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An Epic Minnesota to California Road Trip Itinerary

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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 you can’t see when you fly into an airport.

When planning a road trip from Minnesota to California, you want to 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 made this road trip, we used HotelTonight (get a $25 credit when you use our link) and to book a place to stay when needed. They give great deals and rates on last-minute bookings — perfect for the unexpected snoozes we need that a road trip brings!

Packing List for Minnesota to California Road Trip

A journey from Minnesota to California will be long but fun. When planning to take a long-haul trip, it is necessary to plan and pack all of the essential needs. This helps to avoid inconvenience while on the road. Here’s what we organized:

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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 has 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!

Macarons from CH Patisserie in Souix Falls, South Dakota
CH Patisserie 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.

Statue of David in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Sioux Falls warrants an overnight stop to 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 trip’s second leg.

Falls Park: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Souix Falls, falls in summer.

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 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: This is 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 Devils 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: an essential visit, this unfinished carving depicts Crazy Horse, 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 many hiking trails. You can stay at the Bavarian Inn, visit local dining spots, and see the stars at night. Check out these top things to do in Custer State Park.

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!

See Related: Best Vacations with Minimal Walking

Stop Three: Wyoming, Lusk & Casper

Covered Wagon Motel in Lusk, Wyoming
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Total travel time: Rapid City to Lusk 2.5 hours. Lusk to Casper 1.5 hours

While on the way to Casper, we recommend stopping 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 heads to Casper, Casper is known for outdoor activities and several museums. Make sure to check out Port Caspar, a reconstructed 1865 military post. Read our guide on places to stay in Casper if you want to spend the night here.

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Stop Four: Salt Lake City

View of modern skyscrapers in downtown Salt Lake City with clear skies and surrounding mountains, illustrating the city's urban development and architectural beauty.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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.

Union Pacific Train in Wyoming
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers (Train in Wyoming)

Once you get to Salt Lake City, there is much to experience. From skiing and hiking to restaurants and museums, there is something everyone can do. You 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 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 bookshops. 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

Zion National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravlers

Total travel time: Salt Lake City to Zion 4 hours

Zion National Park 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. Suddenly, you are surrounded by red cliff formations. Then, you wind into the park towards Springdale, and the beauty 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!

We only stayed a few hours when we stopped because we had to get to Las Vegas by nightfall, but we will definitely be back. I highly recommend staying a night in Springdale or camping if you can.

It is worth it!

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Stop Six: Las Vegas, Lake Mead & Hoover Dam

Total travel time: Zion to Las Vegas: 2.5 hours. Hoover Dam is 30 min outside of Vegas.

Las Vegas, Nevada, is a sight to see. Las Vegas is a playground for every age, with nightlife, casinos, museums, and more. 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 bets in one of the many casinos, visit haunted museums, and anything else.

Whatever you are into, you are sure to find it in Las Vegas. Check out these other best things to do in Las Vegas. We stayed at the Venetian in a King Suite for two nights. We visited during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was a unique perspective. But the canal shops at the Venetian are something to see:

The Canal Shops at The Venetian
Canal Shops (indoors!) at the Venetian Las Vegas

At some point, it is worth driving a half hour to visit the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam was constructed during the great depression. Many people who lost their jobs traveled to Nevada hoping to work on building the Dam. Seeing the giant Dam, which took five years to build, is pretty cool.

Hoover Dam: Las Vegas, Nevada
View from standing on top of the Hoover Dam

Seeing the Dam only takes about 20 minutes unless you take it in! But it is right by Lake Mead, which has many things to do. Check out our video footage of Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam here:

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Stop Seven: Palm Springs, California!

Joshua Trees and granite boulders in Joshua Tree National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Congratulations, you’ve made it to California! We recommend ending your road trip to Palm Springs. The city has a fun downtown strip with 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.

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Timelapse (Drivelapse) of Our Road Trip from Minnesota to California

Want to watch our entire trip in a drive-lapse format? Watch all the great stops we made along the way in a condensed format.

The road trip from Minnesota to California is perfect for adventurers who want to see the American landscape and experience many 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 road trip. This itinerary will help you make the most of your stops. Let us know on our YouTube channel where you stopped and what you experienced. Keep traveling!

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