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Road Trippin’ with Cenex: My Top 5 Must Stops in the Midwest to Explore

Road tripping has quickly become a way of life for us, and with that, we constantly need to be fueled up! This spring and summer, we had an epic season of traveling around the Midwest to some of our favorite places, making Cenex the number one stop for our fuel and snack needs. During our planning, we chose our favorite places to explore across 4 different states. Come on this reading journey with us where, we’ll guide you through Ely, Minnesota, Pella, Iowa, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Faribault, Minnesota, and the Road to the Black Hills, South Dakota –  where Cenex was our trusted pit stop partner for fuel, snacks, and friendly service in all of these locations.

Ely, Minnesota – Gateway to the Wilderness

Located in the northern reaches of Minnesota, Ely is a wilderness enthusiast’s paradise. The town serves as the entry point to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness but also makes for a great cabin weekend as well! Spend your day paddling through pristine lakes or hiking along trails to catch the iconic Kawishiwi Falls. Ely is also home to the International Wolf Center, where you can learn about these amazing animals up close. 

During our weekend in Ely, we embraced cabin time on Shagawa Lake and explored the downtown area. Start your day with coffee from Northern Grounds and then spend some time meandering main street to do a little shopping! Piragis Northwood Company has everything you need to outfit you for an epic outdoor adventure in Ely, plus you can connect with them on BWCA tours too! Gracie’s Plant Works is a lovely plant and garden shop that houses so many treasures – it’s a delight to pop in there! For more shopping, try Wintergreen Northern Wear to stock up on northerner apparel (made right there in Ely!) or Mealey’s Gift and Sauna shop. There are so many great places to eat lunch or dinner including Insula (their wonton tacos are a hit!), The Boathouse Brewpub and Restaurant, The Chocolate Moose, and Britton’s Cafe for breakfast! 

Before you embark on your outdoor adventures of choice, make sure to fuel up at the Cenex in Ely! In addition to it being a great stop for gasoline; it’s where you can grab a hot coffee, fresh snacks, and get insider tips on the best routes to explore.

Pella, Iowa – Dutch Delights and Tulip Time

Head to Pella, Iowa, for a taste of Dutch heritage right in the heart of the Midwest. The charming town is known for its architecture and annual Tulip Time Festival in May, where thousands of tulips bloom in vibrant colors.

Pella offers more than just flowers. Explore the Vermeer Windmill, indulge in Dutch pastries, and stroll through the Molengracht Plaza. You must get a Dutch letter from Jaarsma Bakery and a Dutch mocha from Smokey Row Coffee to start the day! Wander around the town square to view all the tulip varieties and then grab a bologna sandwich (another Pella must!) at In’t Veld’s Meat Market. We loved our time there and the whole town was just beautifully pristine! Don’t forget to swing by local Cenex for a quick refuel on your way home! 

Eau Claire, Wisconsin – Music, Art, and Outdoor Fun

Eau Claire is a vibrant city that strikes a perfect balance between art, music, and the great outdoors. It also helps that it’s under two hours from the Twin Cities as well, making it the perfect option for a weekend trip! We spent our weekend here exploring and also going to Country Jam – a fun outdoor country music festival! 

You’ll be surprised every time you visit Eau Claire as there is always something new and exciting to do and their food and beer scene just keeps getting better! We loved stopping at 3rd and Vine for epic charcuterie boards and beer and cheese pairings! You must make a visit to the Brewing Projekt as well in town to try some of the most creative and flavorful beers I’ve ever had! 

The city is an outdoor lover’s paradise too as it has numerous bridges to explore, bike and walking paths all over the city. Plus it’s home to one of the largest walking art sculpture tours in the US too! We toured downtown by foot, popping into some fun local shops just as Adorn, Seven Sun Vintage, and Dotters Books! 

We ended our weekend by seeing Dierks Bentley live at Country Jam. It was amazing! Our Cenex of choice was only 1 mile from the festival grounds too making it the perfect in and out stop all weekend long for gas, food, water, and more! 

When you’re in Eau Claire, you can rely on Cenex for top-notch service. Whether you need to top off your tank or grab some on-the-go snacks, this station has you covered.

Faribault, Minnesota – History and Nature

Faribault is a small town with a big history and lots of outdoor spaces to explore, making it the perfect day trip from the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area. Start your day by exploring the Faribault Mill, which has been producing quality woolens since 1865. Then take a drive down Main Street to see all the historic buildings, murals, and of course the Tilt-A-Whirl on the corners! This iconic ride was invented right there in Faribault. Snap a pic in one as you relive your nostalgia of riding in one at the county fair back in the day! 

Take in the fresh air by getting in your steps at the River Bend Nature Center where they have great options of prairie paths and wooden trails or catch the waterfall and creek views at Nerstrand State Park. End your day with a freshly made cocktail at 10,000 Drops! 

When you’re exploring in Faribault, you can rely on Cenex for top-notch service. Whether you need to top off your tank or grab some on-the-go snacks, this station has you covered and is conveniently located in the heart of town. 

The Road to the Black Hills, South Dakota – Quirky billboards and other-worldly sites 

The Black Hills of South Dakota is one of my favorite Midwest road trips so of course I saved the best for last! From the iconic Mount Rushmore to the stunning drives in Custer State Park, there’s no shortage of awe-inspiring sights. To get there is half the fun though! Take the drive on I-90 through South Dakota and make your way to the iconic stops that will make the long journey to the Black Hills even more fun!

Right as you cross into South Dakota, stop for a little break to stretch your legs and get some fresh air in at Falls Park in Sioux Falls. They have a great little cafe overlooking the falls too! Keep heading on to Mitchell, South Dakota to stop at the one and only Corn Palace. It highlights a yearly theme made from 12 different shades and varieties of corn! 

Continue on to Chamberlain for views of the beautiful Missouri River and the Dignity of Earth and Sky statue. It’s also a great place to refuel with Cenex since this is one of the last larger towns to fuel up and stop before continuing the drive! 

A major stop on this road trip journey, and one that happens to be my favorite, is the Badlands National Park! Plan to spend at least a few hours here. This otherworldly park features the most unique landscapes and hopefully you can catch some wildlife! Drive through the park and exit through the Pinnacles entry point for a straight shot to Wall Drug. At this point, you’ve probably seen 100+ billboards for Wall Drug so you know it’s a must stop! Head into the space for some quirky shops and souvenirs, then find a table in the cafe to indulge in their delectable donuts or other fun desserts and food! Don’t forget to enjoy their always free ice water! 

During the road trip out west, make sure to stop at the Cenex stores in the area. All Cenex stores are Powered Locally – meaning they are locally owned and operated. So they always have insider tips on the best viewpoints and attractions, while also being your go-to spot for fuel, snacks, and rest. Plus there are nearly 15 Cenex locations off I-90 so they have you covered! 🙂

I hope your travel weekends just got a whole lot more exciting with these incredible destinations and the convenience of Cenex! So, pack your bags, hit the road, and let the adventures begin!

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