Grand Rapids to Rolla Road Trip Guide


Grand Rapids is a city that spreads out to cover approximately forty-five square miles of the state of Michigan. Built either side of the broad and slow-flowing Grand River, it's an attractive city with numerous arched bridges connecting the different districts and a plenitude of interesting architecture.

Take a drive around the historic Heritage Hill District and you'll find many examples of Gothic-style mansions resembling French chateaus. Now included on the National Register of Historic Places many of the well-preserved homes there date as far back as the early nineteenth century. There are many eye-catching, but more modern constructions in Grand Rapids too as well as prehistoric earthen mounds built by the Hopewell tribe who were thought to be the first inhabitants of the region. The Grand Rapids Public Museum is an impressive structure constructed on the banks of the river which houses a diverse collection of artifacts pertinent to the region. The contemporary, glass-fronted Gerald R Ford Memorial Museum as well as being the late president's final resting place is also one of the most visited places in Grand Rapids.

While it's true that no photographer, amateur or professional, will ever run out of things to snap in Grand Rapids, photographing just buildings can start to get tedious. For a change of subject, load up your rig or trailer ready for a weekend road trip from Grand Rapids to Rolla in Missouri and you'll discover amazing landscapes and some more than shot-worthy flora and fauna on the way.

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

Point of Interest

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Motor south out of Grand Rapids along the I 94 and it'll take you along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan until you reach Hammond and you begin to head inland. Three hours of driving will see you approaching Joliet which is the ideal place to veer off the highway along the US 53 and take a rest break at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The area is day-use only so if you decide you want to camp locally try the campgrounds in the nearby Kankakee River State Park.

The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a nature preserve that covers almost twenty-thousand acres of wide-open countryside. It's a great spot to practice landscape photography as well as homing in for some detailed close-ups of grasses and wildflowers. The prairie is crisscrossed with more than twenty-two miles of multi-use trails so you might catch some action shots too as someone whizzes past on a mountain bike or canters by on their horse. While you'll want to catch their image, one animal you won't want to get too close to are the bison that roam around on a thousand acres of the terrains. They make for a fascinating photo but are not overly friendly if you get too close - especially when they have young.

St Louis, Missouri

One city you'll want to park up in to get some fantastic photos is St Louis. Whether you take your rig into the city or camp close by somewhere like the Mark Twain National Forest then use public transport to get there, you'll find countless photographic subjects that will have you constantly clicking.

One must-take-a-shot-of is the city's iconic Gateway Arch. The curving, six-hundred and thirty foot high structure on the banks of the Mississippi River commemorates the historic Lewis and Clark expeditions. Day or night, get the shot right and you'll have the impressive St Louis skyline as a backdrop. Take a stroll through the city's Forest Park and you'll find an ornate glass structure known as the Jewel Box. The pagoda-style greenhouse is fronted by huge lily ponds and full of tropical palms and other exotic plants that will test your close-up skills.

For something different, and slightly weird, head to the Laumeier Sculpture Park on St Louis' Rott Road. Wander the park grounds and you'll find a diverse collection of sculptures that could be anything from a giant eye to a Machu Picchu-style pyramid. If you're interested in capturing photos of raptors in flight or prowling wolves, stop off at the World Bird Sanctuary and the Endangered Wolf Center which you'll drive by after leaving St Louis on the I 44 to continue your road trip.

Rockwoods Reservation Hiking Area

As you're motoring through Missouri on your road trip from Grand Rapids to Rolla, plan to spend some time in a forest environment to test your skills at photographing light and shade. The Rockwoods Reservation is a stunningly scenic hiking area just south of the Dr Edmund A Babler Memorial State Park near the rural community of Wildwood. The hiking area is day-use and primitive tent camping only but there's a year-round campground in the state park with full hook-ups and excellent amenities if you want to pitch up nearby.

The Rockwoods Reservation Hiking Area is just under two thousand acres of conservation lands that vary from dense woodlands to bubbling springs, caves, ravines, and unusual rock formations. The terrains are teeming with birds and wildlife like chipmunks, opossum, and foxes so if you're quick with your camera you could catch some memorable photos. There are a series of well-maintained trails running through the hiking area so trekking isn't too difficult and there's not much chance of getting lost. You might even be able to snap some sunset pictures as the area doesn't close until an hour and a half after the sun goes down.

Meramec Caverns

Before you roll into Rolla on your weekend road trip from Grand Rapids take a break from the highway and set yourself the challenge of taking photos underground. The Meramec Caverns are located just off the I 44 south of Stanton and is the biggest cave system open to the public in Missouri. If you decide you'd like to spend the night in the area, the campground of the Meramec State Park is a convenient stop-off point.

Charge your camera then head below the earth's surface into a limestone fantasy world of incredible geological formations. What makes the stalagmites, stalactites and limestone chandeliers more fascinating is the fantastic multi-colored illuminations that have been installed to showcase the subterranean natural wonders. The caves have a long history too and were once used as a hideout by infamous outlaw Jesse James who signed his name on the walls.

If that's not exciting enough, there's an outside zipline course and a climbing wall to scale or you could go floating down the Meramec River on a six-mile canoe or rafting adventure. That's a trip guaranteed to get you some amazing on-the-water action shots.


While you may not have made any major plans for doing anything when you arrive in Rolla on your weekend road trip from Grand Rapids apart from turning around and heading for home, there's a couple of interesting things you won't want to miss doing. After you've checked out all the marvelous images you've captured on your camera's memory card, take time to take a few more pictures in the Historic Phelps County Jail or visit one of the area's wineries to shoot photos of grapes ripening on the vine. It's a great way to end a weekend road trip if combined with some tastings of the excellent vintages they produce.

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