Driving from Chicago to Bloomington, Minnesota (Minneapolis) Pit Stops?

Updated on March 06, 2011
D.B. asks from Oak Lawn, IL
11 answers

We are driving to Minnesota next week for our nephew's wedding. We are bringing our girls (5 & 8) because our youngest is the flower girl. Wanted to get that out there, so no one suggests leaving them home. :) We know that we are going to have to stop along the way. Looking for suggestions as far as where to stop or even where NOT to stop along the way. Also, how many times do you stop? We hear it's about a 7 1/2 hour car ride straight through without stopping, how long should we expect this to take with the kids...??? Thanks for any suggestions!!

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answers from Minneapolis on

We use to make this trip well not to bloomington exactly but this trip anyway. We would normally stop in Janesville, wi, better then madison, I never liked to stop while on the toll road. Avoid the dells costly to stop there, next stop would typically be Tomah or in that area if we don't make it that far. Then Menomonie as a final stop. Althought we have made it a habbit to stop in hudson to eat somewhere on Carmichael road with the kids.

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answers from Chicago on

It is definitely do-able! I have made this same trip many times over the past 12 years (I'm from the Twin Cities and now live in IL but my most of my family is still in MN so we are there several times a year). My twins are almost 5 and have travelled very well every time, starting when they were 8 weeks old. I've even made the trip with just them and me, leaving my husband here in IL several times. You are right about the length of the trip - it is about 7 hours non-stop, so depending on the length of your stops, it could be about 8-9 hours door-to-door. There are some pretty decent rest areas with nice bathroom facilities along the route, so any of these would be fine for those "I have to go NOW" comments that always come from the back seat.

We usually leave in the morning (by 9:00am at the latest) and pack a light breakfast for the kids to eat in the car. This way, we can get a good 3-4 hours of driving in before having to stop for lunch. That will take you to at least Madison or possibly even the Dells area. Since both of these are pretty busy areas, we tend to drive a little bit further to Mauston (about 10 miles past the Dells). There are several gas stations and restaurants at this exit. We like to stop in Mauston, because it is exactly the 1/2-way point for us. Janesville is before Madison, but is a decent place to stop if need be for lunch. Other areas you could stop include Tomah, Eau Claire, and Menomonie (Menomonie has a really nice rest stop for restrooms too).

My suggestion would be to use a DVD player to keep the kids occupied during the trip. We have a portable one that we bought when the kids were 1 and it paid for itself the very first trip! We tend to take along full-length movies so that you don't need to change movies as much (our minimum is 90 minutes long for long trips). We also don't turn the DVD on until after our lunch stop, so that they have something to look forward to after lunch. Just a little trick we've found works well to make the trip happier for all. We usually have to stop about 1 1/2 - 2 hours after lunch for a bathroom break anyway, so the timing works out for changing the movie.

One suggestion I would have is to fill your car in Beloit, WI. That is where we have consistently found the best gas prices and these days, every little bit helps as prices-per-gallon are sneaking up to $4. Once you're in MN, prices are less than they are here in IL too. If you're going to Bloomington, be sure to take some time to go to the Mall of America (MOA) with your girls. There is so much to see and do there (including an American Girl Doll store). I took my kids to the MOA when I was there 4 weeks ago - and they're already asking to go back soon. One piece of advice I would have is to do some shopping while in MN - there is no sales tax on clothing or shoes! I stock up every time I'm there.

Feel free to send me a private message if you have any questions. Have a great trip!

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answers from Chicago on

We too have traveled this stretch of road, but past Bloomington every year. Ours is a 10+ hour drive with a now 6 year old (has been going since 1 year old) and a dog. We usually try to stop either the way up or back in Bloomington because my uncle/aunt & cousins live there. Like many people below the suggestion of Tomah, Mautson are a 1/2 way for stopping for lunch. If you can stretch it a little more then I would suggest Eau Claire.

There is a Red Robin (Exit 68 Elva/Eau Claire) and it was nice to not eat "fast food" and very kid friendly and it is right off the highway and there are gas stations there. From Eau Claire, Bloomington is about 2 1/2 hours.

Generally I have found this is when the infamous question of "are we there yet" or "how much longer" begins occuring. I gave my son his own map last year to route where we were going and mark landmarks along the way. It kept him occupied, interested and he was learning at the same time. In addition to DVD's and handhelds games, coloring books etc...

We generally get out the door no later than 7AM, (the earlier the better) take dry cereal in the car for breakfast. 1st (quick)stop is usually just north of Madison (http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/travel/restareas/locations.htm) at a rest stop. That is usually when the coffee kicks in! I am surprised that no one mentioned that the "major" rest stops in WI are great, they are easy on/off and very clean. Be aware I said "major" because the minor ones called "Waysides" remind me of a glorified outhouse.

2nd stop is usually Eau Claire where then it is lunch/gas and then onto Bloomington.
Also, be aware that between the Dells and Eau Claire there are stretches of just road. If you have to go off the highway to stop then it is mostly gas station bathrooms (yuk!) The second reason I would tell you not to stop at gas stations or food places (i.e McDonalds) is they become instant distractions for them....can I have candy? can I play a video game? I'm hungry! Can I play for 5 min in the playland?

I too would suggest going to MOA (Mall of America); not to shop (too big! unless you have a strategy you could wander for days) They have an aquarium and a Nickelodeon theme park in the middle (mini bumper cars for the kids etc). There are usually coupons on line or you can buy the all inclusive thing, which I saves you a couple of bucks. Parents ride free on the kiddie rides! But you will need tickets for the larger ones. We stayed at a Marriot one year right next to the mall because we had points to use up. Although the location was a little ? They had a shuttle that went to the mall and picked up. And the hotel was very clean.
We kept that as a surprise for our son and because we weren't sure we could fit it in. We did it in about 4 hours and got on the road and went home...he slept the 1st 3 hours back home....nice!

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answers from Chicago on

I know this stretch of road so very well. My parents are originally from Minnesota and we lived in Wisconsin and now I live in Illinois.

Some of the comments assume taking 90 out west to get there (Janesville/Beloit). We live closer to 94 and take that north through Milwaukee.

Specific potential stops for you:

Madison - there is a mall very near the highway. I think it's East Towne Mall. I really, really don't like malls. But if the weather is bad, you can have a picnic in one, and you can get out to walk and have some nice bathrooms.

A unique place to stop is in Tomah at Burnstadt's. It's just a little off the highway where 90 and 94 split. It's has a small grocery store, some antiques, a clothing store and a restaurant. Again, I'm not a shopper (really!), but it's some place different, and you can stretch your legs and have a decent bathroom.

Someone else recommended Mauston and that is a good stop with different fast restaurants and gas.

There's the Norsky Nook that is in Osseo, Wisconsin. Oseo is a very small town, and the restaurant is downtown Osseo. You can get your lefse and a slice of pie here. Osseo also has a decent park if the weather is good (my family held a reunion in Osseo for many years).

I agree with the many rest stops along the way that are fine to stop at. I do not remember any of them having swings or play equipment with kids. But bring a frisbee along or a soccer ball for some play time if the weather is good.

Have a fun trip!


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answers from Chicago on

We find that driving more then 6 hours in a day is really too hard on our family, but since that is just over that amount we might attempt it in one day.

We have gone to 31 states with our two girls who are now 11and 8 so we have LOTS of experience with this. We find that driving until you MUST stop is the best. I am the one that has the itty bitty bladder but I can go up to 2 hours without stopping for a restroom (can't go half usually). When we come up to a rest area we ask if anyone has to go, if any ONE does then ALL go and try so we don't have to stop again. Around meal time we stop and eat, we try for going inside and sitting to eat and that is our break time. The kids really don't need more then that one break if you aren't driving more then 8 hours.

For the car stock up on crayons, paper (notebooks) and wordsearches or other puzzles like that. I guess since we've been doing this for so long it's not a big deal to only go 8 hours away now, lol.

As far as pit stops along the way (which is another way we do breaks in the middle, plan a tourist stop half way) there is the House on the Rock, anything in WI Dells, and you can always go to http://www.randmcnally.com and do the plan a trip feature, it will give you driving directions and you can add stops in the middle and search for things to do in various areas.



answers from Chicago on

Depending on what time you leave you can plan 2 stops around lunch and dinner. We usually have a 6 hour drive and only stop 2 times one for lunch and then one for cheaper gas. Its a nice break every two hours. If we leave earlier in the morning then we only make one stop for lunch after 3 hours.

We usually add another hour to any trip that is 6 hours or longer. If our son didn't get sick eating in the car we probably would save 15 min. But I kinda like getting out to stretch legs and eat outside of the car. If it is good weather then we pack a picnic lunch to eat on our trip and the kids love the picnic's.

If you ever need advise on a longer trip I have that too.



answers from Chicago on

I don't have any specific locations to stop in mind, but we travel a lot. I find that in general Cracker Barrel is very kid-friendly, reasonable in price, pretty good food and clean bathrooms. There is one every 10 - 20 miles almost everywhere!

Have fun!



answers from Chicago on

I am from St. Paul MN and live in the NW Suburbs of Chicago now. We have two kids 4 years and 5 months old. We make at least two stops each trip. We stop for lunch at a McDonald's (depending on the time and where we are) usually in Mauston. You can stop at the Dells, Mauston, Tomah, Eu Claire - really any of those places and there are quite a few McDonald's which every kid loves. Let me know if you need any other help. I don't think you can predict how long its going to take and I don't know how well your kids travel but we get to St. Paul, MN from the Elgin area in about 6 hours and Bloomington is only 20 minutes from St. Paul. Good Luck!



answers from Cumberland on

That's a pretty quick trip-plan to stop twice and if you need a third-that's ok ,too! Travel safely!



answers from Kansas City on

My kids are 3 and 1 and I've found that we usually have to stop about every 3 hours. Since your trip is almost 8 and your kids are a bit older you could maybe try and push them to every 4 hours to only do 2 stops instead of 3, but you'll have to just see. We've never driven this particular route, but we like to stop at places where the kids can play and get up without it being a major disruption. Have fun! Road trips aren't as bad as I thought they were so I'm sure yours will go off without a hitch!


answers from Minneapolis on

Plan a route, have maps or GPS...things for the kids to do and make sure you plan for the weather! Have the boots, warm coats, emergency kit with water/food/etc.

Have a pack of baby wipes (I never ever travel without them..and I almost never have a child with me when I travel by car! We go from Minnesota to mountain states like Wyoming and Montana to snowmobile). They work great for spills, sticky fingers, freshening up...or for emergency potty stops in not so desireable places (or for car sick episodes).

Like others said, plan to stop for meals...stretch....etc. When we travel across country, we go by highway, hauling snowmobiles and usually in a mini-caravan, so se stick to quick just off the high-way places that look CLEAN and decent. Thats my only experience with road trips! I just need diesel fuel, a clean potty and something to eat (many larger fuel stops have a fast food chain restaurant in them.

Good luck and hope for good weather!

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