Considering driving from St. Louis to Mt. Rushmore. What to see?

Next year, around Memorial Day, I might be driving from St. Louis to Mt. Rushmore or thereabouts. I want to stay on as many two-lane roads as I can, and kind of follow the Missouri River up to about the Nebraska-South Dakota line, then head west, eventually going through the Badlands and to Rapid City.

There’s no real purpose for this. I just like solitary trips and like driving through rural areas. I’ve always wanted to see the Great Plains. I’ll probably try to get my hands on a convertible so I can get good and sunburned on the trip.

Other than rural desolation, what should I take time out to see? If there’s nothing but corn and cows along the way, that’s fine, but if there’s something I should make sure to take a look at, let me know. I’d be interested in anything related to history, westward expansion, wagon trails, Lewis and Clark, ghost towns, etc.

I hope see as little of the interstate as possible. If there’s some can’t-miss site that I have to get on the interstate to see, I might make an exception. There’s a Minuteman missile silo museum not too far from Rapid City. I’ll probably try to see that on the way back. It’s right on I90, so I will probably leave Rapid City in I90, going far enough to go by there, then get back on side roads.

I’d kind of like to see Chimney Rock on the way there, but it looks like it would add a good day to the drive. I might still do it, though. I’m hoping to keep the trip to five days.


You could check out the Center of the Nation monument in Belle Fourche. I wouldn’t call it a “don’t miss” sort of thing, but I grew up there… so I might be a bit jaded.

Take a scenic trip through Spearfish Canyon, check out Deadwood… if you are headed east of out Rapid City on I-90, make sure you stop by Wall Drug, it’s the kitschy thing to do. If you do head west to Belle Fourche, you are only a short trip away from Devil’s Tower if you haven’t seen it in person.

ETA: There are several remnant ghost towns in the Black Hills from the gold rush days… I would check the internet (Wikipedia has a list) to make sure there is anything at all to see. If you make it to Deadwood, check out the Adams House Museum. And of course, not “historic”, but the Badlands east of Wall are also pretty cool to check out.

On the way home, stop by Carhenge.

National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Home in De Smet, SD

I think Fort Laramie still has some buildings.

Scott’s Bluff and Chimney Rock as you said.

Deadwood is in the Black Hills and follows that general theme.

I’ll ponder it some more. Fort Union up in North Dakota is a worthy place if you’re in the area and like the Westward expansion motif. I don’t know that it’s worth the six or seven hours from the Black Hills though.

Carhenge. It’s right on your way if you’re going via Chimney Rock. Fort Robinson (where Crazy Horse was killed) is also on that route. The Fort is a great facility in so many ways – highly recommended. Carhenge is more of a goof, but it’s quick and a good photo opportunity.

If you’re not going via Chimney Rock and are into paleontology at all, Ashfall Fossil Beds will take your breath away. There is literally nothing like it in the world.

The Great Platte River Road Archway might be up your alley if you decide to cut across Nebraska. If you’re already a scholar of westward expansion, it will not offer much, but if you’re still a beginner, it is a fine primer to the westward trails and beyond.

Fort Atkinson is worth a visit if you take the route described above, especially if you hit a living history day.

If you’re passing through St. Joseph, MO, check out the Glore Psychiatric Museum.

Further up-river in Council Bluffs, IA, the Squirrel Cage Jail is worth a visit.

In the Mount Rushmore area (i.e., the Black Hills), Custer State Park is amazing, lots of wildlife and some interesting rock formations, such as the Needles. I’m a big fan of the Black Hills Reptile Gardens.

Did that trip several years ago…
Very enjoyable drive. I like history, so Council Bluffs was pretty cool as was the Bad Lands, Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore.
Less historical and more on the touristy side of things, Wall Drug and The 1880 Train was pretty neat.
If I get back that way again, I’d like to go to the Minute Man Missile Historic Site.

You got to see WalDrug.

If you go to Devil’s tower, sleep the night in a tipi HERE.
You might try driving thru the badlands.
Columbus Nebraska is the childhood home of Johnny Carson and has a monument to the Higgins boat.
Pioneer auto museum is good but dont waste your time on some of the other South Dakota roadside attractions.
Book thru airbnb.
Warning. In the Black Hills it gets cold at night even in the summer.

Columbus does indeed have the monument referenced above, and I would recommend it - very well done. The Carson home (and a substantial exhibit on his life and career) are, alas, in Norfolk, NE.

Seen most of these (Ashfall Chimney Rock, Reptile Gardens and the parks in southern Black Hills).

For a different view of our nation, take SD44 or US18 across southwestern South Dakota through the Indian reservations. You see the southern view of the badlands and pass by Wounded Knee. It’s quite desolate and yet beautiful.

Wow. Some great suggestions here. Keep 'em coming. I didn’t realize Council Bluffs was a good place for historical sites. I think the jail, at least, will have to be on my list.

Devil’s Tower looks to be about 100 miles from Rapid City. I want to see it, but that’s a good half to day there and back. Tough call. It depends on how much time I can get away from home. This trip is my birthday present. This past May, I took a two day road trip. I’m hoping my wife will agree to 4 or 5 days this time, but it’s a lot to ask since we have little kids.

Carhenge looks too goofy to pass up.

I’m thinking about staying in Omaha the first night. Where’s the fun neighborhood where I can get a decent hotel within stumbling distance of some good bars and restaurants?

From St. Louis take either MO 94 or MO 100 west along the Missouri River to Jefferson City. West of Jefferson City there’s no really scenic route to Kansas City, so you can take a more direct route.

Having grown up in St. Charles County, I’ve driven Hwy 94 a zillion times. I hadn’t really considered 100. I think that will have to be my first leg now.

I once rode a motorcycle from StL to KC over Hwy 94 and 50. Hwy 50 isn’t particularly scenic but it goes through a couple interesting towns. I might do that or try to knit together a bunch of smaller routes that stay closer to the River.

The “or thereabouts” might be more interesting. I found Rushmore itself rather meh. I really liked the Badlands. Honestly though even though there’s a whole lot of nothing for long stretches, I think it’s a pretty drive.

Years ago South Dakota had some audio tours you could pick up at a rest stop. I recall it having a history focus, with mile marker cues. Might be worth looking into to see if there’s something similar still available.

That would be The Old Market. I might post some specific recommendations later – it’s a great area to just stumble around in and people watch.

Also, it’s pretty much obligatory to mention the Zoo if you’re talking about things to do in Omaha. I understand you have a good one in St Louis also, but ours is really something.

Further, right next to the Old Market is the Durham Western Heritage Museum. Since it is our preserved Union Station (in all its Art Deco glory), it might be more train-centric than your tastes would dictate, but you may want to check to see if there are any special exhibits that might interest you when you’re coming through. --the software won’t let me hyperlink the text today

Last, if you’re out around Carhenge / Fort Robinson, you may want to consider The Museum of the Fur Trade.

I have to agree with you. I’ve never seen a picture that wasn’t more impressive than actually being there. The roads are fun as hell to drive around, however.

The Black Hills Institute in Hill City, SD is a privately-run dinosaur fossil-hunting outfit. When I was there many years ago, they had a nice dinosaur showroom/museum (with T-Rexes!) and a good gift shop.

I’ve always heard that Mt. Rushmore is underwhelming. I figure I should see it before I die, but mostly it was just an arbitrary finish line. I didn’t realize Deadwood was right there. I’ll probably come up from Chimney Rock, go through the Black Hills, stop at the Crazy Horse Memorial and Rushmore, and stay in Deadwood. I still need to spend some time on the map to make sure that’s doable in a day or so.

StusBlues, The Old Market looks like exactly what I was looking for. Thanks! I may give the Zoo a pass just in the interest of time. The fur trade museum and Durham Museum look cool though.

Ruken, The Badlands are one of the things I must see. I had originally planned to go through them on the way there, but now I’m thinking that I’ll hit them on the way back, since I’ll be coming in from the South. I can meander through the Badlands, go back up toward I90 to hit the Minuteman Museum, then veer off back onto two-lane roads again and more or less follow the Missouri river back home.

Wind Cave and Jewel Cave are both in that area. One’s a national park, the other’s a national monument. It’s a part of the country that’s prettier below ground than above. :slight_smile: