I think everyone should drive across the US at least once in their life. Whether you're moving to the other side of the country or just doing a roadtrip, it's a must. I've had the opportunity to drive across the country 6 times now, but just an FYI, most of the times I've driven across the country were not for cool, relaxing road trip vacations. Yes, I had time to have some fun, but I did have a job waiting for me on the other side, so I didn't have endless time to check everything out. Also, I was driving from/to California and Pennsylvania/West Virgina. So without further ado, here's the deets.
Tip #1: Download the apps Roadtripper and iOverlander
No, I'm not sponsored by them. But these are great apps for any road trip. On Roadtripper, you cannot only find any point of interest that might tickle your fancy, but you can plot them all on a map and it'll tell you the miles, how much gas money you'll probably spend, and the total time. iOverlander has been a lifesaver as well, especially when I'm trying to save time and money. This app can tell you where the closest gas station/hotel/hostel/campsite/or even parking place to take a quick nap are. It includes reviews of these spots from real people. This app gave me the confidence to sleep in my car at a gas station for the first time. Trust me, download them.
Tip #2: Check the weather & pick your route
There are 4 main-ish routes you can take across the country. (There's way more than 3 ways to get across the country, I'm generalizing here. Go with it.) Thankfully for you, I've taken all of them. So which route should you take? Well, first off, check the weather. Are you traveling in winter? If you are and you don't want to drive through blizzards, don't go the north or middle routes. Take a South route. See below for what the hell I'm talking about.
But which route is the best?!?
Lucky for you, I have an opinion on this. Personally, I thought the "middle" route was the best. I took this route in late October and only hit one snow storm in the Rockies of Colorado. But, I'll describe each route for you, and let you decide which one you want to take-
"The Middle Route"- (I-70/I-15)
This was my favorite route, and if I could go back in time and take my time with this route, I would add Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. I did this drive from Pittsburgh, PA to Merced, CA. Here's some of the cool stuff you can see along this route:
-Tiny town, big things, Casey, Il
-Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MI
+have dinner at Sugarfire Smokehouse for some great BBQ
-World's largest ball of twine, Cawker City, KS (just kidding, I did do this, but it's dumb lol, don't go out of your way)
-Pikes Peak, CO
-Arches National Park, Moab, UT
+grab breakfast at Eklectica Cafe
-Las Vegas, NV
-Hoover Dam and Lake Powell, AZ
-Grand Canyon West, Mohave Country, AZ
-Route 66 Museum and Motel, Barstow, CA
-Sequoia National Park, CA
Cons to this route- Kansas. The entire state.
Edited to add: I did this route again, and instead of Arches/Las Vegas/Grand Canyon, I did Great Sands Dunes National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and Mesa Verde National Park, in that order, all in one day. They're all in Colorado and it's very doable.
"The North Route"- (I-80/I-70/I-15)
This is not the true "northern" route, that would be the "North-North" route, so see below for details on that. I took this route from Modesto, CA to Morgantown, WV. Stuff to see:
-Zion National Park, UT
-Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
-Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
+Grab a slow pour pils at Bierstadt Lagerhaus
-Chicago, Il (Millennium Park is cool)
+Try Giordano's Pizza
Cons to this route- Nebraska/Iowa. Not as bad as Kansas though.
Edited to add: I did this route again, and you can always add in Indiana Sand Dunes National Park, IN and Cuyahoga National Park, OH.
"The South Route": (I-81/I-40/I-15)
This was a pretty neat route, but like all the other routes, the middle section is long and boring. I took this one from Harper's Ferry, WV to Los Angeles, CA. Be sure to check out...
-Luray Caverns, Luray, VA
+grab breakfast at Biscuit Love
+grab dinner at Silky O'sullivan's, good BBQ
-Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, AK
-Route 66 Museum, Elk City, OK
-Grab some TX BBQ at Tyler's barbeque in Amarillo, TX
+grab a meal at Indian Pueblo Kitchen
-Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ
-Las Vegas, NV
-Los Angeles, CA
Cons to this route: Oklahoma and Texas.
"The North-North Route": (I-15/I-80/I-90)
This was the last route I had the pleasure of traversing, and I did so in late August. Although the weather seemed abnormally hot and humid, this was a really gorgeous route. Way better than having to drive through Kansas. I took this route because my brother recently moved to Casper, WY, but I wish I would've tried it out sooner, as it's quite gorgeous and there's lots of stuff to see along the way, such as...
-Casper, WY - Breweries and views
-Devil's Tower, WY
-Wind Cave National Park, SD (be sure to book cave tour tickets beforehand)
-Mount Rushmore National Monument, ND
-Crazy Horse Memorial, SD
-Wall Drug, SD
-Badlands National Park, SD
-Indiana Sand Dunes National Park, IN
-Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH
Cons to this route: Definitely a gamble to take in the winter due to weather, but otherwise I really enjoyed this route.
Probably obvious, but check your spare tire, and make sure you have access to it. On my first trip across the country, I got a flat, and my car was packed so full of my belongings that I just bought a whole new tire instead of digging out my spare. Also, make sure your car is in good working condition and you recently got an oil change.
Don't "over plan", i.e. book all your hotels ahead of time, etc, but also don't "under plan". On more than one occasion, I've gotten completely exhausted of driving, and stopped at a random hotel to sleep. No vacancy in the entire city, and I called every hotel and had to drive another 45 minutes to the next town. What I'm saying is, decide where you want to stay for the night around breakfast or lunch time, and start calling hotels in that city to book it. You don't want to drive half asleep, that shit is dangerous.
Bring snacks and lots of water. Obviously.
I keep flashlights, road flares, first aid kit, snow boots, and a blanket in my car at all times. Ya never know.
Save your maps offline, or buy/print a physical map (ya'll remember printing out mapquest directions?). You will not have cell service for the entire drive, and you don't want to get lost on a dirt road in Kansas.
Don't "over plan" your trip (deja vu, I know, different though). If you plan every stop and every restaurant, where's the fun and adventure in that? Plan the big stuff, sure, but don't be afraid to take the scenic route or stop at some crazy roadside attraction. Keep it loose.
So I hope this gives you a general idea on how to start planning your cross country trip. Each of these trips averaged me about 5 days, but my record is 57 hours. You could definitely combine some of these activities into one longer trip as well, depending on how much time you have. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me or shoot me a DM on IG, all listed at the bottom and top of this website. Happy travels!
My first cross country trip, "The Middle Route". Unforgettable.