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My 10-Day Midwesternish Roadtrip!

Last summer, my boyfriend and I decided to embark on a random 10-day roadtrip to some of the midwestern states to try and knock a few states and not so popular National Parks off of our list. We spent a few weeks planning this trip, and it went better than I could've ever imagined! In 10-days (technically 11, but the first day was getting from our starting point to our first spot), we drove over 2,900-miles, went to 8 states, 5 national parks, 2 state parks, 1 concert, and 1 amusement park! Our trip was a good mixture of cities and parks, which kept it interesting the whole time. I will include a map of the route we used as well! (We started in southeastern, Pennsylvania). This trip did involve a lot of driving, however, it was so worth it, and even though we really only had one day in each place, we were still able to see and do so much in the time we were on the road! In this post I will include our itinerary for the 10 days we spent on the road, where we stayed for each, and some places that we ate. We had very specific National Park hikes and things to do prior in order to have some sort of structure to follow as to not waste what little time we had at each place. We also were trying to do this roadtrip on a budget, so we did a combination of camping, and staying in cheaper hotels since it was only on a night by night basis. (My boyfriend also gets discounts at Red Roof Inns) I hope this post inspires you to head out on your own roadtrip!




Day One: Drive from Pennsylvania to Summersville, WV

We took off on the road after we were finished work. We didn't leave until about 4:00pm, and our only intention this day was just to drive to the hotel we were staying at in West Virginia, the SureStay Hotel by Best Western. The total drive took us about 6.5 hours, and after we arrived at our hotel, we had a very uneventful night of eating chic-fil-a and going to bed early to prepare for our official day first full day!


Day Two: New River Gorge National Park (Lansing, WV)



Something you need to know about this park is that its very long, it took us about an hour just to drive from one end to the other. We decided to start towards the top of the park and make our way down because it was a more convenient ending point to get to our next destination.

Canyon Rim Overlook Boardwalk

We arrived at the park around 9:00am and stopped at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center to grab some maps. While we were here, we noticed that one of the trails I had previously saved on Alltrails was right there a few feet away from the visitor's center, which worked out perfectly! We started our first hike of the day on the Canyon Rim Overlook Boardwalk, which was a short .5-mile boardwalk trail that offered up close views of the bridge as well as beautiful canyon views.

Long Point Trail

Next we drove about 10 minutes to our next hike which was the Long Point Trail. This trail is another simple one and is about 3-miles round trip. This hike offered another perspective of the bridge with more of the mountains and the river down below, which was neat to see.

Castle Rock Trail

After finishing up the Long Point Trail hike, we drove another 50 minutes to get to the Castle Rock/Grandview Rim/Turkey Spur Rock combination trail which I believe ended up being about 5-5.5-miles round trip. Our original plan wasn't to do the combination trail, as we didn't realize that these three trails were all around the same entrance and offered a combination route, but I'm glad we did, because I feel like we were able to see multiple cool views in one hike!

Right after we finished this hike, it started to rain, and we got so lucky that it held out until we finished our hikes! We decided to take one last drive to the Sandstone Visitor's Center which was about 20-minutes from the Castle Rock Trailhead.


*Our original plan after leaving New River Gorge was to camp in Lexington, KY for the night as a midway point to our next destination, however, a few days before we were supposed to leave for our trip, eastern Kentucky got hit with the terrible floods, which included some of the route we would've had to go through to get to our campsite. The day before our trip, we made a last minute switch and decided to just get a hotel room in Erlanger, KY.

We left the Sandstone Visitor Center and drove about 4.5-hours to the Red Roof Inn Cincinatti Airport in Erlanger, KY where we stayed for the night.We got to experience this beautiful, post-storm sunset on the drive there too!


Kentucky Sunset

Day Three: Bowling Green, KY & Mammoth Cave National Park (Ollie, KY)



We woke up early and made the 3 hour drive from our hotel in Erlanger, KY to Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We started off our morning with a River Boat Tour, which was so much fun! After we finished our tour, you guessed it, we hit the road again!

Lost River Cave Boat Tour

We made the 40-minute drive to Mammoth Cave National Park. We went straight to the Visitor's Center because we had a cave tour scheduled. Mammoth Cave National Park offers to many different cave tour options, and in order to go inside of the caves you have to sign up for a tour ahead of time. We decided to do the Historic Tour, which took us about 2-hours.



After finishing our tour, we did the 5-mile Green River Bluff, Echo River Springs, Sinkhole, and Heritage Combination Trail. I definitely recommend this hike if you're in the park looking for an interesting hike! It was a pretty simple hike that offered a few different views.


We were so tired after our day at the park and had planned to camp in the park for the night. After finishing our hike, we drove to Waldens Barbecue (18597 Louisville Road, Smiths Grove, KY 42171) and got dinner. This was definitely not my favorite meal of the trip, but I honestly think it was just what I ordered, because I was recommended this place multiple times before heading on this trip and my boyfriend loved his meal.

After finishing dinner we headed to Cave City Coffee and Creamery (201 Hubbard Ln, Cave City, KY 42127) to get some ice cream, and I definitely recommend this place!


This is where we were thrown our second fork in the road of the trip! After getting our ice cream, we were so excited to head to our campsite at Mammoth Cave Campground, have a fire, relax in our hammocks, and turn in early for the night. HOWEVER, when we got to the campsite we took everything we needed out of the car, set up our hammocks, and started a fire before setting up the tent. This is when it started to rain, and when my boyfriend informed me that my tent did not have a rainfly (which I thought was odd, but was so tired from the day I didn't even bother to double check). We decided to then take everything out of my car, and put it under tarps and set ourselves up to sleep in my car for the night. We lasted about 2-minutes before the Kentucky humidity got to us, and we repacked the entire car before deciding to get a last minute hotel room for the night. We were so eager to get to sleep we just chose a random red roof inn and went straight to bed! Now we look back at this story and just laugh!


the calm before the storm (literally)

Day Four: St. Louis, MO & Gateway Arch National Park (St. Louis, MO)



We woke up early again and made the 4.5-hour drive from our hotel to St. Louis, MO. Our first stop was Gateway Arch National Park. Any problem we experienced this roadtrip were extremely miniscule, but this is when we experienced our third problem...traffic! We didn't hit traffic the entire drive, until we were about 10-minutes from the arch. We had a tour scheduled to go inside to the top of the arch, and weren't sure how strict they were with being on time. After finding parking, and going through security at the arch, we ended up being 20 minutes late for our tour, but they let us in the next group with no problems! We did our tour of the top and the views were amazing, I definitely recommend doing this at the arch!


View from the top of the Arch

After completing our tour, and spending some time in the Visitor's Center, we walked around the outside of the arch and admiring the true size of it!



After spending some time outside at the arch, we headed to Forest Park and ended up doing about an unintentional 5-6-mile walk. Forest Park was so cool and had so many things inside of it, such as museums, a zoo, a golf course, etc.

We were exhausted and hungry after our walk and set out on a mission to try toasted ravioli before we left. (If you don't know, St. Louis is known for their toasted ravioli) After a few failed attempts, we ended up at STL Toasted. The toasted ravioli was amazing, I got plain cheese ravioli, and a lemon blackberry butter cake dessert ravioli and my boyfriend got buffalo chicken toasted ravioli.



After we finished our food, we set out on our 1.5-hour drive to our cabin for the night. We stayed at The Kampground in Mechanicsburg, IL where we got to experience another beautiful sunset in Illinois!



Day Five: Chicago, IL


We started this day with the 3-hour drive in the pouring rain from our cabin to Chicago, IL. We arrived in Chicago around noon and since the weather was still pretty crappy, decided to make our first stop lunch. We went to The Northman Beer & Cider Garden and while the food was amazing, according to Google, they are a seasonal place.



After eating, we walked over to Milenium Park to see the famous Bean! It was super crowded here and since it was still raining, we only spent a little bit of time here, but it was still cool to finally see in person!


After walking around some more, and going into some shops, we made our way over to Navy Pier. This was personally my favorite part, and I really enjoyed walking around here!


There was a lot to do at Navy Pier, including another brewery, a few rides, and of course thr ferris wheel! As we were about to buy our tickets to go up in the ferris wheel, a random couple walked up to us and offered us their extra tickets for free! The views from the top of the ferris wheel were amazing! After Navy Pier, we had to go check into our hotel and get ready for the night. We stayed at the Best Western Grant Park Hotel. We decided to eat at Quartino Ristorante (626 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654) for dinner, and the food was probably some of my favorite this whole trip!






When we were planning this trip and trying to come up with an idea of how to spend the night in Chicago, we found out that coincidently, one of my favorite bands, LANY, was going to be performing at Huntington Bank Pavillion the only night we were here, so thats how we decided to spend our night!


LANY performing at Huntington Bank Pavillion

Day Six: Indiana Dunes National Park (Porter, IN) & Grand Rapids, MI


The next day, we took the 45-minute drive from our hotel in Chicago to Indiana Dunes National Park. Our first stop was to the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center where one of the awesome volunteers told us about the Diana of the Dunes Dare challenge (aka hiking the Dune Succession Trail) If you want to learn a little more about the background of this challenge, click here! After completing this challenge, we headed back to the visitor center to collect our stickers.




After this hike, we took a lunch break and headed into town to Red Cup Cafe & Deli (115 Broadway Ave, Chesterton, IN 46304). The cafe was really cool and the food was great!


After finishing lunch, we headed back into the park to complete the 4.3-mile Cowle's Bog Trail.


Cowle's Bog Trail

The weather, as you can tell from the pictures here was not great, so we decided to cut our time at this park a little short and set off on our 2-hour drive to Grand Rapids, MI where we stayed at the Red Roof Inn Grand Rapids Airport. *This was originally just supposed to be a halfway, spend-the-night spot before our next destination* I do not recommend this Red Roof Inn, it was dirty, and I just felt generally uneasy and unsafe here.

After arriving at our hotel for the night, we got ready, and went to dinner at Brewery Vivant (925 Cherry St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506) This was my favorite meal of the whole trip, the food was so good! It was here that we got the best beer cheese I've ever had! (at the beginning of the trip, we made it a goal to find the best beer cheese)




The Best Beer Cheese!

When we finished dinner, we headed to Furniture City Creamery (958 Cherry St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506) for some ice cream before heading back to our hotel for the night!


This day we encountered dilemma #4 of the trip! Our original plan for the next day was to drive to Toledo, OH and spend the day at the Toledo Zoo then spend the night there before heading to Cuyahoga National Park, HOWEVER, this day, we found out the the only day of the week the Toledo Zoo is closed is Tuesdays and you can probably guess what day we were planning on going to the zoo! We made a last minute decision to spend the entire next day in Grand Rapids instead, and I'm glad we did!


Day Seven: Grand Rapids, MI & Camping at Maumee Bay State Park (OH)

PIC

We started off the day checking out of our hotel and heading to Outside Coffee Co. (734 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503). This coffee spot was so cool and unique and the coffee was amazing! I definitely recommend checking this place out if you're ever in Grand Rapids!



After coffee, we headed to Wolfgang's Restaurant (1530 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503) for breakfast!


Next we drove about 10-minutes to Frederik Meijar Gardens & Sculpture Park. This was definitely up there with favorite stops during this trip. There was so much to see at this park, and everything here was so beautiful!





When we finished at the gardens, we drove about 40-minutes to Windmill Island Gardens in Holland, MI. This is a cute little Dutch-themed town with some shops and an authentic windmill that you're able to go up into! We came here in August, however, between May 7th-15th is known as Tulip Time, where their tulips are in peak bloom, which just adds another beautiful factor!



After we finished here, we took the 3-hour drive to Maumee Bay State Park where we were camping for the night, and got to experience yet another amazing sunset! If you remember back to my Kentucky rainfly story, this was the place we discovered that my tent did indeed have a rainfly!




Day Eight: Cuyahoga Valley National Park (OH)


Our next day started with a 1 hour 45-minute drive to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We had taken a trip to this park earlier this year, so our goal was to see everything we didn't get to see the first time! If you want some more ideas of things to see / do, check out my other post about Cuyahoga!

Our first stop was to do the Blue Hen Falls/ Buttermilk Falls Trail which is about 4-miles round trip.

Buttermilk Falls

After finishing this hike, we stopped at Century Cycles to rent bikes to bike some of the Towpath Trail.



Our goal was to bike to Szaley's Market, however, when we started our ride, we realized we had biked about 2-miles in the wrong direction, so we had to turn around and re-route, but we finally made it!


We grabbed some amazing food from the market, and continued the ride to Indigo Lake to have a picnic and take time to relax by the lake.



Because the lake is pretty far from Century Cycles, we took the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (you can load bikes on) back to return our bikes to Century Cycles.



After returning our bikes, we stopped at the Visitor Center to get some of our favorite ice cream before heading on our next hike!


After finishing our ice cream, we headed to do a 3-mile hike on the Brandywine Falls Loop Trail. This waterfall is much bigger, but honestly I prefer the Blue Hen / Buttermilk Falls more!


Brandywine Falls

We finished our day at the park and drove to our favorite campground in the area, Silver Spring Campground where we camped for the night. We've stayed in this campground before on a previous trip to this park, and really enjoy it. Definitely recommend this campground! This night, we also had some little raccoon visitors, so pro tip, make sure to get rid of your trash!!


Day Nine: Pittsburgh, PA & Bradford, PA


We got to Pittsburgh around noon this day, so our first stop was Primanti Bros to get some famous Pittsburgh sandwiches! We walked over to the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain and had a little picnic with our sandwiches. After finishing our lunch, we decided to take a walk through Schenley Park which offered some cool views overlooking the city.


Mary Schenly Memorial Park

Then we headed to my favorite stop of the whole day, Randyland! Randyland is located at 1501 Arch St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212 and is the home of unconventional artist, Randy Gilson. Randy turned his property into an art museum full of random, and obscure art pieces, and is regarded as one of the most colorful art displays in the U.S. The museum is free, and it was such a cool experience to really look around, and read about the history and the idea behind the creation of Randyland.




After Randyland, we drove over to the Duquesne Incline (1197 W. Carson St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219) The incline cost $5.00 round trip (and yes you need exact change) and takes you to the top of the city of Pittsburgh. The view from the top offered such a cool perspective of the city! Although there isn't too much to do at the top besides take in the views, we spent some time just walking around the neighborhood at the top, and there is a restaurant located up there as well!



When we finished at the incline, we headed back to the hotel we were staying at The Sheraton at Station Square (300 W Station Square Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15219) to freshen up before dinner. We had a few dinner recommendations in the main part of the city, however, there was a concert we were unaware of happening at the same time, therefore everywhere downtown was packed! We came across a new brewery called Sly Fox Brewery (46 South 4th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219) and were so glad we did, because their food and drinks were amazing! We tried some classic Pittsburgh pierogis here too.



We ended the night at The Milkshake Factory (there are a few locations throughout the city, and I honestly can't remember which one we went to) and enjoyed some delicious milkshakes, and a beautiful sunset to finish off our day in Pittsburgh!





Day Ten: Kinzua Bridge State Park & Knoebels Amusement Park (Elysburg, PA)


The last day of our roadtrip started off with the 3-hour drive from Pittsburgh to Kinzua Bridge State Park. Kinzua Bridge State Park is a 339-acre park home to the Kinzua Viaduct, which once acted as the longest and tallest railroad structure until it was destroyed by a tornado in 2003. In 2011, what was left of the railroad became reinvented as a walkway for people to take in the surrounding views.




We spent the first part of our time here walking down the bridge and taking in all of the views below. We then took the trails down below to explore some of the destroyed remains of the tracks. It was really cool to see the bridge from both perspectives!


Make sure to check out the visitor's center while you're here to learn all about the history of the railroad, the park, and the railroads fate after the tornado! When we finished at the park we went into Bradford, where we were staying to grab dinner at Kabob's at the Option House (41 Main St, Bradford, PA 16701). They're known for their kabobs, but have plenty of other food options as well! We enjoyed an amazing dinner, and then headed back to our hotel The Holiday Inn Express (30 Tarport Dr Ext, Bradford, PA 16701) for the night.


The next morning, our official last day, decided to make two more stops before heading home. Our first stop was to the Zippo Lighter Museum (1932 Zippo Drive, Bradford, PA 16701). This was a quick stop that was recommended by my best friend's mom, and a stop we were glad we were able to squeeze in! Even if you are not super familiar with Zippo lighters (like me) it was a really cool museum to check out to see the evolution of the zippo lighter, and all of the famous and historical appearances the lighters have made throughout the years.


Zippo Lighter Museum

Our official last stop on our way back home was to Knoebel's Amusement Resort (391 Knoebels Blvd, Elysburg, PA 17824). Knoebels is a family owned and operated amusement park and is America's largest free admission amusement park. I had been to Knoebels once or twice as a kid, so it was really cool to go back as an adult. You pay per ride and there are over 60 rides to choose from. We rode a few rides, and grabbed some food before eventually making the last remaining leg of our drive back home.


Knoebel's Amusement Park

This roadtrip was one I will truly never forget! Getting to visit so many places, new National and State Parks, new cities, try new food, camp new places, etc. was an experience that I am so grateful I was able to accomplish! While this trip took a lot of planning, and a lot of driving, it was so worth it in the end. I hope this post inspired you to take your own roadtrip, and hope you find it helpful if you are planning on visiting any or multiple of the places mentioned above! Thanks for reading, and remember, there's always more to be explored!


~nicole elizabeth


Approximate Map of Our Route



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hi! nic here

Welcome to my blog! I'm a full-time Recreational Therapist, in grad school and still trying to find time to explore! Follow my journey as I continue to embark on adventures near and far. I look forward to sharing my life with you, and remember, there's always more to be explored!

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