The journey from Chicago to Yellowstone National Park is a monumental journey that will take you from the Great Lakes to the majestic wilderness of America’s first national park.

The 1,340 mile journey from Chicago to Yellowstone takes over 21 hours non-stop and takes you through the wildlife of Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wyoming. It will take at least 3 to 4 days before the scenic route can be fully exploited.

Read on to find the best places to stop, explore the amazing nature and the best tips to make your trip to Yellowstone as pleasant as possible.

How far is Chicago’s Yellowstone National Park and how long can I get there?

Perhaps one of the longest journeys ever made by many people. The direct route is 1340 miles and takes about 20 hours.

On such a long journey we don’t want to stay any longer than necessary. However, we will make a small detour to make sure you get the chance to see absolutely everything that is on offer.

So the distance to be covered is 1,390 miles and takes about 21 hours. Considering that we will make a number of stops along the way, what’s the extra 50 miles if it gives you the chance to experience some incredible things you would otherwise have missed?

Best trip from Chicago to Yellowstone National Park

The drive to Yellowstone can be long, but most of the time it’s quite easy, as you’ll follow several states for most of the trip. Don’t worry about the landscape, because it’s not a hustle and bustle you see in the city, just long open roads winding through the landscape.

We start by taking the I-88 where it starts, west of the city, and continue until it ends at the Iowa line. From there, take the I-80 to the west and follow it for about 285 miles northwest of Omaha.

Continue west to the I-880 where it starts and follow it for 16.5 miles to the end before changing to the I-29 and heading north to Sioux Falls.

You now travel over a third of the way west on the I-90, about 556 miles across the Great Plains to Buffalo, Wyoming, at the foot of Bighorn Mountain.

The last 220 miles of our journey we leave the Interstate Road and drive on smaller country roads.

Start on US-16 west to Ten Sleep, then turn north on Hyattville Road Ten Sleep and follow Highways 49 and 31 to Manderson.

From Manderson, the US-20 takes you north and Highway 30 west to the US-14 in Burlington, which takes you behind a wall to the east entrance to Yellowstone.

We're approaching the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park from Cody, Wyoming.
The eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park from Cody, Wyoming leaves you speechless.

Mahmoud Ghazal/Shutterstock.com

Best Stops between Chicago and Yellowstone National Park

As you can imagine, the length of the journey from Chicago to Yellowstone means you will have to make a few stops.

Although I have an overview of everything you can see on the way down, let’s first have a look at the best places to stay and make the best of the long drive.

Overnight stay in Des Moines, Iowa

Our first stop is about 333 miles west of Chicago, Iowa.

State capital and largest city, Des Moines is a beautiful place that does not get the recognition it deserves, partly because of its geographical location. Although the city offers a lot of entertainment day and night, this sight, which is close to the city, is perhaps the most compelling reason for a visit.

Winterset is a small town near Des Moines, known as the home of the one and only John Wayne. It is essential to visit a museum dedicated to his life and located in the house where he was born.

In this museum you can discover one of the most famous film stars of all time on a very personal level with many souvenirs and interesting exhibitions.

Since we are on our way to Wyoming, widely known as cowboyland, it is better to stop than to watch the giant screens of the most famous cowboy on the trail.

Because this will be a journey full of beautiful historical sights, you can stay in the historic house of Oscar Lofkvist in a hotel full of history and charm.

Located in the heart of Des Moines, the apartment will make you feel at home, with friendly hosts and everything you need for a great stay.

Pioneer image of the territory overlooking the skyline of the city of Des Moines, Iowa, at sunset.
Des Moines, Iowa is an important stop on the way from Chicago to Yellowstone National Park.

f11photo/Shutterstock.com

Share your trip and stay in Sioux Falls

Located halfway between Chicago and Yellowstone, it’s the perfect place to split your trip in two. The most densely populated city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls, lies on the banks of the great Sioux River.

The city is best known for its impressive collection of parks and open spaces, such as Falls Park, home to the waterfalls that give the city its name.

It’s a great place to catch a glimpse of what awaits you in Yellowstone while surrounded by civilization, making it much easier to relax with good food or a drink at the end of the day.

Although there are some good accommodations, I advise you to stay at the Clubhouse Hotel Sioux Falls, a large hotel with a very natural style, located on the coast.

A Do not stay in a fast city

The Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota has much more to discover than just Mount Rushmore.
Rapid City is the gateway to the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota, where you can see much more than Mount Rushmore.

Jess Kraft/Shutterstock.com

After crossing all of South Dakota and before driving through the Black Hills National Forest on the I-90, you will arrive in Rapid City.

Many national parks and forests are on your doorstep, the historic city of dead trees, a wildlife safari, the Surgis festival, the Crazy Horse and the monuments of Mount Rushmore.

If you want to go a little further, even 90 minutes southeast of the city is the place of the famous Massacre of Wounded Knees.

As this trip focuses on exploring the natural side of this beautiful part of the world, it makes sense that our accommodation does the same, so you should just stay in the priceless Black Hills View.

A few kilometers west of the city, on the edge of the Black Hill Country, this beautiful house offers breathtaking views of nature with the wildlife in the area.

Places of Interest on the Chicago Highway to Yellowstone National Park

As I said before, this trip has an incredible amount of sights and attractions, so it can be very difficult to make sure you see everything you want to see.

I hope to be able to help you in this area, because below is a list of the best things you will see during your trip, so you can write them down and keep track of what you have done during your trip.

  1. Iowa Wheatfields – You won’t miss these huge fields on your way through the state, especially if you travel in the summer months.
  2. De Moine – The capital and largest city of Iowa.
  3. John Wayne’s Birthplace Museum – The museum is located in the small town of Winterset and is dedicated to his life and work in his birthplace, which has been restored to what it would have been in 1907.
  4. Omaha – The capital of the state of Nebraska, Omaha, deserves a stopover to explore the curious black tablets, one of the world’s most famous zoos and bright scenes with food and beer.
  5. Sioux Falls – The largest city in South Dakota.
  6. Wall Drug – Located on the edge of Wasteland National Park, Wall Drug is filled with Wild West-themed shops and, as you can imagine, drugstores.
  7. Brownfields National Park is a unique national park with a mix of scattered grasslands and rocky gorges. Beware of buffalo and rams taking over the wasteland.
  8. Rapid City – South Dakota’s second largest city has that familiar feeling, even though you’ve never been there.
  9. USA Bears Country – Wildlife Travel Park with native animals such as black bears, moose and mountain lions in their natural habitat, a short drive from Rapid City.
  10. Wind Cave National Park – One of the world’s longest and most complex cave systems lies hidden between the forests and grasslands of South Dakota, near Custer State Park.
  11. Deadwood – The great Wild West town in the Black Hills, where you can walk the same streets as legendary lawman Wyatt Earp and visit the place where Wild Bill Hickok was killed.
  12. Crazy Horse Memorial – What could one day become the second largest sculpture in the world is a huge sculpture of a local warlord that has been under construction since 1948, and the date of completion is not visible.
  13. Mount Rushmore – A world famous monument with some famous American presidents carved in the rocks of the Black Hills.
  14. Black Hills National Forest – A mixture of forests and mountains covering an area of 1.25 million hectares in southwestern South Dakota.
  15. National MonumentDevil’s Tower – The famous rock formation is as beautiful as it is mysterious.
  16. Thunder Pool National Pasture – Flat and extensive grasslands in eastern Wyoming.
  17. Bighorn National Forest – One of the oldest protected forests in America and a national historical monument, the Medicijnrad.
  18. Shoshone National Forest – The oldest protected forest in the United States, covering an area of 2.5 million hectares.

Rock formation of Devil's Tower in Wyoming at sunrise.
The Devil’s Tower in Wyoming will certainly give you a strange feeling with its impressive view of the other world.

Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock.com

Best time to travel from Chicago to Yellowstone National Park

It is a journey whose main goal is to experience all the splendour of the outdoors. Everything you do – from sightseeing and hiking to picnicking and maybe even camping – is outdoors.

So if we want this trip to be fun, we have to make sure the weather is good. Fortunately, unlike some other national parks such as Death Valley in the Grand Canyon, temperatures don’t reach unbearable heights even in the middle of summer.

The best time to travel from Chicago to Yellowstone is from May to September. The weather will be warm with little rain, giving you the best opportunity to explore nature. Be prepared to share your experiences with the masses of tourists in July and August.

Don’t forget that Yellowstone is closed in the winter and you can’t drive. You can still drive from Chicago and stay outside the national park on snowmobiles, skis or other transportation, but you won’t enjoy Yellowstone in all its glory.

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