You can easily drive from Chicago to Omaha in about seven hours. If you love rivers, you may want to consider going down the west side of the Mississippi River and coming back up the east side of the Missouri River. You will be passing through the territory that Mark Twain made famous, see the Gateway Arch built to signify the West's opening, and view the hills where the first Pony Express riders rode. It will take you about a week to complete the journey, but you will see more than where the "big corn" grows in Iowa.
Saint Louis was selected as the site of a monument to celebrate the western expansion of the United States in 1935, and that monument is the Gateway Arch. Eero Saarinen designed the 630-foot-tall arch. Ride the tram to the top in a car that holds five passengers and rotates 155 degrees on its way to the top. Once at the top of the tram system, you can climb a short flight of stairs to visit the observation deck, which has 32 windows. A museum is located under the Gateway Arch, helping you learn more about Thomas Jefferson’s dream for expanding west.
Wildcat Den State Park
You may want to start your trip with a stop at Wildcat Den State Park. This park near Muscatine, Iowa, allows you to hike along miles of trails lined with deciduous and evergreen trees leading to sandstone cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Scramble over rocks and into alcoves to make your way to the Pine Creek Grist Mill. This park is a great spot to take scenic photos as this is one of the best examples of mid-1800s grist mills left in the country. You will also want to visit the Melpine Schoolhouse, where you can see various size school desks, old schoolbooks, a Victrola, and period lunch buckets.
Mark Twain State Park
Mark Twain State Park near Florida, Missouri, offers many amazing adventures. You may want to start your visit by hiking under the oak, hickory, and maple on paths that give you a good workout as they head to Salt River Hills limestone summits. Keep your eyes alert, and you might see white-tailed deer, turkey, raccoons, and squirrels along the path as well as many birds flying above your head or perched in the trees. Enjoy fun on the water when you launch a boat using either of the two four-lane boat ramps on the 18,000-acre Mark Twain Lake. While it may test your fishing skills, you should be able to convince this lake to give you crappie, bass, and catfish. Consider spending the night in the wooded campground so that you can visit the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site located about a mile away.
Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
One of the most diverse state parks in the United States is Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, located near Columbia, Missouri. This park was named after a 6-year-old girl who died and whose parents were instrumental in raising the money to open this park. Several short hikes allow you to experience the unique karst topography. In particular, hike along Devil’s Icebox Trail until you can get to the cave where you can wade in the water at this park’s entrance. Then, head on across a natural rock bridge to see Conners Cave. You will need to bring a headlamp to explore this 166-foot-long cave that gray bats use as their breeding ground. This cave is only open in the spring and fall to give the bats privacy while raising their young.
Lewis and Clark State Park
William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition described the lake that is now part of the Lewis and Clark State Park as full of "geese & goslings," and you will want to stop here during your Chicago to Omaha RV road trip. Commonly called Sugar Lake, this park's lake boasts catfish and carp for fishing. Choose a spot near one of the large cottonwood or sycamore trees, and you will see a variety of birds. You may also want to have a picnic at the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Plaza that contains picnic tables and the names of each of the 40 explorers on the trip that used the Missouri River as their highway.
Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site
You may feel like you have stepped back to the 1800s when you visit the Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site near Lawson, Missouri. Be sure to tour the textile mill as it is the only 19th-century textile mill in the United States with its original machinery still inside. Stop at the visitor’s center to learn more about the Watkins family that operated this mill. Stroll around the park to see the Watkins' home where the nine children were raised, and check out the other period buildings on the grounds. There are many recreational opportunities at this park, including a 100-acre lake where you can go fishing. Biking enthusiasts will love the bike path around the lake. The picturesque campground is a great place to spend the night.
The History and Industry Center
Shells from over 19 states were shipped by rail and barge to this Muscatine, Iowa, center where workers made over 1.5 billion buttons annually. You can see how the buttons were made at this stop, view many examples, and learn about early labor unrest that may have contributed to forming unions later.
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum
Ride the raft with Huck and Jim, explore a cave with Tom and Becky, and whitewash a fence by participating in the interactive exhibits at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum. You can also view memorabilia from Sam Clemens' life, including his famous white suit, when you stop at this Hannibal, Missouri, museum.
Missouri Botanical Garden
View the second-largest herbarium in North America when you stop at this site. The facility houses more than 6.6 million specimens. Henry Shaw founded the facility, and the Linnean House, built by Shaw in 1992, is one of the oldest continuously operated greenhouse in the world.
Glore Psychiatric Museum
The Glore Psychiatric Museum in Saint Joseph, Missouri, has been named one of the 50 most unusual museums in the United States by the Learning Channel. Located next door to the State Lunatic Asylum No. 2 that served as a mental health hospital for more than 145 years, this site allows you to see artwork created by patients, medical tools used on them, and nurses’ uniforms.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art contains three large collections that are acclaimed throughout the world. Its European collection features numerous Impressionistic works, including one by Van Gogh. Its Asian collection includes many Imperial Chinese furniture pieces. Many people come to this museum to see American works by local artist Thomas Hart Benton.
Located on a high bluff overlooking a major blend in the Mississippi River is the picturesque city of Muscatine, Iowa. Be sure to try their cantaloupe, known locally as the muskmelon. Consider spending a night at Wildcat Den State Park or one of the nearby campgrounds. RV dump stations are available at Clark's Ferry Recreation Area and the Water Pollution Control Plant.
Consider seeing one of the local Mark Twain performances when you visit Hannibal. This community has several close campgrounds, including the Mark Twain Cave Campground and the nearby Bayview Campers Park. Think about using the RV dump station owned by the city and located next to the Admiral Coontz Armory.
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is a fun city to visit because you can see major league sports, take in the cultural scene, and spend time on the Mississippi riverfront. Consider camping in St. Louis at Pin Oak Creek RV Park, which offers a long list of amenities, including miniature golf and a paint gun course, or at 370 Lakeside RV Park. Dump stations are available at the Love’s Travel Plaza or Camping World.
This city has great nightlife and several interesting places to explore, like the University of Missouri at Columbia’s campus. Consider camping at Rearview RV Park if fishing is part of your road trip from Chicago to Omaha game plan because it has a great bait and tackle shop, or camp at the pet-friendly Cottonwoods RV Park. Empty your tank at Gander RV of Columbia.
Kansas City, Missouri
Home to some of the best barbecue in the United States, Kansas City has countless barbecue joints to choose from. You could also head to the Savory Grill, located inside the oldest continually operating hotel west of the Mississippi River, a great place to get a steak just like diners have been doing since 1903. Think about camping in the Kansas City area at Worlds of Fun and get a discount on the highly-rated Worlds of Fun Amusement Park or Trailside RV Park located next to lots of shopping fun. Dump stations are available at Leavenworth’s RV Park, so you may want to consider camping there.
You might feel like your road trip itinerary from Chicago to Omaha will take you around the world instead of straight through Iowa. You will explore many exciting river communities, go on some great hikes, fish, and visit historical sites. An RV is the ideal way to make this epic Chicago to Omaha road trip because it allows you to truly experience the freedom of the plains. If you do not have an RV, you could always rent one in Chicago or Omaha.