Whether you just like a trip with a lot of scenery change or if you’re working on seeing all 50 states, our Greater America itinerary is here to help. We think it’s possible to see 5 state capitals in as little as 5 days – though you can always adjust the itinerary to add another night in any or all the cities to take more in. Are you up for the challenge?
If you appreciate the rich history of each state, we suggest starting at the Capitol Building of every city. You can join a free tour or explore these majestic buildings on your own. After the Capitol, there’s plenty more to see!
Lincoln, Nebraska (1 Day/Night)
We start our itinerary in the Cornhusker State. While you’re here, try to fit a couple of these activities into your day:
• See the 30,000 plants at the Sunken Garden, just 2 miles from the Capitol (pictured).
• Visit the Museum of American Speed to experience the love of fast cars as it has developed since the dawn of the automobile.
• Taste wines at the Deer Springs Winery. Try to get there on a night with live music and wood-fired pizzas!
Finally, get a great deal on a hotel for the night before you drive about 3 hours to Des Moines, Iowa.
Des Moines, Iowa (1 Day/Night)
Iowa’s largest city makes visiting easy with both a free downtown trolley and the Skywalks – 4 miles of climate-controlled paths above the streets that connect downtown buildings. After shopping in the Historic East Village downtown, be sure to check out these sites:
• The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a pleasantly surprising art installation, featuring 28 sculptures across 4.4-acres of beautiful park (pictured).
• Stretch your legs and step into the past with a tour of the Salisbury House, a Tudor-style mansion built in 1923
• Find the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden, tucked away downtown at Locust and 17th Street. This hidden gem is only open on Fridays in the summer from noon until 2.
Check out our Des Moines hotel deals and get ready to drive 3 ½ hours to Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Saint Paul, Minnesota (1-2 Days/Nights)
There’s a lot to see and do in this half of the Twin Cities, so it’s one where we’d suggest taking an extra day if you can to try to see more of it. Anyone could spend days exploring the Mall of America, but here are some other things you might want to see:
• The Cathedral of Saint Paul is a sight to behold, designed after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome (pictured)
• Right around the corner is a railroad mogul’s estate, the James J. Hill House, an extraordinary 36,000 square foot mansion
• Just a couple miles away, join a riverboat cruise to see the sights and learn the history of the city from the Mississippi River
Optional Day 2
• The Landmark Center is a cornerstone of Saint Louis art and history, housing galleries and exhibits as well as providing tours of the courthouse where infamous gangsters were tried in the 1930s.
• Stop by the Wabasha Street Caves, formerly The Castle Royal, a prohibition-era speakeasy that was a favorite among gangsters. Today it offers engaging tours and big band swing dance nights.
• Get in on Saint Paul’s craft beer boom and take a tour and join a tasting at one of the breweries, like Flat Earth Brewing Co. Or brew your own beer at Vine Park.
Enjoy staying in a discounted hotel while you’re there. Then buckle up – you’ve got a long drive ahead of you.
Optional Stop: Fargo, North Dakota (1 Night)
If you have the time to spare, we’d suggest stopping in Fargo, about 3 ½ hours away. You can get an affordable hotel there and experience for yourself the cultural overhaul the city has recently experienced. Visit the impressive Plains Art Museum before strolling through the boutiques and galleries downtown. From Fargo you just drive another 3 hours to put you in the fourth capital, Bismarck, North Dakota.
Of course, if you’re on a mission, you can drive straight from Saint Paul to Bismarck, and it will take you just under 7 hours. You might want to spend an extra night in Bismarck to recoup.
Bismarck, North Dakota (1 Day/Night)
Bismarck’s sites are all conveniently located together, making it easy to travel from one to the next. Start with a tour of the State Capitol, the 19-story art deco building that was constructed during the Great Depression and holds lots of fascinating stories. Then you’ll move on to the North Dakota Heritage Center, to learn about early peoples, cultures, and prehistory – including life-sized dinosaur casts and plant and animal fossils.
If you’re spending more time in Bismarck to recover from that 7-hour drive, then go just 12 miles outside of the city to stretch your legs at a beautiful park. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park includes nature trails that give you one of the best views of the Missouri River, plus you can learn about the state’s history as you wander though the reconstructed Mandan Indian Earthlodge Village (pictured).
You’re almost there! Get some shut-eye at a discounted hotel before beginning your final 3½ hour drive to Pierre, South Dakota.
Pierre, South Dakota (1 Day/Night)
Congratulations! Now you’re in the second-smallest state capital. Much like Bismarck, you can start your day with a visit to the Capitol and the Cultural Heritage Center – you’ll be surprised to find the latter built into the side of a hill, and mostly underground! The exhibits of the Sioux tribes and pioneers provide a great feel for the state’s culture.
A must-see when you’re in Pierre is the Oahe Dam (pictured), an impressive engineering feat. After you tour the dam and power plant, you can go play at the Downstream Recreation Area State Park, where you can swim, hike, fish, and bird-watch.
You did it! But why stop there? There’s plenty more to see and do in South Dakota. Happy travels!Sunken Gardens photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Pappajohn Sculpture Park photo courtesy of The Des Moines Register/Rodney White. The Cathedral of Saint Paul photo courtesy of The Cathedral of Saint Paul. Abraham Lincoln State Park photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/Jim Gallop. Oahe Dam photo courtesy of Travel South Dakota.