Top Routes for a Cross-Country Road Trip

A cross-country road trip is on every traveler's bucket list. But which route should you take? Here are four worth options that will get you from coast to coast.
cross-country routes

On the hierarchy of car adventures, the cross-country road trip reigns supreme. Not only is it the journey of a lifetime, it is easily the best way to see everything our great country has to offer. Big, bustling cities and small, charming towns, national parks and fine-art museums, the great plains and towering mountain ranges – it all lies on the open road ahead.

The only question you need to decide for yourself is, which route to take. We lay out four great options, as well as what and where you can expect to visit as you travel from sea to shining sea.

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Interstate 90

If you’re looking to travel cross-country through the northern part of the continental U.S., Interstate 90 is the way to go. Covering more than 3,000 miles from Boston to Seattle, I-90 is the longest interstate in the United States. All told, it crosses through 13 states (the second-most of any interstate) and many of the country’s major northern cities. I-90’s longest single-state stretch is in Montana, where it covers roughly 550 miles. Its shortest trip is the nearly 50-mile-long section along Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie coast.

Starting in the east, you’ll have a chance to visit some of the Northeast’s and Midwest’s major metropolitan hubs like Syracuse, Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland and Chicago. After that, you’ll drive through the wide-open spaces of states such as Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, before cruising into your Northwest destination of Washington. All told, the journey should take about 50 hours of driving.

Major Cities Along the Route

  • Boston
  • Buffalo
  • Cleveland
  • Chicago
  • Madison
  • Billings
  • Seattle

Top Tourist Attractions Along the Route

  • Niagara Falls
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Yellowstone National Park
cross-country road trip
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Interstate 80

If you want to stick to the northern part of the country but have a few different cities and attractions on your list, you may want to opt for Interstate 80. Running from Teaneck, New Jersey, (a stone’s throw from Manhattan), across 11 states to San Francisco, I-80 is the second-longest interstate in the country.

Much like I-90, Interstate 80 hits many of the Rust Belt’s major cities, like Cleveland, Toledo and Chicago. In fact, the two sister roadways overlap through parts of Ohio and Indiana. As you continue west, I-80 takes on a decidedly historic theme. Through the western half of the United States, you’ll travel along the approximate route of the Lincoln Highway, the first road across the country, as well as the Oregon Trail and the First Transcontinental Railroad.

Major Cities Along the Route

  • New York
  • Cleveland
  • Chicago
  • Des Moines
  • Omaha
  • Salt Lake City
  • Oakland
  • San Francisco

Top Tourist Attractions Along the Route

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park
  • The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Oregon National Historic Trail
  • Alcatraz Island
cross-country road trip
Joshua Tree National Park

Interstate 10

What I-90 is to the northern United States, Interstate 10 is to the southern part of the country. The roadway covers 2,500 miles from Jacksonville to Santa Monica. Starting on the Atlantic Coast, you’ll travel along the Florida panhandle and Gulf of Mexico before reaching the vibrant city of New Orleans. (If the Crescent City isn’t enough of a thrill on its own, it’s here where I-10 intersects with the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the country’s most dangerous roads.)

From there, you’ll travel past several of Texas’ largest cities, then the deserts of the Southwest, where you can visit some of the area’s famous national parks. Be careful as you travel along Arizona’s long, straight stretch of I-10. It has also proven to be one of the country’s deadliest highways thanks to aggressive and high-speed driving. Your road trip ends in Southern California, right across the street from the Santa Monica Pier.

Major Cities Along the Route

  • Jacksonville
  • New Orleans
  • Houston
  • San Antonio
  • Phoenix
  • Los Angeles

Top Tourist Attractions Along the Route

  • USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
  • Space Center Houston
  • The Alamo
  • Saguaro National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Santa Monica Pier
cross-country routes
Arches National Park

U.S. Route 50

If you prefer the road less traveled, Route 50 is the path for you. Nicknamed the Loneliest Road, it takes travelers through some of America’s most iconic wide-open spaces, such as the Great Plains, the Great Basin and the Appalachian, Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains.

But the route offers more than just picturesque sights – it’s a snapshot of the country’s past, present and future. In fact, TIME magazine once called U.S. 50 the “backbone of America.” Along its path, you’ll pass hundreds of small towns but also flourishing cities like St. Louis, Kansas City and Cincinnati, several state capitals and Washington, D.C. U.S. 50 also takes you from historic paths such as the Santa Fe National Trail to the epicenter of modern technology in the Silicon Valley.

U.S. Route 50 ends in Sacramento. To make it a true coat-to-coast trip, just hop on the I-80 for a quick 1.5-hour drive to San Francisco.

Major Cities Along the Route

  • Washington, D.C.
  • Cincinnati
  • St. Louis
  • Kansas City
  • Sacramento

Top Tourist Attractions Along the Route

You’re going to need the right car for these long trips. If it’s not already in your driveway, don’t worry. AAA members can save up to 20% on Hertz rentals.

Have you ever taken a cross-country road trip? Which route did you take? Tell us in the comments. 

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15 Thoughts on “Top Routes for a Cross-Country Road Trip

    1. I traveled Rt 2 from West to East years ago and it was great. I have made many cross country trips on the major interstates 80-90, and 10. If you are not in a hurry, Rt 2 is a wonderful way to see the USA.

  1. Drove xcountry about dozen times. Do route 66, must see Mounument Valley, 4 corners NM, & Grand Canyon. America is truly beautiful if you can get time to see it. It’s not just East &West.

  2. Made three cross country road trips in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and they were all fantastic. I made them primarily to see as many National Parks as I could, but lost count of all the side trips I ended up making. I did travel coast to coast on interstates 80 and 90. Also traveled portions of interstates 10, 40 and 70. I took about two and a half weeks for each. I did see most of the attractions and cities you mentioned, and would love to do another. The only caution would be weather. I tuned in every night at the motel I was staying at to the weather channel. It helped. Had to change routes a few times. If anyone is thinking of these trips, be very alert to the weather forecast. Lately I see a lot of bad weather in all the southern states.

  3. We just took a month-long cross-country trip this past summer, but we did not take a single highway straight across. Our itinerary, in a nutshell, was (starting from home in New York City):

    Pittsburgh (Carnegie Science Center and a ride up and down the Duquense Incline)
    Baraboo (Circus World Museum), Woodruff (Scheer’s Lumberjack Show) and Minocqua (Wildwood Wildlife/Safari Park), Wisconsin
    Dyersville (Field of Dreams) and Altoona (AdventureLand), Iowa
    Omaha (Henry Doorly Zoo), Nebraska
    Casper (National Trails Interpretive Center), Thermopolis (Wyoming Dinosaur Center) and Cody (Night Rodeo), Wyoming
    Yellowstone National Park
    Blackfoot (Idaho Potato Expo) and Pocatello (Museum of Clean), Idaho
    Park City (Alpine Slide), Utah
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Escondido (San Diego Zoo Safari Park), California
    Long Beach (Harbor Breeze Whale Watching Cruise), Beverly Hills and Hollywood, California
    Yermo (Calico Ghost Town), California and return to Las Vegas
    Grand Canyon National Park
    Zion National Park
    Bryce Canyon National Park
    Denver, Colorado
    Dodge City and Hutchinson (Strataca Salt Mine), Kansas
    Kansas City (Royals game at Kauffman Stadium), MO
    St. Louis (City Museum, Gateway Arch), MO
    Clarksville (Old Glory Distillery) and Nashville, TN
    Lost River Cave and Louisville Slugger Factory, KY
    Newport Aquarium, KY
    Cleveland, OH
    Jamestown (National Comedy Center), NY

    And then home.

    1. WOW … !! Very impressive … how long did the entire trip take? Were you using hotels/motels most of the time? This is exactly the kind of x-country trip I would enjoy taking. Thanks for your post … !!

      1. Thanks for the kind words! The trip was 26 days long, and we mostly slept in motels, except for a few nights where were drove through the night and slept in the car in shifts.

      1. It really was, the whole family enjoyed it. Best of luck on your upcoming trip, I’m sure it will be great as well!

    2. When I was a teenager, back in 1963, my father took us on a trip cross country. It took seven weeks and traveled 10,000 miles. I will not list the number of states or National Parks we traveled, too many. I remember the only national park we didn’t go to was Glacier Nation Park, too my grizzly bear attacks! We started from Boston, we took Rt.90 to the Chicago area. From these We took Rt 66, the real Rt 66. all the way to San Diego. You name the National Parks and I saw them. Took the Pacific Highway north to S.F. We took Rt 80 back to Rt 15 and up through Jackson Wyoming And eventually up to RT 90 east. It is an adventure I’ll never forget! And I thank my parents, God rest their souls! Since then, I’ve gone back to Yellowstone three times!

    3. Thank you for sharing your itinerary. It looks amazing. I hope to make a cross-country trip and this is really helpful!

  4. For many years I had travelled on US Route 20, to get to Boston or to get to work at Old Sturbridge Village. I appreciated the fact that Route 20 represented the manner in which folks traveled before the construction of the Interstate network and the gas stations, motels and small restaurants and shops had stories to tell. So, in 2014 my wife and I travelled Route 20 from Boston’s Kenmore Square to the Pacific coast in Newport, Oregon.

    It was a great trip, Boston, Albany, Cleveland, Chicago, Boise a great many small towns. Lots of fine parks such as Indiana Dunes National Park, Yellowstone, Craters of the Moon, Wind River Canyon, etc. Many excellent museums and cultural institutions pop up along the way such asThe Museum of the Fur Trade, Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, Ashfall Fossil Beds, Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Washakie Museum and Cultural Center, The World Center for Birds of Prey, Old Sturbridge Village, etc. And plenty of small Town’s with great people, just living their lives. We traveled with a roof top tent and stayed in great campgrounds all along the route, Shipshewana, IN, Lena, IL, Craters of the Moon campground, Valentine, NE, Lusk, WY etc.

    Interstates are fine to get there in a hurry, but a cross country trip should be about the road and the people. If we took a side trip a little off of Route 20, we made sure to come back to the same spot to continue. It’s a ROAD trip and US Route 20 is a great opportunity to explore America.

  5. For many years I had travelled on US Route 20, to get to Boston or to get to work at Old Sturbridge Village. I appreciated the fact that Route 20 represented the manner in which folks traveled before the construction of the Interstate network and the gas stations, motels and small restaurants and shops had stories to tell. So, in 2014 my wife and I travelled Route 20 from Boston’s Kenmore Square to the Pacific coast in Newport, Oregon.

    It was a great trip, Boston, Albany, Cleveland, Chicago, Boise a great many small towns. Lots of fine parks such as Indiana Dunes National Park, Yellowstone, Craters of the Moon, Wind River Canyon, etc. Many excellent museums and cultural institutions such asThe Museum of the Fur Trade, Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, Ashfall Fossil Beds, Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Washakie Museum and Cultural Center, The World Center for Birds of Prey, Old Sturbridge Village, etc. And plenty of small Town’s with great people, just living their lives. We traveled with a roof top tent and stayed in great campgrounds all along the route, Shipshewana, IN, Lena, IL, Craters of the Moon campground, Valentine, NE, Lusk, WY etc.

    Interstates are fine to get there in a hurry, but a cross country trip should be about the road and the people. If we took a side trip a little off of Route 20, we made sure to come back to the same spot to continue. It’s a ROAD trip and US Route 20 is a great opportunity to explore America.

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