Northwest Indiana to Yellowstone: a Vacation Travel Itinerary
Updated: Jan 23
Follow this guide for a week long trip to the North Gate of Yellowstone National Park.
We traveled with a 26 foot trailer and 2 canoes atop our truck.
Most of our campsites along this 3 week roundtrip were free/minimal cost and dry camping/boondocking.
Day 1: Drive NWI to Minneapolis, MN
After a stop for cheese curds at the Mousehouse Cheesehaus in Windsor, WI, we camped overnight at a Cabela's in Rogers, MN. There was a sign posted in their back lot that said no overnight allowed, yet it was full of semi trucks. So we joined them for the night.
Day 2: Drive Minneapolis to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
This is the oldest state park in North Dakota, and it had so much to offer. We could've stayed several days exploring. The campground was beautiful, had full hookups, and we had a spot just off the confluence of the Heart and Missouri Rivers. This allowed us to easily get our canoes in the water. Our lunch stop is also worth checking out. Lindenwold Park in Fargo sits on the Red River and is a peaceful place to take a break from driving.
Day 3: Visit
This was a busy day exploring Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and Fort Mandan. The Interpretive Center had beautiful artwork, Fort Mandan has a replica of Lewis and Clark's original winter camp as well as an enormous statue of Seaman the Newfoundland that accompanied them on their trip. Fort Abraham Lincoln has the best Mandan Earthlodges to explore at On-A-Slant Village, as well as military buildings from the late 1800's, and CCC buildings and history. At Knife River NHS we hiked through old village sites that were full of artifacts. It was really fun to have easy access to history right there in the dirt. Our daughters felt like archeologists.
There is a great map that I've linked below which shows all of the noteworthy Lewis and Clark sites along the National Historic Trail. This location is where we met up with the trail, and we followed parts of it from Bismarck, ND to Billings, MT. But, there is so much more to see along their routes and an endless amount of books to enjoy while exploring their voyage. We recommend checking out Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.
Day 4: Drive Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park to Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This was a light travel day with only 2 hours between the two parks. It gave us a change to visit the visitor center at the south unit of TRNP and to start exploring the park itself. We camped at the CCC Campground outside of the North Unit of the park. It overlooked the Little Missouri River and had a great view of the North Unit badlands.
Day 5: Visit
We woke early to drive through the North Unit in hopes of seeing wildlife. Wildlife was not overly abundant, but solitude definitely was. We spent the bulk of the day in the South Unit after also moving our camp to a site in the Little Missouri National Grassland. The road to get to the sites was bumpy but there were plenty of pull offs for free camping if you arrive early in the day.
Day 6: Canoe and drive TRNP to Billings, MT
My husband and our 3 girls took a morning paddle on the Little Missouri River in Theodore Roosevelt NP while I drove the pick up vehicle, and also got to check out the quaint town of Medora. From their canoe, they had great views of wild horses, bison, pronghorns, golden eagles, and the golden eagle nest.
Our campsite that night was a pleasant surprise. The Cracker Barrel in Billings had a beautiful wooded lot and farm field behind it where we enjoyed a quiet night. We also ended up using their bathroom and splurging for dinner and breakfast the next morning. You never know what you will end up getting when you plan to sleep in a parking lot, but this is one we would definitely visit again.
Day 7: Drive Billings, MT to Gardiner, MT
Billings kind of sucked us in and wouldn't let go. Our longer than normal breakfast and a trip to Cabela's to dump and fill tanks took most of the morning. Luckily it was a short 2.5 hour trip to our next campsite outside of Gardiner, MT. Because we arrived later than expected, we didn't get a site in the actual campground we were hoping for. However, if you are able and willing to drive past the established campground, take the next left, and there are many pull off sites available along the forest service road. We found what ended up being our favorite campsite of our entire 3 week trip. Quite possibly our favorite campsite of all time. We were a short drive up the mountain from the town of Gardiner off of Jardine Road, we had our own private elk herd to view, incredible wildflowers in bloom all around us, an amazing view across the valley to Electric Peak as well as Mammoth Hot Springs.
Visit publiclandstraveler on Instagram for more pics of our trip