Flying to a vacation destination might save time. Yet, it’s hard to deny the appeal of the good-old cross-country road trips. Hitting the road can be the perfect chance to unwind and explore new places at your own pace, but only if you have the right itinerary.
So, let’s dive right in with some of the best routes and stops to help you craft that road trip plan!
6 Common Routes for Cross Country Road Trips
If you’re looking for a hassle-free way to plan your cross-country trip, you can pick one of the famous routes and follow it from start to end with minimal detours.
Here are the top coast-to-coast and border-to-border routes to consider:
The Oregon Trail
Main Route: US-20
Start to End: Massachusetts to Oregon
Length: ~3,360 miles
Did you know that Route 20 is the longest highway nationwide? So, it’s not surprising that it’s the number one option on our cross-country trip list.
You’ll pass through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho. So, finding suitable attractions is going to be a breeze.
The Loneliest Road
Main Route: US-50
Start to End: Maryland to California
Length: ~3,000 miles
If you have some time on your hands and don’t mind driving through desert landscapes for days on end, US-50 might be the right choice for you.
The Pacific Coast Highway
Main Routes: US-101 and California SR 1 (shift at Leggett)
Start to End: Washington to California
Length: ~1,600 miles
Starting in Seattle and making your way south to Dana Point, this route will take you on some of the best views of the Pacific!
Of course, you can always choose to cut the trip short and ditch the US-101 portion of the route.
The Atlantic Coast
Main Route: I-95
Start to End: Maine to Florida
Length: ~1,908 miles
When you’re driving along the east coast, you’ll find a lot of entertainment and lodging options for your cross-country trip.
So, it’s a good option to consider if you want a little bit of everything; sandy beaches, art exhibits, national parks, and scenic drives.
The Road to Nowhere
Main Route: US-83
Start to End: North Dakota to Texas
Length: ~1,880 miles
The US-83 will take you in a straight line from the Canadian border all the way down to Mexico’s border.
From the Welk Homestead to the El Quartelejo Museum, there are plenty of historic stops along the way.
U.S. Route 66
Main Route: U.S. Highway 66
Start to End: Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California
Length: 2,448 mi
Route 66 is the quintessential example of the American road; a journey of emancipation, surprise and indulgence punctuated by remnants from times past. This epic highway has witnessed much history come alive – as adventurers, wanderers and settlers alike have made their way across its iconic asphalt ribbon.
Related articles to inspire your next vacation:
21 Stops to Add to Your Cross-Country Road Trip Itinerary
Instead of restricting yourself to a fixed route, you can customize your own itinerary with the attractions that catch your eye from this list.
1) Acadia National Park – Maine
Let’s kick things off with breathtaking scenery in The Pine Tree State!
Acadia National Park is about 3 hours from Portland, Maine. So, if you’re already on the east coast, you can take I-95 north and then jump on Route 3 to Ellsworth.
Once you get there, you can extend your road trip with a 45-mile bike ride on Carriage Road.
However, that’s not the only thing to do at Acadia. Tidepooling can also be an unforgettable experience.
2) The Newark Museum of Art – New York
Since you’re starting in Maine, you might as well take the drive south on I-95 to New York and check out the vibes in the City that Never Sleeps.
The thematic galleries of the Newark Museum of Art offer an eye-opening take on the history of art in the US. Later in the day, you can check out the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, or the Statue of Liberty.
3) Kennedy Space Center – Florida
A Kennedy Space Center tour might be a good fit for you if you’re starting your road trip in the east coast’s southern part.
You can also head there using I-95. However, you’ll need to ensure that you set your GPS to the Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex specifically, not just the Kennedy Space Center.
Sure, if you’re lucky enough, you can time your trip around a rocket launch. Yet, you can still have a blast all year round, especially if you have little kids interested in astronomy.
4) Maymont – Virginia
Yet another place on the east coast to begin your cross-country trip from is the 100-acre Maymont park in Richmond, Virginia.
You can stroll through the gardens or get hands-on experience with farm animals there.
What would the highlight of your visit be?
Well, we’re betting it’s going to be touring the glorious Maymont Mansion!
5) New River Gorge – West Virginia
Your next stop after Maymont could be the New River Gorge preserve, but you’ll have to hop on I-64.
Depending on your time, you can settle for a scenic drive on Fayette Station Road or make a full day out of it and get on a boat trip.
6) Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – Ohio
If you’re going through Ohio next, you might want to drive up north on I-77 and check out the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Of course, if you’re more into sports, you can stop in Canton for the Pro Football Hall of Fame instead.
7) Angola – Indiana
Angola is a nice stop along the way to take a breath and spend the night in a cabin next to Buck Lake Ranch.
The entire drive from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should take under 3 hours on I-80 or I-90. You’ll have a 3-5 hour drive the next day before your next stop, so take this chance to rest and enjoy the area’s natural scenery!
8) Anderson Japanese Gardens – Illinois
As we take the road trip deeper into the Midwest, some people might choose to stop in Illinois to see Chicago’s Millennium Park or Cloud Gate. This should take around 3 hours from Angola.
However, if you want something a bit less crowded, you can continue along US-20 or I-90 a little longer until you get to Rockford. There, you can check out the Anderson Japanese Gardens.
You’ll probably want to hike if you arrive in the morning. That said, this 12-acre garden with koi ponds is just as dazzling at night, all thanks to the Illuminated program!
9) Des Moines Domes – Iowa
For the next stop along the line, you’ll get to climb the steps on the golden Domes in Iowa’s capitol building for a breathtaking view!
To get to Des Moines, you can opt to take I-88 or I-80 from Rockford. Just make sure that you check the tour availability in advance.
If you happen to visit on a Saturday, you might want to check out the Famers Market later, too.
10) Union Pacific Railroad Museum – Iowa
You’ll come across Council Bluffs in Omaha, about 2 hours from Des Moines on I-80.
If you’ve spare time, you can stop here to tour the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. You’ll get to see some of the furniture and antiques that used to be in President Abraham Lincoln’s rail car there.
11) Chimney Rock – Nebraska
Years ago, travelers and emigrants used Chimney Rock as a sign that they were on the right route.
After all, it’s hard to miss the weird-looking geological landmark, even from a distance. So, maybe you can continue this tradition by stopping by Chimney Rock on your cross-country trip.
Then, you can take a 30-40 minute drive to Scotts Bluff. This way, if you want to get out of the car for a bit, you can go for a biking tour (around 30-90 minutes) on Prairie View Trail or Scotts Bluff Summit Road.
12) Custer State Park – South Dakota
This stop will interrupt your east-to-west cross-country trip and take you up north. So, you can skip it and head toward Wyoming if you’re on a tight schedule.
However, we don’t think you’ll regret adding this stop to your itinerary.
Even if you’re not into hunting, geocaching, or birdwatching, a scenic drive on the Needles Highway or the Iron Mountain Road alone would make up for the extra mileage.
Once you get to drive through the Needles Highway, you’ll realize where the name comes from. After all, the rock formations really do look like needles piercing the sky!
Just make sure that you check your vehicle’s dimensions first—the Needles Eye Tunnel is a tight fit.
13) Mount Rushmore – South Dakota
Nothing says cross-country road trip like taking a photo of Mount Rushmore during the golden hour.
So, if you decide to extend your cross-country trip to South Dakota to see Custer State Park, we’d highly recommend going the extra mile (it’s more like 20 miles, but you get the idea) to see Mount Rushmore.
That said, the place can get particularly crowded from May to July. Your best bets are September and October.
14) Fort Laramie – Wyoming
Stopping at Fort Laramie for historic 19th-century exhibits can be a memorable experience if you’re a history buff. You can even set up a picnic and enjoy the afternoon.
If you’re coming from South Dakota, you can take the US-18 to the west and then the US-85 to the south. It should take about 3 hours to get to Fort Laramie.
Meanwhile, if you decide to skip the two stops in South Dakota, you’ll need to take the NE-92 or the US-26 from Chimney Rock for about 1.5-2 hours to the west.
15) Yellowstone National Park – Wyoming
It’s hard to imagine making it to Wyoming on a cross-country trip without visiting Yellowstone National Park. After all, the 3-4 million people who choose to visit the park annually do it for a reason!
For one, you can check out the hydrothermal features. Plus, you can go fishing, ride horses, or take a soak in the Firehole swim area. Even if you visit during the winter, you’ll find enough activities to keep you busy, from skiing to riding snowmobiles.
All in all, you might want to book a stay in a cabin or a campground to get to enjoy the park to the max before hopping back on the road.
16) Northwest Passage Scenic Byway – Idaho
This one isn’t really a stop, but the Northwest Passage will take you through a 4-hour scenic drive rich in history and breathtaking scenery.
Usually, people begin this route from Lewiston. So, if you’re starting this cross-country road trip from the west coast, you’re in luck!
However, if you’re coming from Yellowstone, you’ll begin this scenic drive from the Lolo Pass Visitor Center and make your way from the east to the west on US-12.
17) Yakima Sportsman State Park – Washington
If you’re looking for somewhere to camp after driving through Idaho’s longest scenic byway, you can cross the border to Washington and head west on I-82 to Yakima Sportsman State Park.
That said, it’s better to call ahead and reserve a campsite because there are only 30 tent spots there.
Odds are, you’ll want to do more than spend the night in Yakima. In that case, we’d recommend that you try metal detecting.
18) Powell’s City of Books – Oregon
For the next stop, you’ll need to detour into Portland to visit Powell’s City of Books—it’s simply a bookworm’s dream destination!
Don’t just take our word for it, though.
It’s actually the world’s largest store for new and used books. So, budget ahead and grab some new books to keep you busy on the next cross-country trip.
19) Multnomah Falls – Oregon
If you stick around Portland a bit longer, you can head east on I-84 and take Exit 31 to Multnomah Falls.
The ride is fairly short, and the views are well worth every minute on the road, especially if you come in the winter and spring. After all, this is one of the most visited recreational sites in the Pacific Northwest!
20) Schneider Museum of Art – Oregon
We’re not leaving The Beaver State just yet—not until you check out the contemporary art in Ashland’s Schneider Museum of Art.
So, head south on I-5. Remember to grab some snacks along the way because you’ll be in for a long drive, almost to the state’s border.
Overall, the place isn’t massive, and you can tour it in under an hour, but the exhibits are captivating. Plus, it’s on the way to our next stop, anyway!
21) Redwood National Park – California
From Crescent City to Orick, the Redwood National and State Park runs for nearly 50 miles.
To get there from the Schneider Museum of Art, you’ll head north on I-5. You’ll take US-199 south at Grants Pass, then hop on US-101 for about 4.5 miles south.
Once you get there, you can pick any of the trails to follow from north to south. Newton B. Drury makes for a great scenic drive. You can check out Howland Hill Road or Bald Hills Road if it’s closed.
If you need a really quick and fun activity, you can stroll over to Wayside and check out some of the largest trees in the world!
There are also campgrounds if you want to spend the night in the park.
Where to next?
Well, your last stop is in The Golden State. So, if you’re not ready to wrap up your cross-country trip just yet, you can drive down south and find a spot on one of California’s dazzling beaches.
Disneyland, Hollywood, and the Golden Gate Bridge are fantastic options.
How many days do you need for a cross-country road trip?
Technically, it’s possible to wrap up a cross-country road trip in under a week, but you’ll probably need way more than that if you want to make some memories.
Two weeks could be a good place to start. However, the exact time will depend on how many detours you’ll take, how much you’ll stay at each stop, and how much you’re willing to drive daily.
The United States is an ideal place for a cross country road trip, with its vast landscape and endless possibilities. Whether you’re looking for scenic coastal drives, majestic mountain ranges, picturesque deserts, or any other type of scenery, the United States has something for everyone. With so much to explore and discover, a road trip can be the perfect adventure. So grab your friends, hop in the car, and get ready to explore the great United States!
Either way, don’t forget to grab some maps and check your car before hitting the road!