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suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

by gazstrong Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 2:25 AM

Hi folks

I am planning a "trip of a lifetime" next summer by driving USA from coast to coast. I will be flying in from the UK and I am open to starting on either coast most likely at LA or New York.
Looking at maps and having read many travel books over the years i have came across many different possible routes to take but i would like some suggestions from VT members. If possible id rather avoid big cities and identik towns filled with malls and try and see the "real" america.
I will be taking roughly 2 1/2 weeks to do this and travelling with my wife and then 8 month old son.

Thanks in Advance
Gary

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34 Answers
  • Camping_Girl's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Camping_Girl Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 2:38 AM

    My first reaction when I read this post is that there is no way in "heck" that you can do this trip in 2.5 weeks. This is more like a 3 month trip. So what is it you are hoping to gain from this trip? This would help people make suggestions.

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  • Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by gazstrong Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 2:47 AM

    I agree, of course 3 months could be spent undertaking this trip but unfortuantely due to finacial and work commitments 3 weeks is all i can afford to take.
    What i am looking to achieve from this trip is to cross the United States staying in maybe 15 or so different places and gain an insight (however small) into life in the USA, its people, its culture and its history.
    I really would love to spend months doing this and to visit every state but like most ordinary working people i cannot afford this luxury as my holidays are restricted to several weeks a year.

    Regards
    Gary

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  • nhoolb's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by nhoolb Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 5:30 AM

    A lifetime ago, in my student days, I also did this "USA trip of a lifetime" with a friend.
    From NYC to Buffalo, to Windsor, to Chicago and then via I-90 to Seattle. Visiting Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone etc.
    From SEA to LAX, to Phoenix, to Dallas and up again (I-40) to Washington DC, Philly to NYC....

    It took us 7-8 weeks I remember....

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  • joiwatani's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by joiwatani Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 11:25 AM

    There is no way you can do this with an 8 month old baby plus your time allotted is way, way too short. I travelled across the country three times but until now, I haven't visited most of the country. Like my late father-in-law said, this country is so huge and large - that no matter what you are in- airplane, boat, car or train, it is long and it takes years to travel from coast to coast!!!

    I put in 178,000 miles on my Toyota Camry and I just explored few cities and counties!!!

    You are brave to travel with a little child!!!

    Goodluck!

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  • Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by gazstrong Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 12:18 PM

    I am sorry you felt the need to post such a negative response but i would like to clarify a few things and ask you to elaborate.

    I know all to well that i cant possible even see a fraction of the USA in 3 weeks but rather than admit failure and give up and stay at home i have decided to attempt to see as much as possible within 3 weeks.

    why do you not believe it is possible to travel 3000 miles over a 3 week period with an 8 month child? surely if i break the journey into small segments of a few hundred miles a day its perfectly possible.

    I really really would like to hear your opinion on this as i am obviously inexperienced on such matters.

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  • mmyerspa's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by mmyerspa Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 12:27 PM

    Alternatively, I would suggest chosing a specific region. Being that it will be summer, start around San Fran with the rental, go up the Pacific Coast (Oregon/Washington), then east to Montana / Wyoming. I am making a big assumption that you're interested in seeing some of the great countryside. I think this trip would give you the opportunity to meet some real Americans and also see some great countryside.

    If you don't mind the heat, there's always the southwest. This could possibly be combined with a West Coast trip, but I think you'd get pretty road weary, as things are pretty spread out.

    Another option would be the northeast and east coast. Oh, this could be a really cool trip! Spend some time at the great American beaches in New Jersey / Maryland / Virginia. In the northeast, there are a lot of unspoiled small towns in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachussetts, and mountains and lakes to explore. There are also some great mountains inland in the West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, and Tennessee area.

    Feel free to contact me directly if you'd like more detailed info.

    Have a fantastic trip - what a great opportunity!

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  • Camping_Girl's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Camping_Girl Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 12:30 PM

    Hi again Gary,

    I just checked out the trip on mapquest. Their suggested route (shortest) takes you through the country's heartland and travels mainly on freeways and is 42 hours of driving time. So, if you were to break that down into 8 hour driving days it is only about 5 days of driving. With 2.5 weeks to do the trip, I am re-thinking my original post and now think maybe it's not that bad of an idea after all. =:)

    You would likely want to deviate a little from mapquest's suggested route, to see a little more scenery and get onto the roads less travelled. I would think that could probably add another 20 hours (or as much as you opt to add, really) to your total driving time, and would still allow you roughly 10 days to take in various sites along the way.

    Off the top of my head, some spots that you probably want to include, since they are more or less "on your way" would be to see a little bit of NYC, get to the Grand Canyon and possibly drive a little of the original Route 66 on your way, check out some of the really cool ghost towns that are scattered throughout the US, spend at least a day at Disneyland while in the LA area (it IS the happiest place on earth, after all) and explore a little of the coast.

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  • Camping_Girl's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Camping_Girl Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 12:38 PM

    If you can find a couple of days to drive "up" the California coast, I would also try to get at least as far as the Redwoods so that you could experience their jaw-dropping grandeur as well.

    I think your best starting point would be to rough out a basic route and travel dates. Once you have that settled, it would be easier for folks to offer you some suggestions on what is "not to miss" along the way.

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  • Camping_Girl's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Camping_Girl Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 12:48 PM

    My personal preference would be to work my way north west from NYC, to take in the badlands of South Dakota, Yellowstone NP in Wyoming/Montana, then south through the canyons of Utah, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Kingman, Tahoe, and LA/ west coast.

    Or continue west from Yellowstone to take in Glacier NP, the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and the magnificent Oregon coastline, the Redwoods and LA.

    But to choose either of these route options is likely to see you spending most of your 2.5 weeks driving. Is it at all possible for you to stretch this out to 3 weeks?

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  • Camping_Girl's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Camping_Girl Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 12:48 PM

    My personal preference would be to work my way north west from NYC, to take in the badlands of South Dakota, Yellowstone NP in Wyoming/Montana, then south through the canyons of Utah, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Kingman, Tahoe, and LA/ west coast.

    Or continue west from Yellowstone to take in Glacier NP, the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and the magnificent Oregon coastline, the Redwoods and LA.

    But to choose either of these route options is likely to see you spending most of your 2.5 weeks driving. Is it at all possible for you to stretch this out to 3 weeks?

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  • joiwatani's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by joiwatani Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 12:51 PM

    Sorry, I didn't mean to be rude...But anyway, if I were you, I would start in New York. You can explore more states in the East Coast than the West Coast. Then go from there. Most car rental companies have minimum miles allowed- so, make sure to rent a car without this- otherwise, they charge you with .20 cents per mile after the allowed miles. Also, get a weekly rental instead of the daily rental- saves you a lot of money!!! I think the weekly rental for an SUV is437.00 plus tax and plus insurance coverage. The average gas right now is about2.40 per gallon. SUV has 18-21 mpg.

    If you also like the other way around, you can also fly directly to LA and take the 101 route all the way to Washington State and Oregon. From Washington, it takes at least 21 hours to drive to Nevada. That is non-stop. You pass a lot of states that are pretty.

    Goodluck and happy travelling!

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  • Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by gazstrong Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 1:39 PM

    joiwatani, i didnt think you were rude, just a little bit negative in your original post, thanks for you second post which is most informative as is everyone elses. I have some thinking to do now, there really is so much to try and take in and so much i have to rule out.

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  • EllenH's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by EllenH Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 2:00 PM

    I think you will be fine, I have driven from Maryland to Montana and back in 3 weeks and saw alot and did alot and had small children at the time, not babies but small. We drove from Maryland to Arizona more then once also and same thing. My only suggestion would be to either take the northern route through Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana....etc, or take the southern route through the southwest. Both are beautiful and will give you a pretty good feel for small town America. DO NOT go through the middle of the country, you will want to shoot yourself out of boredom. (sorry Kansas).

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  • Camping_Girl's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Camping_Girl Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 2:24 PM

    lol EllenH.... you wrote exactly what I was thinking, but I couldn't figure out how to delicately say it!

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  • Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by gazstrong Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 2:55 PM

    Ellen H

    I visted North West Usa last year and travelled through Washington, Idaho and Montana staying in Leavenworth, Couer D'alene, Missoula, and Kalispell. I enjoyed all these places and scenery immensely and this is exactly the sort of "America" i would like to see.

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  • Camping_Girl's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Camping_Girl Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 3:05 PM

    If you've already seen the northwest, then maybe you should consider the more southerly route this time?

    You might want to consider a route that would take you down the eastern coast a bit before turning inland. Possibly through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Amarillo Texas, Albuquerque New Mexico, Arizona and the Grand Canyon, Kingman, LA and the California coastline possibly as far north as San Francisco.... this would likely give you a nice mix of "small town America" and a few highlights of the larger centres plus some interesting and diverse scenery.

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  • EllenH's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by EllenH Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 3:06 PM

    Well then you might want to check out the southwest then but that being said, I live halfway between Yellowstone and Glacier and you would be welcome here. (hey I plan on Belfast one day)

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  • EllenH's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by EllenH Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 3:08 PM

    evidently great minds think alike CG.

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  • EllenH's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by EllenH Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 3:09 PM

    LOL Leavenworth is not small town America, it is Germany! Even the McDonalds!

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  • atufft's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by atufft Online Now Nov 8, 2008 at 10:50 PM

    I'm a truck driver and cross the USA regularly on I-90, I-80, I-70, I-40, and I-10 (the main east-west freeways, from north to south respectively). You can easily drive from one coast to another in 2 1/2 weeks with you family, and actually you can see a lot. I will admit though that in my now 6 months of driving and contributing actively to VT, I still have a long list of places I have yet to see. If you are traveling in winter, don't take I-90, I-80, or I-70, but take I-40 or I-10. Of these latter, I prefer I-10- because it skirts across the gulf coast, New Orleans, San Antonio, and the most scenic parts of New Mexico and Arizona as seen from the freeway, and ends up in LA. In good weather, I-80 or I-70 are probably the best direct interstates overall, because they will include most of the great cities, such as Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco, along the way. But, here's the secret: Since the interstates go either east-west and north to south, the best routes for exploration tend to work diagonally across the USA. This often requires using secondary routes that are more scenic. But, often combining north-south and east-west interstates can also be useful to traverse north and south as you head east-west, for example. I'm very fond of I-84 along the Columbia and Snake Rivers, for example, and I-15 from Salt Lake City through to Las Vegas and LA. I also like I-25 from Wyoming to New Mexico, and I-55 from Chicago to St Louis, Memphis, Jackson, and New Orleans.

    I highly recommend you visit my travel pages and browse my collection of relatively undiscovered places in the USA. I have frequently been the first or primary contributor for many towns in the USA, although as I say, my work continues and I try to document much of America. Naturally, figuring out when and where to get off the interstate becomes the greatest challenge in a quick trip such as yours.

    Have fun planning...

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  • nhoolb's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by nhoolb Online Now Nov 9, 2008 at 2:43 AM

    Now there's a good advice by Allen-atufft. I agree fully with what he wrote.
    And especially the "diagonally" route(s).

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  • Fanniemae's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Fanniemae Online Now Nov 9, 2008 at 10:06 AM

    Hi :) Sounds like you're ready for the adventure of the US that most do not get to experience when they come here to visit us! :) I'm excited for you!

    Personally, I would fly to L.A. first and drive east. There are two reasons for this:

    1.) You're starting at the furthest point and coming back east, so that when you're exhausted from driving and your family is ready to fly home, you'll have a shorter flight than if you work your way from east to west.

    2.) There's more driving involved in the west than in the east to see things. This way, you'll be more rested and the driving won't feel as bad than if you start east to west where things are closer together.

    I've sent you an email here on VT letting you know that I can help you take the time and plan out your trip! I don't mind helping you out in the evening, and we can work on this so your family has a better idea of things you'd like to see, and I can help you out when I'm not at work! Having been to 45 of the 50 states (and it seems having lived in just about as many! LOL), I don't mind helping out in the least so that you and your family can have the best trip ever! Just let me know! :)

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  • nhoolb's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by nhoolb Online Now Nov 9, 2008 at 10:20 AM

    That makes sense, starting west. Good advice I think.

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  • acprincess's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by acprincess Online Now Nov 10, 2008 at 10:11 AM

    Are you more interested in scenery or culture?

    For scenery, concentrate on the west - Yellowstone, Zion, Bryce, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley. There are some lovely mountains in the east, but the west has the scenery that is unique to the USA. I would suggest the Florida Keys if you had more time, but it's a long side trip and the south is REALLY hot and humid in the summer.

    Everywhere except the Pacific Northwest is hot, but the western deserts aren't as muggy as the east coast and midwest.

    Our culture more or less breaks down as the East Coast (intellectual), South (friendly and colorful), Midwest (friendly and wholesome), West (independent and maybe a little gruff) and California (La la land - I live here, I get to call it that.)

    I recommend that you stay off of interstates whenever possible. If you travel back roads you will see more of what I like to think of as the real America and fewer chain restaurants and shopping malls. It's a tiny bit slower, but well worth it.

    I respectfully disagree with the people who suggest you start in the west. If you start in the east you won't be as tired or as jet-lagged for your vacation. Save the pain and fatigue for when you go back to work. You can do that in your sleep, right?

    Why don't you pick a few spots that you want to visit, then post again and we can help you fill in the blanks.

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  • Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by gazstrong Online Now Nov 10, 2008 at 12:28 PM

    Thanks folks for all your help and advice.

    I have read all suggestions and have been studying maps and at this moment i think the route i will take is as follows:

    starting in LA and driving to Las Vegas on to Salt Lake City and into South Idaho and across the USA through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Idiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania to New York.

    this seems like the most sensible route to take but i was wondering is this an interesting enough option with enough nice scenery and interesting places to stop over.

    obviously this is only my first idea and things will almost certainly change drasticaly before i settle on my chose route.

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  • KimberlyAnn's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by KimberlyAnn Online Now Nov 10, 2008 at 1:19 PM

    You really should drive Highway 1 that runs along the Pacific Coast of California. This is my favorite highway for pure beauty in the country. Be warned, however, that there are areas with steep drop offs into the ocean in a number of areas along this two lane road. With Highway 1 in mind, travel from L.A. to Monterey, stopping at San Simeon State Park and visit the Hearst Castle on your way to Monterey. Spend a couple of days in Monterey to explore the beautiful area, take in the aquarium, and if whales are in the area possibly take a whale watching tour. Then if you are interested in exploring San Francisco, a large city built on hills with a lot to do, continue north. From either the San Francisco area or Monterey travel west to Yosemite National Park in California. From there travel to Utah and visit Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Arches National Park. I would highly recommend that you do not miss Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, so travel there from Utah. Yellowstone is the oldest National Park, and one of the largest in this country. It has a huge variety of things to see including geysers, hot pools, a beautiful canyon with large waterfalls, and a lot of wild life. From Yellowstone travel east to Cody, Wyoming, a good example of a small western town, with a not to be missed museum (the Buffalo Bill Historical Center), a smaller unique museum (Old Trail Town), and a nightly rodeo. Then head through South Dakota. Visit Deadwood, South Dakota. It is a very historic town where lots of famous early western people spent time. The old buildings have now been turned into gamboling casinos, but the history has not been lost. There are small museums, and old graveyard, and historic signs around town. Deadwood is a small town that lies in a pretty, valley. If you want an excellent, but somewhat expensive meal, eat in Kevin Costner’s restaurant, Jakes, which is located in Costner’s Midnight Star Casino in Deadwood. You could drop down a little south to visit Mt. Rushmore, and Jewel Cave National Monument. If you want to visit a really out of the way place with a lot of interesting history and located by Lake Superior, the largest fresh water lake in the world, take a detour from your more direct W-E route and go to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This area is located in the northern most part of the state, and actually lies above the state of Wisconsin. Although a little visited location, there is a large area here that has been designated a National Historic Area, centered around the time when this area was a booming Copper Producing area. Today this area is wooded, filled with small towns, and beautiful views of the lake. Various museums will tell you about the copper era. Visit Copper Harbor, Houghton, and Calumet to explore this history. You can choose one of these towns and then drive to the various sites in the others. Then move east and visit Marquette, Michigan. Here you will find beautiful sand beaches along Lake Superior. Next travel to Munising, where you should take the boat ride along the Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore. From there head for D.C., then onto NY.

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  • KimberlyAnn's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by KimberlyAnn Online Now Nov 10, 2008 at 1:25 PM

    Oops! I misread your question and thought you were going to be out longer. There is no way that you can travel across our country in 2 1/2 weeks. I would stick with California only, and use my suggestions for that---up to Monterey and/or San Francisco, over to Yosemite, if time back down to San Diego, and maybe fly out of San Diego. Otherwise I would say you would have to do a lot of flying to see more that that. You would have to take a look a a couple of interesting places in CA, then fly to Salt Lake City, drive up to Yellowstone, Drive down to Cody, then fly to DC, then drive to New York, and to be honest I don't even think you could get all of this into your time frame.

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  • Camping_Girl's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Camping_Girl Online Now Nov 10, 2008 at 6:22 PM

    I really, really hope that you are planning on going from Vegas to SLC via the Grand Canyon! I can't stress enough how unbelievable the Grand Canyon is and you will be so close from Vegas!

    The only other thought I have is that driving thru Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana and Ohio..... that's a LOT of pretty bland territory. I definitely wouldn't want to spend a third of my vacation on that. (Now, I'm sure some local Nebraskans, Iowans, etc are going to come out of the woodwork and jump me.) Might I suggest continuing east from Wyoming into southern South Dakota to see the Black Hills before you start working your way south east into Iowa? Mount Rushmore in South Dakota is really something to see, and so is the Needles Highway that leads to Mt Rushmore.

    More food for thought!

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  • Fanniemae's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by Fanniemae Online Now Nov 10, 2008 at 6:24 PM

    I think the drive from L.A. to Las Vegas, up to Salt Lake City, then up through southern Idaho, over to Wyoming (I'm presuming you're looking at hitting Yellowstone), then to Nebraska, Iowa, Penn and etc...is a pretty okay drive. I would suggest that rather than go through Nebraska, head south through Colorado from Wyoming, and then hit a bit of Kansas. Unfortunately, Kansas and Nebraska are about the same...so...hmm...maybe hit South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore (from Wyoming you'll be doing..I-90 I believe (which is off the top of my head, so don't quote me)), then hitting Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, then through New York. The only state you'd be missing would be Nebraska, but once you're out of the midwest states, you'll be hitting more towns on a regular basis. Remember...the states out west are very vast and open, so it can be a very long and monotonous drive. (Trust me, I lived out there...lol I remember quite well!) Look at a week (minimum) for the driving from California through until you get to about Iowa.

    Another suggestion I could make to you, is when you get to New York state, to drive over through Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, then down through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...which from there you can take I-95 back in to NYC. Hitting all six states in New England can take you one day's drive, however, to make it easy, you could do it in 2 days.

    Let me know if you would like more information. I still think heading west to east is the better idea. The longest part of your drive is the western states! Don't hesitate to email for more help and suggestions! :)

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  • atufft's Profile Photo

    Re: suggested routes for driving USA coast to coast

    by atufft Online Now Nov 10, 2008 at 8:55 PM

    Gary, based on your plans, and the ideas of others, particulary KimberlyAnne, I recommend the following route. If you study the geography and culture of California, even from a distance, you'll need to see more than LA. In fact, I agree that San Francisco remains the most fascinating city on the West Coast, if not the entire USA. So, SF through to Monterey by way of I-280 and Hwy 17 in the Santa Cruz (coastal redwood) Mountains, then follow Hwy 1 to LA (3-4 days). LA to Las Vegas, then go to Grand Canyon, and then take I-40 to Santa Fe. From there take smaller highways, but basically figure a circuit that goes through Chaco Culture National Hist. Park, Mesa Verde N.P, town of Moab, and Arches N.P. until you arrive at the junction of US 191 and I-70. This can be done in 3 days, and might be the best part of the trip for you. Then go east through Grand Junction, Glen Canyon, and the ski resort towns of Aspen, etc. to arrive in Denver (1/2 day). Check out Denver's 16th Street mall and bridges over the Platt river at night. From there, the challenge is how to get across the great midwestern states that are generally not to interesting. To save time go directly across Kansas, with a quick stop in Hays (see my tips on this and western Kansas) to Kansas City and St. Louis, the two most interesting big cities in the midwest by far. You can also go north on I-25 to Cheyenne, and then route yourself through the Big Horn mountains, to the Custer Battlefield, and through the Black Hills to see Mt. Rushmore. But the northern routes of the Dakotas are the least interesting, least cultured (except for the Native Americans) part of the USA in my opinion. Even Nebraska and Kansas have more to offer. Avoid also Northern Texas and Oklahoma for lack of either scenery or culture. In any case, the midwest 500 miles or so is amazing for it's breadth, so get through it. From St. Louis, I recommend routing south. I don't find Illinois (except for Chicago) or Indiana, or even Ohio, very interesting. These are simply more populated midwestern states. Ohio has many things to see, but it a tough nut to crack on this quick trip. Rather take either I-64 through Louisville, Lexington, Charleston WV, and Richmond, VA or with more time swing further south through Memphis, Nashville, Chatanooga, through to Charleston, SC. After reaching the Atlantic, route north to New York and Boston. Hope this helps...

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