I-90: Badlands, Blackhills, Custer’s Last Stand, what could go wrong!

I-90: Badlands, Blackhills, Custer’s Last Stand, what could go wrong!

We start this overland route at Manitowoc, WI.  What’s there and why is it off I-90? Well, first, if you’re trying to find a more ‘sane’ route than the bottle neck and congestion of the greater Chicago area, this might be the thing to do.  But if Chicago doesn’t bother you, then we encourage you to still take a read of this and join up with our route on I-90 somewhere.

We start this route at the ferry dock for the last coal steamer on the Great Lakes.  Yep, the SS Badger.  If you’ve never taken the Badger, this is a 4 hour jaunt from Michigan to Wisconsin across Lake Michigan.  A great way to take a break and maybe even get some sleep in, while still moving.  It is highly recommended you have a reservation. 

Now, if that 4 hours is still too much time for you, there is a high speed ferry into Milwaukee that takes about 2 hours.

Once off the ferry, we find our way to I-90 and continue through Wisconsin.  If you need a kitschy tourist trap, be sure to check out the Wisconsin Dells.  We also have the well known Mindoro Cut which was a cut through the terrain done without any machinery, just man and beast.  The Mindoro Cut is just east of La Crosse, WI.  And once over the Mississippi River at La Crosse, we take you down to MN 16 for a nice twisty alternative.  And for those in the know, this is near Money Creek, MN, home of the Hiawatha Rally.

Slowly the landscape changes from trees and hills to rolling farmland and then prairie as you continue on I-90 in Minnesota, getting us to our next detour.  Take Exit 12 on I-90 at Luverne, MN and head north on US 75.  This will take you to Pipestone National Monument.  It was once a Pre-Columbian economic center of importance.  It is one place you can mine stone used for smoke pipes by Native American and First Nation tribes.  In fact, local tribes still practice the craft there today, mining the stone and making pieces from the stone.  This National Park is not heavily visited, so it’s worthy of getting a National Parks Passport Stamp Book if you don’t already have one and get this stamp.

To get back to I-90, from Pipestone, MN take MN 23 and continue west, where we cross into South Dakota and our next stop, ‘The World’s Only Corn Palace’!  A venue in Mitchell, SD that is redecorated every year with, well, corn.  

From Mitchell, we continue west on I-90.  More farmland, but eventually, you’ll see the signs, yes, Wall Drug, but that’s not what we meant, rather The Badlands National Park.  At Exit 131, take the Badlands Loop following highway SD 240.  Don’t forget to get a stamp in your National Parks Passport Book at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.  Once you’ve made your way through the Badlands, welcome to Wall, SD.

Yes, Wall, SD!  Home of Wall Drug.  If you thought the Wisconsin Dells were a kitschy tourist trap, you haven’t been to Wall Drug, but at leas Wall Drub is not so ready to make you part ways with your wallet.  Still a functioning drug store and serving the residents of the area, Wall Drug is an oasis for the Badlands.  Free ice water and if you’re a veteran, free coffee and a donut.  Seriously though, Wall Drug is worth the stop and they actually have pie there.  So take a break, cool off and have a slice of pie.  When you get back on the interstate, next stop, the Black Hills.

Be glad it’s not August unless you’re following this route in reverse and took over a month to head home from the MOA Rally in Redmond, this is one of the best times of year to visit the Black Hills.  In fact, visit Sturgis and see what it’s like when there are not a zillion bikes around.

Now, if you need a day's break from the interstate, this is the place to do that.  The Black Hills have lots to offer from the well known, Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore, to some of our favorites.  While Wind Cave is more popular, Jewel Cave National Monument just west of Custer is remarkable on its own.  If you plan on some riding, don’t forget the Needles Highway (SD 87) and the famous Pig Tail on US 16A (Iron Mountain Road) south of Mount Rushmore.   

If you're only passing through, let’s get you on something fun.  From Sturgis, take US 14A to Deadwood.  You’ll pass the famous saloon where Wild Bill Hickok spent his last hours and then look for US 85, not the US 85 By-Pass mind you.  Otherwise, in Lead, you’ll miss the overlook to the deepest gold mine pit in North America.  We have it marked on our map and it’s worth a stop.  Continue west out of Lead on US 85 and then follow US 14A again.  Once you split from US 85 and continue on US 14A, you’re now headed toward Spearfish and you are now on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic By-way, enjoy!  It's a fun ride and full of movie history.

Once in Spearfish, hop back on I-90 for a short ways and take Exit 199 in Wyoming off of I-90.  Head north on WY 111 and then west on WY 24 towards Devil’s Tower.  Another stamp for that National Parks Passport Book!  After leaving Devil’s Tower, wave to the 2008 BMW MOA Rally site as you pass Gillette, WY while continuing on I-90 all the way into Montana.  

Once in Montana, look for Exit 510 off of I-90.  This is going to take you to another National Park, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, also known as ‘Custer’s Last Stand’.  If you’re a history buff and believe what those history books in school taught you about Custer, you might find some enlightening information about him and this battle.  Especially if your National Park Interpreter is Native American.  Don’t forget to get that coveted National Parks Passport Book stamp before you leave!

Continue west on I-90 again.  This time wave at the 2015 BMW MOA Rally site as you pass Billings, MT before continuing west.   This is a great and lengthy scenic stretch of interstate.  Personally, the only lengthy section that might be better is I-70 through western Colorado.  But this is still a great ride considering it is interstate. 

Our next detour from the trodden I-90 route is at Exit 274.  Time for a bit of Lewis and Clark expedition stuff.  Take US 287 south before catching state highway MT 2 west to the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.  Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park features one of the largest known limestone caverns in the Northwest. The caverns are only accessible by guided tour.  Tickets can be purchased through the state parks website.  The state park also offers camping as well.

Our route ends at the split of I-90 and I-15.  This might seem odd.  But at this point, choices have to be made on how to get to Oregon.   In addition, we also want to point out that taking the same route using I-94 through North Dakota is actually shorter, which we’ll dive into in another article. 

But as far as choices?  Well, continuing on I-90 much farther really gets you off the direct route to Oregon.  Which isn’t bad, but you’ll have to meander through terrain to get to Oregon as the direct path is not going to be interstate.  For an interstate route, take I-15 south and join up with I-84 through Idaho.  For a paved route, we suggest continuing on to Missoula, MT (wave to the 1984 and 1998 BMW MOA Rally site) and find US 12 over Lolo Pass for the famed 99 miles of curves.  And if you are a GS Adventure rider, those Sawtooth mountains in Idaho have to be beckoning.

You can find a GPS file for this route in the BMW MOA's Ride with GPS organization account here: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/45843567


Ride with GPS is a great way for the MOA to share and distribute maps, GPS routes and turn-by-turn instructions. As with any great service, some best practices in the form of tips and tricks are in order.

  • Each route in Ride with GPS is equivalent to a track in the world of Garmin GPS units and BaseCamp software. So for all the routes, make sure you get the entire collection of routes in Ride with GPS.
    • Ride with GPS allows you to download many different GPS files types, including GPX, for the BMW Navigator series and other Garmin productsWhen downloading GPX files, only download the "GPX Track" version.
    • The "GPX Route" version will leave you at the mercy of the settings on your Garmin GPS, and will take you off the planned route and maybe to unexpected places and road conditions.
  • Once you have the "GPX Track" version loaded on your device and want turn-by-turn navigation, convert the "track" on your Garmin GPS to a "trip."
  • If you don’t have a dedicated GPS device and use your phone for navigation, Ride with GPS also has a number of file formats to work with various navigation apps for phones.
  • Ride with GPS also has its own phone app that will also help guide you! Download now for Apple iOS or Android.