I-94: North Dakota is faster!

I-94: North Dakota is faster!

Did you know that those longitude lines actually get closer to each other as you go farther north, or south, to each pole? And did you know that while North Dakota looks just as wide on most maps as South Dakota, it really is not. In fact most maps square up the longitudinal lines giving the appearance on paper or through a screen it is just as wide or bigger than areas closer to the equator.

Truth is, North Dakota is approximately 60 miles less across on I-94 than I-90 across South Dakota. Not only are you farther north with less distance, there’s a good chance the weather might be more favorable as well. Either way, you are watching the prairie and farm fields go by, so why not see an hour less of it? And did someone say ‘Fargo’?

Like our I-90 route, we start this overland route at Manitowoc, WI. We’re doing this because both our I-90 route and this I-94 route start and end at the same point. This shows how much shorter in distance the I-94 route is. And if you’ve ever wanted to give it a try or the weather forecast is telling you to stay farther north for cooler weather, then give this a try.

But wait, Manitowoc is so far away from I-94! Why is that? Well, sanity. 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-94 somewhere.

We start this route at the ferry dock for the last coal steamer on the Great Lakes. Yep, the Badger. If you’ve never taken the SS 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. If that 4 hour ferry ride is still too much time for you, there is a high speed ferry into Milwaukee that takes about 2 hours.

Now, leaving out of Manitowoc and past Green Bay, there is not much for a while but scenic and idyllic upper Wisconsin farms. A good view, and it does go by quickly before our first stop, Chippewa Falls. Definitely go over the bridge into town and see the ‘falls’, but what this town is most famous for is the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewery, you know that famous Summer Shandy and other “Leinie” offerings.

Heading west out of Chippewa Falls, we find Elk Mound Hill Castle. Not much of a castle, but a nice view of Wisconsin and the Eau Claire farming area, and the first of many road trip novelty stops to come.

After leaving Wisconsin and passing through the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, wave to the 2014 MOA Rally site, we continue on I-94 west. Eventually we will come to Alexandria, MN. The town might not sound familiar, but the Runestone and the museum for it, along with the Viking legend behind it, will. Definitely worth a stop to see. However, if that’s not your thing but is for your other riding buddies, next door is the Legacy of the Lakes Museum, housing a representation of watercraft used on the thousands of lakes in Minnesota over the years.

Continuing west, we finally arrive in North Dakota. Again, did someone say ‘Fargo’? The perennial potential future MOA Rally site for almost two decades running now! Continuing west on I-94, we come up on Jamestown, ND.

Now, Jamestown has a bit of roadside novelty in the “World’s Largest Bison”. Keep this “World’s Largest” theme in mind as it is not done yet. If the Buffalo is not enough to get you to stop and take a look, maybe the Frontier town and museum they have set up next to it will. And if that doesn’t, who doesn’t like a good Louis L’Amour story? Yes, Jamestown, ND is where Louis was born and grew up before the Great Depression forced his family to move around the US for work like so many other families did during that period.

Next stop is Bismarck, state capital of North Dakota. How many state capitals have you ridden through? Did you just knock another off of that list? Let’s get a bit closer to this capital, the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum is worth a visit.

So, the “World’s Largest” is not done yet, as you pass New Salem, wave to Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow. Now, let’s continue west on I-94.

At Dickinson, ND, we’ll head north, but before you do that, be sure to check out the Dickinson Museum Center & Badlands Dinosaur Museum. The latter is the impressive part. A great display of dinosaur fossils, the museum has some very large displays, including one that seems to meander through multiple rooms.

Heading north out of Dickinson, we’re heading to the least visited unit of the major National Parks, the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The North Unit is definitely worthy of a stop. And if you have one of the National Parks Passport Books, this is a highly coveted stamp that can be obtained at it's visitor center. But don’t be like the majority who only get this stamp and immediately leave. Spend an hour or less and drive through the park and then back out the main entrance. The farthest west areas of the North Unit are some of the most stunning scenic views in all of the National Parks.

We head south from the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the South Unit in Medora. Now Medora is a mixed use area of private and public for a National Park. While the park does have a visitor center and some other expected National Park offerings, there are a number of private lodging options in the town of Medora as well as eating establishments not operated or contracted out by the National Park Service.

But the most amazing aspect of this park is the Medora Musical. An outdoor amphitheater putting on a number of thrilling variety acts, live horses on stage, a firework finale and new twists to the show each summer. All while celebrating the history of Medora, Teddy Roosevelt, and the historic American West. If you time arrival at Medora to finish your day, be sure to get tickets for this event.

Leaving Medora, ND, we quickly arrive in Montana. Now, if the next detour west is not of interest to you because you’ve seen it so many times, and you decide to stick with I-94, make sure to visit Pompey’s Pillar National Monument at Exit 23. Don’t forget to get that National Parks Passport Book stamp!

Our next detour off of I-94 takes us south on state highway MT 38 at Exit 87 to Lame Deer. We throw in this route to our next stop as it is an interesting and spirited road to Lame Deer. Lame Deer is the tribal and government agency headquarters for the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.  It is an interesting character town on its own and worthy of fueling up and some food.

Continuing west out of Lame Deer, MT we approach Little Bighorn National Battlefield. This is where we join up with our I-90 route. So if you want to know more about those points of interest west on this route, we encourage you to take a read of our I-90 route.

Now, before we end this route guide, is this route faster or shorter than doing I-90 through South Dakota? We start both the I-90 route and the I-94 route at the same point and end at the same point. And even with all those detours and side trips, I-90 is 1665 miles and I-94 is 1598 miles according to Ride with GPS, which is about 67 miles shorter. Don’t know about faster, as an hour might not seem like a lot depending on how you cruise while riding. However, if it is about finding something to do than the super slab droll, that extra hour or so is something you can use to explore or find a new favorite on this farther northern Interstate route.

You can find a GPS file for this route in the BMW MOA's Ride with GPS organization account here: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/45843662


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.