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Help me plan a trip from Baltimore to South Dakota and back!

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I have not personally been there but another kitschy thing is the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD which is on I-90...

You can get a feel for the Badlands NP if you get off on the eastern side and go a few miles in, which is where the visitor center is and at least one short, easy interpretive hike that demonstrates what the place is/was like.  We drove the whole SD 240 (old US 16A) loop eastbound in 2000 and it seemed to take forever, although the view is more interesting than I-90 through here...

We ate at a really good steak place in 2010 in Kearney NE called Skeeter Barnes, located just south of I-80 on NE 44 (exit 272)...


J N Winkler:
Wall Drug is another interesting brief stop on I-90.  If you are planning to go this summer, you will have to decide whether you want your trip to coincide with rally week at Sturgis.  Personally, I think it's worth doing at least once (lots of good people- and bike-watching even for four-wheelers), but dealing with literally thousands of motorcycles does add to driver task load.

I'd also endorse most of Corco's suggestions for the NE-WY-SD tristate area (I can't speak to Crazy Horse from experience, and have only driven through Wind Cave), but you will definitely have to pick and choose.  Chadron has a good museum dedicated to the fur trade, and the Badlands are especially striking in the west at sunset.  Fort Robinson (where Crazy Horse was shot under suspicious circumstances) is worth a stop, and the portion of US 20 immediately to the west has chalk bluffs and two of Wyoming's extremely low-population towns (Van Tassell and Lost Springs).

If you are looking into maximizing sightseeing opportunity with a loop tour, I'd suggest routing via (NE) Omaha-Grand Island-Alliance-Bayard-Scottsbluff-Fort Robinson-Chadron (SD) Hot Springs-Custer-Mt. Rushmore-Rapid City-Wall-(Badlands NP loop)-Mitchell, with side trips to Wyoming for Devil's Tower etc. held in reserve in case you decide to go during rally week and get more than you bargained for on the narrow roads through Custer State Park, or find the resort atmosphere a little overwhelming.  (Custer SP, for example, has literally dozens of white-on-brown signs with the names of various movies that have been filmed there on location.)

Nebraska SR 2 is the main route through the Sand Hills, but if you are a fan of Old Jules, there are some sites dedicated to Mari Sandoz which are just off SR 27 in the Sand Hills proper.  SR 2 has the railroad beside it and runs largely through cultivated bottomland, so as you go westward it is actually pretty isolated from the pure Sand Hills vibe until about a hundred miles east of Alliance.

I actually think it would be a struggle just to get out to Devil's Tower in Wyoming, so I wouldn't recommend a detour to the Little Bighorn battlefield, though it is worth a visit.  The Pine Ridge reservation is an eye-opener, but not really on your route unless you skip the Corn Palace, draw the loop tight, and go back home via US 20 in Nebraska rather than I-90 in South Dakota.  (US 20 is a good choice since it has a speed limit of 65, which is fairly unusual for two-lanes in eastern Nebraska, and there is an interesting deck truss bridge near Valentine.)

Not sure how far out of the way you want to go or how much new territory you might want to cover, but my dad, brother and I took a long vacation out west back in the early 1990s. We had overnighted somewhere near the Badlands on our return trip home. Our route home was I-90 to I-29 (with a short diversion into Nebraska to say we'd been there; this was long before I was into county collecting but it remains my only foray into that state) to I-680 to I-80 to I-74. We started looking for a room for the night somewhere in eastern Illinois but everything was filled up, so my dad (who was driving at the time) stubbornly pressed on before finally pulling into the Kentucky welcome center on I-75 for a nap. After some sleep, we drove the three hours on home and were here around 10 a.m., I think.

The point of all that is that if you are interested in clinching highways or visiting new counties, you might want to dip down into Kentucky. Don't remember how you came to Ashland, but you could always do I-70 to I-68 to I-79 to I-64. You could save some time by taking the AA Highway across northern/northeastern Kentucky, and then that would put you in a position to clinch all of "real" I-74 from Cincinnati to the Quad Cities. Or if you didn't want to come that far south take US 50/OH 32 (Corridor D) west from Clarksburg. I think you could conceivably make Indianapolis on the first day, and my experience tells me that you'd be in the target area by the second day.

A warning, though -- you might find Corridor D and the first 75 miles of I-74 to be interesting, but I don't think much of the rest of the route would hold much interest. I've done 74 between Cincy and Indy several times and that route is so old that I'm tempted to use I-65 through Louisville the next time I am traveling to or through Indy, and I am not a fan of that routing. I don't remember I-74 west of Indy but the terrain was not very interesting, based on what I can recall from daylight travel in Illinois and subsequent brief ventures on the route. And I-80 through Iowa just seemed long.

Even if you don't want to do all that, avoiding Chicago might be worthwhile. A cousin of mine who bird hunts in Wisconsin a few times a year uses I-74 out of Indy and I-39 for just that purpose.

I would exercise caution going by Chicago.  If you take I-80 through the area, it's not too bad, but rush hour on the Borman Expressway (I-80/94) in Indiana can be a bit crazier than usual.  Also, the ramp for I-80 west from the Indiana Toll Road is currently closed.  You would have to exit at I-65 south and get back to I-80 west.

I-80 isn't bad through the state, and the cheapest gas between Indiana and Iowa is usually at the Ottawa, Utica, or LaSalle-Peru exits.  On I-80, you go past the AASHO Test Loop between Exits 81 and 90 (a stop on the tour for the Starved Rock Meet on 5/17).

As HB said, I-74 through Illinois is a viable option.  However, around the Quad Cities, you have two ways to go.  I'd avoid I-74 through the Quads unless you have a desire to see the I-74 Bridges.  Otherwise, if you use I-280, you have a seamless transition onto I-80 in Iowa.  If you use I-80, you go past the rest area in Iowa.

I-74 isn't too bad, but you do have a choice of going through Peoria (I-74) or around (I-474).  I prefer through as the route is more interesting.

Another option for going through Iowa is taking I-380 up to US-20 or following the Avenue of the Saints to I-35 and I-90.  My only word of caution for this one is to watch your speed through Cedar Rapids.  They do use speed cameras on the downtown stretch.  Had a coworker get nabbed by them once, but they do warn you with signage.

Another option includes taking I-90 through Wisconsin and northern Illinois.  I-90 is under construction right now between Rockford and O'Hare.  if you take that route, you can use the following to get between there and NW Indiana: I-90 straight through by the Loop and Circle Interchange (slow by the Loop and costly on the Skyway); I-80 to I-294 to O'Hare (not bad, three oases along the way); or I-80 out to I-355 to I-290 (a bit less traffic, and you get to see the I-88/I-355 interchange).

It may be interesting to take one route there (I-74) and an entirely different route back (I-80 or I-90).

As noted above, if you get near Omaha, and like steak, it is worth a stop.

Good places to try would be:


Piccolo Pete's

Venice Inn (if they are still open)



and you never know, if you stop at Gorat's, you might see Bill Gates and Warren Buffet at the next table.


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