Ultimate 7 Day Midwest Road Trip

Taking My First Road Trip

This past March, Nic and I took a road trip. Starting from the Twin Cities, we visited Rapid City, South Dakota, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Kansas City, Kansas, and Des Moines, Iowa.

Growing up in New York, I rarely took long road trips. Most large cities are a few hours away, like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Boston. Beyond that, we would typically fly or take a train. Although, there was a time we drove nine hours to Quebec, Canada from Long Island. So to say I’m a novice road tripper, would be accurate.

Early one Saturday morning, we loaded up the car with plenty of books, snacks, and podcasts and hit the road!

rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do

Rapid City, South Dakota

The drive from the Twin Cities to Rapid City is about eight hours. The change in scenery from suburbs to cornfields, to rocky and hilly terrain, was so interesting. This was my first time in South Dakota and the Black Hills are so unique. We drove past many farms with well over 300 cows.

As a born and raised New Yorker, this was stunning to me and I pointed at them and gasped “look at all the cows” with wide eyes each time we drove past them, while my husband quietly nodded.

The only stop we planned to make during this leg of the trip was at Badlands National Park. When we were about 20 minutes away, a snowstorm rolled in making visibility very poor. Sadly, because of this, entering the park when we couldn’t see more than 50 feet in front of us would have been pointless, so we drove straight to Rapid City.

Find Cultural History at Hotel Alex Johnson

For our one night in Rapid City, we stayed at Hotel Alex Johnson, which is located in the heart of town. We used our Hilton points for this reservation, so it didn’t cost us a penny!

Construction on the hotel first began in 1927, just one day before construction started on Mount Rushmore. And after a quick nine months, the hotel opened its doors. With stunning handcrafted decor, this hotel combines Germanic Tudor architecture with Native American inspiration, which represents the heavy German immigration to the Dakotas. Look carefully and you’ll see Native American symbols and art throughout the hotel.

The rooms were bright and beautiful, and there is an incredible rooftop patio with about ten fire pits with a 180-degree view of Rapid City. After settling into our room, we headed back out trying to make the most of our one night in Rapid City.

rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do

Can You Find All The Sculptures Around Town?

One of the most striking parts of Rapid City is the art that sits on just about every corner. The 40+ sculptures honor American patriotism, heroism, and the history of the region. From US presidents to Native Americans these statues honors those who made significant contributions to our country. For a full map of each sculpture’s location, check out this website.

We also passed an alleyway covered in graffiti, which makes for a great photo opportunity. It’s on the Northside of Hotel Alex Johnson, so it’s easy to spot.

Lastly, we walked around Memorial Park, which is two blocks from Hotel Alex Johnson. In this park, you’ll find a large piece of the Berlin Wall, a pond, a fountain, and several more sculptures!

rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do
rapid city things to do

Grab Drinks at Firehouse Brewing

The brewery is housed in the original Rapid City firehouse, which was built in 1915. The brewery opened in 1991 and is decorated with authentic South Dakota firefighting memorabilia from the days of Rapid City’s first fire brigade including the original fire pole, ladders, and patches.

The inside was fairly packed, but somehow we got lucky and ended up having the entire patio to ourselves. There are several large fire pits and a stunning mural of a fireman reaching down pulling someone to safety. It’s also covered, so we were not getting snowed on.

Fun fact: Along your drive to Rapid City, you’ll see more than a dozen authentic, vintage fire trucks over the course of several hours along Interstate 90. Each one is placed alongside a billboard advertising the brewery!

Visit Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to see Mount Rushmore. Finally, after all these years I was able to see this incredible sculpture. Built under the direction of Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln, Mount Rushmore took 14 years and was finally completed in October 1941. Borglum passed away in March 1941, a few months before Mount Rushmore was fully completed.

The four presidents were chosen for their invaluable contributions to our country. It represents not only our history but a promise for the future. Washington represents the founding of our country, Roosevelt represents preservation, Lincoln represents unification and Jefferson represents expansion.

It costs $10 per vehicle and is a short walk from the parking lot. My husband told me when he visited as a kid during the summer, the park was heavily crowded with other people. For us, however, we only saw a few other people and pretty much had the place to ourselves! The lack of crowds is one of my favorite things about traveling during the off-peak season.

We also saw the sculpture, Crazy Horse. Pro tip: it’s far from completion yet it costs $12 per person, $30 per vehicle, or $125 to climb to the top. You can, however, see it easily from the road for free! We got a great look at Crazy Horse as we left South Dakota and began our drive to Steamboat Springs.

road trip
steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

We were so lucky to have a connection to an incredible Airbnb in Steamboat Springs. A friend of a friend owns the house, and we were able to stay for free. We are so grateful because this house was not only gorgeous with incredible amenities, but it was a short 5-minute drive to the mountain.

There are four bedrooms and four bathrooms. The kitchen and dining room are massive and the house could easily fit 10 adults, potentially more. There is also an outdoor hot tub, which we promptly jumped into after skiing and snowboarding each day.

If you have a large group and are looking for a beautiful, clean house close to the mountain, I highly recommend you stay here!

steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do

The Steamboat Skiing Experience

I grew up skiing and snowboarding in Vermont, so I am a bit spoiled. While Minnesota and Wisconsin have decent mountains, going to Colorado and Utah is definitely a special treat. From sunny days to fresh powder, it’s hard to find better conditions.

Because of COVID, there were some restrictions, which ended up being nice perks. For example, you have to purchase your lift ticket in advance because there is a limit on how many people can visit each day. Because of that, there are very short chairlift and gondola lines. We never waited more than a minute or two to get on the chairlifts. They also don’t have strangers ride together. The food court was moved outside, so you could easily grab chili, mac, and cheese, tacos, or beer from an outside tent without ever having to go inside and walk around a crowded cafeteria.

steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do
steamboat springs things to do

Plenty of Food and Drink Options

Steamboat Springs has an adorable downtown area with a ton of stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and breweries. 

I highly recommend pizza from Beau Jo’s. The crust is fluffy dough and instead of leaving your crust to be tossed away, you are provided with honey to dip the crust into for dessert! It was so creative and delicious. I’ve never seen that anywhere else.

Another day, we had Mexican food from Salt and Lime. They used fresh ingredients, like tomato and avocado. I had a pulled pork quesadilla with guacamole, and it was so satisfying. After burning a ton of calories snowboarding, these huge meals hit the spot.

We were also able to check out Mountain Tap Brewery. They have both indoor and outdoor seating. They also have gondolas, which you can see in my photo above! You can reserve a gondola for a private dining experience. I’ve seen a lot of heated bubbles and tents, but I think the gondolas are the most creative outdoor heated space idea yet!

Kansas City things to do

Kansas City, Kansas

The toughest day for us was when we left Steamboat Springs at 6:30 am and drove for 11 hours to Kansas City. We hit a bad snowstorm in Denver while winding through narrow and steep roads. Our little car almost got stuck, but somehow we safely maneuvered past all the other cars that skidded off the road and arrived in Kansas City later that night.

Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do

Stay at a Hilton for Free

Because we used our Hilton points, this hotel was totally free! It has huge rooms with a king-sized bed, a couch and TV area, two desks, a large bathroom, and a small kitchen with a fridge, dishwasher, and microwave.

The hotel offers free breakfast with waffles, yogurt, fruit, coffee, cereal, and more. Plus there are snacks and drinks for purchase available 24/7. There is also an outdoor patio decorated with string lights, and a fire pit.

Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do

Visiting the World War One Museum is a Must

If you only have time for one thing in Kansas City, it should be the World War One Museum. It’s incredibly organized and thorough. We spent more than two hours there and could have easily spent another hour or two.

It was jam-packed with everyday items from 100 years ago including cameras, flashlights, money, clothing, and pictures. There were also many items from the war, such as hospital beds, hand grenades, gas masks, and even a plane! There are also a lot of signs, plaques, and a short film all loaded with information about the war. It is truly remarkable how many items have been found and preserved in this museum.

Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do

Enjoy Free Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum

We loved checking out this museum! It reminded me so much of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Both museums are huge and free, and both have Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and pieces by so many other incredible artists.

I also really enjoyed the sculptures out on the lawn. The artist envisioned the museum as the bad mitten net, and there are three oversized bad mitten birdies scattered around the front lawn and one in the back as if they just landed randomly, which you can see in my photo above. So creative!

This museum is totally free, and there is an opportunity to donate when you walk in.

Kansas City things to do

Escape the Crowds at Riverfront Park

Take a short drive over to Riverfront Park, enjoy the view of the downtown skyline, watch the river go by, and walk around the grounds. It’s a small park a bit on the outskirts of town, so if you want a quiet moment away from the crowds, this is the spot for you.

Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do
Kansas City things to do

Drink Beer and Eat Barbecue

Kansas City has an awesome food and brewery scene. Known for their barbecue, you’ll definitely need to eat some while there. Since we didn’t have much time, we were only able to check out Rosedale Bar-B-Q, which was great! We had pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, and jalapeno poppers.

Some other highly recommended spots include Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Hawg Jaw Que & Brew, and Jones Bar-B-Que, which is run by two awesome sisters who were featured on an episode of Queer Eye.

You’ll also definitely want to visit a few of the breweries.  Strange Days has the incredible mural in my photo above, so stop there for a photo! We also visited Boulevard Brewing, which is one of my husband’s favorites. We tried a variety of their beers and had an incredible meat and cheese platter.

Lastly, we visited Flying Horse Tap Room. Sit outside on their patio and be sure to get an order of their cheese curds.

des moines things to do
road trip
road trip

Check Out the Murals and Sculptures

The final stop in our road trip was Des Moines. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours and didn’t stay overnight. While we were there, however, I was most struck by the art around town. There are a number of bright and beautiful murals and a huge sculpture park. We also drove past the state capital building which had a large gold dome glistening in the sun. You can also walk around Grays Lake, which is in the heart of town. Des Moines is only three hours away from Minneapolis, so we can easily return for more exploring!

des moines things to do
des moines things to do
des moines things to do
des moines things to do
des moines things to do

Relax at Exile Brewing

We stopped for lunch at Exile Brewing, which was recommended by my friend who grew up in Des Moines. Located in the heart of town one block over from the sculpture park, this brewery has a large outdoor patio and an even bigger indoor space. We had a giant soft pretzel with cheese as an appetizer, chicken sandwiches, and of course beer! There is an awesome “Cheers from Des Moines” mural on the west side of this building, so be sure to grab a picture of it while there.

road trip

Road Trips Help Us Disconnect

The entire road trip was seven days and it was awesome to visit so many new places. My husband and I haven’t taken a full week off from work in over two years, so it was a much-needed break. We also loved spending so much time with our friends while in Steamboat.

While I have determined road trips aren’t exactly my preferred way of traveling, it did bring a lot of adventure and it’s a very inexpensive way to travel! We also used Hilton points for the Rapid City and Kansas City hotels and were lucky to have a connection to the Steamboat Airbnb, making this trip extremely inexpensive.

This trip was full of art, museums, breweries, and time spent outside. It was a refreshing change of scenery for Nic and me.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out my post on Bayfield, Wisconsin, and the Apostle Islands.

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