Driving from Calgary to Chicago and back - what to see along the way?

We’re driving to Chicago on May 10th (well, starting, not planning to get there in one day), staying for a couple of days. We’re planning to go there through mostly Canada (south from Winnipeg) through Minneapolis (birthplace of Prince - we’d like to look at Paisley Park) and then loop south through St. Louis/Kansas City/Denver on the way back. Anybody know of any cool things to stop and look at along the way?

(I did a separate thread for the Chicago part of this trip - please don’t tell us any Chicago stuff in this thread. Thanks.)

The first thing you need to let us know is how long you think you can dally on the driving trip. How much time you have for wandering will change priorities and eliminate or include certain options.

Next is to let us know whether you set higher priorities on scenery or history or museums or events or amusement parks or whatever.

I’d have thought that you would have left the Trans-Canada Highway several miles west of (before) Regina taken Sasktchewan Route 39 down to US-52 and on to I-94. That would have been a pretty direct shot. (If you took that route–and I am not really suggesting it–the one place where there might be something interesting would be Jamestown, ND (where US-52 meets I-94). On the southwest corner of town is the small Frontier Village museum of modest interest except that it has a sub-museum dedicated to Louis L’Amour, who was born in Jamestown, (if anyone in your party reads westerns) and it is the home of a pair of white buffalo.)
OTOH, I have nothing againt Winnipeg and I have a few options to offer with that route.

Toward the end of your Canadian journey, you will approach the Canadian Shield, although you will not enter it unless you travel a bit past Winnipeg. I have seen some (Canadian) dopers refer to it as boring, but it is unlike any scenery from the Rockies or the Great Plains and I think it is worth a pass through it with its alternately dense and sparse forests, interrupted by rock outcroppings and blue ponds). If, instead of taking Route 75 or Routes 300 & 59 South from Winnipeg, you stay on the Trans-Canada for a few miles into Ontario, you can take Ontario Route 71 South a few miles East of Kenora. This route will let you cross the Canadian bottleneck where the (at that point) two lane Trans-Canada Highway is the only paved road that that allows traffic to travel between Manitoba and Ontario and then give you a good view of the Shield.
Route 71 takes you down to Fort Frances, ON and International Falls, MN where you can pick up US-53 heading South. About 100 miles (160 kilometers) South is the village of Virgina. 20 miles (32 kilometers) West of that on US-169 is the village of Chisolm and the Minnesota Museum of Mining. Somewhere in the Virginia/Chisolm/Hibbing area is what, at one time, was the world’s largest open pit mine, with several other mines that were only marginally smaller. While they are certainly scars on the land, the sheer extent of human labor is impressive.
From Virginia, you can take US-53 South to Independence, MN and follow State Route 33 down to I-35 that heads to Minneapolis or stay on US-53 into Duluth, MN and Superior, WI. Superior is flat and industrial (although it has a neat museum in the last surviving whaleback freighter, the S.S. Meteor), while Duluth, built on the ridge rising up from Lake Superior has a lot of 19th century houses with views of the lake. The breakwall and light at the entrance to the Superior harbor shows up on a lot of Great Lakes calendars and postcards. You can pick up I-35 to Minneapolis in Duluth where US-53 crosses it.

Minneapolis and/or St. Paul have Mississippi cruises. There are similar cruises on the St. Croix river to Wisconsin and back. However, I suspect that they do not start until June.

After leaving Minneapolis on I-94, it is pretty much a straight shot to Chicago. If you have heard of and have an interest in the Wisconsin Dells, they can be fun. OTOH, nothing there is free or cheap. (The dells are a stretch of the Wisconsin River that carves its way through sandstone cliffs, which can be quite beautiful. However, it is all private land (no parks) and you have to pay to take either a boat ride or a Duck (DUKW ride to see the cliffs. It became a vacation getaway place in the days before trans-continental travel and has built up with golf course and amusements in the intervening years.)

Give a shot to my questions in the first two paragraphs and you might spark someone to throw out more suggestions.

Having driven that stretch several times, both ways, the answer is…not much.

While in the US, are you looking to stay on the Interstate Highways and try to make good time? If so then I assume you will head south on I-29 and connect to I-94. About the only potentially interesting things (IMHO) are the Kennsington Runestone Museum in Alexandria and, if you like Sinclair Lewis at all, there are some things in Sauk Centre. The runestone is not authentically Viking (although some people still claim it is) but is it kitchsy enough to be worth a visit.

Paisley Park is not really worth a visit unless you really are an obsessive fan and want to see the exterior of the building. (I can relate to this attitude and have made such trips.) But, as best as I can recall, it is not well marked and many people living in Chanhassen don’t even know exactly what it is, even though it is right along a main highway. A potentially more interesting stop would be First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis where some of Purple Rain was filmed.

Let us know your interests and I can give you more information. Are you interested in art, food, historic venues, silly things? The new Guthrie Theatre along the Mississippi River is pretty cool.

I live on the St. Croix. The Afton (MN) to Hudson (WI) boat is running already. Personally, I’d visit Duluth before Minneapolis, but that’s me. I love walking along the canal in Canal Park. You can see the big ore ships come in (there’s schedules online for the Port of Duluth) through the canal and the aerial bridge going up. Grab a bite to eat at Grandma’s right next to Canal Park.
I’ve never visited Paisley Park, but I agree that First Avenue is a worth stop if you’re a big fan.

Thanks for the suggestions so far (yeah, we plan to look at the outside of Paisley Park - we’re that level of fan :slight_smile: ). We have a moderate amount of dally time - we have two weeks for what we figure will take us about 8 days of driving. We like good restaurants and oddball stuff (we loved the Liberace Museum in Vegas). We plan to mostly take the interstate highway, but get off of it when we know there is something cool to go see (like the biggest dumptruck in the world in Sparwood, BC). Oh, when I say “good” restaurants, I mean good food for a good price, not necessarily your five-star dining experience. If you know of, say, a best hot dogs in the world place in Minneapolis, that’s our kind of thing (the kind of thing that locals know about, but tourists don’t always luck into).

I can tell you more things worth skipping than seeing.

Skip the Mall of America. Surprize! It’s just a large rather grubby mall.

Skip the Dells untill you want to take a break for a day in a water park – I suppose your kids, if you have any, might like that.

If you’re a fan of architecture, you might want to vist F Lloyd Wright’s Talliesen in Spring Green.

Madison’s a nice town but nothing no real tourist attractions here.

If you head straight east to Lake Michigan and head down the lake shore… Milwaukee has a very goo art museum, there is a Six Flags somewhere on the route between Milwaukee and Chicago.

And I seem to recall that for some reason, there’s a cluster of porn stores right on the border between IL and WI.

I don’t know when you’re going, but seeing you’ve got a bit of time to spare, you might want to take in some of the Winnipeg Folk Festival July 10 - 13.

Also, if you’ve got the time, rather than the frozen ocean that is the south Saskatchewan prairie seen from the Trans-Canada, (I find it stunningly beautiful, all that flat earth and big sky, but it’s not to everyone’s taste) if you cut a bit north, you can go through Drumheller and the Badlands (Alberta highway 9), then more or less straight east through to Diefenbaker Lake, along through to Yorkton and take the Yellowhead through to the Qu’appelle Valley. Explore the valley if you wish, or you can go through to Dauphin and south through Riding Mountain National Park. Or straight through the Interlake on Manitoba 68, which is also scenic. Highway 6 down to Winnipeg if you’re in a hurry, (it’s the ugliest way from the Perimeter into Winnipeg that I know of) or over to Stonewall 68 to 7. If you’re headed south out of Winnipeg to the Twin Cities, I can’t give you any more ideas, I’ve never been that way.

In my opinion, Winnipeg itself is worth a couple of days, but I grew up 200 km west of there and I have lots of friends who have moved there in the intervening years. Museums, concerts, galleries, there might be a Bombers game while you’re through, historical sites. Then again, from Calgary it’s an easy visit any old time and you might want to spend more time on the less familiar US portion of your trip.

Hope this helps, Bon voyage.

The Hull Rust Mine, Greyhound Bus Museum, Lake Superior Railroad Museum, and Duluth Harbour including the S.S. Irvin, go a long way to conveying what made the USA the economic powerhouse that it is today.

I was born in Moose Jaw and raised just a little north of Saskatoon - I find the flatlands beautiful, too. :slight_smile: (We’ll be stopping in Rouleau, SK to visit Dog River again.)

Cluster of porn stores, eh? Hmm. Interesting.

Oh yeah, my husband and I have both experienced the Canadian Shield - can live without seeing that again. That’s why we’re heading south after Winnipeg.

If you plan to bring a laptop with you, back it up before you leave and leave the backup at home. Then remove anything from the laptop you don’t want US Customs to find. The same goes for your cell phone(s), Blackberries and iPods.

This is honest, preventative advice. You will probably be fine crossing the border. OTOH, you might encounter someone from US Customs and Immigration who is going to be an asshole because they can be.


Okay, just to complete my feeling like a damn fool, how many of those routes/places have you already been to?

I was born in Melfort, SK - we left when I was 4 to move to Brandon, MB where I stayed until I was done with university. Then my folks ended up in Saskatoon, plus I toured northern Alberta/Saskatchewan for a few years. I really miss the Prairies.

We’re bringing all of those things except a Blackberry - what kind of thing would US Customs be interested in (other than citrus fruit - I had a grapefruit confiscated last time we went to Seattle :smiley: )? Jim’s laptop is his work laptop - I don’t know how much leeway he has in what he takes off of it. What would Customs do - erase our hard drives?

Sorry - didn’t mean to make you feel foolish. I am in Calgary, but I’m from SK (like half of all Calgarians :smiley: ). I’ve been to Regina a half dozen times, and I’ve lived in Winnipeg for a very hot summer. Other than that, it’s all new to both of us. Unless we start messing around in southern Ontario - Jim lived there for six or so years as a teenager.

I miss the Prairies, too. People who aren’t from there don’t get what there is to love about the Prairies, but everyone loves their birthplace.

Do you know the exact location of Paisley Park? I assume so, but if not, let me know (this thread or drop me an e-mail) and I can get you precise directions or a location. (OK, a Google search makes it clear the location is no secret. But still, if you have any questions about the Twin Cities area I’ll do what I can for you.)

Paisley Park is in Chanhassen, a suburb of Minneapolis. If you are there overnight you might want to go to the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre (if that is your sort of thing).

If your level of interest in Prince is that extreme, you might be interested in seeing the home he grew up in and his high school as long as you are in the area. I don’t know details of them but over the years I do sort of recall hearing about them on various TV programs about Prince over the years. I think they are pretty accessible from the outside. (Yeah, this is the sort of crap I’ve done regarding an author I’m interested in.)

Thanks - that would be cool. I think we would like to see his childhood home and high school, too (listening to Anna Stesia while typing this, of course :smiley: ). I’ll send you an email.


That’s my recommendation. CHEESE CASTLE.

There’s a cheese castle and we were not informed? Well, until now, that is. {makes note - Cheese Castle in Wisconsin.}

Disappointingly, the CHEESE CASTLE is not actually made of cheese. But it does contain large amounts of cheese.

It’s in Kenosha, WI.

Odds are there will be a cheese-filled barn selling local products in most every town you stop in in WI.

Ooh, you should try fresh cheese curds on your way through. They squeak when you eat them!