Cross Country Road Trip, Des Moines to Spokane

Des Moines to Spokane: A Cross-Country Road Trip

2,000 miles, 16 days, 7 states, 5 national parks, a few travel fails, some unbelievable surprises, and ultimately one of the best trips ever. 

historic restaurant with dollar bills and cowboy hats hanging on the wall

3 Random Facts You Probably Didn't Know

Sioux Falls

Statue of David

Why go all the way to Florence when Sioux Falls has it's very own?

Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Hwy

One of the most scenic drives in the country is on the WY-MT border

Garden of A Thousand Buddhas

1,000 Buddhas

Arlee, MT is home to The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas


The Highlights


Of all the trips we’ve taken, this one still gets mentioned as one of our favorites.  Maybe it was because it was our first 2+ week trip, maybe it’s because we had no expectations back then, maybe it’s because it somehow got better every single day.  There were a ton of surprises (like stumbling on Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park SD).  And it definitely taught us a lot about planning. We’ve visited almost all of the US National Parks, and Glacier NP is still holds a special place in our hearts. But besides that obvious highlight, going off the beaten path and exploring places like Sioux Falls and Des Moines made the trip even more memorable.  

Mt Rushmore

National Park Highlights

badlands np


This rocky, rugged terrain will make you feel like you're on another (very hot) planet.

glacier national park


The beauty of GNP is unmatched. Especially if you go while the wildflowers are blooming.

Teddy Roosevelt National Park

Teddy Roosevelt

Bison and wild horses run free (on and off the roads) in this hidden gem of a national park

The Itinerary

DAY 1:(July 14, 2017)

DAY 2:

  • DSM Downtown Farmers’ Market
  • Drive DSM to Omaha (2 hrs)
  • Quick stop in Stewart to see the First National Bank, site of Bonnie & Clyde robbery in 1934
  • Other possible stops:
    • The Freedom Rock, Menlo IA, First Train Robbery Monument, Adair IA, Tree in the middle of the road, Brayton IA
  • Food/drinks at Upstream Brewing Co.
  • Live out our 80’s childhood dreams at Beercade
  • Go to Heartland of America Park. Walk the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge: you can stand in Iowa & Nebraska at the same time
  • Cocktails at Wilson & Washburn
  • Stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites Omaha-Downtown

DAY 3:

DAY 4:

DAY 5:

  • Drive Rapid City to Badlands NP (1 hr)
  • Hike in Badlands – *Minimal shade, intense temps. Go early have sun protection and LOTS OF WATER
    • Trails to try: Saddle pass, Fossil Exhibit, Castle Trail to Medicine Root Loop
  • Hike around Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. A hidden gem. Then grab drinks at the lodge.  
  • Drive through Lead & Deadwood
  • Stay at the Celebrity Hotel and Casino

DAY 6: 

  • Morning walk around Deadwood – Grab coffee at Lee Street Station Cafe or Pump House
  • Drive from Deadwood to TRNP (4 hrs)
  • Stop to see the mines at Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center
  • Stop in Spearfish for lunch
  • Dinner at The Farmhouse Cafe
  • Easy evening hike in Teddy Roosevelt National Park
    • Coal Vein Trail (bison surrounded our car and we were stuck for almost an hour)
  • Stay 2 nights at the TownePlace Suites Dickinson

DAY 7: 

  • Stop at Visitor Centers & hike more in TRNP
    • Painted Canyon Nature Trail, Wind Canyon
  • Explore Medora
  • Food/drinks at the Rough Riders Hotel and Little Missouri Saloon
  • Watch sunset from Boicourt Overlook

DAY 8:

  • Drive Dickinson to Billings (4.5 hrs)
  • Hike around Zimmerman Park
  • Dinner at Montana Sky
  • Stay at the Home2 Suites by Hilton Billings
  • (This is about when we realized every person we talked to in Billings told us to go to Red Lodge instead)

DAY 9: 

  • Scrap 2nd night in Billings and drive to Yellowstone (3.5 hrs)
  • Stop for coffee and quick walk around Red Lodge
  • Drive on (imo) the most epic road in N. America – The Beartooth Highway
  • Stop for a quick hike at Lake Fork Trailhead in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness
  • Stay at Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone




  • Hike the “M” Trail
  • Tube the Clark Fork River!
    • (We bought tubes at Montana Ace, took an Uber to a drop off point, and floated back to our hotel which was conveniently right on the river)
  • Drive Missoula to Whitefish (2.5 hrs)
  • Stop at Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
  • Explore Bigfork
  • Eat/drink at one of the best breweries ever: Flathead Lake
  • Stay 3 nights at the Grouse Mountain Lodge





  • Hike Pitamaken-Dawson Pass Trail (18 miles of epic-ness: one of our most favorite of all time)



  • FLY Spokane – Phoenix – TPA


Where should we start this trip?  We chose Des Moines because it was a cheap, direct flight and we’d never been there. You’ll want to look at both flight options and rental car prices if you don’t plan on driving your own vehicle.

What time of year would be best for this itinerary?  Places like the Badlands and Omaha are best visited in the Spring or Fall.  But if your goal is to end up in Glacier National Park, you’ll want to consider going mid to late summer. Going-to-the-Sun Road is typically open June to September, but dates fluctuate depending on snowfall each year.  

How much time do I need to do all of this?  Our total itinerary was 18 days. If we did it over again, we would skip Billings, add extra time in Red Lodge or Yellowstone. Spend more time in Idaho, and fly out of somewhere (anywhere) other than Spokane. 

What do I need to know about stopping in National Parks?  It’s really important that you keep up with the latest news and information from the parks. You can follow them on social media, go to each park’s direct website, or download the NPS App. You’ll want to know about things like recent fires in the area, road closures, or timed entry requirements. For example, Glacier National Park recently started requiring a reservation to enter the park between 6am and 4pm. Not all parks have an entrance fee, but if you plan to visit more than 1 in a year it usually makes sense to purchase an annual pass. Another fun fact? There is actually a supervolcano underneath Yellowstone National Park.

What about temperatures and packing?  You’ll need to be savvy about packing. Temps in the Badlands can reach 100° but you may still see snow on the ground in MT. 

Did you know?

Theodore Roosevelt is known for organizing the Rough Riders, but according he is also credited with spearheading our country's conservation efforts by establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.

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