budget friendly midwest road trip

Budget Friendly Midwest Road Trip: The Best Places To Visit

Let’s face it, all of us need to get away every once in a while. However, getting on a plane can really break the bank, especially when you’re traveling with a family. Tack on hotels and car rentals and your vacation starts to become a whole lot less relaxing! 

It is for this reason that many people will opt for a road trip instead. A road trip cuts down on the expense of flying and renting a car once you get to your destination. If you have an RV, it can even cut down on hotel stays. 

If you are looking for a budget friendly way to get out of town this year, here are some destinations in the Midwest that make for a terrific road trip.

Black Hills South Dakota 

Black Hills South Dakota is a great road trip destination. While you could easily spend a month there, one or two weeks will give you plenty of time to explore. 

Badlands National Park is a must see first stop. Check out the geologic deposits that contain some of the world’s richest fossil beds in the land where ancient horses and rhinos once roamed. Then head over to Wind Cave National Park to enjoy more of what nature has to offer. The park can be easily accessed from Hot Springs which is a great destination for hiking and cave tours. 

Keystone is another stop worth making. It’s a great base for exploring Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park. While in the area, be sure to drive scenic routes like Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway and Custer Wildlife Loop Road.

Chicago to St. Louis

Chicago and St. Louis are both terrific cities and the drive between the two can be just as exciting as the destinations. 

Start off with a few days in Chicago making sure to check out the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum. Take advantage of photo opps at ‘The Bean’ sculpture in Millennium Park. If you’re feeling brave you can also go for ‘The Edge’ experience at the Skydeck or the ‘Tilt’ experience at John Hancock Building. 

Next hop on historic route 66 to start driving south. Be sure to stop off in Springfield, Ill for a free tour of the capitol building. You can also visit Abraham Lincoln’s grave at the Oak Ridge Cemetery and go exploring at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. 

Finish the trip off with a couple of days in St. Louis. While you are in town, you can ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch at Gateway Arch National Park and check out the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was made. Make sure to try to the city’s delicious barbecue before heading out. 

Indianapolis, IN to Boyne City, MI

Here’s the plan…you start off in Lansing, MI where you spend the day enjoying the sensory experiences of the Impression 5 Science Center. It’s a favorite for kids. 

After a day at the museum, drive north to spend the night at Boyne Mountain. Spend the next day exploring, ziplining or swimming. If it’s winter, skiing or tubing will be terrific activities to enjoy. 

Once you are done there, head over to Petoskey, MI for a Kilwins factory tour. This chocolate kitchen offers free tours every half hour Monday to Friday from 10 AM to 4:30 and each tour ends with a decadent chocolate treat. 

Once in Indianapolis, you will find no shortage of things to do. There are countless museums to explore or you may want to walk along the Central Canal. The Indianapolis Zoo is a must see stop for animal lovers. 

Central Iowa

Traveling along the I-80 will take you right through the high points of Central Iowa. Winterset is a great first stop as it has six of the original 19 bridges of Madison County preserved just outside of town. It’s also the birthplace of John Wayne and the home of the John Wayne Museum

From there, you can continue to the artsy city of Des Moines. It is full of street art and it also has a sculpture park that is open to the public as well as a botanical garden. Be sure to stop off at the Capitol Building for a self-guided tour. 

Grinnell is another Central Iowa stop worth making. Grinnell College has a small but lovely art museum on campus. It is also home to one of eight of the ‘jewel-box’ banks created by legendary architect Louis Sullivan. The bank is quite a sight as it features large stained-glass windows and pink Tennessee marble floors. 

St. Louis to Kansas City

A stop in St. Louis will confirm that this city lives up to its reputation. Start by exploring the City Museum, an adult playground/ art installation that features interactive salvaged architectural objects.

Forest Park is one of the country’s largest parks with plenty of nature and world-class museums all free to enter. 

The Missouri Botanical Gardens is ranked as the best in the nation. It is another St. Louis gem you will not want to miss. 

St. Louis also has a vibrant nightlife. Be sure to visit its many restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges. 

After departing St. Louis, drive west to Herman, a town known for its wineries, breweries and green landscapes. For $20 you can ride the Hermann Trolley all day to visit these destinations and try their craft beverages. 

Your next stop, Kansas City, is famous for its jazz scene. Start the day by visiting the American Jazz Museum. Then take in the nightlife making sure to stop in at the Green Lady Lounge. 

Milwaukee to Wisconsin Dells

Milwaukee makes a great starting destination on this road trip. Spend a couple of days there to take in all the city has to offer. Recommended sites include the Harley Davidson Museum and the historic Third Ward. 

As you head towards the Wisconsin Dells you will make your way along the Michigan River. The scenic drive will include a ride through Port Washington and Green Bay. These are both towns worth exploring. While in Green Bay, stop by Heritage Hill State Park. Depending on the time of year, you might even be able to catch a Green Bay Packers game. 

Your final destination will be Wisconsin Dells which is famous for its waterparks. There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking and shopping. The city’s romantic cabins make for ideal lodging. 

Southern Minnesota

Austin, MN is a great destination for foodies. Stop off there to get a taste of their top-rated Mexican dishes, BBQ sauces and more. You can also take food challenges at the Tendermaid and visit the one and only SPAM Museum. 

Home to five lakes and 29 parks, Fairmount, MN is a great city for recreation, dining arts and nature. Be sure to make this the next stop on your trip. 

Then head over the New Ulm, the most German city in America. There you can climb to the top of the 102’ Herman the German monument, tour Schell’s Brewery, hear the bells chime at Glockenspeil, explore the murals in the rathskeller at Turner Hall and do plenty of shopping and sightseeing. 

There’s a whole world and there and the only thing you need to get out and see it is your car and a tank of gas. Which of these Midwestern cities will you be visiting this year?