Just do it! Seriously, if you are even considering taking a cross-country road trip with a group of friends and an empty camera roll, we couldn’t recommend it enough. There is no better way to explore the massive North American Continent than by car, as this form of transportation provides you the freedom to stop when and wherever you want for however long you want. From Kansas to Tennessee and everywhere in-between, so much of the natural beauty of this land is contained in hidden and hard-to-reach places. This guide will provide the perfect jumping-off point for you to plan your next adventure.
First thing’s first, you’re going to need a car. Preferably a reliable one, although automotive trouble can occasionally open up avenues to adventure that couldn’t possibly have been discovered any other way.
Second, you’re going to need a plan. You don’t necessarily have to stick to it, but generally speaking, it’s not a bad idea to have some idea of where you’d like to visit, and how long you want your trip to take. Technically, it only takes two days to traverse the United States from the East Coast to the West Coast, but this is not recommended from a scenic point of view, nor from a safety one, as your sleep-deprived state will likely make you a danger to fellow travelers. Two weeks is a reasonable amount of time to make such a trip, although you will likely want more time if you plan on staying anywhere for longer than a night. You'll want to plan fun stops along the way, from New York City to California, including campsites, national monuments like Mount Rushmore, local attractions, and big cities like Nashville and Houston.
Water is perhaps the most essential ingredient the human body requires, so this is a good place to start, as fresh, potable water will likely not be readily available everywhere on your trip, so it is never a bad idea to have a few gallons in the trunk for when the next rest stop or gas station is 50-150 miles away.
Money, while the root of all evil according to some, is a fairly necessary resource to have for this sort of trip, as you will likely need it for fuel, food, and shelter at points along your journey. Even if you plan on going all-natural for the latter two, via foraging, hunting, fishing, and some good ol’ camping, you need licenses for most of those things, which are typically more expensive than you might realize. Fuel, in the form of gasoline, will be one of your primary expenses on this voyage, so make sure to budget enough to afford gas, as gas prices may vary wildly depending on your location. Know how many miles your car can travel per gallon to properly plan your costs, and write breakdowns of everything from parking fees to food expenses to ensure you have enough saved to enjoy your trip.
The cheapest sleeping option available to road trippers is likely sleeping right there in your car, but this is not always legal or the most comfortable option available. Camping, as previously stated, is a wonderful way to explore the country’s state and national parks, but bear in mind that all of these parks require entry fees that will stack up over time. Beyond that, there’s always the classic options of roadside motels and hotels, a dear friend’s spare bed or couch in a town you happen to be passing through, as well as more modern accommodations such as Airbnb's. If you know you're going to be passing through the middle of nowhere, it will probably help you to research lodging in advance rather than trying to find lodging once you get tired.
Get Your Kicks On Route 66
The Mother Road. The Main Street of America. Route 66 is perhaps the most famous road in the world, due to countless references in popular culture, such as Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and a great many songs and films, including most recently a loving tribute in Pixar’s Cars. Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 opened in 1926 and served as a migratory route for many who headed west in the 1930s to escape the Dust Bowl. Today, Route 66 is one of the best ways to explore the Southwest of America, as it traverses scenic spots like the breathtaking Grand Canyon, as it winds its way through Texas, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.
The Oregon Trail
If you’ve got an interest in retracing the steps of other great American road trippers, perhaps consider following the Oregon Trail, the original American road trip route, that once transported wagon trains from the Midwest in Independence, Missouri all the way to the valleys of Oregon. Today, the Oregon trail is a great way to see the American prairies where herds of buffalo once roamed, as well as providing access to some of the best fishing spots in the world in Wyoming and Idaho. Just don’t die of dysentery!
Through The Appalachian Trail
Most famous for its hiking trail, the Appalachian Trail is still a beautiful way to see the country via car, as it traverses the length of inland Eastern America, from Maine to Georgia all along the stunning Appalachian Mountains. Providing stunning views of rocky peaks and monumental mountains, there is perhaps no better place on earth to see the stunning colors of fall foliage than the Appalachian Trail.
The Atlantic Coast (Down The 95)
At nearly 2,000 miles long and crossing 15 states, the I-95 is the longest North-South Interstate in the country, stretching from the rocky shores of Maine, all the way down the East Coast to Miami, Florida. There is no better way to explore the unique features the Atlantic ocean provides, from sleepy fishing towns to bustling metropolises, than the I-95.
The “Loneliest Road”
Nevada’s Highway 50 gets its name from a 1986 issue of Life Magazine that claimed that this road had precisely “no points of interest” anywhere along it. This could not be further from the truth for people searching for a real taste of barren and beautiful desert wilderness, and those seeking a glimpse of the Old West in the form of abandoned mining towns and burnt-out saloons.
Up The Mississippi
From the shores of the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to the Great Lakes, The mighty Mississippi River is truly something to behold. The second-longest river on the North American Continent, and muse to Mark Twain among others, the Mississippi provides stunning natural beauty, as well as a place for all your water-related activities such as canoeing, fishing, and riverboat gambling. Passing through major U.S. cities like New Orleans, St. Louis, Memphis, and Minneapolis, following this river will show you some of the most unique places in the South and Midwest.
Travel Through California
California is so vast that it can take up to 14 hours to travel from its northernmost point to its southern end. Visit the capitol in Sacramento as you make your way down from Lake Tahoe, stopping in San Francisco for an evening. You can choose to make your way down the Pacific Coast Highway for ocean views that will take you past Big Sur and Carmel by the Sea, or travel inland for a tour of national parks including Sequoia National Forest, Yosemite National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park. Stay in Los Angeles for a few nights, or continue down to San Diego to relax by the beach with a California burrito.
Road To Nowhere
If you’re searching for some of the most diverse wilderness this continent has to offer, look no further than US-83, which goes from Matamoros, Mexico all the way to Swan River, Manitoba, CA. This North-South highway will give you a bit of everything, as you travel up the Rio Grande from the Gulf of Mexico, through the scorching panhandle of Oklahoma and Texas, through the infinite flatlands of the great plains, and finally up into the frozen tundras of Canada. It’s only a road to nowhere if you’re more concerned with the destination than the journey.
The End Of The Line (In Summary)
These discussed routes for your next cross-country road trip represent only a tiny fraction of the possibilities available to you as you seek adventure in exploring the wealth of natural beauty this continent has to offer. The best way to discover what you’re looking for is to drive out there and find it. Maybe you'll discover the beauties of Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, or take in Missouri's famous Gateway Arch. Perhaps you choose a local drive through the foliage of New England, or go down South to see what Charleston and Savannah have to offer. What are you waiting for? Get out there and hit the open road!