Road Trip Guide: Driving through America's Heartland on Interstate 35
What to know before you hit the road.
Few road trips could be more classically American than the this 1,568-mile, north-south highway. Starting in Texas near the Mexican border and galloping up toward its final destination in Minnesota, Interstate 35 allows travelers to hit many must-see destinations, as well as small pull-off towns that capture a unique cross-section of the country.
As the ninth-longest Interstate Highway (and the third-longest north-south Interstate Highway), this route that seems to halve the United States at its center is brimming with pit stops in some of the country's most popular cities.
Where to find Interstate 35
Originating in Laredo, Texas, Interstate 35 heads north until it terminates in Duluth, Minnesota.
Where to stop
Since you’re starting in Texas, it would seem inconceivable not to mention side trips to the always-popular cities of Dallas and Austin. But because a road trip along Interstate 35 is something like taking a corridor through the country’s history, San Antonio may be a more fitting stop. You certainly remember the Alamo, right? Here, you can relive it. San Antonio saw a history-altering battle in 1836, and the famous Spanish-style fortress still sits in the heart of this city. Open year-round, it’s one of Texas’ most visited historic landmark.
After leaving the Lone Star state, you’ll be heading into Oklahoma, where your next stop should be the Arbuckle Mountains. Just off the Interstate, this ancient mountain range contains a core of granite and metamorphic gneiss that dates back nearly 1.5 billion years. The pristine lakes and rolling mountain landscape that stretches for 35 miles don't just seem old — they seem to extend beyond time.
While you’re still in Oklahoma, visit Oklahoma City, the state’s capital. Also a popular pit stop for those traveling along Route 66, you’ll find OKC is a destination that seems to embody the cowboy mentality. You'll want to fuel up with some of America's best barbecue (a version that mixes Carolinian and Texan styles), like the brown sugar-cured brisket at Iron Star, which pays tribute to famed Oklahoman outlaw Belle Starr.
After traveling through the state of Kansas, you’ll find yourself driving into Missouri, where you’ll pass through Kansas City. Perhaps surprisingly, Kansas City has enough in the way of affordable attractions to keep you occupied for more than a night. Consider reserving a weekend here to see a performance at the open-air Starlight Theatre, visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and admire the surplus of contemporary art at the Kemper and Nerman Museums of Contemporary Art, both with free admission.
Stop next in Minneapolis, a seriously underestimated and slyly cool city. Highlights include the clutch of cool craft spirit distilleries (making it one of the country's top destinations for booze hounds), views of St. Anthony Falls from Stone Arch Bridge, and Paisley Park: Prince's newly-opened 65,000-square-foot home and studio turned museum. If you're looking to bed down for the night, reserve a room at the Hewing Hotel in the hipper than thou warehouse district.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of city-life, you’ll round out your journey and end up in Duluth, Minnesota, the second-largest city that sits on Lake Superior’s shores. Drive on the Aerial Lift Bridge, stroll down the Duluth Lakewalk, or pay a visit to Icelandic explorer Leif Erikson’s statue at the eponymous park.
Good to know
Interstate 35 is a highly trafficked route, meaning you won't feel isolated or need to stock up on fuel before a long stretch of empty road. Because of this, however, it can become congested, particularly near major cities. Be prepared to spend at least two weeks navigating this route if you want to fully explore each city you encounter on your road trip.