Chicago to Pierre Road Trip Guide


Chicago is the capital city of the state of Illinois and since its founding in the mid-1800s has grown to be one of the largest and most populous in North America. Situated on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, the city extends over an area of two-hundred and thirty square miles. It's a massive urbanization full of traffic-clogged avenues lined with towering skyscrapers that form a skyline almost as easily recognizable as the iconic one of New York.

City life has a rhythm and routine all of its own that is a complete contrast to life out in the wilds of the countryside. When you're raising youngsters in that type of city environment, it can be hard for them to comprehend the realities of nature or the beauty and magnitude of the country they live in. Even though they may see snippets of the world outside the city while browsing online or while studying, it can only give them a superficial understanding of what's really out there.

To give your kids a first-hand experience of nature in all its glory, take them on a three to five day RV road trip from Chicago to Pierre in South Dakota. It'll be a real eye-opener for them when you camp out by a lake where they can explore marshlands, prairies, and forest, rather than streets full of high rise towers. Take them hiking along an abandoned railway line, kayaking through a scenic gorge and to a viewpoint where they'll see nothing but mile after mile of construction-free landscapes. Then visit a museum where they'll find out that spam isn't just something they can get when connected to the internet.

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Max RV length
Max trailer Length
Road trip length: 3-5 days
Recommend rig: motorhome
audience: family

Point of Interest

Lake Kegonsa State Park

Head west out of Chicago along the I 90 and while Pierre is around eight-hundred miles away you could, if you kept going, be there in around twelve hours. The kids wouldn't get much contact with the natural world that way, so plan for the first stopover on your RV road trip to be at the Lake Kegonsa State Park. The park is a few miles off the I 90 through the town of the same name.

The park has a family campground with campsites set out in a densely forested area. There are no hook-ups and few on-site facilities so it'll be a proper primitive camping experience for the young ones. Once you've pitched camp, you'll have the chance to take the kids for a trek along some of the five miles of trails, show them how to catch and prepare fish for their supper, go canoeing on the lake or for a swim at the beach.

Give them some binoculars and you'll be able to spend hours together bird or wildlife spotting the many species of birds and mammals that inhabit the prairies and marshlands. They could see anything from a pheasant to a fox and you'll have great fun trying to name what they see without googling it first.

Dells of Wisconsin River

Introduce your youngsters to the pleasures of paddling by taking them canoeing or kayaking in one of Wisconsin's most scenic spots. The Dells of the Wisconsin River are a state natural area (SNA) covering around five miles of the river corridor. Camping isn't permitted in the SNA, but you'll find a convenient family campground nearby in the Mirror Lake State Park that has over a hundred campsites and lots of modern amenities.

The Dells of the Wisconsin River are landscapes practically untouched by man and contain some stunningly scenic features. Launch your crafts at the Cambrian Overlook and set out for a four-mile paddle through the Upper Dells Gorge with its towering cliffs studded with greenery. It'll be an experience the kids won't forget and one they'll definitely want to repeat. If they do want to do more paddling while you're in Wisconsin take them to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve or the Lost Creek Bog.

La Crosse River State Trail

As you continue on your family RV road trip from Chicago to Pierre, stop off at La Crosse for a leg stretch that will have you and your family trekking across some wide-open countryside. To get to the trail, turn off the I90 when you see the signs for La Crosse River Conservancy Area and it'll take you along the S. Kinney Coulee Road to where the trail starts. Alternatively, you can join the trail off the I90 just east of Bangor from the Manke Hesselberg Road. There are no specific parking facilities at either spot, so be careful where you leave your vehicle.

The La Crosse River State Trail is a twenty-two mile long crushed stone track that was once a railway line. The trail runs parallel to the La Crosse River through prairie lands, forests, tunnels and over bridges. It's an ideal trail for mountain biking as well as hiking and in the wintertime converts to a snowmobile trail. While the scenery is spectacular, kids being kids, they'll probably enjoy shouting at the top of their voices while going through the tunnels the most.

Great River Bluffs State Park

When you're in Minnesota on your RV road trip and need to find a campground for the night, try the Great River Bluffs State Park. The park is just across the state border between Wisconsin and Minnesota near the town of Dakota. It has a super scenic position situated alongside the Mississippi River and Lake Onalaska. The park's campground sits in an elevated position and there are incredible views over the lake, river, and countryside that will make you feel as if you're the only folks left in the world.

Pitch up among the dense covering of trees and you won't see who's occupying the neighboring campsite. Set out on the many miles of trails through the woodlands and while you will see plenty of birds, you probably won't see another human being. It's the perfect place to grill up a barbecue then sit around the campfire at night telling the young ones about the adventures of your youth until they fall asleep.

The Spam Museum

The word spam has over the last few decades become synonymous with unwelcome and unwanted advertising arriving in your email account. Ask your kids what spam is and that's more than likely the description of the word they'll come up with. Pull into the parking lot of the Spam Museum on 3rd Avenue in Austin, Minnesota, and they'll probably expect to see displays of a digital kind once they get inside. That couldn't be further from the truth, so they'll be totally surprised by what they find once they're through the museum doors.

The Spam Museum is dedicated to the canned meat of the same name that's been part of North America's daily culinary life, as well as forty-plus other countries in the world, since the late 1930s. In the museum, there are fascinating exhibits that chronicle the product's early days, how it's manufactured and its involvement with feeding the troops during WW2. There are hands-on interactive displays that will keep the young ones interested, varying from measuring their height with Spam cans to recipes to cook at home or when you're out camping in your rig.


When you arrive in Pierre after your five-day road trip, you'll soon notice how different it is to Chicago. It's a green city with lots of trees, very few skyscrapers and one of the lowest populations of a state capital city in the entire US. Compared to Chicago, it's a relatively small city too and covers an area of no more than thirteen square miles, and you can still get the kids in touch with nature there.

Before you hit the road again and head back to Chicago, take them to the South Dakota Discover Center or for a hike around the LaFramboise Island State Nature Area. They'll love it so much, you could end up starting to plan a permanent move from Illinois to South Dakota.

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