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.
3 Random Facts You Probably Didn't Know
Statue of David
Why go all the way to Florence when Sioux Falls has it's very own?
One of the most scenic drives in the country is on the WY-MT border
Arlee, MT is home to The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
PRAIRIES, PRESIDENTS, AND MOUNTAIN PEAKS
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.
National Park Highlights
This rocky, rugged terrain will make you feel like you're on another (very hot) planet.
The beauty of GNP is unmatched. Especially if you go while the wildflowers are blooming.
Bison and wild horses run free (on and off the roads) in this hidden gem of a national park
DAY 1:(July 14, 2017)
- Fly in to DSM
- Explore downtown
- Food/Drinks at Iowa Taproom and The Republic on Grand
- Stay at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Des Moines Downtown
- 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
- Attempt to bike around Omaha – only last an hour b/c no one wants to die of heat exhaustion
- Drive Omaha to Sioux Falls (3 hrs)
- Epic fail at Loess Hills Lavender Farm (It was harvested the day before we arrived)
- Explore Sioux Falls Downtown
- Food/Drinks at JL Beers
- Stay at the Home2 Suites by Hilton Sioux Falls/Sanford Medical Center
- Explore Sioux Falls
- Falls Park and Fawick Park – don’t miss the Statue of David!
- Drive Sioux Falls to Rapid City (5 hrs)
- Stop at Wall Drug per recommendations, wish we hadn’t
- Visit Mt. Rushmore, there is a little trail for those wanting extra steps to break up the time the car
- Don’t miss Rapid City’s Art Alley
- Food/drinks at Murphy’s Pub
- Stay at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Rapid City
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- Explore Yellowstone NP
- The popular spots: Grand View, Lookout Point, Brink of Lower/Upper Falls, Mammoth Hot Springs
- Hike Mt. Washburn via Dunraven Pass
- Drive to Bozeman (2.5 hrs)
- Food/drinks at Montana Ale Works and Rocking R Bar
- Stay at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Bozeman
- Drive Bozeman to Missoula (3.5 hrs)
- Food/drinks at Tamarack Brewing Company
- Drinks at Western Cider
- Stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Missoula – Edgewater
- 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 in Glacier National Park
- Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Hike Highline Trail
- Dinner Lake Macdonald Lodge
- Hike Iceberg Trail (risk hypothermia jumping in lake at end)
- Lunch at Many Glacier Hotel
- Drive through to east end of GNP
- Stay 2 nights at St Mary Lodge
- Hike Pitamaken-Dawson Pass Trail (18 miles of epic-ness: one of our most favorite of all time)
- Breakfast at Split Rock
- Drive GNP to Spokane (6.5 hrs)
- Stop in Coeur d’Alene, realize it’s amazing, have lunch at Dockside
- Dinner at The Gilded Unicorn in Spokane (*in 2017 we did NOT feel safe walking around the area at night)
- Stay at Hampton Inn Spokane
- 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.