10 Must See Stops On A Cross Country Trip

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Spanning nearly 3,000 miles from coast to coast, exploring the wonders of the US can quickly become an overwhelming adventure. A journey through the country’s 63 national parks alone could fill a multi-week road trip itinerary, but doing so would mean forfeiting time in the unique metropolitan cities and quirky small towns that are littered across the nation.




Whether planning zigzagging scenic roads trip that are all about the journey than the destination or a more focused one-road route, these top stops consistently make every list on a cross-country trip. Balancing a bit of natural beauty, unique history, and bustling downtown streets, these must-see cross-country stops in the US are always worth the detour.

Struggling to plan the perfect road trip? Each must-see cross-country road trip stop includes road trip suggestions with a basic route outline that includes the stop mentioned, ensuring that all travelers can plan their perfect cross-country adventure.

Related: 10 Tips For Minimalist Packing Before Taking A Road Trip


10 Best Northwestern Road Trip Stop: Astoria, Oregon

A breathtaking panoramic view of Astoria, Oregon
Photo by Eric Lee on Unsplash

A breathtaking panoramic view of Astoria, Oregon


The Northwest corner of the US is a unique blend of landscapes, with rugged backcountry, deep canyons, and thorny shrubs filling the eastern part of the region and towering evergreens, granite mountains, and rocky coastline dominating the west. Many road trips through this region include Olympic National Park, the San Juan Islands, and Portland, Oregon.

For those looking for a less crowded cross-country stop that offers the same beautiful views and city vibe, Astoria, Oregon is a must. Astoria is unique because it is settled along the Columbia River, perfect for rafting, tubing, and swimming, but also near the Pacific Ocean, which offers unbeatable hiking and scenic viewing opportunities.

  • Reasons to Stop in Astoria, Oregon: Columbia River, Astoria Column, Oregon Film Museum, Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon Film Festival, Flavel House Museum, Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria Riverfront Trolley, Astoria-Megler Bridge, Astoria Sunday Market


  • Pacific Coast Road Trip (Washington to California): Seattle, Washington→Astoria, Oregon→Crescent City, California→San Francisco, California→Santa Barbara, California→San Diego, California
  • Columbia River Highway Road Trip: Astoria→Multnomah Falls→Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum→Pendleton

9 Best West Coast Road Trip Stop: San Francisco, California

The Bay Bridge in San Francisco
Photo by Ilja Mašík on Dreamstime
 

Spectacular View of San Francisco Showing the Illuminated Bay Bridge at Sunset

Narrowing down what part of California to include in any kind of adventure can be a challenge, given the huge variety of scenery to explore in the Golden State. Given its location right along the coast and at the juncture of multiple major routes, San Francisco is the perfect launching point for any cross-country adventure.


San Francisco blends some of travelers’ favorite things about California, including ocean views, rugged hiking trails in and around San Francisco, and a truly one-of-a-kind city experience. With so much to do and such easy access to the open road, San Francisco is one of the best stops on a cross-country road trip.

  • Reasons to Stop in San Francisco, California: Hiking Trails, Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Union Square, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park

  • I-80 Cross-Country Road Trip: San Francisco, California→Reno, Nevada→Salt Lake City, Utah→Denver, Colorado→Omaha, Nebraska→Des Moine, Iowa→Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio→Teaneck, New Jersey
  • Pacific Coast Highway 1 Road Trip (California): Crescent City, California→San Francisco, California→Santa Barbara, California→San Diego, California
  • Pacific Coast Road Trip (Washington to California): Seattle, Washington→Astoria, Oregon→Crescent City, California→San Francisco, California→Santa Barbara, California→San Diego, California


8 Best Southwestern Road Trip Stop: Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon, Arizona
Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

Sunset over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA

It’s hard to consider a cross-country adventure through the red rock paradise of the southwest US that doesn’t include views of the largest canyon in the United States. The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic natural formations in the US, and there are plenty of ways for even the most casual visitor to enjoy the views.

Simple drive-up points, hiking trails of varying difficulties, and even a few helicopter tours ensure that everyone can enjoy this must-see southwest stop.


  • American Southwest Road Trip: Albuquerque, New Mexico→Las Cruces, New Mexico→Tuscan, Arizona→Phoenix, Arizona→Grand Canyon, Arizona→Las Vegas, Nevada→Salt Lake City, Utah→Reno, Nevada

While the Grand Canyon is not directly along Historic Route 66, it is a popular 50-mile detour from Williams, Arizona on this interstate road trip, which is considered one of the
best stops on a Route 66 road trip
.

Related: 10 Deepest Canyons In The United States (& None Are The Grand Canyon)

7 Best Rocky Mountains Road Trip Stop: Denver, Colorado

Denver Colorado skyline at sunset
Photo by Acton Crawford on Unsplash

Denver Colorado skyline at sunset


The Mile High City, Denver is the ultimate Rocky Mountain Stop for outdoor adventurers and downtown explorers alike. There are tons of things to do in Denver as a city, as it boasts a number of walkable boutique-lined streets and high-end eateries for those looking to enjoy the big-city feel.

Outdoorsy cross-country travelers will love Denver’s soothing hot springs (which are some of the best hot springs in Colorado overall), numerous hiking trails, and kayaking options right around the city, ensuring that even the most cramped road trip legs will get plenty of time to stretch.

  • Reasons to Stop in Denver, Colorado: Hot Springs, Hiking Trails, Confluence Park, Denver Art Museum, Breweries and Distilleries, Meow Wolf


  • I-80 Cross-Country Road Trip: San Francisco, California→Reno, Nevada→Salt Lake City, Utah→Denver, Colorado→Omaha, Nebraska→Des Moines, Iowa→Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio→Teaneck, New Jersey
  • Denver to Las Vegas Road Trip: Denver, Colorado→Vail, Colorado→Arches National Park, Utah→Zion National Park, Utah→Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada→Las Vegas, Nevada
  • New York to Las Vegas Cross-Country Road Trip: New York City→Chicago, Illinois→Omaha, Nebraska→Denver, Colorado→Salt Lake City, Utah→Las Vegas, Nevada

6 Best Great Plains Road Trip Stop: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Shutterstock

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The only national park named after a person, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is responsible for the national park system as it exists today. The beauty of the Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park may feel a bit understated compared to heavy-hitters like Glacier National Park just one state over, but the rolling fields and herds of bison are a must for any cross-country travel itinerary.


Theodore Roosevelt National Park is among the most beautiful cross country road trip stops for some unique wildlife viewing, with bison, elk, deer, and prairie dogs dominating the grassy fields of this historic park.

  • Dakotas National Parks Road Trip: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota→Badlands National Park, South Dakota→Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
  • Route 2 – The Northern Road Trip: Olympic National Park, Washington→Glacier National Park→Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota→Ottawa, Canada→Acadia National Park, Maine

5 Best Midwest Road Trip Stop: Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island, United States
Lynnanderson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

View of Mackinac Island, United States


Mackinac Island sits on Lake Huron in Michigan, and while it is a must-see stop for any kind of trip, including it on a cross-country adventure is going to take some dedication. Cars are not allowed on Mackinac Island, so the only way to include this stop is by taking the scenic ferry ride.

Once on the island, visitors can enjoy hiking and biking around the island, wandering through the town, or enjoying the wide variety of water activities that the Great Lakes have to offer.

  • Reasons to Stop at Mackinac Island, Michigan: Scenic Ferry Ride, Biking, Hiking Trails, Colonial Fort Michilimackinac, Mackinac Bridge, Lake Huron

  • Route 2 – The Northern Road Trip: Olympic National Park, Washington→Glacier National Park→Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota→Mackinac Island, Michigan→Acadia National Park, Maine

Related: Open Water: 11 Most Beautiful Ferry Rides You Can Take In The U.S.


4 Best Southern Road Trip Stop: New Orleans, Louisiana

Pubs and bars in the French Quarter at night, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Shutterstock

Pubs and bars in the French Quarter at night, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

From Jazz Clubs to Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana is the epitome of a lively road trip stop. There is no shortage of things to do in New Orleans, so much so that the hardest part of including this stop on a cross-country journey might be leaving the city behind.

Depending on the time of year, a stop in New Orleans means enjoying the Mardi Gras Festival, French Quarter Festival, or Jazz & Heritage Festival. Even when the streets aren’t filled with the festival of the day, New Orleans still offers unique museums, restaurants, and guided tours.


  • Reasons to Stop in New Orleans, Louisiana: Mardi Gras Festival, French Quarter Festival, Jazz & Heritage Festival, Museum of Art, The Audubon Nature Institute, The Garden District, Frenchmen Street

  • Dallas to New Orleans Road Trip: Dallas, Texas→Tyler, Texas→Lafayette, Louisiana→Baton Rouge, Louisiana→New Orleans, Louisiana

3 Best Gulf Coast Road Trip Stop: Florida Keys, Florida

Overseas highway to Key West island, Florida Keys, USA
Mia2you / Shutterstock

Overseas highway to Key West island, Florida Keys, USA

The Florida Keys are one of the most quintessentially Gulf Coast experiences there are. While millions of travelers make their way to Florida for the theme parks and Everglades airboat rides, there is nothing quite like the sandy shores of the Florida Keys.


The Florida Keys offer a great snapshot of the sunshine state, with miles of warm beaches and clear waters, protected wildlife preserves, The Overseas Scenic Highway, and access to the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. Regardless of the route, the Florida Keys are a must-see for any cross-country traveler looking for some sunshine.

  • Reasons to Stop in The Florida Keys, Florida: Overseas Highway, Dry Tortugas National Park, Key Largo, Snorkeling, Wildlife Viewing

  • Florida Keys Road Trip (Overseas Highway): Miami→Key Largo→Key West→Dry Tortugas National Park (Ferry Ride)


2 Best Mid-Atlantic Road Trip Stop: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Aerial View of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

A beautiful aerial view of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

For a perfect snapshot of history and enough tours to fill a whole vacation, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania is a must for any east-coast trip.

Attractions covering the history of the US, like the Museum of the American Revolution and iconic Liberty Bell, pair perfectly with family-friendly stops like the Philadelphia Zoo to create a well-rounded stop for any cross-country journey.

  • Boston to Myrtle Beach Road Trip: Boston, Massachusetts→Hartford, Connecticut→New York City, New York→Philadelphia, Pennsylvania→Richmond, Virginia→Myrtle Beach, South Carolina


1 Best New England Road Trip Stop: Acadia National Park, Maine

View from North Bubble, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA
Shutterstock

View from North Bubble, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA

The New England region is a popular start or end point for many cross-country road trips, and a quick look around makes it clear why.

Acadia National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the US. There are some many amazing things to do in Acadia; it offers a wide variety of activities, including some of the best hikes in the US and scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean all in one stop.

  • Reasons to Stop at Acadia National Park, Maine:Scenic Hiking Trails in Acadia, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain, Scenic Drives


  • Route 2 – The Northern Road Trip: Olympic National Park, Washington→Glacier National Park→Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota→Ottawa, Canada→Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Boston to Acadia National Park Road Trip: Boston, Massachusetts→Salem, Massachusetts→Portsmouth, Maine→Augusta, Maine→Acadia National Park

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