10 cross-country road trip routes + what to do along the way

A cross-country road trip can go either way — it can be the best journey of your life, or it can be…exhausting. When the car is crammed, the kids are cranky, and you lose service on your GPS, what was supposed to be a memorable family adventure quickly turns into a nightmare.

Let’s paint a new picture. You’re in the driver’s seat, the kids are spread out behind you, a great playlist is on, and all your travel essentials fit nicely in the back. Everyone is happy, excited, and engaged.

Sound better? We think so too. Comfort reigns while on a cross-country drive, so read through our list of the 10 best routes in the United States, rent a spacious passenger van, and get going! 

1. Route 66

Possibly the most classic of all road trips across America, Route 66 takes you on an unforgettable journey through the country’s rich history, diverse culture, and breathtaking landscapes. Also known as the Main Street of America, this famous highway stretches from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, and passes through big cities, small towns, historic sites, and epic scenery.

This historic route is best experienced by road trip enthusiasts who appreciate the charm of classic Americana and the allure of exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations. Traveling along Route 66 allows you to immerse yourself in the rich history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking scenery of the American heartland.

Travel time: 30 hours without stops. We recommend a few weeks, depending on how many stops you’d like to make and places you’d like to see.

Best for: Families, small groups of friends, history buffs, and Americana enthusiasts

Recommended stops:

  • Chicago, Illinois: Explore landmarks like the Chrysler Building, visit The Art Institute of Chicago, take an architectural tour by boat on the Chicago River, and try deep-dish pizza.
  • St. Louis, Missouri: Visit the Gateway Arch, check out a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game, and dance in the live music venues of Delmar Loop.
  • Amarillo, Texas: Snap photos of half-buried vintage Cadillacs at Cadillac Ranch before dining on a delicious steak at Big Texan Steak Ranch.
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico: Enjoy the unique mix of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican cultures through its art and cuisine, check out the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and shop on hip Lena Street.
  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: One of the world’s most famous natural wonders is a must on your Route 66 itinerary. Spend the day hiking and the night stargazing.
  • Los Angeles, California: Visit the quirky beach towns that dot the Pacific coast before settling in Santa Monica, where you can stroll along the Santa Monica Pier and enjoy Venice Beach’s lively atmosphere.

There’s no better way to experience America’s nostalgic charm than by road-tripping along Route 66. The road has served as a source of inspiration for writers like John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac, and is full of quirky stops like the Original McDonald’s Museum in California and a winding system of caves in the Ozarks.  

Whether it’s your first road trip or your fifteenth, a ride along Route 66 is one full of wonder and delight.

Source: VisitArizona.com

2. Highway 2 

If a remote adventure is what you’re after, plan a road trip along Highway 2. The stretch of land between Everett, Washington, and St. Ignace, Michigan, is one of the most scenic in the country, showcasing the lush landscape of the Pacific Northwest, the vastness of the Great Plains, and the waterways of the Upper Midwest. 

Climb mountains, explore forests, discover small towns, and stroll picturesque lakeshores. Nature lovers and active travelers will be overwhelmed by the amount of activities available, so lace up your hiking boots and hit the road!

Travel time: 39 hours without stops. We recommend two weeks to see everything.

Best for: Nature enthusiasts, hikers, adventure seekers, and families with young kids

Recommended stops:

  • Leavenworth, Washington: Stop for a German meal in this Bavarian-style village nestled in the Cascade Mountains. 
  • Glacier National Park, Montana: Hike scenic trails and swim in glacier lakes in one of America’s most beautiful national parks. Pitch a tent and spend a night in one of the 20 best places to camp across the country!
  • Duluth, Minnesota: The vibrant port city on the shores of Lake Superior is home to the famous Aerial Lift Bridge, outer activities on the lakefront, and a rich maritime history.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan: Scramble to the top of 400-foot sand dunes, hike scenic trails, and relax on a peaceful beach.
  • Mackinac Island, Michigan: Leave your rental van and hop into a horse-drawn carriage for a ride around this historic island. Be sure to cross the iconic Mackinac Bridge.
  • Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan: Watch massive ships passing through Soo Locks, visit the Tower of History for panoramic views, and learn about the area’s Native American history at Museum Ship Valley Camp.

Don’t miss Leaventown’s quirkiest photo opp, the Giant Suit of Armor. This larger-than-life statue of a knight with a battle ax is hidden between two roadside hotels and is well worth a quick stop.

3. Highway 61

Cross through a different kind of terrain with a road trip on Highway 61, also known as Blues Highway. Both scenic and historic, the road showcases America’s musical landscape that was largely crafted between the cities of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Wyoming, Minnesota. 

See for yourself how the melodic history of the United States shaped the region’s pronounced culture with a drive through the fertile Mississippi Delta. Known as a cultural melting pot, the area has attracted and inspired creative minds for centuries, notably musical legends such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King. 

Travel time: Nine hours without stops. We recommend a minimum of 10 days to accommodate any overnights and day trips you plan to take.

Best for: Music lovers and groups of friends

Recommended stops:

  • New Orleans, Louisiana: Enjoy live music in the French Quarter, snack on beignets at Cafe du Monde, visit the Mardi Gras Museum, and have a sazerac on Bourbon Street.
  • Clarksdale, Mississippi: See the Delta Blues Museum, check out juke joints like Ground Zero Blues Club, and dine on traditional Southern cuisine.  
  • Memphis, Tennessee: Listen to live blues on Beale Street, take tours of Sun Studio and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and visit Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley.
  • Vicksburg, Mississippi: Delve into Civil War history at the Vicksburg National Military Park, soak in scenic views of the Mississippi River, and dine in the charming downtown.
  • Natchez, Mississippi: Admire well-preserved antebellum homes, explore the Natchez Trace Parkway, visit the renowned Natchez Pilgrimage, and enjoy the scenic riverfront.
  • Red Wing, Minnesota: Explore the historic downtown area, visit the iconic Red Wing Shoe Company, and enjoy outdoor activities along the Mississippi River.

Friendly people, delicious food, and an energetic atmosphere are just a few reasons to take a road trip on Highway 61. This vibrant journey is perfect for groups of friends who appreciate classic American music and eclectic Southern culture. 

Source: Udiscovermusic.com

4.  I-80

For a comprehensive journey across the country, hit Highway I-80 which starts in San Francisco, California, and ends in Teaneck, New Jersey. You’ll pass the most varied landscapes and regions of the U.S.A., including urban hubs, scenic landscapes, and unique cultural attractions.

This road showcases a bit of everything — California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain range, the Great Salt Lake Desert in Utah, the impressive architecture of Chicago, and the bustling streets of New York City. 

Planning to start your adventure on the East Coast? Rent a van from our Philadelphia location and head West!

Travel time: 43 hours without stops. We recommend a few weeks or longer so you can spend adequate sightseeing time in each stop.

Best for: Families, nature lovers, city enthusiasts, and architecture buffs

Recommended stops:

  • New York City, New York: Take photos at Times Square, ride a bike in Central Park, visit the Statue of Liberty, and see a show on Broadway.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Visit “Steel City” and its vibrant neighborhoods like the Strip District and Lawrenceville, visit the Andy Warhol Museum, and take a ride up the Duquesne Incline for panoramic views of the city.
  • Cleveland, Ohio: Music lovers should check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, have a meal in Ohio City and Tremont, and enjoy a thriving arts and music scene.
  • Chicago, Illinois: Take a family selfie at the Bean in Millennium Park, embark on an architectural boat tour along the Chicago River, and indulge in the city’s famous deep-dish pizza.
  • Omaha, Nebraska: Wander the historic Old Market District, visit Joslyn Art Museum, and learn about the Lewis and Clark Expedition at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Visitor Center.
  • Salt Lake City, Utah: Visit Temple Square, explore the stunning landscapes of nearby national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon, and enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking and skiing.
  • San Francisco, California: Walk across the imposing Golden Gate Bridge, visit Alcatraz Island, dine in the bustling waterfront, and have a picnic at Mission Dolores Park.

Take a pit stop at the Route 219 exit for a bite at Doolittle Station, a one-of-a-kind mix of restaurants, museums, and a brewery, all built inside historic train cars.

5. Highway 83

The so-called “Road to Nowhere” does, indeed, lead somewhere, and that’s to the Northern and Southern borders of the United States. Highway 83 takes you on a journey through different eras of North American history, from the Age of Exploration to World War II.

While cutting through the center of the country, you may have the chance to stop at local festivals like Fiesta San Antonio in April or the North Dakota State Fair in July. Anyone interested in the story of the Wild West will love a road trip on Highway 83.

Travel time: 26 hours without stops. We recommend a couple of weeks or more to hit all the stops below, and a bit longer if you’d like to spend more time in certain places.

Best for: Families, history buffs

Recommended stops:

  • Brownsville, Texas: Visit the Gladys Porter Zoo, bike the Historic Battlefield Trail, take a short drive south to stroll the Sabal Palm Sanctuary, and tour the infamous Palo Alto Battlefield. 
  • San Antonio, Texas: See the iconic Alamo, stroll along the River Walk, and enjoy an authentic Tex-Mex dinner.
  • Dodge City, Kansas: Stop at this true frontier town where you can visit Boot Hill Museum, watch a reenactment of a gunfight, and learn about the city’s role in the cattle industry.
  • Pierre, South Dakota: Check out the South Dakota State Capitol, the Cultural Heritage Center, and the Oahe Dam. 
  • Bismarck, North Dakota: Explore the North Dakota Heritage Center, and enjoy outdoor recreation along the Missouri River.

As one might expect, the road from South to North is full of wacky roadside attractions, including the World’s Largest Buffalo in Jamestown, North Dakota and the Logic Puzzle Museum in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Thinking about continuing past the Northern border? Check out our list of things you’ll need to know and the best way to discover Canada.

Source: USroute83

6. Route 1 road trip

Starting at the top of Maine and extending to the tip of Florida, historic U.S. Highway 1 offers a diverse blend of scenery, cultural attractions, and coastal charm. Whether you’re in search of the country’s best beaches or freshest seafood dishes, you’ll find it on the East Coast Highway.

This road trip is ideal for those who want to see the U.S.A.’s most historical cities within a short distance of the sea. Fall is an excellent time to embark to catch the vibrant foliage of the North while still enjoying steamy temps as you make your way south.

Travel time: 10 hours without stops. We recommend a few weeks, which provides enough time to spend a night or two in these exciting destinations. 

Best for: Beach bums, foodies, groups of friends, and families

Recommended stops:

  • Portland, Maine: Wander the cobblestone streets of the Old Port, sip a local craft beer, eat fresh lobster, and check out the Portland Observatory. 
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Visit the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, climb the Rocky stairs at the Museum of Art, and chow down on cheesesteaks at Pat’s or Geno’s. 
  • Washington, D.C.: Take a family selfie in front of the White House, visit iconic monuments like the Lincoln Memorial, and peruse the Smithsonian museums — for free!
  • Savannah, Georgia: Bike around its leafy historic squares, dine on Southern cuisine in antebellum mansions, check out art at SCAD, and shop on the waterfront. 
  • Charleston, South Carolina: Take a spooky ghost tour, picnic at Riley Waterfront Park, take pictures of the colorful houses on Rainbow Row, and relax on the beach at Sullivan’s Island.
  • Miami, Florida: Explore colorful Art Deco facades, take a food tour in Little Havana, and lounge on the tropical beaches of South Beach.
  • Key West, Florida: Spend your day on a boat or jet ski, visit the six-toed cats at the Hemingway House, and enjoy dinner and drinks on Duval Street.

Start your journey with a hike in the mountains of Maine and finish with a swim in turquoise-colored waters. This is undoubtedly one of the best cross-country road trip routes worldwide. 

Planning to travel over Memorial Day? Check out our list of 14 best East Coast getaways!

Source: Travel & Leisure

7. I-50

Weaving through the heart of America is its “Loneliest Road,” also known as Highway I-50. Start your cross-country drive in Ocean City, Maryland and head west through the Appalachian Mountains, the Great Plains, and the deserts of America’s Wild West before reaching the final destination, Sacramento. 

Pass through vibrant cities, vast stretches of countryside, and stunning natural landmarks on this off-the-beaten-path style road trip across America.

Travel time: Seven hours without stops. We recommend one week to 10 days, depending on what you want to see and how much time you’d like to spend in each stop.

Best for: Solo trippers, active travelers, and culture enthusiasts

Recommended stops:

  • Ocean City, Maryland: Dine on fresh seafood, spot wild horses on Assateague Island, stroll the famous boardwalk, and go on a classic roller coaster at Trimper’s Rides.
  • St. Louis, Missouri: Walk through the St. Louis Zoo, climb to the top of Gateway Arch, and listen to live music in Delmar Loop.
  • Kansas City, Kansas: Eat barbecue, visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and catch a performance at the Kansas City Ballet.
  • Denver, Colorado: Hike, bike, or ski the beautiful Rocky Mountains, admire masterpieces at the Denver Art Museum, and shop at Union Station.
  • Great Basin National Park, Nevada: Wander ancient bristlecone pine forests, visit Lehman Caves, and enjoy the park’s scenic trails.
  • Lake Tahoe, Nevada: Go hiking, boating, or fishing, and visit Emerald Bay State Park.
  • Sacramento, California: Explore the historic Old Sacramento district, tour the California State Capitol Museum, and stroll the Sacramento Riverfront.

Dive into extraterrestrial mysteries with a stop at the UFO Watchtower in Hooper, Colorado. Climb the platform for an unobstructed view of the night sky where you may just spot ET in action. This has to be one of the best cross-country road trip stops in America, so don’t miss it!

Source: UnusualPlaces.org

8. Oregon Trail 

It’s not just a video game. The Oregon Trail is a journey that highlights the historic expansion of the United States in the 19th century. Take the same route that American pioneers took in hopes of a better life in the West, without the dangers of the past. 

Starting in Independence, Missouri, ride through prairies, over rivers, and alongside mountains until you reach Oregon City, Oregon. There are many national parks to explore and landmarks to see, so if you’re a history buff or a nature lover, you’ll dig this cross-country drive. 

Travel time: 27 hours without stops. We recommend a few weeks so you can immerse yourself into the historical significance of the trip and spend ample time in the stops that interest you most.

Best for: Families, history buffs

Recommended stops:

  • Independence, Missouri: Tour the National Frontier Trails Museum to learn about the history of the Oregon Trail, explore the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, and visit Independence Square for shopping, dining, and charming architecture.
  • Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska: Hike to the top of Scotts Bluff for views of the surrounding plains, brush up on history and geology at the visitor center, and take a scenic drive along the monument’s rim road.
  • Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Wyoming: Step back in time at the former fur trading post turned military Fort Laramie, attend living history demonstrations, and immerse yourself in the daily life of the pioneers.
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho: Discover the otherworldly landscapes of this volcanic preserve, including lava fields, caves, and unique geological formations. 
  • Boise, Idaho: Visit the Old Idaho Penitentiary, stroll or bike along the Boise River Greenbelt, and sample craft beer at a local brewery.
  • Oregon City, Oregon: See the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, wander the historic downtown area, and enjoy views of the Willamette Falls.

A road adventure on the Oregon Trail is a unique way to relive this defining moment in American history. Make it really special by listening to the audio version of “The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey,” a memoir by Rinker Buck, while on the road.

Source: National Parks Service

9. The Appalachian Trail 

One of the best cross-country road trips for outdoor enthusiasts is along the Appalachian Trail. The journey spans 14 states, with starting and ending points in Georgia and Maine. 

It’s a breathtaking, diverse, and adventurous way to travel across the country. Renting a van gives you space to bring all the gear required when exploring this part of the world. 

Travel time: 20 hours without stops. We recommend a few weeks so there’s time to enjoy the many outdoor activities available here.

Best for: Hikers, nature photographers, and active families

Recommended stops:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee: Climb the park’s highest peak of Clingmans Dome, drive through misty Caves Cove, and tour historic Mingus Mill.
  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia: Stop at overlooks on Skyline Drive, hike Dark Hollow Falls, and take a short drive to Luray Caverns.
  • Harpers Ferry, West Virginia: Explore Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and walk across the iconic footbridge where the Appalachian Trail intersects with the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.
  • Franconia Ridge, New Hampshire: Hike the Loop, catch views of the White Mountains, and see the peaks of Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln, and Little Haystack Mountain.
  • Hot Springs, North Carolina: Relax in natural hot mineral springs and explore the charming mountain town. 
  • Acadia National Park, Maine: Walk the rugged coastline, hike to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, and drive along Park Loop Road.

Consider lining up the tail end of your Appalachian road trip with the change of season, giving you the chance to witness the vibrance of fall and the leaves changing color. 

Source: Virginia.org

10. Pacific Coast Highway

Picture this: a red convertible, classic tunes blasting, wind in your hair, sipping on an iced coffee. Is that how you imagine a road trip along the California coast? While it sounds good in theory, it might not be the most practical. A drive along the Pacific Coast Highway is a must-do for any true road tripper, but as those with experience know, you should probably opt out of taking a convertible.

A van, on the other hand, is comfortable, smooth, and temperature-controlled. It’s also big enough to bring your friends or family, with space for beach essentials, surfboards, hiking gear, and even pillows for the road. It’s an ideal way to see California’s mesmerizing coast and the landmarks that come with it — surf in Los Angeles, hike in Big Sur, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, and perhaps detour for a night in Napa Valley.

Travel time: 10 hours without stops. We recommend 10 days or more, which allows you to make stops along the coast and spend a few nights in each town. 

Best for: Families, groups of friends, and hiking enthusiasts

Recommended stops:

  • Santa Monica, California: Visit the famous Santa Monica Pier, stroll along the vibrant Third Street Promenade, and soak up the sun on the beautiful sandy beaches.
  • Santa Barbara, California: Visit the historic Santa Barbara Mission, take a leisurely ride on the Cabrillo Bike Path, and dine at the Santa Barbara Public Market.
  • Big Sur, California: Drive the Bixby Creek Bridge, hike in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and enjoy panoramic ocean views from McWay Falls.
  • Monterey, California: Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, ride along 17-Mile Drive, or head out on a majestic whale-watching tour.
  • San Francisco, California: Snap a selfie on the Golden Gate Bridge, tour Alcatraz Island, dine on Fisherman’s Wharf, and take a cable car to Twin Peaks.
  • Redwood National and State Parks, California: Walk beneath some of the tallest trees on Earth while exploring the park’s scenic coastal trails.

Animal lovers will be overjoyed with the abundance of unique wildlife that can be captured on the drive. Keep an eye out for sea lions, seals, whales, and plenty of birds, all in their natural habitat.

Source: Timeout

How do I plan a cross-country trip by van?

To plan a cross-country trip by car, there are steps you can take to ensure it is smooth and enjoyable. Consider these tips while conceptualizing your adventure. 

  1. Choose a route: Decide on the specific route you want to take according to the type of travel that interests you. Are you a history buff? Maybe Route 66 is for you. Are you an active traveler? Drive and hike the Appalachian Trail. Beach lovers are sure to enjoy the Route 1 drive to Florida. 
  2. Vehicle prep: Ensure your passenger van is roadworthy before embarking on your road trip across America. Schedule a maintenance check for fluid levels, brakes, tires, and other essential components. Renting a van with Greenvans guarantees you’ll be road-ready! 
  3. Pack wisely: Make a packing list well in advance to ensure you have all the cross-country road trip essentials along for the ride. Depending on your travel style, whether it’s camping, van life, or hotel hopping, pack accordingly. Consider space-saving organizers like packing cubes and packing sacs for efficient storage. And don’t forget a first-aid kit!
  4. Download maps: Prior to your trip, download offline maps to ensure you have access to navigation in areas with limited or no cell service. 
  5. Rent a passenger van: If you’re traveling with a group or seeking a more spacious and comfortable option, consider renting a van instead of a car. A van provides ample space for passengers and luggage, making the journey more enjoyable.
  6. Budget planning: Set a budget for your trip, including fuel, accommodations, meals, and any additional expenses. Research cost-effective options for accommodations and dining along your route.

How long should a cross-country road trip take?

A cross-country trip should take between one week and one month. There are so many roadside attractions and stops along the way, it’s best to give yourself plenty of time to explore. 

Some stops, like national parks or big cities, may require one to three nights to really get a feel for them. Remember this while planning, and be sure to reserve lodging before departure if you plan to travel cross-country during peak season. 

What is the best month for a cross-country road trip?

May and September are the best months for a cross-country road trip because the temperatures are generally temperate in most parts of the country. There is also less traffic than in the summer. 

Of course, the best cross-country road trip routes are seasonal. If you plan to travel to the south, like Florida, winter could be an optimal time of year to go. Summer is best for northern regions prone to longer, colder winters, and fall and spring are wonderful seasons for those who plan to hike. Be sure to consider the rainy season, as parts of the country can be very wet in the fall.

Cross country, without crossed legs

Now that you know how to plan a cross-country road trip, all you need to do is secure your vehicle. Renting a van from Greenvans for your cross-country road trip is the best way to see everything on your bucket list, with everyone you love, in comfort and style. With your vehicle secured, all you need to do is choose your destination, pack your things, and get ready to discover the beautiful United States!


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