Driving cross country: road trip routes

Road trip across America

Road trips symbolize adventure, family time and freedom, but they haven’t always been viewed as an ideal vacation. While people have been taking long journeys for ages, the modern road trip didn’t become popular until after World War II when cars were more affordable, the highway system was expanding and the rise of hotels and restaurants made long trips more convenient.

Whether you’re hitting the road for a family vacation, to see the sights or because you’re moving across the country, figuring out the best route can be tricky. Depending on what you want — big cities, roadside attractions, the fastest route — the options are endless. Check out this graphic to see the best cross country road trip routes by season, travel time, attractions and more. 

You may also be interested in this Cross Country Moving Guide.

The best routes for a cross country road trip

If you’ve got Google Maps pulled up and are overwhelmed by the different routes, this visual can help.

Wide open road on a cross country road trip.


Mapping out the American road trip

As you plan the route, consider where you’re starting and the final destination. And since any of the cross country routes above can be picked up along the way, you don’t have to follow them from start to finish.

Once you know which routes are viable options, think about what makes the best route for your family — speed or sightseeing.

The fastest routes for driving across country

For the family that’s less “stop and smell the roses” and more “get there as fast as we can,” look for shorter, more direct routes. There are major landmarks and attractions on just about every road, so going faster doesn’t mean missing out on fun. For example, Interstate 10 (the southernmost route on the map above), is the shortest cross country drive at 2,460 miles, but it still goes near interesting places such as Saguaro National Park in Arizona and the Lunar Lander Exhibit in Mississippi. And keep in mind that interstates and U.S. routes may make for different driving experiences. Interstates tend to have higher speed limits and faster traffic, but they may bypass major attractions, meaning you’ll have to go a little out of the way to stop.

The best routes for sightseeing

Because there are amazing things to see across the entire United States, the best route really depends on what you want to see. Sports lovers may prefer I-90, where they can visit four sports halls of fame and 20 professional stadiums. Outdoor lovers might enjoy a trek down Route 66, which will take them through Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon National Parks. I-70 is best for anyone seeking weird attractions as it passes the largest ball of twine in Cawker City, KS and the world’s largest easel in Goodland, KS.

The best routes depending on the season

Always consider weather when planning a route. The farther north you go during winter, snow and ice (and even road closures) could impact the trip. Northern routes like Route 2 and I-90 are best during the summer.

On the other hand, southern trips like Route 70 and I-10 would be best in the fall or winter when temperatures are more comfortable than the scorching 100-degree days you may encounter during summer.

During fall and spring, routes like I-80 and Route 50 are ideal since the weather will be great and the foliage will be beautiful.

Cross country trip tips

No matter which driving route you choose, these tips will help you have the best trip possible:

  • Plan ahead, but be flexible. Research the route and create an itinerary, but be flexible so you can add in stops and rest when needed.
  • Check the weather and road conditions. During the journey, make sure to check traffic, road conditions and weather and adjust if necessary.
  • Have essential travel equipment on hand. Depending on your car and the route, equipment such as snow chains, a spare tire, road flares, flashlights and backup food and water may be necessary.
  • Have a plan for breakdowns. Having a roadside assistance number or contingency plan is helpful in case of emergency.

Suggested reading: The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Road Trip

Ready to travel cross country?

Whether you’re traveling with family, friends or by yourself, the memories made on a cross country road trip last a lifetime. Let us know where you’re traveling in the comments!

Looking for additional routes? We’ve mapped out some common trips: