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North American Road Trip From East to West Coast

Updated on March 2, 2015
Families or large groups might want to consider renting an RV.  Photo: http://www.fernwoodbigsur.com
Families or large groups might want to consider renting an RV. Photo: http://www.fernwoodbigsur.com

A Cross Country Road Trip is More Than A Ride

© Roberta Kyle 2010, all rights reserved

There is no better way to get to know a country and its people than from behind the wheel of a car. I love road trips and having made a couple across the United States from East to West, I think that I am going to propose a North American Road trip with stops at some offbeat tourist attractions, as a perfect way to get to know the United States. Even if you have visited before, you will get to know the United States and the American people in a whole new way. Canada is also a great North American candidate for a road trip, but given the murders and drug activity in northern Mexico, I'd say save the Mexican road trip for another time.

Basic Information Before You Go

The distance from New York to California is around 2500-2800 miles depending on how you go.. It's possible to drive it in two days at 80 MPH, driving straight through,switching drivers and sleeping in the car with minimal stops for food, rest and gas. But this is hardly any way to see the country and only for the young and strong. As a tourist, you need to allow at least a week for the trip and two weeks would be an even better idea if you want to poke around and make side trips.

I'm going to assume that you will start your journey either in New York City or Washington DC. Both are major entry points and full of major tourist attractions well documented elsewhere. Plan to spend a couple of days in your arrival city, see the sights, and arrange to rent a car there. Wherever you are coming from, plan to drive the car to the West Coast , drop it off there, and fly home. Trust me, you are not going to want to drive all the way back to the East Coast, even if you take a different route.

If your party consists of one or two adults and you plan on staying in hotels and motels along the way, rent a hybrid or smaller car to save on gas. If you are a larger group, or a family, you might want to consider renting a van that you can sleep in or an RV. The rental and gas costs will be much higher, but you will save on motel and restaurant costs. The choice is yours.

Books About Falling Water

Some Recommended Stops On The Road

Coming from either New York or Washington, you will head out and probably end up on The Pennsylvania Turnpike, America's first super-highway. As you cross the mountains of Western Pennsylvania you will find stunning vistas and several tunnels which, when they were constructed, were the marvels of their day

If you are interested in architecture or design, I would highly recommend a stop at Falling Water, the magnificent house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Pittsburgh retail magnate, Edgar J. Kaufman. The house is positioned over a waterfall and nestled into a spectacular woodland setting. There are regular guided tours through the house and grounds. It takes a little advance planning, but the place is well worth a visit.  If you are a city type, consider spending a day and a night in Pittsburgh and enjoying a good hotel and the nightlife as well as several excellent museums and a bevy of shops.

Where the Buffalo Roam
Where the Buffalo Roam

Into the Mid-West

By now you have left the Pennsylvania Turnpike far behind and you are on I-70, a huge interstate you can take all the way to Utah where it ends. Like the pioneers in covered wagons, you have crossed the Appalachian Mountains and come out into the openness of the rolling farmland of Ohio and Indiana. You are now officially in the heartland of America.

If you are following my route, you will Leave I 70 for I-74 at Indianapolis and proceed across the state of Illinois to the banks of the Mississippi River. The main crossing is at St. Louis and if you want to enjoy St Louis with it's night life and good restaurants, by all means stay on I-70 and cross there. You will find lots to entertain you in St. Louis and its environs and then push on to Kansas City and beyond. I like to cross further north on I-74 which takes me across the river into the town of Hannibal, MIssouri, the birthplace of Mark Twain. Hannibal is a town I would not miss seeing for anything. It has wonderful Victorian architecture, fabulous views of the Mississippi and a beautiful park overlooking the river. It is small and sleepy and has changed little since Mark Twain lived there. Well, that's not entirely true. These days, almost every shop in town is named for Mark Twain or a character in one of his books.... there is the Becky Thatcher Book Shoppe and you can eat at the Mark Twain diner and oh yes, you can tour the great man's childhood home, but it is all fun and very very American.

Virtual Tour of Hannibal Missouri

Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico

From Hannibal it's an easy drive on small back roads( the kind we love on a road trip) to Kansas City, where you will cross the Missouri River into the state of Kansas. Here, where the buffalo roam, you can check out Dodge City and Abilene where thousands of Texas longhorns met the railroad cars that shipped them back east, and thousands of cowboys got themselves bathed, shaved and liquored up at the end of the trail. Folk artist ,M.T. Liggett , is just outside of Mullinville.. Go see his work if you have time. If not, head on down south through the Oklahoma panhandle , West Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

You are going to want to spend a couple of days in Albuquerque, at least. It is a magical place. For starters, it's in the mountains and the climate is wonderful all year round There are spas, golf courses, hotels and restaurants to die for and a multicultural ambiance that is just amazing.

New Mexico was once part of old Mexico and the Spanish influence is ancient and ingrained. Native peoples are in evidence as well and the pot pourri will take away any Anglo-centric bias you ever had about the United States. Europeans and Native Americans were living and trading here long before anybody landed on Plymouth Rock. Explore and enjoy for as long as you can. Then get back in your car and head west to Arizona.

Chow time at the Indian Creek Bison Ranch in Haven, Kansas
Chow time at the Indian Creek Bison Ranch in Haven, Kansas | Source
The Grand Canyon from the South Rim Photo from Wikimedia Commons
The Grand Canyon from the South Rim Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Arizona and The Grand Canyon

I recommend you stop in Phoenix and make it your base. Take day trips to Tucson and the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is a 4 hour drive from Phoenix, so I take that back..... you might want to spend the night and really see the place because it is really spectacular.

There are also a number of fascinating archeological sites. Phoenix has a knock your socks off art museum and adobe architecture in the old part of the city that is absolutely wonderful. San Xavier del Bac, an old Spanish mission church dating from the 18th century is located near Tucson and is worth a day trip on its own. If you are into food and night life, Phoenix has plenty of that too . There is tons to see and do depending on your tastes and the time you have to indulge them.

Los Angeles at Night. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
Los Angeles at Night. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Journey's End

Eventually, you will have to tear yourself away from the joys of the desert, get back in the car and drive to California. Now, California is huge in itself and you are not going to have time to really see much of it. The best and nearest end point for your journey is Los Angeles, the city of angels and major metropolis of the West Coast. You are just not going to have time to see San Francisco or Seattle. If you have a few days to spend, you might manage to squeeze in San Diego or a day trip to Mexico but really, you should spend a day or two in LA if you possibly can.

Don't you want to see Hollywood. stroll down Rodeo Drive and do a little shopping? Of course you do. Turn in your car and spend a day or two taking in the big city before heading out to the airport and back home. Hope you enjoyed the ride, got to know a bit about the United States and will want to come back again someday.

Sample This Road Trip

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    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hi Elle-- I'd like to try the I-80 route west-- I hear it is beautiful-- oh well, another time and another hub I guess:-) Thanks for the great comment-- road trips are great and a wonderful way to really get to know your own country and how big and varied it really is.

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      ElleBee 5 years ago

      This looks like a fun trip! I'm with you and janice that another roadtrip is definitely on my bucket list! I've driven from New England to Nebraska and vice-versa, but my route didn't much follow yours! On my route west, I took I-90 and I-80 which took us through NY, OH, IN, IL and IA with stops in Niagara and Chicago. On the route east we went through MO, OH, WV, PA, NJ and CT with stops in St. Louis, Lancaster County and Hershey! Definitely a great way to see the country.

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Good choice Janice-- you won't regret it. To do it again is definitely on my bucket list!!!

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      Janice 5 years ago

      this is definetly on my bucket list!

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      I'm looking forward to that hub-- I'll be riding that Greyhound with you:-)

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hi robie2, your darn right I met some characters but for that you will have to wait for the hub, it's coming lol

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Totally agree, WesternHistory. I've done a bit of the old Lincoln Highway and found it quite nostalgic

    • WesternHistory profile image

      WesternHistory 5 years ago from California

      Traveling along the route of old Route 66 and/or the route of the old Lincoln Highway offers numerous interesting stops and photo opportunities.

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Glad it brought back good memories, molo-- I think driving across the United States is the best way to get to know the country and a good way to give visiters an idea of just how big the country is. I bet you met some real characters indeed on that Greyhound bus LOL

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      Great hub Robie2 Reminded me of when I did the cross country trip back in 1979 on the Greyhound bus's. It was tough going sometimes but brilliant too. The Americans I met were fabulous and real characters. So friendly and welcoming. Thanks for the memories.

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hannibel was great and so much more fun crossing the Mississipi there than on the super-highways and turnpikes of St. Louis

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      J Yoder 6 years ago

      Reading your hub makes me want to take a road trip again. Thanks for the information, especially about Hannibel. Definitely, on my list "to see" next time I go through there.

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      totally agree with you Tiffany-- I've done it several times too and the joy is definitely in the journey. I have some wonderful memories. Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a positive comment.

    • tiffanysanmartin profile image

      tiffanysanmartin 6 years ago from California

      Thank you for the post! I personally have driven across the country six times (three times from California to New York and three times from New York to California)and I would not trade those experiences for anything. It is a time where you can carve out a week, or even a couple of days, and have no other responsibilities but to enjoy one another (even if you go by yourself it is fun), people you meet along the way, and our beautiful country. I would definitely suggest this to anyone to do at least once in their lives. For the price of a couple of airline tickets, you are able to drive across the country so why not?

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Never been through northern Indiana, only the central part but I'll take your word for it-- there is something very relaxing about getting off the inter-states and snooping around the byways of the heartland and I hope you do get to Hannibal. It is worth a visit.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Northern Indiana is another place worth stopping for a day or two. The lack of interstates in the interior forces one to go slower and really see the small towns along the way. Lots of covered bridges to see between eating absolutely fabulous food in cafes that look like greasy spoons from the outside, but are anything but on the inside.

      One of these days I'll make it to Hannibal. It's been on my must-see list for years, but for one reason or another always gets crossed off when I'm headed that way. ;D

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Ahhh well for this I fused a couple of road trips, the most recent being to Kansas in 2005, mixed with an earlier road trip to the southwest-- I should have included the Navajo nation -- really!

      My grandparents lived about half an hour away from Abiline in Salina so I have been to Abilene many times and have visted the boyhood home of Dwight D. Eisenhower there etc. etc.. If you ever get to Abilene again, you must go to The Brookville Hotel-- they've been serving the same meal since the cattle drive days of the 1880's and I have never had fried chicken as good-- and the home made cole slaw is to die for. Check out the link http://www.brookvillehotel.com/

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Robie, were you on that North American road trip with us back in '89? Interestingly, you just about duplicated the route I mapped for a cross country drive with my daughter. Our deviations were to Four Corners, into Colorado, and through the Navajo nation.

      We budgeted 12 days, mapped out each night's landing spot, and had a ball. Yes, there's so much to see. Your lovely trail makes me want to do it all over again.

      We adored Abilene, where we had the best, best pan-fried pork chop dinner at a truck stop and were mothered to death by a wonderful waitress wearing a perky cap, frilly apron, and a nicely folded hankie in her breast pocket.

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      that is a great idea alex--feel free to post a link to your hub here in the comments and thanks for stopping by.

    • alexhd57 profile image

      alexhd57 7 years ago

      Cool inspirational hub Robie! A great way to do something similar on a budget if you've a freewheeling outlook is to use driveaways as your transport. I have a hub on how to do road trips across the States driving for driveaway companies for anyone who is interested.

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Ahhhh Granny, one could do a whole road trip just in upstate New York. There is soooo much to see. This trip goes west through Pennsylvania and Ohio-- no time for a side trip to Upstate NY where the finger lakes also offer amazing beauty. Maybe that is for the next road trip:-)

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 7 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      I want to do this. Sounds like fun. But you missed Buttermilk Falls in Ithaca NY,Watkins Falls in Watkins Glen NY. What a site they are.

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      hope you do, creative, it's a nice drive. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment:-)

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      creativeinchief 7 years ago

      might make the trip myself. thx grt write.

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      thanks meme:-)

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      meme 7 years ago

      Great road trip!

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks nazir and Sandy-- glad you could come along for the ride:-)

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Wonderful road trip.

    • nazir988 profile image

      nazir988 7 years ago

      nice hub

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Absolutely ocbill--that's a great trip too from Seattle or Vancouver across to New York or Boston with stops in Montana, the Dakotas, Milwaukee, Chicago and, of course, Niagara Falls. That would be a great trip too.

    • ocbill profile image

      ocbill 7 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      I'd like to take a northern road trip (west to east) when it's plausible.

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Well, I did include the Grand Canyon, but I think that the other, more out of the way places are more fun.... I'm a big Mark Twain fan so Hannibal was definitely in:-)

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Great hub. Love that you chose some not so usual stops.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      I should do another road trip with Kentucky-- you just can't get it all in one go-- Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky are all very beautiful and then there is Louisiana and....... oh well, Glad you stopped by and glad you liked the hub:-)

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Hey Robie, sounds like a great trip. Too bad you missed Kentucky, it's really beautiful. I would love to see Falling Waters too. it looks magnificent. Wright was such a genius. Nice hub.

    • robie2 profile image
      Author

      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      That sounds like a great idea, rmr-- happy retirement and I hope you have a great trip. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • rmr profile image

      rmr 7 years ago from Livonia, MI

      I've always wanted to take a trip like this! Work just seems to get in the way. It's definitely part of my retirement plan, though. I'd love to buy an RV and follow the sun across the country all year long. Thanks for suggesting my first trip!

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      HI Elena-- the comment only showed now because I had to approve it before it was published and four hours ago I was sound asleep z-z-z-z-z-z :-)

      It's 6:30 am here and I am just finishing my first cup of coffee and approving my hubpages comments now so it isn't technology, it's MEEEEEEEEE :-)

    • robie2 profile image
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      Roberta Kyle 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hi Elena-- Falling Water is quite wonderful and I hope you get there one of these days and if you and your SO get to the Northeast stop and see me too-- would be great to meet you in person. But back to cross country road trips-- yes they are wonderful and a perfect way for both Europeans and Americans to get a real sense of the size and scope of the country. Each state in the USA is in some ways like a separate country in Europe and there are so many of them LOL

      That Harley tour sounds fascinating but I'm not sure I'd be too happy crossing Kansas in July on the back of a Harley. I'll take an air conditioned car thank you:-)

      Well, one way or another I hope you get back to the States soon and thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting.

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      I posted this comment like 4 hours ago! How come it's only popping now? Techie wonders never cease :-)

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

      Robie, this is a super realistic proposal, and I'm just now dying to go see the Falling Water house :-) I've seen a great portion of the south west places you mention, but I miss up on the north east. Guess I'll have to plan for that, eh?

      Driving in some parts of the USA, like New Mexico or Arizona, is kind of funny for us Europeans. There is SO much space and ... nothingness ... if you know what I mean :) Miami or LA look more like what we're used to when it comes to driving :)

      So, here I am now with the cross country bug. Would you know that my SO and I did look into a cross country on a Harley? We wouldn't drive, it's some Harley fellows that take you all over the place. It sounded cool at the time, now I can't recall why we let the idea go, maybe we were worried about our hairdos? Laugh!