As you leave the Windy City behind and start across the plains of Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska, you may find that your closest companion is a farmer harvesting his corn or soybean crop. Suddenly, the scenery will change as you enter Colorado, and high mountains will spring up in front of you. Farther down the road on your Chicago to Las Vegas road trip, you will be amazed as Utah’s red rocks magically appear. Keep going, and you will find yourself surrounded by Las Vegas’ hustle. Along the way, there are many national and state parks you will want to explore, unusual things to see, and great cities that beg you to come visit them.
You can incorporate many national parks into a Chicago to Las Vegas RV road trip. You can use this convenient guide to national parks to learn more about them or to plan future trips.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park covers more than 415 square miles near Estes Park, Colorado. The park contains more than 300 miles of hiking trails. Bicyclists can ride on any road open to motor vehicles. Many bicyclists love to ride along the Trail Ridge Road, where over 11 miles are above the tree line. Climbers often test their skills on the Longs Peak-Keyhole Route that crosses many vertical flat faces. This park has 156 lakes, making it a great spot to go fishing.
Arches National Park
Over 2,000 natural-stone arches are found at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Scenic drives allow you to experience much of this park from your RV. Make sure to visit the Windows Section as it contains the highest concentration of arches. Stop at Wolfe Ranch to see the 1906 log cabin and wonder who could make a living in this barren environment. Get a better view from your bike's seat by riding along some of the paved and unpaved roads that run through this park with many containing washboards. Numerous hiking trails ranging from 50 yards to 7.2 miles make it easy to get closer views of many of the arches, including some hikes led by park rangers. You can drive a four-wheel vehicle along many roads in this park, and those roads are also open for horseback riding.
Canyonlands National Park
Rivers divide Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah, into four distinct sections. Join rangers for geology talks in the Island in the Sky section before hiking to see the Mesa Arch, which hangs out over the side of a cliff. Be amazed as you see Cedar Mesa sandstone's colorful spires as you hike through the Needles section and join rangers for nightly programs. Join rangers for a guided walk through Horseshoe Canyon to see the magnificent rock art. The most remote area of this park is the Maze, and it is a great destination for backcountry camping.
Bryce Canyon National Park
The largest concentration of hoodoos in any place on earth is found in Bryce Canyon National Park. Start your adventure by hiking along several trails in the Bryce Amphitheater area. Join the fun of a guided two-to-three-hour trail ride. If you are thinking about planning a winter road trip itinerary from Chicago to Las Vegas, include this stop because you can go on winter hikes, snowshoe, cross-country ski, and sled. The winter full-moon guided hikes with a park ranger are a favorite of many who stop at this park near Tropic, Utah.
Great Basin National Park
The diversity of Great Basin National Park near Baker, Nevada, is amazing. You may want to start your visit with a drive or hike up to Wheeler Peak and along Strawberry, Snake, and Lexington Arch roads. Find over 80 miles of marked hiking trails in this park, with many reaching over 8,000 feet in elevation. This park contains 40 caves, and the Lehman Caves are a great place to take a wild cave tour. The trail from the visitors center to Baker is a terrific place to ride your bike.
Maquoketa State Park
Maquoketa State Park near Maquoketa, Iowa, offers visitors the chance to explore more caves than any other state park in Iowa. While the 1,100-foot-long Dancehall Cave is the largest cave in the park and is well-developed, hikers should consider taking the 6-mile-long nature trail in this park’s eastern section. It allows you to see the natural stone bridge located 50 feet above the Raccoon River, to view rocks weighing more than 17 tons, and to go wild caving before arriving at the main cave.
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is in the Platte Valley near Ashland, Nebraska. Take the two-to-three-hour Go Ape Journey where you will use your skills to zip line, balance, and crawl through the park at tree canopy level. Head to the Family Aquatic Center for swimming fun at the zero-entry pool and slide down the waterslides. Practice your golf game on the driving range or challenge someone to a miniature or disc golf game. Go to Owens Marina, where you can rent paddle boats and fishing boats. The marina also has a dedicated space to do crafts. The Activity Center contains many activity areas, including a 42-foot climbing wall. Watch plays in the Denman and Mary Mallory Kountze Memorial Theater. The fun does not stop at this state park when the winter arrives as you can go ice skating and sledding and participate in many other winter activities.
Cheyenne Mountain State Park
Explore over 21 miles of mixed-use trails at Cheyenne Mountain State Park near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Participate in ranger-led programs, like family mystery hikes and wildflower tours. Yoga is a weekly occurrence at this park. Practice your shooting skills at the covered archery range.
Snow Canyon State Park
Snow Canyon State Park in the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve covers more than 7,400 acres near Ivins, Utah. This park, located at the intersection of the Mojave Desert, the Colorado Plateau, and the Great Basin Desert, offers abundant opportunities to capture nature landscape images of coyotes, kit foxes, roadrunners, and canyon tree frogs against its beautiful natural quartz formations. Climbing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and many other outdoor recreational opportunities are available.
Spring Mountain Ranch State Park
Spring Mountain Ranch State Park used to belong to Hugh Hefner, and you will not want to miss the tours of the blacksmith shop, farmhouse, and cabin at this state park near Blue Diamond, Nevada. Many miles of trails offer great places to hike, bike, or ride a horse. Take in a show performed by the Super Summer Theater troupe.
Iowa artist Patrick Acton has glued more than 7 million matchsticks together to form 16 structures that you can see at Matchstick Marvels in Gladbrook, Iowa. Those structures include Apollo 11, the International Space Station, Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, and Notre Dame.
Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine
Tour the diatomite mines at Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine as it is one of only two diatomite mines in the United States. Initially, buildings were constructed from the mined chalk, but today, the chalk is used as a paint filler. Once back aboveground, stroll along the trails to see over 150 native plants at this attraction located in Scotia, Nebraska.
United States Mint
While you are going through Denver, make sure to stop and tour the United States Mint. The free 45-minute tour given six times a day allows you to look through windows to see coins being made. Tour guides will also teach you about the history of money in the U.S. Stop and spend some coins at the gift shop.
Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines is the capital city of Iowa and is home to one of the longest-running state fairs in the United States. Des Moines campground options include Des Moines West KOA/Holiday and Whispering Oaks Campground. Des Moines RV dump station options include Walnut Woods State Park and Hawarden City Park.
Lincoln is Nebraska's capital, and the Haymaker district, where the capital is located, is a fascinating area for a walking tour. Consider staying in Camp A Way or Pawnee Recreation Area when looking for Lincoln campgrounds. Pine Grove RV Park and Wagon Train State Recreation Area offer Lincoln-area RV dump stations.
Denver, Colorado, is the largest city you will drive through on a road trip from Chicago to Las Vegas. Consider Denver campgrounds like the Dakota Ridge RV Park and the Loveland RV Resort. Dump stations in Denver include Golden Clear Creek RV Park and Cherry Creek State Recreation Area.