A Chicago to Denver road trip is an opportunity to explore two of the greatest American cities—and everything in between. The route crosses the deep interior of the country, taking you past the same plains and prairies that were once traversed by Native Americans and settlers. From the brilliant green farm fields in Iowa to the lovely rolling hills of Nebraska, every day of the trip rewards you with majestic, peaceful vistas. With a slew of national and state parks to explore, you’ll have the chance to get up close and personal with the United States’ hidden gems.
If you love to explore national parks, you’re in luck. Near both Chicago and Denver, you’ll have the opportunity to see the regions’ remarkably diverse landscapes in person.
Indiana Sand Dunes National Park
Looking for a place to camp before you start your Chicago to Denver RV road trip? Indiana Sand Dunes National Park is the perfect place to get ready for the journey. Enormous sand dunes run right up to the cool waters of Lake Michigan, creating gorgeous views and plenty of opportunities for swimming. With 15 miles of shoreline here, you can walk the beach for miles.
Badlands National Park
Check out one of the most bizarre landscapes in the United States at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. This park requires a bit of a drive from the road trip route, but it’s worth the detour if you have extra time. This remote and rugged park features colorful rock formations that stretch as far as the eye can see. Look for ancient fossils, watch prairie dogs pop in and out of their homes, and keep an eye out for the occasional buffalo. Whether you’re into geology, hiking, or wildlife-spotting, there’s plenty to do in this quiet park.
Rocky Mountain National Park
One of the gems of the national park system, Rocky Mountain National Park offers breathtaking views and memorable hikes. Located in the heart of the Rockies, about 70 miles northwest of Denver, this is a fantastic stop at the end of your road trip. Rugged mountains stretch as far as the eye can see, and hiking trails wind past sparkling lakes and alpine meadows. You’ll enjoy the best access and easiest driving during the summer months; winter brings thrilling snow sports.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Not ready to end your adventure once you reach Denver? Keep the fun going with a side trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve near Alamosa. Here, you can climb sand dunes that rise more than 700 feet tall. Enjoy the views from the top and get ready for a thrill as you bound, sled, or sandboard back down.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Another great side trip from Denver is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Steep, rugged canyon walls and rock spires dominate the landscape, creating opportunities for challenging hikes and unparalleled photography. Walk the rim, or make your way to the Gunnison River far below for rock climbing, fishing, and boating; these trips are exceptionally difficult and recommended for those skilled in outdoor pursuits.
State parks are a great addition to your road trip itinerary from Chicago to Denver. They offer a taste of nature and a relaxed, family-friendly vibe. Most parks are set up for comfortable RV camping.
Johnson Sauk Trail State Park
Located near Kewanee, Illinois, Johnson Sauk Trail State Park sits just a couple of hours west of Chicago; it makes a great stop for your first night. While you’re in camp, enjoy a bit of fishing or boating on the lake, or enjoy the pastoral views from your site. This park is particularly beautiful in the fall when the brilliant leaves frame the lake in a postcard-perfect scene.
Badger Creek State Park
Looking to get a bit farther from Chicago on your first day? Badger Creek State Park, which is just off I-80 west of Des Moines, Iowa, has you covered. This small park sits next to a small lake that offers excellent bass and catfish fishing; if you prefer a gentle hike, explore the nearly flat trails.
Lovewell State Park
If you’re looking for new scenery on your way across Nebraska, drive about an hour south of I-80 to Lovewell State Park in Kansas. Here, you’ll find shaded campsites near a sprawling reservoir. A historic schoolhouse provides a peek at the area’s pioneering and homesteading past. With sites that offer full hookups and freeze-resistant sewer and water connections, this is a particularly great spot for RV camping at any time of year.
North Sterling State Park
As you reach the northeastern corner of Colorado, it’s time to get off I-80 and connect to I-76 as it makes its way to Denver. This is where you’ll find North Sterling State Park. It’s located on the high plains, giving you a unique perspective on Colorado’s diverse geology. Popular with boaters and anglers, this park offers a large lake and plenty of room to stretch out. In the fall, watch as the hawks and eagles start migrating in for the winter.
Castlewood Canyon State Park
When you reach Denver, pay a visit to beautiful Castlewood Canyon State Park, which sits south of the city. This state park is day-use only; spend your time there hiking across massive boulders and past a verdant stream bed. If you’re interested in photography, bring your camera to the park’s highest points for stunning views of the canyon and the gracefully arching bridge.
Don’t let the long stretch of Interstate 80 fool you—the trip from Chicago to Denver offers plenty to do. From unusual curiosities to historic sites, these points of interest make a fun break from the road.
World’s Largest Truckstop
After you pass Davenport, Iowa, start looking out for the World’s Largest Truckstop. This massive complex welcomes truckers, which means that there’s plenty of space for your RV. Stop for a meal in the restaurant, or head into the commercial area to pick up a souvenir for your trip. With its clean, new facilities, this is a comfortable place to stretch your legs.
Enjoy an unusual sight in the middle of Nebraska at the Archway. You’ll see it coming—the building is a massive arch that stretches across both sides of the freeway. Inside, you can check out a historical exhibit that tells the story of the people who have crossed the United States. Walk through a sod house, let the kids run through a maze, and do a bit of shopping in the gift store. There’s even a trail outside if you need a bit of exercise.
Lewis and Clark Landing
Check out the spot where Lewis and Clark stopped on their legendary trip down the Missouri River at the Lewis and Clark Landing site in Omaha, Nebraska. Today, it’s a public park with a variety of interesting exhibits. As you walk, enjoy the views of the river.
World's Largest Time Capsule
No road trip is complete without an unusual stop like the World's Largest Time Capsule. Set near Seward, Nebraska, this bizarre site includes a massive concrete vault that was loaded with memorabilia and relics in 1975. It won’t be opened until 2025, but in the meantime, it’s a fun stop for a photo.
Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles
Near Lexington, Nebraska, history buffs shouldn’t miss the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles. Run entirely by volunteers, this well-kept museum offers an impressive collection of military vehicles, including tanks, helicopters, and half-tracks. You can also see items that soldiers have used through different wars, including uniforms and MREs.
The road trip from Chicago to Denver travels through vast unpopulated areas. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to enjoy panoramic views of the American interior. This also means that the cities you pass through are small and manageable—perfect for finding dump stations and friendly campgrounds.
Iowa City, Iowa
Set among rolling farmland, Iowa City is a beautiful university town. Stop for a bite at one of the excellent downtown restaurants after you set up camp at one of the city’s best campgrounds.
One of the great unsung cities in the United States, Omaha is a lovely place to visit. Stop at the zoo, bike the city’s trail network, and experience the craft beer scene. These Omaha campgrounds are a great place to stop for the night.
The capital of Nebraska and home to the University of Nebraska, Lincoln is a vibrant and thriving city. Explore the legendary Sunken Gardens and stroll the downtown; they’re both close to the city’s top campgrounds.