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Things to Do Across the US: Part 1 - Colorado to Missouri

Updated on May 5, 2014

PART 1 - Starting in Colorado

This past June (2013), my family and I embarked on a road trip from Colorado to Rhode Island. The contract for my job had just expired, so my family and I had to move home. We decided to make a trip out of it. We had originally planned to take I-70 the whole way, but what fun would that be? We hadn't been on a vacation in three years, and figured it was about time. Instead of taking the more traditional route straight across the country, we started in Colorado, went through Kansas, MIssouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and finally Rhode Island. In part 1, I will cover Kansas and Missouri. I know I start in Colorado, but Colorado certainly deserves its own, dedicated page (check back soon).

Yup, this is Kansas
Yup, this is Kansas

Kansas - Things to Do in Kansas

So, Kansas. What is there to say about Kansas? Well, to be honest, not too much. In my experience, most of Kansas looks exactly like the picture on the right. Open farmland with the occasional oil pump or windmill. I had previously taken the reverse of this road trip, going from Rhode Island to Colorado, during which I stayed in Colby, Kansas. I stayed there and I still couldn't tell you where it is. I got there at nighttime and all I could notice was the hotel I stayed at, a gas station, and a pizza place. Due to that exhilarating experience, we decided to blow through Kansas. We just drove straight through all 423 miserable miles of I-70 in Kansas.

My Travel Route

show route and directions
A marker80916 -
Colorado Springs, CO 80916, USA
get directions

B markerst louis, mo -
St. Louis, MO, USA
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C markergatlinburg, tn -
Gatlinburg, TN, USA
get directions

D markerhershey, pa -
Hershey, PA, USA
get directions

E marker02904 -
Providence, RI 02904, USA
get directions

The Arch
The Arch

Missouri - Things to Do in Missouri

After barely escaping Kansas (yes, it was that bad), we made our way into Missouri. We knew we wanted to spend some time in Tennessee, so like Kansas, Missouri was more of a stepping stone. We sucked up the 11.5 hours of driving and made it to St. Louis, which is where we stopped the first night.

Especially if you have never been, St. Louis is an interesting city. Unfortunately, we did not budget much time for actual attractions, so it was more of a sight-seeing mission. My first target: The Gateway Arch (See photo on right).

If you do have time, there are a number of great things to do in St. Louis. You can spend a day at the zoo, catch a Cardinals game, or just explore the city like we did. Especially when you are from a smaller city (such as Providence, RI), driving through a major city like St. Louis is quite a journey.

Be warned that St. Louis is a rather humid place, especially in late June. Granted, I had just come from Colorado where the humidity was extremely low, but nevertheless, St. Louis is a humid place.

Driving into St. Louis.  Its not the best photo (we were stuck under an overpass, if you can't notice) but it gives you an idea of how built up the city is.
Driving into St. Louis. Its not the best photo (we were stuck under an overpass, if you can't notice) but it gives you an idea of how built up the city is.

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Where to Stay

Let me take a moment now to touch upon hotel accommodations. In my opinion, it is definitely a good idea to stay at the same hotel chain throughout the entirety of your trip. Most hotel chains have some sort of reward program where you accrue points for staying with them. These points can also eventually earn you a free night, or at least a night with reduced rates.

After doing a fair amount of research, we decided to stay at a La Quinta in all of the places we stopped. We chose La Quinta for several reasons. As mentioned, they have a great rewards program that is free to join. You earn rewards for each stay and can use those points 24 hours later. It takes a few stays to rack up enough points to get a reduced rate or free night, but if you are taking a 5-6 day road trip, it isn't an issue. Second, most, if not all of the rooms feature king size pillow top mattresses. After driving all day, it doesn't get much better than that. Third, there is a La Quinta in most large cities, which was very convenient for us. Last, but certainly not least, is the complimentary breakfast. This was a biggie for us. Finding food on the road can be difficult, especially quality food. It is always good to know I can wake up and grab a hearty breakfast and a good cup of coffee.

Be sure to do your own research. Check to make sure the hotel of your choice is located at your travel destinations. If you are open to suggestions, I will always recommend La Quinta. They have never done me wrong, and we have stayed about 13 nights in 10 different locations with no complaints.

Next - Things to Do Across the US Part 2

Soon to come will be Part 2 of Things to Do Across the US. Part 2 will feature day two of the trip: Missouri to Tennessee. On day two we drove from St. Louis to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Gatlinburg was the main reason we went so far out of our way on I-70. I had never been, but my wife had been previously. We finally had the time and money, so we decided it was a great opportunity to go (or go back in my wife's case). Because there was so much to do, we spent 2 nights in Gatlinburg to ensure we did everything we had wanted to. If you are going to the Gatlinburg area, or if you want to go, be sure not to miss Part 2.

DISCLAIMER: I did my research, so you should do yours. While I hope my blog helped you, do not take my word for anything, especially those involving prices, weather, etc. I take no responsibility for anything that may go wrong on your trip (although hopefully all will go well).

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    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      As a Kansas native who finally escaped for good to Oklahoma - go figure - I absolutely *had* to stop in at this hub to see how badly you trashed Kansas (and deservedly so). Good job!

      To be fair, though, if your only experience of Kansas is I-70, naturally you'll think there isn't much there. Actually, there's a LOT to see in Kansas, but going east, until you get to Topeka (aka "Civilization") you have to get off I-70 to find it. Way off! Geographically speaking, the problem with Kansas is that so much of it is pancake-flat, uninhabitable prairie. Or as I've said after many trips up and down the KS Turnpike, miles and miles of NOTHING. Until I moved to OK, I had no idea there could be towns every 5 or 6 miles!

      At any rate, were you to meander south from I-70 at Salina, you'd find all sorts of interesting small towns like Lindsborg, settled by Swedish immigrants, and Hillsboro and Marion, which were settled by Russians and Germans, all of which celebrate their ethnic heritage several times a year with various festivals. Going north from Salina, you'd want to find the village of Cuba, settled by Bohemians (Poles). Many of its residents still converse in Polish. Any of these "ethnic" settlements are worth a trip for the authentic "old country" food that you won't find in any chain restaurant.

      As for spending the night in Colby, you have my sympathies. I've been there exactly once and couldn't tell you where it is other than it's pretty much the halfway point between Topeka and Denver! ;D

    • Jay Connors profile image
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      Jay C. 2 years ago from New England, United States

      JamaGenee, thanks for the comment. I'm glad my poor review of Kansas' I-70 area did not offend you. You are correct, I did not go anywhere of I-70, which is why I thought there was literally nothing in Kansas. On my way to Colorado from Rhode Island, even my dog got tired of looking out the window halfway through Kansas. When we made our trip back to RI (three years after going), we were actually excited to see turbines in Kansas, because it was something to look at. Anyways, thanks for the comment and next time I drive west, I will be sure to actually make an effort to get off I-70.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I didn't have my atlas handy when I wrote my first comment, but Highway 24, which runs east-west a few miles north of I-70 and ends at Colby, is THE scenic route when traversing Kansas.

      Coming from the east, the best place to hop over is at the Gage exit on I-70 in Topeka. After a couple of miles, you loop around to the exit for Hiway-24. It'll take you through Wamego, home of the Wizard of Oz museum AND a great cheese factory, then to Manhattan (aka "The Little Apple"), home of K-State, then north nearly to Tuttlecreek Reservoir (a GREAT place to camp if one is so inclined).

      There are a few breaks in 24 northwest of Manhattan, but the signs are good. You'll go through small, interesting towns like Clay Center. At the intersection with Highway 81, it's worth detouring a few miles north to Concordia to see the church with twin towers, which looks totally out of place in what's otherwise yawn of a town.

      Continuing west, Glen Elder and Cawker City are on the north side of Glen Elder Reservoir. Cawker City is the home of the "world famous" Big Ball of Twine, but having stopped to gawk twice, snapping a photo as you drive by very slowly will be sufficient. ;-)

      Oddly, there's 6-ft miniature Statue of Liberty on the south side of the road somewhere past Cawker, part of a Bicentennial project by the Boys Scouts of America. Farther west, 24 goes through Nicodemus, founded by freed slaves after the Civil War.

      It's always been a sore point that 1) I-70 was laid out through THE most desolute part of the state, and 2) Kansas does NOT promote its tourist attractions like states such as Missouri do. Or the British Isles! Wichita DOES do a great job of promoting itself, but alas to get to it by car, you have to drive through too many miles of the mind-numbing nothing I mentioned in my earlier comment. ;D

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