Des Moines to Cleveland Road Trip Guide


Des Moines, Iowa is a quintessential small Midwestern US city. While it is the largest city in Iowa, and the state's capital, it is still approachable and easy to visit. There is also an abundance of excellent year-round attractions to visit here as well as some excellent special events that are hosted throughout the year. Permanent attractions include the State Capital Building, the State of Iowa Historical Museum, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens and the Blank Park Zoo. All of which make excellent day trips. For a more interactive historical Midwestern experience try visiting the Living History Farms where you can experience early farming life on a 500 acre active farm hosted by people in period dress.

Depending on the time of your visit you may be able to experience one of the many great fairs or festivals hosted in the city. The Iowa State Fair is held in August. This fair is widely regarded as one of the best in the midwest, if not the country, and is definitely worth the trip alone. Other great festivals include the Des Moines Art Festival in June, the Metro Arts Jazz Festival in July, the World Food and Music Festival in September and many others ranging from the Blue Ribbon Bacon Fest to the Wild Rose Film Festival.

The trip from Des Moines to Cleveland is a fairly easy journey through the center of America's heartland. It includes four states and at least three major cities. The terrain is generally flat and unlike the Great Plains further west, wind here is usually not an issue. This makes for a fairly easy drive regardless of the size of vehicle you are traveling with.

The route is essentially due east and involves only a few interstates. You'll leave Des Moines on I-80 east, which you will follow until you reach the southwestern suburbs of Chicago. There, pick up I-294 east to I-94 east. Once you reach the southeastern suburbs of Chicago you'll pickup I-80/I-90 east, which is also known as the Turnpike. I-90 will take you directly to Cleveland. It is important to note that once you reach Chicago, most of the roads on this route are toll roads. Using a GPS with “Avoid toll roads” activated can help you avoid these, but the total trip time will be extended by several hours. It may also divert you far enough away from the main points of interest that the cost savings may not be worth it.

Share this road trip guide


Max RV length
Max trailer Length
Road trip length: 2-3 days
Recommend rig: any
audience: family

Point of Interest

Cedar Point

Cedar Point is a large amusement park affectionately known as “America's Roller Coast”. It Is located right on the beautiful shores of Lake Erie in Sandusky, OH. This park has the highest concentration of roller coasters of any amusement park in the world. If you love roller coasters, or amusement parks in general then Cedar Point is a must visit. Because of the size and popularity of the park, this is not a quick stop so plan on spending a least an entire day here.

The popularity of the park also means finding places to stay and eat nearby is pretty simple. The closest RV park is the Sandusky Bayshore KOA Holiday. This is an excellent, well maintained park that can accommodate just about any RV. They also offer cabins and tent camping sites for those traveling by car.

RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum

Just off Exit 96 on I-80/90 in Elkheart, Indiana is the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. The Elkhart area of Indiana is the heart of the RV manufacturing industry, with 80% of the RVs sold in the US being manufactured here. The RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum pays tribute to the industry that is so vital to this region. The building covers 100,000 square feet and includes RV industry displays and memorabilia spanning from the early 1900's to the present day. Additionally, the facility also plays host to a broad variety of local events including swap meets and fundraisers.

As you might expect, there is plenty of parking for RVs here, but if you want to stay the night then the Elkhart Campground would be a good choice. It's conveniently located a short distance off I-80/90 one exit to the west.

Chicago, IL

With 2.7 million residents, Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States and the largest city in the Midwest. There is no shortage of things to do here. Some interesting options to get a great overview of the city include taking an architectural cruise up the Chicago River. These tours are typically about 90 minutes long and give a great introduction to the city's skyline while relaxing on a boat. There are several other great tours of the city like the Chicago Crime and Mob Tour or the Gangsters and Ghosts tours. These get you up close and personal with the storied history of the city. More general walking, biking and Segway tours are also available throughout the city.

One of the best places to RV camp is Camp Bullfrog Lake in Willow Springs on the southwestern side of the city. It's part of a county park offering a great location to the city and it's not far from I-80.

Vander Veer Botanical Park

The Vander Veer Botanical Park is the 33 acre crown jewel of the Davenport, Iowa park system. Established in 1885, the park is split into several sections including outdoor gardens, numerous greenhouses and a conservatory. The overall design of the park allows visitors to easily stroll through and enjoy the many beautiful displays throughout the park. Those displays include trees and plantings dating as far back as the late 1800's, the Municipal Rose Garden, the Hosta Glade, the Old World Gardens and Fountain, a shade garden, daylily borders, and more. There is also a children's garden and a children's lagoon and play area.

The conservatory hosts indoor garden display which rotate throughout the year. The stock used for those displays is grown and housed in the various greenhouses spread throughout the grounds. Both the conservatory and the greenhouses are open to the public, although their hours of operation may be different than the general park hours. The best part about this park is that it is free to visit.

There are several great RV parks around the Davenport area. One of the best and most convenient is the Interstate RV Park just off I-80 on the north side of the city. It's open year round, has excellent amenities, and provides great access to the city.


Cleveland is the comeback city of the Midwest. While its past still haunts it in the form of tired old jokes, the reality is that it is a fantastic place to visit with attractions for just about anyone. If you are into professional sports, between the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers, you can catch a game almost any time of the year. If you prefer your sport to be more “hands-on” then consider chartering a fishing trip on Lake Erie. The conditions of the lake have vastly improved over the years and it is now one of the best lakes in the country for Walleye and Small Mouth Bass fishing. During the fall Yellow Perch run (typically August – October) it's not uncommon to reach your limit in just an hour or two of fishing. Best of all, Yellow Perch make for a great campsite fish fry.

Cultural attractions around the city include the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame and the University Circle area. There you'll find the Cleveland Natural History Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Botanical Gardens and Crawford Auto Aviation Museum. These attractions are all within walking distance of each other. After filling your cultural tank, consider taking the short drive to Little Italy and filling the food tank up with some great pizza at Mama Santa's. This is a favorite pizza place with the locals so plan on waiting in line a bit. Your patience will be rewarded with a traditional pie that has been served there for generations. If pizza isn't your thing, there are some great places for food and drink just up the hill off Coventry Road.

If you are checking off national parks to visit, the excellent Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located on the south side of Cleveland. One of the best features of this park is the Towpath Trail. This multiuse hike/bike trail runs along the former Erie Canal route from Valley View to Akron. Along the way, there are several historical markers including remnants of the old canal lock system. The trail is compacted gravel and fairly flat making it a great day trip for the family.

Share this Road trip guide