Redlin Art Center for painting by Terry Redlin, who is local and famous for his excellent capture of Midwest rural life through brush stroke. Quite worthy if you ask me, many people enjoyed photos I’d shown of this region just because it was so drastically different then where they live…so why not visit the master himself.
Brookings is the university city as most will mention when talking about it…in fact my uncle went here! Having the University of SD here means this tiny town get’s that young and fun vibe in town. I actually biked here from Madison (SD) the first trip up. It is 30 minutes from Madison or Sioux Falls and has lots of restaurants and breweries being a large college town. My favorites in town is the clock tower on campus, the touchdown Jesus on the church at the end of Main Ave. and the burgers at Nick´s.
Madison I can´t avoid mentioning because we stayed there. It is definitely your small town South Dakota example but it is the biggest city in the county so it offers just what you need. It has a small cute university (3000 students) that is currently well known for it´s cyber security program. It´s main tourist attraction might be Prairie Village which is a great representation of an old pioneer village with it´s many historic buildings, a museum on pioneer history and in August usually holds a festival where the ¨village¨comes to life with tractor pull races, mass in the chapel train car, steam engine carousal ride and a lot more prairie related fun. A true experience for the whole family! If not Prairie village many locals come to chill and play on Lake Madison just 3 miles East (where we stayed). In addition, there is Lake Herman State Park with…a hem a lake..lol…no and some hiking trails, a historic pioneer cabin, history, sunset and wildlife views…oh and hills for running and biking ;)!
The main street (Egan Ave.) is nice and well maintained and the city has plenty of restaurants to choose from…for a good hot dish go to Country Cafe (before 2 pm!)…bakery well there is only one Gary´s Bakery (closes at noon)…coffee and hipster love go to Sundog coffee and the most important store in town is likely Four Season Flea Market (you can find everything there). If you need a bar the best ones tend to be on the corners of 1st street and Egan…take your pick.
The entrance to town has the unmistakable huge white buffalo…another roadside attraction and symbolic to the Native Americans who consider them spiritual (they exist but are rare to see – the buffalo).
If you are like me and need exercise there is a nice bike path from town that goes out to Lake Madison (do stop at the road crossings!)…in several directions and even almost makes it out to Lake Herman too going the opposite direction. My favorite bike rides were around Lake Herman to the golf course, the ride out around Lake Madison (by the Hillside Restaurant) almost to the Ethanol plant (yes even has this…) and lastly out to Montrose via Valley road through Orland. All a good change of scenery compared to the square farm routes. FYI speed limit on rural country roads is 65 mph…as long as you are visible you should be fine because there is usually lots of room for passing (way less cars in general), shoulders sometimes and drivers are friendly and respectful.
Largest state by far that we crossed and spent quality time in both directions of the road trip. I had only been once before to ski at Big Sky so I literally only saw snow, mountains, lift and village. This time was summer and we did 2 distinct routes through the state and I got a much better feel of it.
Bozeman was the favorite for the whole family. It is such an outdoor city, it lives and breathes athletes everywhere all year long. It also has this feeling of urban hip with a rugged twist which is highly likable. I separated from my parents here quite a bit since I have a long lost friend living here…Dagny, who I´d not seen in 10 years!!! My parents had fun hanging out along main street and enjoying it´s many different shops to browse (window shop..some were fancy or covid closed) while popping into the many breweries, bars and distilleries amidst it all. All the drinking likely comes from the Montana State crowd…aka the Bobcats…but seriously it´s Montana´s largest university (16K students)!
I spent my time with my friend and her family or exploring by bike or on foot. We did a few hikes together, wandered around town and caught up. I also ran of course (Do not miss running here!). Being a health conscious and exercise fanatic city there were tons of intercity trails connecting everything. Most were gravel and tiny…as if a hiking trail but there were a few paved or wider trails headed out East or through parts of town. I loved these paths because they led to all of these hidden places and are maintained year round. It snows here so these become cross country ski paths in winter.
Hikes we did were the ever popular and almost necessary M hike (you can extend it from there if you want, many others did) which is 2 miles up hill to see the M created by the Montana State students in 1915! There are lots of letters on hillsides in Montana, M seemed to be most popular…I wonder why?! The other hike we did was maybe 1 hour out of Bozeman toward Big Sky.
Livingston is a tiny town 10 miles from Bozeman and worth at least a roll through. Although it´s close to Bozeman it is very different and in winter the mountains make it even more separate. We did a roll through mainly because my dad was done stopping for the day but in the end they drove back and stayed a day!
It is a country western type of town that has kept it´s character and is filled with some cute buildings, architecture and…astrology readers. Think rodeo and fly fishing with a touch of hippie, eclectic earthiness. In terms of architecture the gem here may be the railway station itself (with Great Northern details). It is a very touristy place mainly for fly fishing the Yellowstone River…paired with the scenery it´s sure to thrill. My mom knew the town for Peter Fonda…maybe John Mayer is more recent…any who the area really does draw a ton of laid back (and rugged) celebrities… if you go, you would totally understand.
Helena is the capital of Montana! It is pretty much built on a hill and it is also a college town. The downtown core is charming and fun offering plenty of great dining options mixed with some architectural gems (don’t miss the Atlas building!). We ate out of town at Wassweiler Dinner House for a much quieter comfy feel with plenty of great food.
Besides the capitol building, you should probably visit Reeder’s Alley (do go to Cotton Top pastry shop if here – ha ha it is the only reason I know about the Alley) and if you are into MTB get out on some of the awesome trails here!
Ovando was a random town we stopped in and it was because my dad saw a random bar on the side of the road, got curious and turned around. We didn´t stay long at the bar actually but we stayed over an hour exploring the town…a town of maybe 5 buildings ha ha. This was our first taste of a real Montana town. It has the convenience store which doubled as a hotel, gas station, grocery store/ gift shop, ice cream parlor and more and then across from it was the bar which was also the restaurant and next door (same building) was the fishing store and town governance office. There was in this town a museum, volunteer fire station and a jail which was actually for camping…lol. The jail is a relic kept from pioneer times and is used along with a teepee and wagon as camping options for cyclists who go from Canada to Mexico on a trail near here (Great Divide Mountain Bike Route). You can stay for $6 a night and it seemed like the jail was the last resort…ha ha. The town simply fascinated us and we roamed as many corners of it as possible…by the way the ice cream is delicious too!
Glacier NP is another worthy place to get out in some of the finest US natural areas. Don’t miss the climb up to Logan Pass and read more here on my blog.
Libby is by far the quirkiest city we went through. It has a beautiful scenic river to drive along towards Canada plus the more well-known water falls (right off the highway) and tons of mountains for hiking. Also I found a lot of hidden Sasquatch (Bigfoot) and other artsy creativity speckled around town. The police station is a gorgeous building and the brewery (Cabinet Mountain) in town was cool.
The town does have a dark history though…with asbestos…apparently it was mined there…now, it is not. Story is that the mine had a leak and asbestos got into the air…which poisoned and killed many residents for years. Look it up if you must but today it seems like a cute mountain town reviving and quite worthy of a visit (btw the air is confirmed as safe now).
First new state for me in a really long time. This is what happens when you don´t live in the US for 7 years! Thought I was only getting Yellowstone NP but we ended up further into the state each day.
Jackson is basically a charming ski town next to the Grand Tetons that is super touristy. I loved it’s wooden sidewalks, elk antler arches and the fact that you literally could ski from your house. I’ll visit again but only because I love the Tetons!
I did a lovely trail run (that you can hike) at the other edge of town that surprised me with amazing views and room to breath (few people). I find these random places to run usually on the Strava app which allows me to see where others run locally and then I just go for it!
Devils Tower is an incredibly unique geologic rock formation which is easily noticed from afar as it is a monolith or butte…no other structure I´ve seen even compares. Additionally, Devils Tower is the first US National Monument (1906)!
It is located literally in the corner of the state, almost to SD and is a special site with some definite spiritual energy. I highly encourage a visit and walk around the base. It is a paved and fairly easy loop.
Views from here are great but it is unfortunate that the buffalo are all gone (were hunted) from the area. You might see people climbing the tower which seemed fun until you see prayer flags in the trees and realize it is a very spiritual place for Native Americans…so I’m not sure if climbing is the best plan but when you see the rock for yourself you too would probably want to go up, so I understand.
Grand Teton NP is a do not miss, favorite place of mine. It was my first trip there but it is gorgeous and fantastic and a must visit! For more info click here to read my blog on it.
Dubois is a town we passed through and didn’t stop but I can tell it is worthy of a visit. It has tons of cool scenery nearby and some cowboy town style charm. At least stop if not camp (stay) a night. plus it is pretty close to Yellowstone/Grand Teton!
Mainly Minneapolis/St. Paul area to visit a friend for a week. I took a bus from Sioux Falls to get here (face masks and only 7 people aboard…it was okay). This was my second city visit, although many times to MSP…the airport. I had never been to St. Paul or explored outside of Minneapolis so I will focus on that part of my visit. In Minneapolis though I do recommend going to the Mississippi River and walking, running or biking around, crossing bridges like the famous Stone Arch Bridge (historically important Third Ave. Bridge was where I first saw the Mississippi River), checking the sculpture gardens and other art found all over the city, lounging at Minnehaha Falls (absolutely love this name ha ha), wandering in downtown to see architecture (the Grain Exchange Building is my favorite! 1881 stock market of grains – just so unique) and visiting some neighborhoods to get a better feel of the city.
Biking the unlimited trails around the area is a must do. There are plenty of bikes to borrow around the city and the trails literally connect to everywhere…all suburbs and most places you wish to go. I remember my first time to Minneapolis (2010) and I literally borrowed bikes and went everywhere including to the airport (well, eventually via train)! This time I borrowed my friend´s bike and explored even farther and was not disappointed…trails are literally everywhere and even built before a housing development is constructed so they are so extensive, easily connect and highly useful! All year they are used, in winter they are happily used for cross-country skiing!
Lebanon Hills Park is the place to go for inner city hiking. The area is mainly flat with rolling hills so don´t expect tons of elevation but if you want to be out in nature for a few hours this is where to do it in Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area.
St. Croix State Park has some great beach areas in the summer. The park is along the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin and there are parts of the state park for a good chunk of the whole state border. I visited a few parts of the park but thought I would mention one in Hudson, WI. This is a nice side trip to a cute town and the beach here seemed much calmer…only drawback is it´s very open providing zero shade whereas other locations in MN I´d visited did have some shaded areas. Water is clear, warm and lovely all along the river plus beaches are golden and natural. If you can´t make it out this far in Minneapolis there are also beaches at Lake Calhoun.
Stillwater is one of the oldest towns in Minnesota (near St. Paul) and is along the River. It is a tad touristy but is cute and worthy of a visit to experience it’s charm. You can cross the river over the railroad bridge if you want but at least watch it as it raises to let boats pass. I did the latter and thoroughly enjoyed it (opens mid May to Oct.). It is a bike/pedestrian only bridge and it makes a 4.7 miles loop crossing another bridge.
Pipestone is literally across the border from SD and it´s nearly on the same latitude as Madison, SD where I stayed so it was almost an obligatory stop. There is a state park that holds some beauty amidst the flat prairie land (called Pipestone SP). It is quite the contrast to the landscape that I can only imagine the faces of the Native Americans and Pioneers when they first came across it.
Here you find red (pink almost) rocks that break up the scenery and carve mini cliffs in it and even allow the river to create a waterfall. It is a short loop trail that is sure to delight. Not only is it pretty but it is a sight considered spiritual by the Native Americans. In fact, you can see them today still mining the rocks out of the ground to use in ceremonies and such.
Not only is the park worth a visit but the town itself has some surprisingly excellent architecture finds and hidden gems. If you want a good diner check out the 24 hour Lange´s Cafe if not you can at least stop by the confusing Dari King and have a laugh…no guarantee on quality of food there though.
Went through here on the way home only because we were avoiding Sturgis, SD during the Motorbike Rally in Covid era! I had been to the state before to ice fish in winter so this was a warmer welcome you could say!
Fargo is the most well known city in ND due to a movie called Fargo so I made my parent´s stop and at least get an ice cream and photo. Fargo is also the largest ND city. Fargo does have it´s charms (a mish mash of everything and an artsy side) and history. Mainly for my dad Fargo is a memory of him jumping out of the train car (to meet his parents who came to pick him up) because he missed the stop when he was a young fella. SD has no public railways so this is the closest stop on Amtrak …500 miles or 3.25 hours from Madison, SD . We did visit the train station to reminisce and I was overjoyed to find that it now has a bike shop there too! ha ha
We didn´t stay long here but had enough time for ice cream in Robert´s Alley, a walk around of a few blocks to enjoy some architecture and get a feel for Fargo and see the cool Super Mario street art on alley wall of Pickled Parrot.
Bismarck I actually enjoyed a lot more. First of all I never spelled it right before visiting…I always left the ¨C¨out… It is the capital and it has one of the most unique state capitol buildings I have ever seen, in fact it is just that…a tall building, no dome and pillar copy of the US capitol building in DC like many other capitols. ha ha We got there by biking and running on the many paths around the city.
Besides this the city has an art alley (5th and Broadway/Main) that is very local and very awesome. Nearby is the historical Fort Abraham Lincoln (State Park) where you can learn about how the Mandan tribe in this area once lived (interesting for sure) and have a great view of the Missouri River.
We didn´t get to experience much regarding food except some awesome local donuts (also found in Salem, Oregon) at Bearscat Bakehouse but I do know there are great places to eat here so if you have time check out the local scene!
…Now imagine how we got a box of donuts home while running and biking without a rack or basket…creative ingenuity!
A few other spots in ND you might check out is Theodore Roosevelt National Park (3 hours – Bismarck) for scenery and hiking, Valley City (1 hour from Fargo) for a cute bridge, university, and downtown and lastly the Enchanted Highway to Regents, ND (2 hours from Bismarck to I-94 exit – then 30 minutes to Regents) for out of this world sculptures – based on size and creativity – they have a cool castle hotel at the end if you do go (we didn´t go but were almost convinced).
Since I was in Eastern SD, Iowa is very close by and I decided to bike on over. Second new state on the trip :D. If you have more than 33 states visited you beat me but hey I am not racing to get to 50 either…I have a few friends who have accomplished this though…Good Job!
Iowa really surprised me. In researching about the state I found it has a lot to offer and was very biker friendly. It is much more than farm fields and seemed more urban cool than expected. It seems to have an artsy, creative, young side that many midwest states miss out on.
Lake Okoboji was the destination I was aiming for on my bike trip.
I´d never heard of it before but upon arrival to SD I asked what my dad´s friend knew about Iowa and both my dad and his friend chimed in Lake Okoboji. I said ¨Where? and How do you spell it?¨ I found it on the map and checked the distance, it was doable and mentioned I might bike there. From then on it was in everyone´s head so we made a family trip out of it. I would bike of course and then get picked up.
Lake Okoboji was way cooler than I ever imagined. Over 140 miles from my location it´s a very popular summer get-a-way area. It is really like 3 lakes and they go as deep as 134 feet which is odd to find in the region…most lakes were 12-20 feet deep more or less. After arriving by bike I jumped in the lake at the first beach I could find (Pikes Point SP). It was nice and warm, theee perfect way to end my ride.
We stayed near Arnold Park which is kind of in the middle of the lakes and offers a lot to do and plenty of entertainment options…even with covid..for instance the amusement park was open (which I thought was odd). I wished we could have stayed longer as there were bike trails and parks to discover everywhere!
Rock Rapids was my first stop on my bike ride. It is 85 miles from Madison, SD and from there another 55 miles to Lake Okoboji so I stayed the night. This tiny town I rather enjoyed even though it has only one motel and one decent restaurant (ha that was open at the oddest hours).
What I loved about this place was that I was the only tourist…ha..no not really, but I did like the train museum, the many wall paintings on buildings depicting it´s history, the park by the river, and the fact that it had a bike path even if short. Before arriving I was excited about the farmers market on Thursday that I could attend until I went and remembered I was in a small town in the Midwest and that means a few tables with fresh local stuff. (as compared to Seattle farmers markets which are big)
Tri-State Marker is only for those geology nerds…ha ha well maybe. To get here I missed the Iowa state line sign but in return I got to be in 3 states at once! The Iowa state sign is really nothing special…though I did have my parents take a photo of it for me when they crossed…ha. The marker used to actually be in the middle of the road but it was hit too many times and was moved to the side of the road lol so technically the round geological marker is out on the road…if you didn´t go stand there then you failed…um I failed but I guess I rode my bike along it so all is good.
Really the only way to the east by road is through Idaho from Seattle unless you go way out of your way so we definitely stopped here. I have been countless times but we made sure to keep it interesting through this state.
Sandpoint was definitely a great stop on the road trip, in fact, I liked it enough to wish I lived there! It is a very cute city on Lake Pend Orielle (Pond-oh-ray). It is in the Panhandle (as they call it – just look at the map and you´ll understand) of Idaho (Northern ID) and this was my first time really up in this section of the Panhandle and I absolutely loved it! There are plenty of other towns near here as well, ha there was even one called Ponderey, all connected nicely by some bike paths too!
By the way this lake is Idaho´s largest and it is the 5th deepest in the US at 1,158 feet….nothing compared to the max. 100 feet deep Midwest lakes! Also, if you noticed the name of the lake is kind of French (Pend d´Oreille) which means ¨hanging from the ear¨ in the language and actually comes from some French fur trappers who saw the Native Americans (Kalispel tribe) here with bone or shell hanging from their ears. This is a lake worth stopping for and you can do so at City Beach for a worthy swim, boat ride, hike along the water´s edge or a simple bench view. The water is magnificent with the mountain backdrop! I really wanted to take a dip and even go for a swim but I was in the middle of my run so I just slowed down to take in the view instead. This park reminded me of Alki in Seattle as here too they have a mini Statue of Liberty :D.
There are plenty of options for great food here (we only had time to eat at The Fat Pig -open late) and I really liked what they did to the old grain mill in town (check Matchwood Brewing Co. or Pie Hut coffee to feel the vibe!) Don´t miss all the creative art around the downtown core.
Another place I wish I had more time to explore in so many ways!
Coeur d´Alene is another don´t miss place to fall in love with. It is just an hour from Spokane, WA and it feels like a hip resort town on a beautiful lake. I´d been before for a triathlon (to watch). This trip we stopped in both directions so I made sure to get in some of the outdoor activities I´d missed last time…ha ha yes, so I swam and biked…I think I ran on my first visit so no worries lol.
This place even in covid era has a friendly hopping vibe that you can´t really miss. The place is beautiful and full of tons of coffee, bakery, bars, restaurants, breweries, etc. We tried Badger Brewing Co. and left with growlers each time and enjoyed plenty of bakeries. There is also plenty of shopping, some history museums and artsy stuff so put Coeur d´Alene on your list if you haven´t yet been!
US NATIONAL PARKS
As far as these go you can check the blog about the ones visited.
Click Here: 24 Hours in 4 US National Parks