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Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!

Maastricht, The...
Destination Expert
for Maastricht
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Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!


we are planning on visiting the midwest next september and are not sure where to go or what are a must to visit. We have made a rough plan, but it might just sound crazy to experts.

We are in our 50's, early retirees and are very flexible on when and where to travell.

We like to visit major cities(we like to stay in subs, and take public transport. into downtown), and connect them by driving the scenic route (if worth while); maybe drive through some wooded area's.

We like to stroll in shoppingstreets, grab a bite from a streetcar, we like an occasional mall, and love some moderate hikes or just enjoy nature.

We are not that interested in museums, fancy dining, amusementparks, American sports...sorry. We're soccer-fans...

This our 5th roadtrip in the Us, so we are aware of some basic rules.

Plan: Fly to Chicago or Minneapolis stay in either city for 3-4 days, pick up the car and drive the scenic route to Minneapolis(when starting in Chicago or v.v.).

Next to St.Louis(what's interesting between Minneapolis and St.Louis??).

From St.Louis to Indianapolis(is it worth visiting), next to Columbus, OH.

Then up into Michigan (Ann Harbor, Grand Rapids and back to Chicago or Minneapolis.

As said, just a rough planning by looking on google maps.

I know it involves a bit of driving, but last year we covered 5000 miles cruising the south, just to give you an idea.

All suggestions are welcomed!!

Please don't hesitate if you think you have an interesting route for us!!!

Destination Expert
for Ohio, Cleveland
posts: 7,673
reviews: 23
1. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!


Not much to add to my previous posts on the Ohio and Indiana forums, but have you ruled out places in Michigan such as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Mackinac Bridge and Michigan's upper peninsula?


Just wondering if that was too much woods and too few major urban areas.

If you start out in Minneapolis, and go to Chicago before St. Louis, Michigan's upper peninsula would be a great way to get back to Minneapolis.



Good planning!

Maastricht, The...
Destination Expert
for Maastricht
posts: 496
reviews: 67
2. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!

Hey, TranscendentalEye!!

No,i didn't rule anything out, i copied all comments on a Word.doc and have to filter things out. As usual one has to make some tough desicions and skip some things.

We could easily drive in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan for 4 weeks, but

I'me afraid when visitng in september the more northern we go, the more chance of bad weather, and we like to have some sunshine......

I would love to visit Duluth and drive up to Grand Marais, and (upper) Michigan, but we have to check weatherreports every day.

Maybe it's wise to make some sort of escaperoute to more southern places, if weatherpredictions are bad for WI,MI.

I read the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore were voted most beautiful place in the USA.

Starting in Minneapolis, and go to Chicago before St. Louis is an option and the most ligical route, but in Chicago our rental car would be of no use for 4-5 days....In Minneapolis we would have more use for it....

Btw, I Emailed Tet, and he asked me to start a posting on the Roadtrip-forum.

Thanks again for the reply, and the great links!!

Destination Expert
for Ohio, Cleveland
posts: 7,673
reviews: 23
3. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!

Your rental car issue is another reason to eliminate Minneapolis on this trip. :) If you do visit Minneapolis, consider visiting the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. It's one of the most beautiful in the U.S., especially with its gilded quadriga.


One solution to the rental car issue if you start in Minneapolis would be to take a bus, plane or even a train between Minneapolis and Chicago. Megabus, an alternative to Greyhound, goes from downtown center to downtown center, not using stations.

You could rent a car as needed in Minneapolis, even though Minneapolis has a good mass transit system. Enterprise delivers cars locally or picks up/returns customers to their rental offices; they have very cheap rentals on weekends. Then you could rent a car for your road trip upon leaving Chicago. Car rentals might be cheaper from a suburb of Chicago, which you likely could reach by bus or train; check on the Chicago forum.

If you check Southwest Airlines when they open their books for September (likely around March), you might get a great one-way deal from Minneapolis to Chicago. Southwest doesn't charge for initial checked bags.

If you were to return by way of upper Michigan, you would still get to see Wisconsin. Also, you might (likely would?) catch some Leaf Turn in upper Michigan and Wisconsin in late September.

It's likely you'll run into stretches of bad weather somewhere along your journey. Typically, but not always, rain lasts only for one day or less. I think if you research it, the weather is only marginally better in southern Ohio and Indiana in September than in upper Michigan. What determines who gets the nice weather -- the prevailing jet stream at the time of your trip. So check the accuweather.com long-range forecasts. They really can be pretty good. Then, if you wanted to, you could adjust your trip accordingly.

As for Sleeping Bear Dunes, it's very beautiful. I doubt it's the most beautiful place in the U.S. E.g., Yosemite Valley at peak water flow. Remember, it was a vote, and Michigan natives rightfully are very proud of their state.

Destination Expert
for Road Trips
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4. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!

September is a good weather month generally. No chance of snow in Ohio that early. Leaf color doesn't happen till Oct and peaked mid Oct as a rule.

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5. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!

Well, I'm prejudiced but know parts of the Midwest pretty well.

-Fly into Minneapolis and spend 2-3 days. Not my cup of tea but it sounds like the Mall of America would interest you, and the Twin Cities have some interesting areas. For example, Grand and Summit Avenues in St. Paul, the Uptown district of Minneapolis, and a wonderful, lively urban trail system around a series of lakes in Minneapolis. You could stay in Bloomington out by the Mall and take the light rail into downtown Minneapolis.

-By all means try to get to Duluth. It's slightly less than a three hour drive from the Twin Cities. The Canal Park area of Duluth offers all sorts of shopping and eating. Plus you can stroll along Lake Superior and chances are you'll see a large ocean going vessel come through the canal. Probably 2 days here.

-Being from Minnesota means I've got to try to get you to drive up the North Shore (Highway 61). Grand Marais is about two hours north of Duluth and has the feel of a coastal town. Between it and Duluth are a series of 4-5 state parks. They are a combination of rocky beaches, small cliffs jutting out into Lake Superior, birch forests, and, best of all, a collection of scenic and easily accessible waterfalls. 2 days at least--you won't regret it.

-You will have to backtrack back to Duluth and Minneapolis if you are set on St. Louis. The Great River Road is a route that follows the Mississippi River down to St. Louis. Actually, much of it is the same Highway 61 from the North Shore. It's an interesting drive that goes through many scenic and interesting river towns. Perhaps the best known is Galena, Illinois which is a little ways off the Mississippi. You'll have ample opportunity to shop and stroll in Galena.

-I know very little about St. Louis so I'll leave that to others. Also, not sure what information you've gotten on other forums but much of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio consists of really boring farmland and a series of towns and cities that all run together. Hope I didn't ruffle too many feathers there, but we just returned from a trip through that region and that was the overwhelming impression. There are interesting places like New Harmony, Indiana, or the Amish Country of Ohio but do your research. I do have another suggestion.

-Remember, I love the outdoors and am a hiker and photographer, but from Duluth I would head east across Wisconsin and Michigan. Bayfield, Wisconsin, about an hour east of Duluth is a great little harbor town. Again time for ample shopping, take a cruise among the Apostle Islands, and visit the orchards the area is famous for.

-Further east is Marquette, Michigan, a great small university town and beyond that is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Stay in Munising and take the sunset cruise along the shore. Absolutely marvelous in sunny weather.

-Then it's a short trip to St. Ignace and the Mackinaw Bridge. Take time to visit Mackinac Island. Scenic and lots of history. You can rent a bike and bike around the island. From there head to the Traverse City region of lower Michigan. Another great area combining interesting towns, galleries, dining, and scenery. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is definitely worth the visit!

-Note that this northern route doesn't take you into any large cities but there are a lot of neat towns and you're always on the edge of one of the Great Lakes which I'm partial to. Although after a while forests might be as boring as corn fields to some.

-You could easily spend 4 to 5 days to travel from Duluth to Traverse City. I could then see going into Ohio and Indiana and across to St. Louis. You could then follow The Great River Road north to Galena. From Galena, it's a short hop to Chicago where you will want to spend several days since it's a fun and vibrant city.

-Hope this gives you some other ideas. Do Google Minnesota North Shore, Duluth, Bayfield, Pictured Rocks, Mackinac Island, Traverse Bay, Galena, etc. and see what you think.

-I would make sure I have reservations well in advance if you're going to be in Duluth, Grand Marais, and Bayfield on any September weekend. I'm guessing the same would hold true for Traverse City and Galena.

-Finally, September is absolutely the best month weather wise to visit this region. You can always get a couple of rainy days but generally the days are sunny and the temperature is comfortable.

Destination Expert
for Ohio, Cleveland
posts: 7,673
reviews: 23
6. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!

<<Ohio consists of really boring farmland and a series of towns and cities that all run together.>>

That describes a big hunk of Minnesota as well, without any acknowledgement of Ohio's redeeming qualities.

Actually, the Ohio River along the southern border of Ohio probably is bigger than the Mississippi River as it cuts through Minnesota, and Ohio offers many great vistas of its namesake river. One great vantage point is the John A. Roebling Bridge in Cincinnati, built almost two decades before Roebing's more famous Brooklyn Bridge.


Eastern Ohio actually is in the Allegheny foothills, and is hardly the flat farmland you would see further west. Gildersleeve Mountain, just 18 miles east of downtown Cleveland, actually crests over 500 feet above the city.


As you noted, Ohio Amish Country, south and east of Cleveland, is considered one of the most charming rural areas in the U.S.

Cedar Point is the world's greatest roller coaster park, the Lake Erie islands are regional summer playgrounds, and Dayton arguably is the aviation history mecca of the world.

Cleveland has one of the world's best orchestras, one of the nation's best art museums, and the second largest theater complex in the U.S. after Lincoln Center in NYC.

Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University is ranked 30 places higher than the University of Minnesota by U.S. News & World Report. Ohio State is ranked over 10 places higher as well.

Yet you can still see a lake freighter navigate up the Cuyahoga River juxtaposed right against the downtown Cleveland skyline.



Ohio has a handful of great zoological attractions, including the Columbus Zoo, which has been ranked as the best in the nation.


Admittedly, Ohio's winter activities pale against those in Minnesota, even though there is downhill skiing 45 minutes from downtown Cleveland inside the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and ice fishing in the western basin of Lake Erie. There is no great winter resort city in Ohio such as Brainerd, MN, however.

Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 49,866
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7. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!

See L. Great info here and TE forgot about mentioning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I fully agree about not skipping northern MI and the U.P . We thoroughly enjoyed our visit this september to the whole region and Sleeping Bear Dunes should not be missed but the most beatiful place in America??? Don't miss Tunnel of Trees and have a meal at Legs Inn.

Maastricht, The...
Destination Expert
for Maastricht
posts: 496
reviews: 67
8. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!


Thanks about your tips on the rental car, but we always rent our car at a German Office long before visiting. They have realy good rates, and all inclusive packages. Last year i had a Dollar rental for 28 days which was about 450$ all in!

Is Toledo worth visitng, or would you prefer going to Ann Harbor, or maybe both?

Where is the Amish country in Ohio? Is it nicer compared to Shipshewana, IN ?

Where is the rolling hills country in Ohio which i read about?

More questions. I hope you don't mind!


Yes, you were right about the great info on this roadtrip-forum.

I use TA for years now, and this is first time i heard there's a roadtrip-forum on this site!!!

I don't think we'll go all the way up to the UP. We would keep that in mind for another visit, for sure! It looks realy beautiful. But, as always, you have to make, sometimes tough decisions.


We are thinking about driving up to Duluth, Grand Marais. Back to Duluth, and head east. Cross the Mackinac Bridge into Michigan, like CCDM_9 suggested.

We would visit Sleeping Bear Dunes, next south along the coast to Holland/Grand Marais area.

Next east towards Ann Harbor(Toledo), maybe Cleveland and Ohio Amish.....

From there....hm, not sure yet:

Take the Interstate to go from Cleveland to Columbus,OH, from Columbus to Indianapolis, and from Indianapolis to St. Louis, or are there any scenic routes you know of to connect some or all of these cities???

From St.Louis up the Miss. to the Quad Cities, and back to our starting point.

How about this route sofar?

Thanks you all for helping!!!

Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 49,866
reviews: 42
9. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!

RT forum started begin of 2009 at the initiative of some RT enthusiasts and it's a big success! Btw, did you visit Nogales eventually?

Give you some scenic routes between Cleveland and St. Louis.

1. Ohio and Erie Canalway: www.ohioanderiecanalway.com/Main/Map.aspx

Gets you do Dover for Amish Country:

2. Amish country byway:


After that you can drive to Columbus and Dayton and into Indiana and Illinois to St. Louis. Just in case you think this is just I70



Maastricht, The...
Destination Expert
for Maastricht
posts: 496
reviews: 67
10. Re: Help needed in planning 4 week roadtrip midwest!

Nogales, Az?

No, we wanted to visit, but people told us there's not much there, and crossing the border into Mexico wasn't safe at all so we skipped it.

Are you visitng AZ this year?

Thanks for the great links!! Lots of researching to do for me now!