On October 19, 2014 ( a year ago today, guys!) Robin and I packed up his tiny red car at my father’s house right outside of Madison, Wisconsin and started our journey west. Since neither of us have seen much or any of the west, we wanted to take a whole week to drive across the country. So starts our roadtrip to San Francisco across America!
We hit Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, ending in California. And we had the time of our lives. I used Roadtrippers to map out our trip and below is the actual route we took! Click the image to be taken to our trip plan and read below for more details and photos!
During our trip we mainly listened to comedy radio since Robin and I don’t like the same music. I’ve always liked comedy radio and standup, but after this trip I’m hooked. I even have certain sketches memorized since we listened to them so many times.
Our first night was spent in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after about a 7 hour drive. We stopped at the Jolly Green Giant in Minnesota first. I lived in Minneapolis for 4 years while attending college there and never explored much outside the city. I feel like the northern part of Minnesota is pretty with the woods and lakes, but the southern part was just a snooze.
BEST DRESSES TO WEAR IN THE CAR (hint, ones that are comfy for those long rides!)
The next day we woke up early because we had the whole state of South Dakota to drive through. The beginning was more of a snooze fest, but the landscape got more and more interesting the closer we got to Wyoming. Our first stop of the day was at the Corn Palace which was a major let down. I thought it was going to actually be made of corn (it isn’t). We grabbed lunch as Al’s Oasis, which is really an oasis since there wasn’t any other pit stops for miles around. I remember eating awesome key lime pie and buffalo burgers.
THE 6 SHOES TO BRING ON ROADTRIPS (to cover all adventures)
One of my favorite parts of the trip was driving through the Badlands National Park. One of the most beautiful things Mother Nature has ever made. We spent a good hour driving through them, me sticking my head out the window. At one point we passed a field full of prairie dogs and I made Robin turn back around so I could go try and pet them – erm – take photos. Wall Drug was right at the exit of the park, so we stopped there and it wasn’t at all like I expected. Way bigger! I picked up a painting of a white buffalo that I still haven’t framed. Opps.
We arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota (right on the edge of the state and the Black Hills) right around sunset and made a beeline to Olive Garden (my dad gave us a gift card before we started the trip). I had planned ahead and decided to spend 2 nights in Rapid City so we could have time to explore the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. I’m so glad I did! Mount Rushmore was just stunning – I think it was Robin’s favorite site. He bought a beer mug at the gift shop. Afterward we drove to Crazy Horse to see what that’s about and I’ll save you time – it’s not worth it. We did have a good lunch there, though. Probably one of our favorite memories was stopping at the Red Ass Winery. We saw billboards with a donkey advertising Red Ass Winery, looked at each other and knew without saying that we needed to check it out. They had free tastings and we bought a couple of bottles of their local wine and I saved a bottle which is currently hanging out in our kitchen.
BEST BOTTOMS TO BRING ON ROADTRIPS (to cover all your bases)
This day marked the beginning of my favorite part of the trip. The next day we drove through Deadwood, South Dakota which is this cute casino town that’s mostly built on a hillside. We stopped at one casino and I won $19 on the slots. BIG MONEY! The rest of the day was dedicated to driving through Wyoming and visiting Devil’s Tower, which is also a crazy awesome feat of nature.
We had to drive through Big Horn National Park to get to Cody, Wyoming, our pit stop for the night. I loved driving over the mountains and seeing the state rolling below. We rolled up to Cody just after sunset and stayed at a motel. This is important to note, because this is where we discovered Cut Throat Kitchen on tv and our lives were forever changed. We’re total food network lovers now. I also remember watching the World Series at the restaurant that evening and Robin grumbling about how the Cubs never get there.
My favorite part of the trip was seeing the Badlands in South Dakota and of course, Yellowstone National Park. Cody is the last town before Yellowstone, so this day was set aside just to exploring the park. We arrived in Yellowstone about a week before they were closing it off for the winter – talk about good timing! I have very vivid memories of all the rock formations, blue water and bison roaming about. And of course seeing Old Faithful was so much fun. She’s not as faithful anymore, but it was a blast – literally! It was chilly in the park and I think that’s the last time I actually felt changing seasons (San Francisco is all one big season).
THE LITTLE THINGS TO BRING ON ROADTRIPS
We spent that night in West Yellowstone, Montana which is, you guessed it, the town on the way out of the Yellowstone Park. At this point we were tired, so we just grabbed a bit to eat at a local bar (I got a buffalo burrito that was awesome) and went to bed early. Like 9pm early. In the morning we had big breakfast before heading out; We had to get to Elko, Nevada before the night was up. So much driving!
I don’t have much notes about Idaho other than you really do see potato trucks everywhere and it wasn’t as boring as I thought it would be. The landscape is actually really pretty (until you get close to Nevada) and I remember seeing the Tetons in the distance that look like a really fun park to explore.
We made it a point to stop when we saw something cool and make time to explore along the way. We weren’t planning on seeing the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, but Robin mentioned in while we were close to the state boarder in Nevada so we drove an extra 2 hours to see them. Totally worth it.
Nevada is literally the worst state ever. I sound dramatic, but you can go 75 miles without seeing a single house. So depressing. We stayed the night in Elko, which isn’t exactly the safest area. I had made sure to pick a hotel that had 24/hour watch, but Robin still wouldn’t let us leave to go grab dinner because he was worried we’d be robbed.
Needless to say, we go out of there FAST. I wanted to stop in Reno, but by the time we got there we were just a few hours away from San Francisco and we just wanted to finish our roadtrip, so we drove on through. I’ll be coming back! I really enjoyed driving through the Sierra Nevadas, though the rain made it really hard to see and I was half sure that we were going to crash at some point. When we arrived in Lake Tahoe, the rain had turned to snow and that tripped a lot of people up. Coming from Wisconsin, we were like “guys, just drive, it’s not that much” but we were stuck in traffic for a good hour or so. Californians. I’m telling ya.
We ended the night in San Ramon, California (in East Bay) with Robin’s aunt which our roadtrip across the country.
Many people I’ve met since moving to San Francisco drove the “south way” (through Iowa, Nebraska, Southern Wyoming, Utah, Nevada) and they didn’t have very much fun since – sorry if you live in one of these states – most of them just aren’t exciting. I’m glad we picked the northern route to see all the good stuff 🙂
This past year has been a whirlwind struggle of finding a new apartment, new jobs, settling in and finding that balance of living in San Francisco. We’re finally just feeling like our lives are stable and thus are planning some fun trips at the end of this year. Stay tuned. And if you’ve ever drove across the country, leave a comment below! I want to hear all about it.