The 9 Quintessential American Cross-Country Road Trips

If you are planning to go on a road trip across the country, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are the best cross-country road trips to explore the U.S.

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What are the best cross-country road trip routes?

The best cross-country road trips to discover the U.S. are Interstate 90, Route 66, Interstate 10, Route 50, Atlantic Coast Route, TransAmerica Trail, Lincoln Highway, Route 83 and the Great River Road. These road trips provide the best way to see the country’s beauty and appreciate its diversity.

Going on a road trip is, without a doubt, one of the best ways to see and explore the U.S. During your trip, you will come across breathtaking views, diverse landscapes, different cuisines, and different cultures. 

From mountainous regions to coastal drives, forest parks to desert climates, charming towns to great museums, a cross-country road trip has it all.  Here are the best cross-country road trips.

Interstate 90

Interstate 90 is the ideal cross-country road trip for those looking to explore the northern part of the U.S.

It runs from Boston to Seattle, with the entire route covering more than 3,000 miles. From end to end, it cuts through 13 states in the continental U.S., which is the second highest for any interstate.

A cross-country road trip on this interstate will also take you through most of the major cities in the northern U.S.

Its shortest stretch is along the Lake Erie coast in Pennsylvania while its longest trip is in Montana, where it stretches for around 550 miles.

You will begin your trip in the eastern part of the Interstate.

Here, you will have an opportunity to explore some of the major metropolitan centers in the Midwest and Northeast.

The major cities along this route are Boston, Cleveland, Buffalo, Madison, Chicago, Billings and Seattle. 

As for things to see and do along the route, you will have an opportunity to explore Niagara Falls, Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore.

Other notable attractions on this route include Old Sturbridge Village in Boston, Six Flags in New England, Cross Island Chapel, Eternal Flame in Orchard Park New York, Olde Avon Village in Ohio, Washington Park Beach, Pokagon State Park, Lake Kegonsa State Park, Mill Bluff State Park, State Historical Society in Pierre, Buffalo Gap National Grassland and Snoqualmie Falls.

The best time to go on this road trip is during spring and fall. You will avoid crowds during this time, compared to going through the summer months.

Also, you will be able to capture some really breathtaking photos during fall along the way.

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The Loneliest Road/Route 50

If you prefer traveling in solitude, Route 50 has the perfect cross-country road trip for you. It’s known as the Loneliest Road. 

And, you will realize why it has this nickname, once you hit the road.

It passes through some of the most remarkable wide-open spaces, including the Great Plains, Appalachian, the Great Basin, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. 

You will also traverse some of the remotest areas in this country.

However, while Route 50 may be considered the Loneliest Road, it has some of the most stunning views.

Apart from the majestic landscapes on the route, you will also get to travel back in history as you pass through the Wild West frontier.

Also, this road trip will take you through hundreds of quaint, old towns as well as thriving cities such as Kansas City, Cincinnati and St. Louis. 

You will also pass through a couple of state capitals, including Washington D.C. 

This road trip also traverses historic trails, including the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the Santa Fe Historic Trail.

Some popular attractions along the route include Sky Meadows State Park and the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, George Rogers Clark National Historic Park and Daviess County Amish Country in Indiana, Lake of the Ozarks and the St. Louis Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri, and Great Plains in Kansas.

Others are Madonna of the Trail Monument and Gunnison Colorado National Monument in Colorado, Notch Peak and Canyonlands National Park in Utah, as well as Spooner Lake and the Great Basin National Park in Nevada.

 The months of May to June are the best time to hit this route.

Atlantic Coast Road Trip

The Atlantic Seaboard or the East Coast is one of the most geographically and culturally diverse areas in the U.S. And, jumping in a vehicle and going on a road trip provides one of the best ways of exploring this area.

You will experience almost everything on this route, from islands to coastal wilderness, old fishing villages to seaside towns, and woodlands to wetlands.

While you have the option of cutting over to Interstate 95 on this road trip, the route along the interstate doesn’t offer as much as following the coast. 

Your trip will begin at the iconic Statue of Liberty and end at Key West in Florida.

Along the route, you will come across picturesque lighthouses, beautiful beaches, miles of deserted lands, and several beach resorts. 

The route also allows you to explore unique and historic places like Roanoke Island in North Carolina. Also, the Atlantic Coast leads to several Civil War sites, such as Fort Sumter and Hampton Roads.

Besides the numerous attractions along this route, it’s also lined with hundreds of roadside eateries, where you can stop for barbecue, fried chicken and various types of seafood. 

And the seafood here is one of the most delicious since it is prepared using fresh, locally sourced ingredients.  

Some of the highlights along this route include the Statue of Liberty in NYC, Atlantic City in New Jersey, Assateague Island in Maryland, Hatteras Island and Ocracoke in North Carolina.

Other attractions along the route include Myrtle Beach and Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina, Cumberland Island National Seashore and Savannah in Georgia and finally Miami and St. Augustine in Florida.

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Interstate 10

While Interstate 90 takes you on a road trip to the north flank of the country, Interstate 10 will allow you to explore the southern side.

So, if this side of the country intrigues you, then this road trip is just what you need. The entire stretch trip runs for approximately 2,500 miles.

You will begin your journey at Jacksonville Florida, on the Atlantic Coast. From there, you will hit the Florida panhandle and traverse across the Gulf of Mexico. 

The road will then take you to the city of New Orleans. Here, Interstate 10 cuts through the Pontchartrain Causeway, a road considered one of the most dangerous in the country.

From that intersection, the road will take you past some of the largest cities in Texas and then hit the Southwest deserts.

Here, you can take a detour for a couple of hours and explore a couple of national parks in the area. After you’ve had your fill of the park, you can then proceed with your journey until you reach Santa Monica in Southern California.

Some of the route’s main attractions include Santa Monica Pier, Joshua Tree National Park, Saguaro National Park, White Sands National Park, El Paso, Balmorhea State Park, McDonald Observatory, Guadalupe River, Space Center Houston, Lake Charles, Railroad Square State Park, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, and Amelia Island.

TransAmerica Trail

You may sometimes want to go on a road trip that will push you out of your comfort zone while offering your more adventure. 

And, the TransAmerica Trail road trip is the ideal one for this type of experience.

Unlike some of the other road trips on our list, you will spend the majority of your time driving on farm, dirt, forest and gravel tracks as opposed to paved roads.

We should however point out that this trip needs a well-equipped vehicle. Your RV or sedan won’t survive the treacherous terrain. 

Instead, you should go with a four-wheel-drive off-road vehicle an ATV. So, if you don’t have one of such vehicles, it’s advisable to rent one specifically for the trip. 

You can also go for this road trip using a dual-sport motorbike if you happen to have one.   

Also, you should be ready to camp in some of the roughest and remotest areas.

Furthermore, you can expect extreme conditions like large rocks, deep muddy sections, and snow-covered sections.

But, if you are up for this challenge, then you will be rewarded with a memorable experience. 

You will discover untouched majestic landscapes and some of the most spectacular views. Simply put, this trip will be worth all the challenges you will experience along the way.

It cuts through renowned national parks like Canyonlands, Badlands, Yellowstone, Arches, Great Basin, Grand Teton, Capitol Reef, and the Great Sand Dunes. 

The TransAmerica Trail also passes through isolated sections of the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines as well as remote areas of the Rocky Mountains.

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U.S Route 66

A list of the best cross-country road trips isn’t complete without the legendary and iconic Route 66 or U.S Highway 66. 

After its establishment in 1966, it fast become one of the most famous roadways in the country. It originally stretched from Chicago Illinois all the way to Santa Monica in Los Angeles.

It was the main route for Americans who were migrating from east to west, in search of work. For three decades, it was probably the most important highway in the entire country. With time, its popularity grew massively. 

Consequently, several diners, motels, car repair shops, gas stations and other roadside businesses were established along the entire route.

Unfortunately, it was decertified around 1985, since the majority of drivers preferred using Interstate 40 instead of Highway 66. 

However, you can still drive on more than 80% of the original road. And, it continues to attract thousands of road trippers every year.

Your journey will commence in California and terminate in Illinois. 

You will pass through the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma

Popular attractions on the route include Route 66 Gas Station and the Painted Desert in Arizona, Blue Swallow Motel and Santa Fe in New Mexico, Cadillac Ranch in Texas, Route 66 State Park in Missouri and the start of Route 66 sign on E. Adams Street, Chicago.  

Spring and autumn are the best times to go for the Route 66 road trip

The temperatures are moderate during this time of the year.

Also, most people go for this trip during the summer. Therefore, you will run into fewer cars if you instead go during autumn and spring.

The Great River Road

Also called the River Road, this road was originally built in 1938. It was formed after several federal, state and local roads were combined into one major roadway. 

The route runs along the Mississippi river.

It was designed to showcase the 10 states that the country’s second-longest river cuts through.

It’s one of the most scenic routes.

Along the way, you will come across cypress swamps, rolling prairies, lush meadows, limestone cliffs, thick forests, and of course amazing views of the river.

During the trip, you should ensure you stop at the various national and state parks along the route such as the Great River Road State Park, Shawnees National Forest and Lake Itasca, just to soak in and appreciate nature.

Other stops that you can add to your list include Maiden Rock in Wisconsin, Marquette in Iowa, Memphis in Tennessee, St Louis in Missouri, and New Orleans.

It will take you approximately 36 hours to drive from one end of the route to the other. 

However, it’s highly advisable to set aside at least four days for this trip, so that you enjoy as much as possible what it has to offer.

U.S Route 83/Road to Nowhere

If you want to explore the U.S. from one coast to the other without following the conventional coast-to-coast route, then Route 83 provides a great option. 

It stretches for approximately 2,000 miles, from its start point at Swan River in Canada to Matamoros on the Mexican border.

But, we should point out that if you are after major tourist attractions, then this route will disappoint you.

Instead, you will get miles and miles of rural countryside and diverse landscapes, which include the Sand Hills in Nebraska, the Great Plain with its vast grasslands and the hot Texas-Oklahoma stretch.

On this route, you won’t come across large metropolitan areas or busy interstates.

However, it will take you through more than 100 different communities and small towns.

Notable stops along the route include Lewis and Clark Interpretation Center in Washburn, Wall Drug in South Dakota, Lawrence Welk Birthplace in Strasburg, Monument Rocks in Kansas, Sitting Bull Memorial in Mobridge and Paint Rock Pictographs in Texas.  

Lincoln Highway

The Lincoln Highway was opened in 1913, as a means of connecting one coast of the country to the other. 

It runs for approximately 3,000 miles, from Times Square in New York City to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. 

You can either start your trip in New York or San Francisco, depending on your location and preferences.

This highway runs through 12 states, over 100 counties as well as more than 700 villages, towns and cities. 

As you can see, you have plenty to explore along the route. Your itinerary will depend on how much time you have.

Some of the things to see and places to visit on the route include the historic mansions and churches in Brunswick, Valley Forge National Historic Park and Liberty Bell Center in Philly, Andy Warhol and Frick Park in Pittsburg, as well as the historic Spread Eagle Tavern in Ohio.

Others include Lincoln’s Log Cabin replica in Fort Wayne, Lincoln Monument in Illinois, Bear River State Park in Wyoming and the National Automobile Museum in Nevada.

In California, this route splits into two when traversing the Sierra Nevada. 

It’s advisable to follow the northern route, as it rises to around 7,000 feet, from where you can enjoy striking views.

Key Takeaways

  • A cross-country road trip offers an amazing means of exploring the country
  • There are several routes to choose from depending on your interests
  • Spring and autumn are the best times to go for cross-country road trips
  • Ensure you prepare adequately before you hit the road