A road trip is one of the best ways to travel a country. Instead of flying over everything there is to discover you get to experience all of it. See everything from star-filled cities and famous tourist attractions to empty deserts and picturesque green mountains. This American cross country road trip has it all.
The itinerary includes stops in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and New York. That’s 13 states plus District of Columbia!
The road trip is divided into 5 parts with different themes. The stretches of the trip are Southwestern dreams, Route 66, Cities of music, Appalachian Mountains and Big city life. You find them marked out on the map below with different colors.
Total distance is about 3550 miles (5700 km) which equals to an estimated driving time of 59 h. Add the time you want for each stop and enjoy this epic road trip to the fullest.
Now it’s time to hit the open roads. First out is Southwestern dreams.
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Cross country road trip part 1: Southwestern dreams (yellow on map)
Southwestern dreams goes through the star-filled cosmopolitan areas of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, before heading into the rural desert. Zion National Park, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon and Monument Valley are places full of natural beauty that will have a place in your heart and mind forever.
In this section you get to see two of the most iconic cities in America as well as some of the most impressive nature. Go ahead and dream away, you are in the land of opportunity.
Total driving distance in this leg is about 850 miles (1350 km) and driving time is estimated at 15 h.
A. Let your dreams come true in Los Angeles, California
When you think of the US as the land of opportunity, Los Angeles comes quickly into your mind. Many people have come here to try to live their dreams. Some have succeeded and some haven’t. The way to the top isn’t easy.
Hollywood has seen a great amount of stars rise and fade away over the years. Some really made it while other didn’t. Nevertheless, the Hollywood sign calmly watches over Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills.
But there is a place in Los Angeles where people get their dreams come true every day. Welcome to Disneyland. Here your childhood dreams come to life. Come by and say hello to your Disney favorites.
Before you take off and say goodbye to LA you should visit the Santa Monica Pier. Here you can stroll around and take in the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. And here you are at the start or end of the iconic Route 66, America’s highway.
More about Route 66 in stretch 2 of the itinerary. Now it’s time to start the road trip by leaving Los Angeles and head to Las Vegas.
B. Enjoy the metropolitan oasis of Las Vegas, Nevada
- Driving time: 4 hours
- Distance: 270 miles (434 km)
It’s hard to imagine a time when you weren’t allowed to gamble in Las Vegas. But the city hasn’t always been associated with gambling. When gambling was legalized in the state of Nevada in 1931 it meant the start of a boom for the state and Las Vegas. Today the city is a metropolitan entertainment oasis in the middle of the desert.
As the entertainment oasis it is, there’s a lot more in the city to do than to just gamble. You find fine dining at its best and all the shopping you could ask for. The shows are great and there’s more often than not a good concert to attend to.
And Las Vegas with its warm desert climate is also good for outdoor activities. There are pretty surroundings to explore if you need a break from the city life.
The Hoover Dam on the border between the states of Nevada and Arizona is an interesting place to visit. The dam was built to protect from flooding and to provide water and electricity to the area. It’s so huge that the amount of concrete used in building it would be enough to pave a road from San Francisco to New York City.
In the city you find most of the buzz around the famous Las Vegas Strip. But if you look a bit further you’ll find the charm of Fremont Street. Here the original Vegas boom took place. So you could say that all that we associate with Vegas today started here.
Now the second stop of the trip has come to an end as it’s time to leave Vegas. Next stop on the cross country road trip is Zion National Park.
C. Beautiful nature in Zion National Park, Utah
- Driving time: 3 hours
- Distance: 160 miles (257 km)
After two cities it’s time for the first National Park. Zion National Park is a great place for a hike to stretch the legs.
The hikes you can make in Zion are amazing. The red sanstone cliffs and the green trees in the canyons are like that perfect couple that just make each other even more beautiful.
Here you can pick an easier hike or a more demanding one depending on what you’re after.
Springdale is a good place to spend your nights while you visit. It’s located conveniently at the entrance to Zion National Park.
The cross country road trip continues with next stop, Horseshoe Bend in Arizona.
D. The awesome Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
- Driving time: 2 hours
- Distance: 107 miles (172 km)
This horseshoe like bend in the Colorado River is located in the outer part of Page in Arizona. It’s not part of the Grand Canyon, but it’s only a little over 5 miles (8 km) away from the start of Grand Canyon National Park.
If you stand and look over the edge from the overlook you see Colorado River down at the bottom of the canyon. The sunlight is reflected by the red cliffs and the blue Colorado River. It’s an impressive sight to say the least.
A good idea is to visit Horseshoe Bend either when the sun rises or when it sets. Just remember that it’s about 1000 feet (300 m) from the overlook down to the Colorado River, so make sure that you walk carefully at the edge.
Next stop on the itinerary is located very close to Horseshoe Bend and Page.
E. A truly unique road trip stop at Antelope Canyon, Arizona
- Driving time: 0.5 hours
- Distance: 10 miles (16 km)
Antelope Canyon is actually made up by two canyon sections, the upper and the lower. Few geological formations are as fabulous and mysterious appearing. The distinctive wavy canyon walls and thick light beams that reach the canyon floor create an unreal appearance. It’s like something from a different world.
The only way to get access to Antelope Canyon is to use a licensed tour operator. Especially during summer when light beams are more frequent the tours are highly popular, so make sure that you book your tour well in advance.
It’s optimal to stay in a hotel in Page for the visits of Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Then you can enjoy both places to the fullest without having to deal with very early or late drives.
The ultimate road trip itinerary wouldn’t be complete without the next stop, Grand Canyon.
F. The majestic Grand Canyon, Arizona
- Driving time: 2.5 hours
- Distance: 135 miles (217 km)
Grand Canyon is every traveler’s dream. The huge canyon in Northwestern Arizona has a length of 277 miles (446 km), width of up to 18 miles (29 km) and a depth of more than a mile (1847 meters). It’s simply huge!
The elevation differences bring that the the temperature could differ a lot within Grand Canyon National Park. The highest peaks are very cold in the winters, while the canyon floor faces extremely hot temperatures during the warmer months of the year.
Grand Canyon is best visited through either the South Rim or the North Rim. Both parts offer great viewpoints of the park. However, as the altitude is higher in the northern part it’s generally colder and receives more snow. This causes the North Rim to be closed during the colder months of the year, while South Rim is open every month of the year.
After Grand Canyon it’s only one destination left of the road trip section Southwestern dreams. That’s Monument Valley.
G. “Run Forrest, run” at Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah
- Driving time: 3 hours
- Distance: 175 miles (281 km)
Monument Valley is located on the border between Arizona and Utah. The red color and huge rock formations standing on the floor of the valley dramatically characterize the area.
This is where Forrest Gump so famously ended his cross-country run in the movie. In Google Maps you even find the Forrest Gump Point, to make it easy for you to stand on the very same inch as Forrest.
Even as beautiful as America is, we are happy that we drive and not run cross country. Especially as we are about to enter stretch 2 of the cross country road trip, Route 66.
Cross country road trip part 2: Route 66 (red on map)
The second stretch of the road trip is Route 66. The ultimate cross country trip needs to include Route 66, the mother road, which goes from Los Angeles to Chicago. In this itinerary you get to see some of the very best parts of it with stops in Albuquerque, Amarillo, Oklahoma City and Springfield.
When you drive the main street of America you really feel that the journey is more important than the destination. It’s as much about the trip as about the destination. There are things to see and experience in every corner if you just look for them.
Total driving distance in this leg starting from Monument Valley and ending in Springfield in Missouri is about 1150 miles (1850 km) and the driving time is estimated at 18 h.
As the driving time is estimated as the shortest possible time from point A to point B, much but not all of Route 66 is included. Because for some parts a parallel highway can be used. Add some extra time if you want to remain on Route 66 for the whole stretch.
A. Enter the time machine in Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Driving time: 5 hours
- Distance: 318 miles (511 km)
Albuquerque in New Mexico is a good place to temporarily let your vehicle rest.
Old Town of Albuquerque is a beautiful area to take in. Park your car and enjoy the beautiful old mission church, public square and the art galleries. Walk by yourself or take a guided tour.
For dinner and a fun experience at the same time you should enter 66 Diner. There you will feel like you have entered a time machine back to the golden days. The venue includes rounded counters with checkered black-and-white tiles, classic diner bar stools, comfy booths and a vintage jukebox loaded with old time favorites. And the staff contributes with their authentic look. There’s nothing not to like about this retro place. And their cold and thick milkshake is famous. But watch out, you might get a brain freeze!
In downtown Albuquerque you find the KiMo theatre, a theatre and historic landmark that was opened in 1927. It’s a unique place for film, musical performances and theatre. But it’s also worth it to stop just to have a look at the historic venue.
And if you’re lucky enough to be around in October you should fit in a visit to the yearly International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. Imagine hundreds of hot air balloons in different colors rising up over the New Mexico landscape.
The cross country road trip continues on Route 66. After Albuquerque it’s time to drive east towards Texas and Amarillo.
B. US Route 66 Historic District and the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas
- Driving time: 4.5 hours
- Distance: 289 miles (465 km)
When in Amarillo you have arrived at the midway point of the historic Route 66. And the US Route 66 Historic District in Amarillo is the perfect way to celebrate that.
In the Route 66 Historic District of Amarillo you can get a throwback to the early days of road tripping across America. Here you find original buildings with eye-catching signs along the street. And enjoy the atmospheric shops and places to eat. If you want a Route 66 souvenir to bring with you home, this is a good place to look for it.
Cadillac Ranch is a roadside attraction in Amarillo in Texas since 1974. It consists of half-buried Cadillacs with their noses in the ground. They have been in the ground longer than they were on the road. Nevertheless, to see them as the piece of art they have become is as popular as ever.
Now the drier landscape in Texas gives way for the prairies as we are about to enter the state of Oklahoma.
C. More Route 66 fun in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Driving time: 4 hours
- Distance: 260 miles (418 km)
The third Route 66 stop is Oklahoma City. Two fun and interesting stops for your tour of the world’s most famous route are America’s only round barn and the cowboy museum.
Arcadia Round Barn is said to be the most photographed landmark along Route 66. Come here for a stop to appreciate the engineering details of the only barn in America that’s truly round. If you’re interested make sure to enter the small museum to learn more about the history of the barn.
Another institution in Oklahoma City is the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum that proudly collects, preserves and exhibits an impressive collection of Western art and artifacts. The museum is a must see for the Western fan, horse lover, art enthusiast or simply anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the cowboys.
It’s time to continue the cross country road trip with our last stretch on Route 66. The itinerary goes northeast through Tulsa and then across the Missouri border to Springfield.
D. Go into Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, Missouri
- Driving time: 4.5 hours
- Distance: 286 miles (460 km)
Springfield in Missouri is our last stop of section 2, Route 66. It’s also the birthplace of Route 66
The iconic Route 66 was born an April day in 1926 when a telegram was sent from Springfield to federal officials saying that the to be iconic number 66 for the route through Springfield was acceptable. And the birthplace of the most famous route in the world is also the place for the only ride-thru cave in America as well as a Route 66 Car Museum.
Fantastic Caverns is a cave in Springfield and it makes up a great stop along the way. The temperature inside the cave keeps a comfortable constant temperature of about 60 °F (15 °C). And after a lot of driving it could be nice to sit back and let someone else handle the transport. You can do that because Fantastic Caverns is a ride-thru cave. You’ll see the whole cave from the comfort of a Jeep-drawn tram.
And in Springield you also find the Route 66 Car Museum. Come here to admire the more than 60 vehicles ranging from Jaguars, Rolls Royces and a Morgan.
Few things are as nostalgic as driving Route 66. But now it’s time to take the route southeast to hit the third stretch of this cross country road trip, namely Cities of music.
Cross country road trip part 3: Cities of music (blue on map)
After exiting Route 66 it’s time to get to know the Cities of music in Tennessee. Memphis is the home of blues and the birthplace of rock and roll. Nashville that long time ago earned the nickname Music City is the country music capital of the world
Total driving distance in this leg starting from Springfield is 500 miles (800 km) and driving time is estimated at 8 h.
A. The home of blues and birthplace of rock and roll in Memphis, Tennessee
- Driving time: 5 hours
- Distance: 287 miles (461 km)
As the home of blues and the birthplace of rock and roll you have some music history catching up to do when you visit Memphis in Tennessee.
The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum can help you with that. Here you explore the history of rock ‘n’ roll and soul music. From the beginnings all the way to the worldwide influence. Musical artifacts from the early days help you to understand the developments from the past til the present.
And in Blues Hall of Fame you take you can deepen your knowledge about blues further. The blues institution highlights its inductees in five different categories while educating and entertaining visitors about blues.
Of course there needs to be a Music Hall of Fame in Memphis as well. It contains all the artists from Memphis that have created the Memphis legacy and shook our planet with their great music.
The most famous Memphis product ever must be Elvis Presley, the undisputed king of rock ‘n’ roll. He lived in his mansion Graceland and today you have the chance to explore his home and legacy.
Highlights are artifacts such as platinum records and clothing memorabilia such as jumpsuits. As well as his automobile collection including a pink Cadillac and a Dino Ferrari. And don’t miss to see Elvis’ airplanes to see how he made his longer journeys.
Next up is Nashville, the itinerary’s second city of music.
B. Discover the Music City and capital of country music in Nashville, Tennessee
- Driving time: 3 hours
- Distance: 212 miles (341 km)
Nashville earned the nickname Music City a long time ago and is the country music capital of the world.
You just have to walk in downtown Nashville and Lower Broadway for a few minutes to understand why the city is the undisputed country music capital of the world. There, live music is offered day or night. The bars, the honky tonks, let their music stream out to the streets contributing to the special atmosphere in the city. Enjoying all the live music on Lower Broadway is a great way to experience Nashville.
To immerse yourself more in the country music, a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is strongly recommended. It’s home to exhibits and artifacts highlighting the history and significance of country music. Experience the evolution of one of the fastest growing genres within music. And see how the country genre has influenced many other genres. A visit here also further explains why Nashville is the center of the country music industry.
The Ryman Auditorium is a concert venue in downtown where many legends have performed. Which place could be better for a concert than Music City? You can also tour the Ryman Auditorium and hear stories from when Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and even Elvis performed on the Ryman stage.
If you want to go to a country music show, then consider going to the Grand Ole Opry. It boasts to be “the show that made country music famous”. The Opry lets you hear both country music greats and newcomers.
After the inspiration from Cities of music the trip reaches stretch 4 and the Appalachian Mountains.
Cross country road trip part 4: Appalachian Mountains (green on map)
The forth leg of the cross country road trip takes you up in the northeastern direction through the colorful and mighty Appalachian Mountains. Start with the Great Smoky Mountains before you continue with stops in picturesque Ashville and Roanoke.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic roads in America and a good way to discover the area. You can enter it north of Cherokee in North Carolina and it goes all the way up to Afton in Virginia.
Total driving distance in this leg starting from Nashville is 550 miles (900 km) and driving time is estimated at 9.5 h.
As the driving time is estimated as the shortest possible time from point A to point B, large parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway are not included. Because to a large extent parallel roads that are faster and more direct can be used. It’s recommended to add some extra time to see more of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A. Impressive surroundings at the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
- Driving time: 3.5 hours
- Distance: 195 miles (313 km)
The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range and a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains. The part of the name “Smoky” comes from the natural fog that frequently hangs over the mountains, appearing just like smoke plumes from a distance.
Within the National Park of the Great Smoky Mountains you find beautiful nature and the roads make up for incredible sightseeing opportunities.
Cades Cove is one such unique spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that you can reach by car. It’s an isolated valley which was home to settlers once upon a time. It’s very scenic with the valley floor contrasted by the rugged mountain tops.
And the park is full of wildlife. Bears, white-tailed deer, hogs, turkeys, skunks and raccoons are some of the animals that are spotted all the time.
Where to stay when exploring the Great Smoky Mountains?
The city of Gatlinburg is located just at the entrance of the Smokies and it’s a very convenient place to stay in for your visit.
There you have good access to the Smokies, good dining options and a great variety of activities for the days you prefer not to spend in the wild. And you can fully unwind for a few days before you continue the road trip across America.
Select your dates and search for your hotel on the map below, or press search to get all the accomodation options in Gatlinburg listed.
Make sure that you don’t miss to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Cherokee when you drive from the Great Smoky Mountains to the next stop of the itinerary. It’s one of the most scenic roads in America and certainly one you don’t want to miss.
B. Visit the largest privately owned home in Asheville, North Carolina
- Driving time: 1 hours
- Distance: 37 miles (59 km)
Asheville in North Carolina is located along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s favorite drive.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is an experience unlike no other drive. Enjoy a slow-paced and relaxing tour revealing the Appalachian landscape. Explore long-range vistas with rugged mountains and idyllic landscapes.
And the whole stretch from south to north is 469 miles long (750 km) and made for slow-pace drives. Speed limit is never higher than 45 mph and the roads are free from commercial traffic.
But you will also want to stop every now and then along the parkway to breathe in the fresh mountain air and to enjoy the green landscape.
But Asheville is not only about the Blue Ridge Parkway that it’s located along. It’s in a very picturesque town with good places to eat, drink and sleep.
And here you also have the chance to visit the largest privately owned home in America. At 178,926 square feet (16622.8 m2) the Biltmore Estate is truly impressive. It was built in the late 1800s by George Vanderbilt II and belongs to the Vanderbilt family to this day.
After the stop in Asheville and visiting the Vanderbilt’s the cross country road trip continues towards the next stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
C. See the Hollywood sign of the Appalachian Mountains in Roanoke, Virginia
- Driving time: 4 hours
- Distance: 243 miles (391 km)
Roanoke is a great stop when you explore the Blue Ridge Parkway. It has entrances to the parkway from many different corners of the city. And Roanoke is literally surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here nature is always near.
Like Hollywood has its Hollywood sign, Roanoke has the Roanoke Star. On top of Mill Mountain, the star that is a symbol for Roanoke looks out over the city and its surroundings.
You can drive, hike or bike up to the star that’s almost 90 feet (30 m) tall. Up at the top of the mountain you get a close-up view of the star as well as a reward in form of the impressive panoramic view of Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Just outside Roanoke you find the McAfee knob. There you find even more incredible vistas. And maybe most spectacular of it all is the rock overhang perch that you reach by hiking.
After Roanoke it’s time to head to the Big city life part of the road trip across America. Take the quickest route, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or mix them to get to Washington D.C.
Cross country road trip part 5: Big city life (grey on map)
The trip ends with Big city life and a visit to some of the most influential cities of the US. Meet the president in Washington D.C., stop by at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and finish in style in always busy New York City.
Total driving distance in this leg starting from Roanoke is 500 miles (800 km) and driving time is estimated at 8.5 h.
A. Pay a visit to the White House in Washington D.C.
- Driving time: 4 hours
- Distance: 240 miles (386 km)
In the center of the capital of the US you find the National Mall. It’s a park where you find many major historical buildings and monuments.
To just name a few of the landmarks in the National Mall there are the the Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial and of course the White House.
There is so much to see that you can’t fully appreciate it all if you only have a day. But everything within the National Mall is available by foot. So take this opportunity and let the car rest while you explore not only the history of Washington D.C, but also the history of the US.
Read more: An evening walk in Washington, D.C. >>
And who knows, maybe the president waves at you when you approach the White House?
The car is ready to go again after some well-needed rest in the capital while the National Mall was explored. The itinerary now takes us further northeast to Philadelphia, the last stop before New York.
B. Feel like Rocky as you head to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Driving time: 3 hours
- Distance: 142 miles (228 km)
Being located so close to the giant New York City and the capital Washington D.C, you can argue that Philadelphia doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s hard not to be overshadowed by an enormous place like NYC or the importance of Washington.
The mighty Liberty Bell in Philadelphia doesn’t make a sound nowadays, but the inscription “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” is as clear as it was the last time it rang. Go to the Independence Hall and inspect the symbol for freedom with your own eyes.
If you have seen the Rocky movies you also have seen the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Join other travelers and jog up the stairs just like Rocky. And don’t forget to take a picture with Rocky himself at the bottom of the stairs.
For food you definitely need to have a Philly cheesesteak. Maybe you have had one before, but they taste better in Philly than anywhere else. The thinly sliced steak, cheese, fried onions and hoagie roll will make you crave for another one.
When it’s time to leave Philadelphia we start the car one last time for this road trip and make the final drive to the end of the itinerary. That is New York City.
C. Finish the cross country road trip in New York City
- Driving time: 2 hours
- Distance: 98 miles (157 km)
Now you have completed the drive across the country, but you have the last stop left to discover. And it’s not any stop, it’s New York!
In Philadelphia the Liberty Bell is the symbol for freedom. In New York it’s the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. With a boat tour you can get all the way out to the island to get a close look.
Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most if not the most famous bridge in the world. From the bridge you have a fantastic view over the Manhattan skyline. Especially after the long drive it feels good to put on your shoes, walk the bridge and admire the views.
The skyscrapers on Manhattan are from different periods of time. Empire State Building and the Chrysler building are older buildings while One World Trade Center represents the new. For the bird eye perspective of NYC you can go up to the top of Empire State Building and admire the massive city from up there.
From the top of Empire State Building you can see Central Park, the green oasis in the middle of the city. There you can find peace even a busy day.
And if you like art you have come to the right city. The art scene in New York is outstanding and will please the most spoiled art-lover. There’s the Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and of course much more.
Relaxing Central Park and quiet museums meet a great contrast in the always buzzing Times Square. Here the pulsating energy of the city is seen day or night.
This was the last stop of the cross country itinerary and New York with all it has to offer is a great place to end your road trip.
If you want to continue driving, consider making the trip to Niagara Falls at the border between the US and Canada for another powerful experience.
American cross country road trip FAQ
You find the answers to some frequently asked questions about the American cross country road trip from Los Angeles to New York.
How long time do you need to make the American cross country road trip?
It’s recommended to have a month or more to fully enjoy the trip. With an estimated driving time of 59 h you will drive on average 2 h a day if you have a full month.
Should you make your cross country road trip from west to east or from east to west?
The short answer is that it doesn’t matter. You can do this itinerary from either direction. Road tripping from New York to Los Angeles is as good as doing it Los Angeles to New York.
How was the estimated driving time calculated?
The estimated driving time was calculated with Google Maps by taking the shortest amount of time from point A to point B and rounding upwards to the next half hour. Stops are not included in the driving time.