A road trip from Minnesota to California is a great way to see the wide landscape of America. While the road trip may seem long, the drive provides a number of interesting and beautiful destinations that you can’t see when you fly into an airport.
When planning a road trip from Minnesota to California you want to make sure you see all the roadside sights. We built this itinerary to maximize time in National Parks and other top sights while keeping an efficient route.
The best part of a road trip is improvising. When we did this roadtrip we used HotelTonight to book a place to stay when we needed it.
They give great deals and rates on last-minute bookings — perfect for the unexpected snoozes we need that a roadtrip brings!
Table of Contents
Stop One: Minneapolis to Sioux Falls
Total travel time: 4 hours
The first stop on the way from Minnesota to California is Sioux Falls. This South Dakota city has a lot to offer. Downtown Sioux Falls is lined with cobblestone streets, cute shops, and fun restaurants.
There are also a number of breweries to check out. If you can’t choose what brewery to try, head to Monk’s Ale House for a number of local and national craft beers. Our favorite stop is CH Pâtisserie – they have the best macarons!
Right downtown is Falls Park (where Sioux Falls gets its name!). Make sure to stop by and watch the water or stop closer to downtown to view a replica of The David..
Sioux Falls warrants an overnight stop so you can try the restaurants and spend time at the breweries.
But you can also stop through fast and check out the falls before hopping on to the second leg of the trip.
See Related: Best Things to do in Sioux Falls
Stop Two: Rapid City & The Black Hills South Dakota
Total travel time: Sioux Falls to Rapid City: 5 hours
Here’s the road trip catch…driving through South Dakota is not very exciting. This leg will feel long, but visiting the national sites all around Rapid City is well worth it. The drive closer to Rapid City is pretty amazing too. We definitely recommend staying at least a night somewhere near Rapid City.
Rapid City is just outside the Black Hills making it the best spot to access Mount Rushmore. There are a number of fun spots to see while you’re visiting this area. A few of our favorites are:
Mount Rushmore: an obvious stop, Mount Rushmore is a national monument showcasing four American presidents carved into a mountain.
Devil’s Tower: if you have the time, an hour and a half from Rapid City is the devil’s tower. This rock formation is considered sacred and is the first national monument.
The Needles: visiting the needles is fun because you go on a 14 mile journey through winding roads to see rock formations and drive through tunnels. This takes about an hour so dedicate your time and decide if you want to add that time in the car to your trip.
Crazy Horse Memorial: a must see, this unfinished carving depicts Crazy Horse who was a Native American war leader who fought against the US government encroaching on Indian territory. If you go at night you can see a cool laser show.
Custer: just south of the Crazy Horse memorial is Custer – a small town with a ton of hiking trails. You can stay at the Bavarian Inn, visit some local dining spots, and see the stars at night.
Hot Springs: the southernmost stop at the black hills, Hot Springs has fun museums to visit. You must stop at the pioneer museum, the world fossil finder museum, and the Mammoth Site. The Mammoth Site is an old sinkhole with preserved mammoth fossils – a once in a lifetime thing to see!
Stop Three: Wyoming, Lusk & Casper
Total travel time: Rapid City to Lusk 2.5 hours . Lusk to Casper 1.5 hours
While on the way to Casper, we recommend taking a stop in Lusk.
This historic town has bed and breakfasts, fun theme-weekends, and a Paleo Park filled with dinosaur bones. If you can, stay the night at the Covered Wagon Motel.
After Lusk head to Casper. Casper is known for outdoor activities and several museums. Make sure to check out Port Caspar, a reconstructed 1865 military post.
Stop Four: Salt Lake City
Total travel time: from Casper to Salt Lake City 6 hours.
A longer drive stretch, Casper to Salt Lake City takes about six hours, and there isn’t much to see. You travel alongside the railways for a bit which is about as exciting as it gets, but the landscape of Wyoming is quite beautiful especially in winter.
Once you get to Salt Lake City there is a lot to experience. From skiing and hiking to restaurants and museums, there is something for everyone to do. You absolutely must go to Temple Square and check out the Salt Lake Temple (a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
The temple looks like a castle and the square itself has multiple monuments including Salt Lake Tabernacle, Salt Lake Assembly Hall, the Seagull Monument, and two visitors’ centers. All of these represent the foundation of the Mormon church.
Salt Lake City also has a neat area called Sugar House. Sugar House park is a great spot to stop and sit, and the area has a ton of different boutiques, art galleries and book shops. This area is perfect for people who like unique shops and gifts.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Utah
Stop Five: Zion National Park
Total travel time: Salt Lake City to Zion 4 hours
Zion is an absolute must–and so is spending at least one night in Springdale. Zion is filled with steep, red cliffs.
The drive into Zion from Salt Lake City is breathtaking. All of a sudden you are surrounded by red cliff formations, then you wind into the park towards Springdale and the beauty just keeps coming.
Zion is an excellent park for hikers and mountain climbers. There are areas for experts and newbies alike.
You can enter the park at Springdale where there are a number of cozy hotels and inns, and a campground. There is also a brewery called Zion Canyon Brew Pub that is worth a visit after all the hiking!
When we stopped we only stayed a few hours because we had to get to Las Vegas by nightfall, but we will definitely be back and highly recommend staying a night in Springdale or camping if you can. It is worth it!
Stop Six: Las Vegas, Lake Mead & Hoover Dam
Total travel time: Zion to Las Vegas: 2.5 hours. Hoover Dam 30 min outside Vegas.
Las Vegas, Nevada is a sight to see. With nightlife, casinos, museums, and more, Las Vegas is a playground for every age.
Las Vegas is a great place to stop on a road trip because there is so much to do. You can stretch your legs walking the strip (great for people watching), place some bets in one of the many casinos, visit haunted museums, and basically anything else. Whatever you are into you are sure to find in Las Vegas.
We stayed at the Venetian in a King Suite for two nights. We visited during covid so it was a unique perspective. But the canal shops at the Venetian are something to see:
At some point, it is worth driving a half hour to visit the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam was constructed during the great depression, in fact, many people who lost their jobs traveled to Nevada in hopes of working on building the Dam. Seeing the giant Dam, which took five years to build, is pretty cool.
Seeing the Dam only takes about 20 minutes, unless you really take it in! But it is right by Lake Mead which has a ton of things to do. Check out our video footage of Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam here:
Stop Seven: Palm Springs, California!
Congratulations you’ve made it to California! We recommend ending your road trip in Palm Springs.
The city has a fun downtown strip that has small shops and bumping restaurants. There are a number of roadside motels too so there are plenty of places to stay!
We made it to Palm Springs, check out these top things to do in Palm Springs.
Looking for quick trips from Palm Springs? Follow our guide to the best day trips from Palm Springs.
See Related: Joshua Tree Itinerary
Timelapse (Drivelapse) of Our Road Trip from Minnesota to California
Want to watch our entire trip in a drivelapse format? Watch all the great stops that we made along the way in a condensed format.
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See Related: The Ultimate Grand Circle Road Trip Itinerary
Conclusion on the road trip from Minnesota to California
The road trip from Minnesota to California is perfect for adventurers who want to see the American landscape and experience a wide range of cities and national parks.
Road trips allow you to take your time to experience the sights for as long (or as short) as you want.
We hope you enjoy your roadtrip and this itinerary is helpful to make the most of your stops. Let us know on our YouTube channel where you stop and what you experienced.