Road Trip from Chicago to Denver
Tourist attractions are as American as apple pie and if you’re looking to get a true tourist experience, take a scenic drive from Chicago to Denver via Interstate 90. Although it's not the quickest route from the Windy City to the Mile High City it does promise plenty of opportunity for fun and frivolity.
Drive Time From Chicago to Denver: approximately 19 hours
Distance From Chicago to Denver: approximately 1,300 miles
Looking for a shorter trip? The fastest route is on Interstate 80 which will take you through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and then into Colorado. It's approximately 1,000 miles and should take around 14 hours.
1. Chicago, IL
Day 1: Start off your scenic drive by renting a car from Enterprise in Chicago. If you’re flying in, the O’Hare International Airport is about 45 minutes from downtown. And there’s a lot to do and see in Chi Town. Check out the architecture of the city by visiting the Willis Tower (previously called Sears Tower). Catch a baseball game at Wrigley Field or take a leisurely stroll through the Magnificent Mile. Depending on what time of year you visit, make sure to bring a jacket. The Windy City gets its name for a reason.
2. Wisconsin Dells, WI
Drive Time: approximately 3 hours
Distance: approximately 193 miles
Once you’re set, head north on Interstate 90 to our first stop in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Dells is a fun place to visit any time of the year but summertime is arguably the best time. With its variety of theme parks and entertainment centers, there’s bound to be something for everyone. Kalahari Resorts, Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park and Noah’s Ark Water Park are just three possible destinations. If theme parks aren’t your thing, check out Mirror Lake State Park for nature trail hikes and camping.
3. Corn Palace
Drive Time: approximately 6 hours
Distance: approximately 445 miles
Day 2: The next stage of our journey will take you across Wisconsin and into Minnesota, the land of 10,000 Lakes. Stop by Rochester, MN to fuel up and fill empty bellies before heading to South Dakota. Our first tourist stop in South Dakota is Mitchell. Mitchell is the home of the World’s Only Corn Palace. The corn palace was built to show the world how the state of South Dakota was agriculturally robust. Take some fun photos to add to the family album before hitting the road again.
4. Wall Drug
Drive Time: approximately 3 hours
Distance: approximately 221 miles
Watch out for jackalopes as you make your way to our next stop. Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota is a popular tourist stop for folks headed to see the Black Hills and the Badlands National State Park. Since 1931, the drug store drew in tourists with the promise of free ice water and now it is a mecca for gifts and souvenirs. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, pick up a bag of salt water taffy before heading out.
5. Mt. Rushmore
Drive Time: approximately 1 hour
Distance: approximately 76 miles
After departing from Wall, you’ll start seeing the famous Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills are home to our third and probably most well-known stop, Mt. Rushmore. Take some time to walk along the Avenue of Flags and see this majestic man-made marvel. The National Memorial features the likenesses of former Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Construction of the monument began on October 4, 1927 and was completed on October 31, 1941.
Drive Time: approximately 6 hours
Distance: approximately 367 miles
Day 3: The final leg of the journey will take you south along the highways of South Dakota and into Colorado proper. Once you’ve arrived in Denver, catch a Rockies baseball game or go to the Denver Botanic Gardens. Cruise along Mount Evans Scenic Byway before dropping off your rental car at one of our many Denver locations. If you need to catch a flight, the Denver International Airport is a 30 minute drive from downtown. Make sure to allow for enough time to make this drive as highway I-70 can get backed up throughout the day.
Road Trip from Chicago to Denver FAQs
Does Enterprise rent snow tires?
Enterprise does not currently offer snow tires, although all rental cars are equipped with all-season tires. If you're going to run into winter weather on your trip from Chicago to Denver, inquire about renting a four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle from Enterprise.
What time of year is best for driving to Denver?
In Denver, traffic is lighter and crowds are lower during the spring and fall. If you like warmer weather, the summer season is a great time for a Denver road trip. Keep in mind, you may experience heavier traffic in the summer, especially on major highways like I-70, so allow extra drive time to reach your destination. During the winter months from November to March, snow storms are common. Be prepared with an all-wheel-drive vehicle and remain flexible in your travel plans in case you encounter wintry weather.
How do I check road conditions around Denver?
Real-time traffic conditions for Denver are available on KOA NewsRadio, which you can find at 850 AM and 94.1 FM. The radio station and its website provide up-to-the-minute road closures and weather issues affecting traffic. Another option is the Colorado Department of Transportation's I-70 Mountain Travel Radio, which can be accessed through CoTrip.org or the CDOT Mobile app. Simply click “Listen Now” to listen to current road conditions. You can also call CDOT's 511 from any phone.
When does the snow clear in Minnesota?
Minnesota winters are unpredictable. This state often experiences snow from November through March. Planning your trip outside these months can help you avoid unexpected snow showers during your road trip through Minnesota. Despite the snow, Minnesota still has hot summers and four distinct seasons.
Where is the best breakfast in Chicago?
While there are numerous places in Chicago to enjoy a delicious breakfast, Yolk has been voted Best Breakfast in Chicago for good reason. The eatery serves new, creative breakfasts and a private-label premium coffee that's always a hit with diners. Fan favorites include red velvet French toast, eggs benedict, cheesy egg sandwiches, breakfast mac and cheese, and loaded baked potato cakes. Yolk offers several locations in Chicago, so you can always find one close to your accommodation.
What are the top kid-friendly activities in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin offers a variety of family-friendly attractions worth stopping for. The Northwoods Children's Museum in Eagle River is a wonderful place for kids and grown-ups to explore. The museum emphasizes a hands-on approach to learning and features interactive, educational exhibits. If you get a chance to stop in Platteville, visit the Mining Museum and Rollo Jamison Museum in the Downtown Historic District. The Mining Museum features an underground mine tour and a ride in a 1931 mine train, while the Rollo Jamison Museum showcases life in Platteville during the early 1900s. Other great attractions families love include Jurustic Park in Marshfield, Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in Green Bay, as well as the Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison.
What is Wall Drugstore?
Wall Drug Store is a popular tourist stop in Wall, South Dakota. Since 1931, the drugstore has attracted tourists with the promise of free ice water. Today, the store is a mecca for souvenirs and gifts for those traveling from Chicago to Denver. Wall Drug Store attracts approximately 2 million visitors each year thanks to its location in “the geographical center of nowhere.” It's the perfect stop for travelers needing to get out of the car and stretch their legs while enjoying a refreshing drink.
Who carved Mount Rushmore?
A sculptor by the name of Gutzon Borglum, along with 400 workers, carved the presidents’ faces to represent America's first 130 years of existence. The sculpting process involved dynamite, drilling holes into the cliff face, and removing pieces by hand. The idea for Mount Rushmore was originally conceived in 1923 by historian Jonah Leroy "Doane" Robinson to promote South Dakota tourism. The following year, Robinson convinced sculptor Borglum to view the location to verify whether the carving was even possible. Borglum chose the location for the sculpture because it faced southeast and experienced maximum sun exposure.
When was Mount Rushmore built?
Mount Rushmore was built between October 4, 1927, and October 31, 1941. In 1933, before its completion, Mount Rushmore was taken under the National Park Service's jurisdiction and a tram was upgraded to allow workers to reach the top.Washington's face was completed and dedicated in 1934, Jefferson's in 1936, Lincoln's in 1937, and Roosevelt's in 1939. The original plan was to carve the figures from head to waist, but sculptor Borglum died in 1941 and insufficient funding forced the carving to end.
What is the Corn Palace?
The World's Only Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, is a popular tourist destination that celebrates corn and community. It originally started as a place where locals could enjoy stage entertainment and the annual fall festival. Today, the multi-purpose facility serves as a venue for sporting events, concerts, exhibits, and other community events, including the beloved Corn Palace Festival. The facility offers free guided tours that are brimming with amazing facts about the Corn Palace, as well as a video experience detailing the building's origin. Even if there isn't an event scheduled during your stop, you can still view the amazing murals featured around the building.