Your Guide to the US Route 12 Road Trip

Highway Road Through Badlands
ericfoltz / Getty Images

We all know the classic road trips like Route 66 or Highway 101 but America’s Northwest and Midwest don’t always get enough love. Originally built in 1926, US Route 12 runs from Aberdeen, Washington through Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana before ending in Detroit, Michigan—spanning a whopping 2,484 miles.

Such a long road trip needs several stops to make it worthwhile which brings us to the US Route 12 road trip guide. This guide sends you nearly 2,500 miles from the Pacific Coast, across the Great Plains before ending in the Great Lakes. Classic roadtrip stops, amazing national parks and varied attractions for all types of roadtrippers are all included below.

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Aberdeen, Washington

Aberdeen, Washington blue welcome sign

Ingo Dorenberg / iStock Editorial / Getty Images

Address
Aberdeen, WA, USA

Your sprawling trip of the West and Midwest begins in the scenic Grays Harbor in Aberdeen, Washington. There’s a lot to enjoy in this beautiful town before hitting the rest of your trip.

The coastal town of Aberdeen packs a lot to do for such a small town. For museum and history lovers there’s the Kurt Cobain Memorial Park and Lady Washington historical ship. The jewel of Aberdeen is Westport Winery Garden Resort, a sprawling multi-use facility where you can enjoy wine, eat at the high-end Seaglass Grill, marvel at the gardens and sculptures, or shop for local art. A visit to Westport Winery Garden Resort will kick your trip off in style. 

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Grey Cliff Prairie Dog Town State Park: Sweet Grass County, Montana

Sweet Grass County, Montana

Robert Francis / robertharding / Getty Images

Address
Big Timber, MT 59011, USA

If you’re a fan of scampering furballs, make a quick stop at Grey Cliff Prairie Dog Town State Park. As the name implies Prairie Dog Town State Park is home to several large colonies of everyone’s favorite great plains rodent. The park is only 98 acres but provides a quick stop to watch the prairie dogs dash around and chatter at each other.  

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park: Western North Dakota

Herd of buffalo grazing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Federica Grassi / Moment / Getty Images

Address
North Dakota, USA
Phone
+1 701-623-4466

Named for the president that loved the lands, Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park was established by President Truman in 1947, making it the first National Memorial Park. The name was changed to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 1978 along with the addition of thousands of acres of wilderness.

Visitors to Theodore Roosevelt National Park can walk the same trails that the former president used as a young man in the late 19th century. Following in his footsteps the park has added dozens of miles of walking and biking paths and scenic byways. You can cruise, walk, or bike through the park where you can spot bison and other local wildlife nestled in the Badlands. Try to coincide your trip with the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival to explore the night sky. 

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Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park: Morton County, North Dakota

White house with a brown roof and several chimneys in Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

Walter Bibikow / AWL Images / Getty Images

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is the site where General Custer and his men rode out before his infamous last stand. In 1907 the site was converted to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, making it the oldest state park in North Dakota.

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park presents a mix of Native and early American history. On-a-Slant Village features a state historic site and six reconstructed earth lodges representing the Mandan village and tribe that inhabited the area. You can take a guided tour to learn how the Mandan people lived and thrived in the region.

After a visit to the village check out Fort Abraham Lincoln established on the ruins of the former Mandan village. Established in 1873, the fort saw a variety of clashes with the native tribes of the area until it was decommissioned in 1891. The actual fort was deconstructed for local building projects but has been partially reconstructed for history and tours. Other sights include a reconstruction of General Custer’s home, local art store Five Nation Arts, a former CCC site, and several miles of great hiking trails from beginner to advanced. 

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Fargo, North Dakota

red brick building with a blue sign that reads

Richard Cummins / robertharding / Getty Images

Address
Fargo, ND, USA

Fargo isn’t much fun in the winter but provides a great road trip stop during the rest of the year. This charming North Dakota city has a mixture of quirky stops, history, and art

If you only know Fargo from the movies make your first stop at the Fargo Moorhead Visitors Center to take a picture with the actual wood chipper prop used in the film. Luckily, there’s more to Fargo than the film, including activities for kids and history buffs. After a long visit in Fargo’s quirky visitor center, venture to Red River Zoo, Fargo Air Museum, or Bonanzaville USA history complex, depending on your tastes. You’ll find fine art at the Plains Art Museum and a unique history of Viking ways at the Hjemkomst Center.

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Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis skyline from a highway

wellesenterprises / iStock / Getty Images 

Address
Minneapolis, MN, USA

The largest city in the land of 10,000 Lakes, Minneapolis offers a mix of urban and natural exploration. The city is a must-stop location if you’re a fan of urban parks.

If you’d like to enjoy the lush landscape and abundant amounts of water Minnesota is known for, take a trip to Minnehaha Park. Footpaths wind through the forested park that is home to Minnehaha Falls. Most of the year there’s a restaurant open in the park that serves of variety of grill food, like burgers and sandwiches. After Minnehaha Park you have several other choices for fun, including the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Mill City Museum, or the American Swedish Institute

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Fiberglass Mold Graveyard: Sparta, Wisconsin

A collection of fiberglass molds in a field including a bear

 sporst / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Address
14177 Co Hwy Q, Sparta, WI 54656, USA

Have you ever wondered where fiberglass molds of animals end up after they’re done with? Probably not but you’ll still get the answer when you visit the Fiberglass, Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks (FAST) graveyard. FAST is unique, fascinating, and just creepy enough to warrant a quick stop. 

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Historic Auto Attractions: Roscoe, Illinois

Al Capone's truck at Historic Auto Attractions museum, Roscoe, Il

sporst / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Motorheads and fans of Americana will have great fun at Historic Auto Attractions, home to more than just famous autos.

If you’ve seen a movie prominently featuring a vehicle or if you love American pop culture history, you’ll be in love with Historic Auto Attractions. This eccentric auto museum features several types of exhibits sure to please everyone on the trip. You can check out the Abraham Lincoln exhibit for facts and artifacts on the former president, examine the vehicles of infamous and famous public figures including U.S. presidents, or check out the Legends of Racings exhibit on American motor racing. You can even take a picture with the classic Ghostbuster’s ride.

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Millennium Park: Chicago, Illinois

The Cloud Gate at Chicago's Millennium Park

TripSavvy / Cory Giguere 

Address
201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60602, USA
Phone
+1 312-742-1168

Route 12 swings you by Chicago, Illinois: home to the Willis Tower, the Chicago Cubs, deep dish pizza, and much more. Not everyone can spend a full day in Chicago so if you’re in a hurry, make sure to stop at Millennium Park.

The world famous Millennium Park is home to the reflective bean, officially called the Cloud Gate. Millennium Park has over 20 acres of green space and several points of interest along the Lake Michigan shore. Explore the artwork and assorted features dotted throughout the park, including the Boeing Galleries, the Crown Fountain, and Lurie Garden. This one urban park can take up a whole day of sightseeing. 

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The Parlour of Jackson: Jackson, Michigan

Address
1401 Daniel Rd, Jackson, MI 49202-4016, USA
Phone
+1 517-783-1581

You can’t finish a road trip without a stop at a roadside diner. The Parlour of Jackson sells burgers, shakes, and hot fries in a retro-themed, jukebox-powered diner. You can choose from 40 unique ice cream flavors, all made in Michigan. 

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Detroit, Michigan

Detroit skyline at sunset

Mike Kline / Moment / Getty Images

Address
Detroit, MI, USA

Your long trip ends in the historic Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. What better way to celebrate the triumph of a finished road trip by ending it in the home of so many famous American vehicles.

Detroit is a paradise for motorheads and music fans with exhibits and attractions like the Henry Ford Museum, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, or the Automotive Hall of Fame in nearby Dearborn. Not everyone who road trips love all things auto but luckily Detroit offers much more like the Motown Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Belle Isle Park, or a long, scenic walk down the Detroit Riverfront. You can make your own tour by hopping on the Detroit People Mover.

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Your Guide to the US Route 12 Road Trip