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

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My mom turns 60 this year, and she really wants to see Mount Rushmore and everything else the western part of South Dakota has to offer. I will take a road trip pretty much anywhere, so when she suggested the idea, I pounced onto it!

We would have eight days total to do the trip, from early Saturday morning to late Saturday night (she wants to be home by Sunday to recover before work on Monday). Here is the rough breakdown of the driving plan:

* Saturday-half of Monday: Drive! Ideally, we'd drive 10 hours the first day, 10 the second, and 5-8 the third day (depending on which routes we take).
* half of Monday-Thursday: Spend looking at sites in and near the Black Hills
* Friday-Saturday: drive home (driving about 12 hours per day)
I need y'all's help with two things: routes and attractions.

* Routes: We'd like to do two different routes to and from SD. Ideally, the only overlaps would be in PA and MD (and maybe Ohio).  The way home would have to be the fastest route since we only have two days, which looks to be mostly via I-90.  The way there is a bit more flexible. I was looking at doing something that involves Nebraska and being able to drive on and near old Oregon Trail alignments (and being able to see Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff) and then heading north on US 385. Is it better to go through Iowa or Missouri to get to NE? What routes do you recommend/not recommend in the Midwest as far as scenic value, and what routes are must sees in the Black HIlls?
* Attractions: Obviously we're going to Mount Rushmore, but there's so much to see and do in the area that it's going to be hard to limit it down to three and a half days. Definites on the mom wish list include some sort of "wild west" town, whether Deadwood, 1880 town, or another one; the Wall drug store, Badlands National Park; at least one cave (Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, or both if they're doable). There's a night sky program at Badlands that my mom wants to do, but really, any good stargazing spot will work. We plan on getting a cabin, so we'd like some down time to relax there and cook hotdogs and stuff. Optional would be the Minuteman missile, Devil's Tower, Crazy Horse monument, any other awesome kitschy roadside Americana. We'd like some good, easy hiking spots. Some time in Rapid City perhaps. Mom would love to go to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, but I don't think we'll have the time to dedicate a whole day (unless you guys think it's better than everything in SD).
Thanks for the help!

Breezewood is on the way...

Ha, I was actually at the Little Bighorn Battlefield yesterday. It's sort of interesting, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it, especially that far out of the way. It's really just a field with a monument, and you'll see sort of similar terrain anyway.

I think Devil's Tower is really cool and absolutely worth seeing, but that's just me.

As far as Nebraska, I'd assume you're getting off in Ogallala and heading northwest on 26. I'd take 26 to 71 all the way into South Dakota, but 26 to 71 to 20 to 385 is neat too- Chadron is an all right little down, and the views on 20 east are quite nice. N-29 is a cool drive, but it does take a little longer and I'm not sure if it's worth detouring for.  I definitely think 71 is better than 385 from a scenery perspective from US 26 to US 20, and timewise it would take about the same if you're already going to Scott's Bluff.

If you have added time in Nebraska, I'd consider getting off in Grand Island and using N-2 to get to Alliance, then head south to Chimney Rock, over to Scottsbluff, and then back up. 2 goes through great Sand Hill territory- one of the more unique regions of the country. Moves pretty well too, 60-65 MPH speed limit with infrequent towns.

You probably want to stay on the Nebraska side heading up to SD- Wyoming is much less interesting in that area than Nebraska- not nearly as many of the cool bluffs.

Once you're up there, I think US 16A is a must-drive. If you're in a hurry, SD 79 is a four lane, divided highway almost all the way down to the Nebraska line now with a 70 MPH speed limit.

I'd do a loop though- there's no reason you wouldn't be able to get Crazy Horse in if you see Rushmore- they're really not that far away from each other.

I-90 back across SD is a pretty unique experience- it's probably a pretty boring drive, but they've made it fun through billboards.

Keep in mind that you lose two hours on the way back due to the time zone change from Mountain to Eastern, giving back the two hours you gain on the outbound trip.

Carhenge, near Alliance NE on US 385, is worth adding to your itinerary if you're going that way.  But I second corco's praise of N-71 as a scenic alternative between I-80 and Scottsbluff.

You'll see a lot of coal trains along US 26 in western Nebraska.  N-2 also has lots of coal trains, aggravating the people in the few towns along the way who hear trains roll through every few minutes in peak periods.


--- Quote from: 1 on April 13, 2014, 04:01:03 PM ---Breezewood is on the way...

--- End quote ---

Unless you bypass it via I-79 and I-68.  The new I-70/I-79 interchange helps doing that route westbound.  But if you're taking the Ohio Turnpike through Ohio, I'd put up with Breezewood to get on the PA Turnpike that much sooner.

I like the Ohio Turnpike, but despise the Indiana Toll Road for its under-maintained and expensive service areas.  Taking I-70 and I-74 through Ohio and Indiana would be my preference, plus you save on the tolls.

As far as going through IA or MO to get to Nebraska, both are about equally boring, so I suggest just going with the faster route.  I-80 through Iowa passes near the famous covered bridges of Madison County.  Omaha is my favorite place to splurge on a steak dinner, if you get there in the afternoon or evening.  I-80 through Nebraska is very boring until you step off the Interstate in Oglalla, but at least it's really fast (75 mph speed limit west of Lincoln, which also is the limit on most of I-90 in South Dakota).


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