Road Trip Route: Philly to Iowa (Part 2)
Day 4 - Indianapolis to Kansas City, MO
Most of this day is going to be driving the seemingly endless distance between Indianapolis and Kansas City. It’ll take you about seven hours and we made minimal stops in order to ensure that we got to KC with enough time to take in the city.
Indianapolis, IN to Vincennes, IN
Vincennes, IN is about two hours outside of Indianapolis. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it because I still don’t know.
William Henry Harrison’s Grouseland
You probably thought we were done with the boring presidents that you don’t care about, but never fear! Famous 30 Day President with a hatred of coats William Henry Harrison not only has an extravagant tomb, but also an extravagant home that you can tour. Even though WHH didn’t have the most illustrious presidency, he held a myriad of government positions, including Governor of the Indiana Territory. (Which, as we all know, means he used prejudice and the bureaucracy to terrorize the Native Americans.) Go in with your critical thinking skills and knowing that they have a certain view of Harrison’s history. Also, while you’re teetering on the edge of the time zone in Vincennes, remember that the museum operates on Eastern time.
Vincennes, IN to St. Louis, MO
Just a friendly reminder that you will be switching time zones on this three hour stretch.
Grant National Park Site
While there is a fair amount of Ulysses S. Grant history in St. Louis, this site is probably the most important. Run by the National Parks Service, see the house that Julia Grant’s family (The Dents) lived in and the home where Grant hoped to retire. Judging by the size of the visitors center, I was expecting a well curated recreation of what the interior would have looked like during Grant’s time, but the house is very sparsely furnished. The site is free, so if you are interested in Grant history and wonder what it would look like if you painted your entire house green, then it might be worth a stop. (If you’re interested in more about historic sites to President Grant, read my post here)
*The site of Grant and Julia’s original farm is down the road and now owned by Anheuser-Busch and, while it does include a recreation of Grant’s cabin, it is also a family fun farm. Based on the cost of parking and large numbers of children, we passed on that one. (Also, I don’t think the beer conglomerate needs to make money off me and local history.)
+It probably won’t come as a surprise that Grant also has a checkered past in terms of racial relations. Click here to read about his policy towards Native Americans, and here to read about his (potentially surprising) relationship to slavery.
St. Louis, MO to Kansas City, MO
You would think these two would be closer since Missouri doesn’t appear to be that big of a state, but they are at exact opposite ends, so it’ll be about three and a half hours across the state.
Kansas City, MO
I loved KC so much that I wrote an entire My Favorite Things about it. Read here!
Day 5 - Kansas City, MO to Topeka, KS
Kansas City, MO to Independence, MO
Independence, MO is right next door to Kansas City so it takes very little time to travel between them, but for GPS and clarity, I’m listing them separately.
Harry Truman National Historic Site
The National Parks website says that tours of Truman’s home fill up quickly, so arrive early to book tickets. While I thought they were being overdramatic (or overly generous), they were spot on. The first tour was full when we got there ten minutes after the center opened. Seriously. Thankfully the historic site and the Presidential Library are all within minutes of each other, so the order you do them in is interchangeable.
Truman Presidential Library
The Library/Museum is configured so that his personal life is the bottom floor/basement and his presidency is the ground floor, I wish we would’ve started in the basement. Regardless of order, you’ll be able to see all the exhibits, but I just wish we’d had the perspective of his early life to contrast with his presidency. Also, not to be missed is the park located in the middle of the library where President and Mrs. Truman are buried.
+ Here is an interesting piece from the Washington Post about Truman’s changing positions on race throughout his life.
Kansas City, MO to Abilene, KS
This is about a two and a half hour drive, so if you are going to try to do both the Truman and Eisenhower libraries in one day (like we did), then you need to watch the clock and make sure you leave with enough time to visit both.
The Eisenhower Museum was undergoing some major renovations during our visit, so we were only able to see a truncated version of the exhibit inside the library. While I appreciate the fact that they were giving out free vouchers to come back and see the new installation, it was a little disappointing. However, having already seen Truman’s NPS site and library plus all the driving, I’m not sure if I would have truly had the attention span for the entire museum, anyway. If you are going to attempt this double-hitter day (which we had to in order to be back for work on Tuesday), then just be prepared.
+Writer Ibram X Kendi considers Eisenhower to be one of our most racist presidents - read the full piece here.
Abilene, KS to Topeka, KS
After your packed itinerary, this hour and a half drive through the Kansas landscape should be easy. Sit back, enjoy the scenery, and be ready for a much deserved rest in Topeka. Similar to Kansas City, we had loved Topeka so much that it warranted its own post. Check out our Topeka favorites.
Day 6 - Topeka, KS to Muscatine, IA
Don’t freak out, but the next two days are full of driving. It takes almost seven hours to get from Topeka to West Branch, Iowa, and I won’t lie to you and say it’s the most exciting drive. However, we did find a few cool things along the way that will hopefully ease some of the boredom of that long in the car.
(Because we got into Topeka late on Day 5, we didn’t have a chance to see the Brown vs. Board of Education Historic Site. As it is a fairly small site and opened at 9, we were able to sneak in a visit before heading out. If you’re in Topeka, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.)
Topeka, KS to Atchison, KS
Only about an hour outside of Topeka is Atchison, one of the coolest small towns ever. Seriously. You probably think that Kansas only has tornadoes and tumbleweeds, but trust me. Read my Small Town Spotlight on Atchison and find out where you absolutely need to stop - and where to have lunch!
Atchison, KS to Riverside, IA
It’ll take about five hours to get from Atchison to Riverside. We probably wouldn’t have stopped here on our own, but one our dearest friends asked us to make this pit stop in her honor. (Hi Sarah!)
Captain Kirk’s Future Birthplace
Riverside, Iowa’s claim to fame is that they are the future birthplace of Captain Kirk. And if you’re skeptical, here’s the landmark they have erected to prove it. (Read the full story here, from Roadside America.) While neither of us are Star Trek fans, this definitely y felt like the stereotypical fun and wacky road trip stop.
Riverside, IA to Columbus Junction, IA
This was a last minute addition to the itinerary because we were getting bored in the car and needed a distraction. Also it is only about a half hour from Riverside. (Once again, shout out to Atlas Obscura for helping us find this!)
Swinging Bridge of Columbus Junction
The Swinging Bridge in Columbus Junction is exactly what it sounds like. Hanging about eight stories above the ground, it takes very little time to cross, but it’s a fun little adrenaline rush, especially after sitting in the car for so long. A bonus is that the bridge is a great photo opportunity and is free!
Columbus Junction, IA to Muscatine, IA
I am usually hesitant to recommend the places that we stay. This trip was especially difficult because we did a combination of staying with friends, and, much to my dismay, chain hotels because sometimes B&Bs aren’t possible either due to availability or price or geography. We did stay in a few more local places along the way, but there was only one true standout.
Strawberry B&B in Muscatine, Iowa
Karl and official greeter-in-chief Maggie are the sweetest and friendliest owner and dog pair you will meet. Stay in their beautiful old house and have a delicious breakfast with Karl on the screened-in back porch. If you don’t stay with them, you’re foolish.
Did you miss Part 1 of our road trip from Philly to Iowa? Catch up here!!