Casper, Wyoming

Drive Time: 4 hours

Top Attraction: Independence Rock—a 136-foot-tall landmark that more than half a million Oregon Trail pioneers passed by on their ways to new homes on the West Coast—still has the names of 19th-century trailblazers carved into the bottom of it.
Adventure: Rent a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe from 307 River Sports (all start at $45 per day) and drive upstream before splashing along the North Platte River, which takes you through the 100-foot-tall cliffs of Fremont Canyon.
Eat & Drink: In 2019, the Travel Channel awarded the best burger in Wyoming to Casper’s Branding Iron. We recommend trying the restaurant’s ode to its hometown, The Casper, which is topped with pork belly mac and cheese.
Lodging: The Red Butte Lodge (starting at $80 per night) just outside Casper offers guests views of Casper Mountain as well as private fishing access along the North Platte River.

Hutchinson, Kansas

Drive time: 7 hours

Cosmosphere Museum
The Cosmosphere museum. Photo courtesy of the Cosmosphere

Top Attraction: The Cosmosphere museum is home to the largest combined collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts—such as the Liberty Bell 7, the craft used during the second manned U.S. space flight, in1961.
Adventure: Head 650 feet below the Earth’s surface at the Strataca museum for a guided tour of one of the few active salt mines in the country.
Eat & Drink: Bogey’s in downtown Hutchinson makes more than 100 different flavors (everything from chocolate to ginger snap) of milkshakes. Use one to wash down a fried-jalapeño-covered Blue Dragon Burger.
Lodging: For $155 a night, you get breakfast, a camel or pony ride, and a tour of the adjoining zoo—featuring zebras, kangaroos, and other animals—at Hedrick’s Bed & Breakfast Inn, off KS 96 northwest of Hutchinson.

Western Nebraska

Drive Time: 4.5 hours

River Tanking
Tanking in Nebraska. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism Commission

Top Attraction: No matter which of the multiple-mile hikes through Toadstool Geologic Park in Oglala National Grassland you take, you’ll be treated to otherworldly geographic formations—many look like (yeah, you guessed it) massive toadstools—and 10,000-year-old fossil beds.
Adventure: Instead of inner tubes, Nebraskans float rivers in giant stock tanks, the metal tubs cows feed from. Stop by Glidden Canoe Rental in Mullen to procure a vessel ($25 for adults, $10 for kids) and slowly drift along the Middle Loup River.
Eat & Drink: The Bean Broker Coffee House & Pub in Chadron is a homey shop with small breakfast bites (like the vegetarian breakfast sandwich made with pesto mayo) by day and a bar featuring live local acts after sunset.
Lodging: The Olde Main Street Inn in downtown Chadron was used as General Nelson Miles’ headquarters when he investigated the tragic events of Wounded Knee in 1890. (The memorial is an hour’s drive north.) The hotel hasn’t changed much since: The rustic rooms (around $90) are still full of Western-style antique decorations.

This article was originally published in 5280 October 2020.
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan is the former digital editor of and teaches journalism at Regis Jesuit High School.