bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

Trip planning recommendations: DC-area to Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone’s Midway Geyser Basin

Hi strangers! Long time, not much posting. We’re just coming out of the doldrums of summer here in VA, sweating and dreaming about our next big Airstream trip coming up in December. In the meantime, I wanted to write up some advice we gave a very special someone earlier this summer when she asked for recommendations on the best way to get from the DC area to Yellowstone.

Speed of travel was a priority to her, but she also wanted to hit some enjoyable waypoints and not just power through. We came up with some compelling options that we hope to explore ourselves at some point!

The routes: overview

Bugsy at the Continental Divide
Bugsy crossed the Western Continental Divide while driving from Grand Teton to Yellowstone on Big Trip #3 in 2020

Looking at the map from DC to West Yellowstone, I saw four reasonable options:

  • One option heads up north through Chicago, Minneapolis, across ND and MT to West Yellowstone. 
  • Essentially the same length, Option 2 splits off from Option 1 in WI and stays farther south, through SD and MT. 
  • Option 3 is an hour longer and goes from Chicago west across IA and NE then cuts up through WY.
  • A fourth option goes west to St Louis then up through NE and WY like Option 3. 

To cross-reference the options above with where we’ve taken our Airstream on previous trips, see our Maps page, showing the routes of our bigger trips, and all the places we’ve been on Airstream trips.

Let’s look at route details!


bison at trnp
bison at TRNP
  • From the DC area, one could start toward the north across PA into OH, or track south through WV; we are big fans of Fayetteville and Lewisburg in WV.
  • We haven’t trailered through SW PA, but once through there you’re headed toward Cuyahoga Valley National Park in OH, and then Indiana Dunes National Park in IN. Neither is super exciting, but they’re pleasant enough stops.
  • We loved Madison WI, and some of the county parks accommodate RVs.
  • It’s a little out of the way, but we also loved Duluth, MN. The campground in town is kind of a weird (and awesome) parking lot situation with views of Duluth’s super cool lift bridge.
  • Heading west from Duluth, we spent a night in Grand Rapids, MN; there’s not much to the town but it’s cute enough and had a scenic campground.
  • We always love stopping in Fargo–the food and beer are surprisingly good and downtown is neat to walk around. The campground we stay at is lovely: a big city park with trails and riverfront RV sites.
  • Next on the western-bound hit list is Medora, the tiny, kind of cheesy town outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park. For us, Medora is solely about proximity to the national park, but lots of people love the town.
  • Eastern Montana doesn’t have much to offer a tourist, no offense. We’d push across to Bozeman or Livingston, only about six hours from Medora. Both are awesome; however, we haven’t spent a night in Livingston so I don’t know the campground situation there, if any.
  • In West Yellowstone, we stayed just outside the park, and the demand for that area means getting a last-minute campsite there is very unlikely!


dog at badlands national park
Bugsy smiling or sneezing in Badlands National Park
  • Same as above until Madison
  • A reasonable driver would have to stop somewhere west of Madison before getting to the next good place, and we don’t really have any great advice there! The travelers from No Home Just Roam were in Sioux Falls, SD, earlier this year, and based on their post it might be worth checking out.
  • If you look at our trip maps (our bigger trip routes and our giant mess of all the places we’ve been) you’ll see two lonely dots in SD without much around them. Badlands National Park and Custer State Park are both absolutely wonderful but kind of out there by themselves. 
  • From there, we’d motor all the way to Billings (never been, but there has to be some good stuff there).
  • Then Bozeman is doable, or just push through to West Yellowstone.


String Lake hike
hiking in Grand Teton NP
  • Same as above until Indiana Dunes
  • Where to stop in Iowa… Cedar Rapids? We haven’t been, and in general don’t have much intel on Iowa, other than what we learned visiting family in Charles City.
  • Omaha is a pleasant city and an easy stop on the way west.
  • The next town of note I see on the map is Cheyenne, and we haven’t been there. We’d like to go though! It’s kind of a haul from Omaha, though, 7.5 hours.
  • Not far south of Cheyenne is Fort Collins, CO, and we love that town (that’s probably why we haven’t done Cheyenne yet). 
  • Just south of Yellowstone is Grand Teton NP, one of our verrrry favorites and we HIGHLY recommend trying to include it if driving all the way to Yellowstone!
  • From there it’s a gorgeous drive through GTNP and Yellowstone to West Yellowstone.


bugsy walking down street in bardstown
quaint downtown Bardstown
  • KY – Lexington and Louisville are both fun; the campground we stayed at outside Louisville was a little trashy but staying at the horse park in Lexington was lovely. Bardstown, south of Louisville, is super cute and a bourbon hotspot, with a nice camping situation in a state park.
  • We liked St Louis, and there’s an RV park in town convenient to everything.
  • Kansas City was fine for a stopover. We think Omaha is a bit nicer.
  • From there it’s the same as option 3 above.

This was a fun thought experiment and got us excited about heading out west later this year! We think if we had to choose one of the above routes, we’d pick………. jeez, probably #1 or #3. There are parts in each that we love. The best route really just depends on how big a hurry you’re in, and if you want to focus on hiking or exploring or eating or drinking or just getting out west as quickly as possible. You can’t really go wrong!

As always, let us know if you have favorite stops or route ideas!


One response to “Trip planning recommendations: DC-area to Yellowstone”

  1. Stephen Avatar

    Oh man, this is a tough one. I was originally leaning towards South Dakota seeing as we enjoyed it there so much, but I’m wondering if option 3 or 4 would be better. We loved St Louis, but it’s Nebraska that has me leaning towards those last two options.

    That’s because Broken Bow, NE is home to Kinkaider Brewing. We stayed at their Bed & Beer guesthouse which is a 2 bedroom apartment at their brewery https://kinkaider.lodgify.com/

    I know you’d be in your Airstream if you do this route yourself, but this has been one of my favorite places we’ve stayed anywhere over the last 6 years. The best part of all is the bathroom as there’s a beer fridge in the shower – it’s life-changing! They stock it with 6 beers for when you arrive, so the first thing you’ll want to do is shower. It’s dog-friendly and in one of the rooms you can open the blinds to look in on the brewery area.

    Their beers are all delicious too – we stayed there a week and so I had time to try them all and they were all very good. They also own Sideshow Spirits and stock four types of canned cocktails – the Witch Doctor Mai Tai in particular was excellent, but all were tasty.

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