En Route to the Badlands


And so our epic 80 day summer road trip begins – 13 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces and 13 national parks. For the upcoming months, I will be sharing with you our highlights, lowlights, adventures, favorite spots, best tips and our thoughts on three months of road tripping and living in a pop up.

I’ll try to answer any and all of your questions too!  You can also follow our journey via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

If you would like to read about our plans and full itinerary start here.

Summer Road Trip

Getting Ready for the BIG Road Trip

The days leading up to today were filled with endless errands, planning, last minute researching and car maintenence. It was hectic and as much as we prepared and organized, it still feels like we could have done more. But time was up and we were in the car grinning from ear to ear starting our crazy adventure!

We darted to my in-laws for a crash course on the pop up camper. Did I mention we’ve never done any of this before? Sure my husband helped his parents as a kid, but – without calling him out on being an ol’ man – that was a LONG time ago. We’ve camped, but that only includes tent and truck camping. We’ve never been the sole responsible party for setting up and taking down any type of camper. An afternoon later, we are experts!

This should be interesting….

Summer Road Trip
Our home for the next few months!

Day 1: Rockford, Illinois to Austin, Minnesota

National Park Road Trip
Summer Road Trip, Day 1 – Rockford, Illinois to Austin, Minnesota


Miles Driven: 305

Average Gas Price per Gallon: $2.34

States: Illinois, Wisconsin & Minnesota

The Great River Road in Wisconsin

Excitement and intrigue filled the car as we drove out of Illinois into the first state we are traversing: Wisconsin. From Rockford, we decided to take the less direct route up to La Crosse, Wisconsin via the Great River Road.

It’s a 2,069 mile long road that follows along the Mississippi River through ten states. We traipsed along the scenic highway from Prairie du Chien to La Crosse.

La Crosse, Wisconsin
Where’s the cheese?
The Great River Road
The Great River Road


An Afternoon in La Crosse, Wisconsin

We spent the afternoon exploring the river city of La Crosse. We stood in awe at one of the best overlooks of the Mississippi River Valley we’ve yet to see, we took a short pilgrimage, walked along the river and ate a wonderful lunch.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a Catholic shrine dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. We stretched our legs on the peaceful one-mile walk through the meditation trail. The trail winds through a wooded path and leads to various devotional areas such as the Votive Candle Chapel, Memorial to the Unborn, Stations of the Cross, Rosary Walk and the Shrine Church.


Afternoon La Crosse Wisconsin
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe Pilgrimage
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Votive Candle Chapel
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Stained Glass in the Votive Candle Chapel
La Crosse, Wisconsin


Grandad Bluff

Next, we drove up to Grandad Bluff which overlooks the entire city of La Crosse and the Mississippi River Valley. We read that the view encompasses three separate states: Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. The panoramic views were gorgeous!

La Crosse, Wisconsin


La Crosse, Wisconsin
Overlook at Grandad Bluff in La Crosse

Lunch at Dublin Square Irish Pub

We always manage to find an Irish Pub wherever we are and so was the case in La Crosse! Dublin Square Irish Pub did not disappoint. The burger with jalapeno bacon cream cheese (with actual sliced jalapenos and bacon strips) is delicious. They even put the special cream cheese on my buffalo chicken wrap. The homemade mac n’ cheese had a light sprinkle of panko bread crumbs right on top of the heavenly cheese sauced shells.

What made this lunch extra special? A cold pint of Spotted Cow by New Glarus Brewery. Chances are, if you find yourself in a Wisconsin restaurant or bar they will have some kind of New Glarus beer on tap. If that’s the case, try one! Spotted Cow is universally liked as it is a smooth, light pale ale.

La Crosse, Wisconsin
Delicious burger at Dublin Square Irish Pub


Riverside Park

We walked along the river and through a small garden in Riverside Park.





Lodging En Route to the Badlands – Rodeway Inn & Suites: Austin, Minnesota

We decided not to use the pop up for less than three overnights so our first stop is right off highway 90 in Austin, Minnesota. For those of you that enjoy quirky roadside attractions, this is also home to the Spam Museum. I probably would have dragged my husband through it, but it closes early and opens late so he lucked out.

The rooms at the Rodeway aren’t five stars, but it was clean, had a microwave, fridge, free wi-fi and breakfast. The breakfast includes bananas, cereal, white bread, bagels, donuts, coffee and juice. The owners were extremely friendly. The total cost with tax was $61.




Next Stop: South Dakota via I-90

Have you ever been to South Dakota? Have any recommendations? Tell us in the comments below!

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Angela E. is a travel writer from the Chicagoland area who has visited all 50 states in the US and has traveled extensively around the world. She is passionate about exploring the great outdoors and hiking in particular. Her love for nature has taken her to some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. She has written extensively about her travels on her own website, Dang Travelers, and has been published in collaboration with other travel websites and multiple visitor bureaus around the country.

21 Responses

  1. Chris Travels

    You’ve only been gone for a day or two and have already managed to get out of your vehicle quite a few times to see and explore varying sights along the way. The pictures are great and the food looks scrumptious! Can’t wait to read about your trip as each day unfolds before you. Safe travels along the way!

    • Dang Travelers

      The first two days are going to be the longest for us in the car, but we managed to walk 5 miles on Day 1. Happy about that! We don’t mind long car rides, but it’s great to be able to stretch our legs once in awhile. Thanks for reading!

  2. Angela

    Fantastic start! We are planning a 90-100 day road trip from our home in Nova Scotia Canada across the USA and back in a few years. Looking forward to dreaming along with you as you share your journey.

  3. jasmine@makingrestorations

    This is so amazing, we just did a very miniature version of this (6 national parks in 8 days). Love that you guys can take 80 days to see the country. My grandparents did the same thing for years, just traveling with their pop-up in tow. Would love to hear more details about your budget. And wondering why you have a 3 night minimum to set up camp. Is it that much work to set up? Looking forward to following more of your trip

    • Dang Travelers

      Thanks so much! The pop up takes time to set up and some days we were going to arrive near dark while in transit between parks. Staying at a hotel for a night also allows us to spoil ourselves periodically with a private bath and internet. We are planning on following up regarding our budget and expenses either monthly or at the end. Thanks for following along! We will be trying to post every few days when we have a connection.

  4. Alana

    Enjoy your road trip! We went to college in La Crosse, such a beautiful area!

  5. K

    We live in La Crosse,very proud of our coty,cant beat the beauty of the Mississippi River and the bluffs along the great river road. Enjoy South Dakota,we love it,be sure and visit Custer State park and Spearfish Canyon!

    • Dang Travelers

      We enjoyed our time there. La Crosse has the best views of the Mississippi we’ve seen yet! We did both Custer State Park (camped there for 6 days) and drove Spearfish Canyon. It is a beautiful area!!

  6. Ted Jias

    Just call me Ted, We did this alot of years ago. We left Bad Axe, Mi. and drove to the west coast with a Chevy station wagon and pop-up camper. The amazing part of the trip was we took our 5 kids and our niece from Gr. Rapids with us. Thats 8 of us, count em. We ended up driving 7500 miles, saw numerous national parks, camped right across the street from Disney land for 5 days, got our feet wet in the Pacific ocean, and had a ball. You can figure out how long ago it was, we paid 25 cts a gallon for gas just down the street from Disney land!!!!

    • Dang Travelers

      Hey Ted. That sounds crazy and amazing all at the same time. I’m computing that to be 250 miles on average a day…wow! I bet your kids and niece still talk about that trip often since it was such an awesome adventure. Funny about the low gas cost, we got excited with prices under $2.50! Thanks for reading!

      • Ted Jias

        you may not believe this but we had a wonderful trip, even with 6 kids. Youngest was still in diapers, pldest was our niece, she was 13 if I remember correctly. We saw mt rushmore, yellowstone, teton mountains which you have to go see!!!!!! one park I had never heard of??? yosemite, kings canyon,grand canyon which is amazing. any way you guiys hjave a wonderful trip and don’t spend too much money on gas !!!!!

        • Dang Travelers

          Wow, amazing Ted! We finished the trip in September and documented it all on the blog. You can follow along with is on our journey! We luckily made it to Mt Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Tetons!! All of which are unique and wonderful in their own ways. We did not make it to the others this trip though. We are hoping to drive an extended version of Route 66 next year and we will be sure to hit some of these! Thanks ☺

  7. Kim B

    Hey there travelers,
    I grew up just north of La Crosse & traveled the Mississippi quite a few times. La Crosse is a nice start to your trip. The food looks yummy, the views very nice & you stopped to smell the roses & stretch your legs a bunch, that’s something I’m trying to improve upon, quality stops, even if just to stretch my legs, but to see something too.
    Kim B

    • Dang Travelers

      Small world Kim! We definitely liked the stop and thought La Crosse had the best views of the river we’ve seen to date. Sometimes we have a gard time stopping too because we get excited about our destination versus stops along the way. Now that we are trying to slow travel a bit more, I think it’s a great way to break up the drive.

  8. Jack Thomas

    In 2003 my future wife and I spent 3 months travelling around the USA, across the south, up the west coast and across the northern tier to Maine and south back to home in South Carolina. Drove through 33 states, only 4 National Parks, mainly because of forest fires across the west. Stopped at more roadside attractions than I can remember. Camped out most of the time, but used motels when we were on a 2 or 3 day drive between parks. Would love to do it again, but time and age have caught up and now it is limited to 3 or 4 day trips alone. Wife died in 2011. Hope your trip is one that will fill your memories for the rest of your life.

    • Dang Travelers

      I am so sorry for your loss Jack. It sounds like you had quite the adventure. 33 states in 3 months is fantastic! I’m so glad you were able to experience those moments with her. We are reminded too often that life is short. There are so many people in the world that seem to forget that. Thank you for the kind words and for following along.

      • Jack Thomas

        Thanks for the comments. I like following blog of people/friends who travel.

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