Des Moines to New York Road Trip Guide


For a road trip like no other, our Des Moines to New York journey truly has it all. A cross country adventure which has been carefully planned to suit any family- with something to keep everyone happy.

It is expected to take around seven days, but you could always extend the trip by staying longer at any of the points of interest along the way. From spending the night in remote and secluded locations and traveling through beautiful spots of wilderness to thrills and spills at one of America’s oldest theme parks, there's lots to keep you occupied. Everyone will love the chance to see the animals at Pittsburgh Zoo or even spot some of America’s wildlife in their natural habitats at one of the many state parks highlighted along the route.

Family members with a sweet tooth are sure to enjoy the stop at the town of Hershey, also known as the ‘Sweetest Place on Earth’. However, if you are traveling with younger children, you might want to avoid the final destination of the Eastern State Penitentiary. Things can get a little spooky in this dark and imposing building, but we are sure that older teens and adults are sure to enjoy this entertaining but educational site.

We always advise that you check the weather forecast before making your journey, including the driving conditions on the day of travel. Also, for some of the RV campgrounds mentioned in this trip, you will need to reserve ahead and all the necessary info has been provided, where possible.

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Road trip length: 7+ days
Recommend rig: any
audience: family

Point of Interest

Maquoketa Caves State Park

Containing more caves than any other state park in the country, the Maquoketa Caves State Park is the first stop on our journey. These caves were discovered in the early 1830s, and this is a popular visit for hikers and spelunkers. The Dancehall Cave is particularly impressive at 800 ft long and this is the only cave where you can walk without having to stoop.

This cave is home to a range of geological formations, including flowstone formations and stalactites. Above ground, there are over six miles of hiking trails through dense forests and across wooden boardwalks. If you would like to camp here, there are electric sites available as well as clean and modern restrooms with flush toilets and showers. It is advised that you book in advance, but a quarter of the sites are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Some of the cave tours, such as the Wye cave, do involve some crawling. Wear old comfy clothes and closed-toe waterproof shoes with a good grip as trails can get rather wet. Before the cave tours, the interpreters will give a brief mandatory program regarding the spread and awareness of White Nose Syndrome (WNS). Also, it can get busy here in the summer, and the caves are often closed as a result of the weather- so always check in advance before you head out on your journey.

Cadiz Springs State Recreation Area

Located around a mile from Browntown, this small State Park unit provides an ideal chance to stop and stretch your legs. Cadiz Springs State Recreation Area is home to two reservoirs and surrounded by forest. If you are visiting in the summer, the waters provide the perfect opportunity to cool off or relax and unwind as you top up your tan lazing on the 150-ft beach. Swimming is popular here, but it should be noted that there are no lifeguards.

Enjoy over eight miles of trails for hiking or explore off the beaten path amongst the forest, water, and meadow habitats. Keep your eyes peeled to spot a diverse range of wildlife that is native to the region. Keep your binoculars on the Osprey platform across Beckman Lake for a chance to spot these majestic birds of prey. If you plan to hunt or fish when you are in the area, ensure that you check out the local laws and regulations regarding licenses and permits. Also, this Park is often frequented by millions of those pesky biting bugs, so don’t forget your mosquito spray!

Starved Rock State Park

One of the most popular attractions in Illinois, Starved Rock State Park is located in La Salle County and it is home to 14 waterfalls and 18 canyons. Some of these waterfalls are seasonal only, and the best time to visit is early spring when they are at their most powerful.

Year-round, you can discover fascinating rock formations and learn more about the area's unique Midwest history amongst the towering trees. Starved Rock was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and it was actually the State's very first recreational site; purchased in 1911. Trolley rides are a great way to see the park but the best views are definitely from the water, with canoeing, boating, and river cruises being popular.

Starved Rock Visitor Center is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm and there is also a restaurant in the Lodge if you fancy a bite to eat. Alternately, if you would prefer to enjoy a picnic, there are several dedicated areas, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you are looking for a guided hike around the park, we would recommend downloading the free smartphone app for audio tours through sections of the 12 miles of trails. If you would like to spend the night at the campground here, reservations should be made online before your trip. Most of the campsites have a standard 20-40 amp hook up, but there are some 50-amp sites available. There is also a small campground store on site which is open during the summer, stocking any essentials and things you may have forgotten.

Navy Pier

One of the most popular attractions in the Midwest, and Chicago's most visited, the Navy Pier is an iconic landmark. With rides, shops, restaurants, cultural attractions and an array of activities and experiences, the Pier welcomes more than two million visitors each year. Discover the botanical Crystal Garden, a one-acre indoor oasis with 80 live palm trees, foliage, flowers, and fountains; go back in time with a nostalgic visit to the Chicago Children’s Museum; ride the Centennial Wheel, or just sit back and enjoy impressive views of the Windy City’s skyline.

There are also places to book a river cruise, which is a great way to see the city from a whole new perspective. Plus, live music and fireworks bring the evenings to life here during the summer, and there are often special events. Whilst you are in Chicago, you may also want to check out Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago or the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Indiana Dunes

Established as the 61st State Park in 1925, this 2182 acres of unique landscape at the Indiana Dunes State Park offers over 16 miles of hiking trails; comprising 11 developed treks varying in length and difficulty. Located in the North West of Indiana, the picturesque plain consists of a fascinating terrain with its three tallest dunes, Mount Tom, Mount Holden, and Mount Jackson, towering at up to 192 feet.

There are also several beaches throughout the park as well as campsites if you are planning on staying the night in the area. For example, the Dunewood and the Indiana Dunes State Park Campgrounds are close by and have great facilities as well as gorgeous views of Lake Michigan which is located just 1.5 miles north. If you are planning to take a dip in the waters, please be cautious as the area is known for dangerous rip currents. The park has rich biodiversity amongst the dunes and welcomes more than four million guests each year.

Cedar Point

Promising thrills for even the sturdiest of adrenalin seekers, Cedar Point is the self-proclaimed roller coaster capital of the world. This 364-acre amusement park is situated on the Lake Erie peninsula and it is reported to be the second oldest operating park in the USA. There are 18 world-class roller coasters here, with some going as high as 420 feet tall. However, this park is not just for the thrill-seekers and there are rides to suit all ages. Kids, in particular, will love the Kiddy Kingdom and Camp Snoopy. There are also lots of hands-on activities, including the Fort Sandusky Mining Co., candle making and glass blowing. Plus, your ticket also includes entrance to Soak City, the water park right next door.

As well as live entertainment and special events, there are plenty of places in the park to get food or drinks and each food stand and restaurant offers free water. If you are visiting in the summer, the Luminosity Light Show is not to be missed. However, it should be noted that it can get busy peak season, and we would recommend that you download the Cedar Point App for a map, ride wait times, offers, and a handy car finder.

Seneca Caverns

Located in Bellevue, Ohio, the Seneca Caverns are around eight miles south of Seneca Rocks. These caves were originally discovered in 1872, when two boys, Peter Rutan and Henry Homer, were in the area hunting rabbits with their dog. After falling through an opening, they returned home to share the story of what they had discovered underground.

Gem mining is popular here, with rockhounders regularly discovering fool’s gold, rubies, amethyst, garnets, rose quartz and other precious stones. The Caverns have been open to visitors since 1928, and tours have been popular ever since.

The tour of this one-mile trail is around 45 minutes, the pathway underground is well lit, and there are handrails. If you are looking for something more exciting, the Stratosphere Cavern Tour takes it up a level. However, this option is only available for those aged twelve and above. If you are planning to explore the caves, some of the tours involve considerable walking and there are a lot of steps- so make sure that you wear comfortable shoes.

As well as nearby campgrounds, camping is available at the Monongahela National Forest, which borders Seneca Caverns and includes Spruce Knob Mountain. This is the highest point in the State at 4, 860 feet.

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Opened on June 14 1898, Pittsburgh Zoo is a non-profit organization with a wonderful ethos of animal conservation and protection. They partner with international charities that aim to protect wildlife in their natural habitats. With more than 4,000 animals encompassing 475 diverse species, the zoo is a great opportunity to see your favorite animal up close.

There is an excellent variety of exhibits such as the Forest Passage which emulates a journey from the Himalayas to Indonesia; with a myriad of Eastern and Southeast Asian species from Pandas to Amur Leopards. Alternatively, the African Savannah section replicates a pride land of lions, giraffes, flamingos and gazelles and many more creatures from the African bush. The Zoo also hosts the two-story PPG Aquarium which celebrates a ‘diversity of water’ and pays homage to the different marine ecosystems across the planet. For an aquatic adventure you must check this out as it is one of the most visited attractions in the city, Pittsburgh zoo is certainly worth a stop!

Hershey, PA

Also known as the Chocolate Town, Hershey is located in southeastern Dauphin County. The small town was originally established to house those who worked for The Hershey Company. The Hershey Story Museum offers a glimpse into the life and times of Milton S. Hershey. There are over 24, 000 items displayed in the museum, including artifacts, manuscripts, documents, and photographs as well as a chocolate tasting lab, interactive exhibits and more.

You should also visit Hershey’s Chocolate World, which has a free tour ride of the factory, tasting sections, and the option to create your own chocolate bar- ideal for any budding chocolatier! If you have a sweet tooth, a visit to the Bakery is definitely recommended. Alternately, the Pantry Cafe is the place to go for delicious breakfast and lunch, light meals and signature Hershey desserts. Both of these are located on Chocolate Avenue, a picture-perfect street that is lined with lights shaped just like Hershey kisses.

Eastern State Penitentiary

The final stop on this tour takes you on a spine-chilling tour of Eastern State Penitentiary- which once housed some of America's most infamous criminals, such as “Slick Willie” Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this National Historic Landmark first opened on October 25, 1829, and upon opening, it was the largest and most expensive public structure in the country.

The building’s ominous neo-gothic facade and dark history haunt the landscape and many spectres from the past have supposedly been seen wandering the cell blocks. The Prison closed in 1971 and it reopened for tourists in the 90s. Since then it has become a hotspot for dark tourists and paranormal investigators. Eastern State Penitentiary is a thought-provoking exploration into criminal justice spanning over the last two centuries. Try the audio tour for an engaging and immersive educational experience.


Hopefully, our unique trip has been a crowd-pleaser for all ages. However, after a trip across the country, your Big Apple adventure awaits. Whether it is a visit to Lady Liberty herself, shopping on Fifth Avenue or paying your respects at Ground Zero, there is much to do in the city. The sights and sounds of New York City are truly iconic. If you are planning on exploring while you are here, a City Pass is definitely recommended. This is one of the safest mega-cities in the world, but be cautious, especially in busy areas. Plus, wear comfy shoes. Your feet will thank you after a day sightseeing.

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