Having done several long cross-country drives before, I had solid experience with planning these types of drives. Need help with how to plan your cross-country road trip in the United States? We’ve got you covered with all the details you’ll need to know. Below, I share my real two-week itinerary for what ended up being an epic United States road trip.
I had budgeted 14 days for my trip, but only ended up using 11 days to make the journey across 18 states. Had I been an even more experienced road tripper at the time, I likely would have ended up adding a few more stops along the way and using 13 or all 14 days for the trip.
The following travelogue should give you an idea of how to construct your own itinerary and what to expect along the way. Enjoy!
Monday, May 1
Boston, MA > Fishkill, NY (190 miles/3.5 hours)
Fishkill, NY was a random stop for the first night of the road trip. I didn’t hit the road until about 5:30pm, and as such, only drove three-and-a-half hours on the first day. Fishkill, with a population just over 2,000 people, is a small town that’s situated about five miles east of the Hudson River and Interstate 87 along Interstate 84.
I planned to stay in Columbus, Ohio with friends on Tuesday night, which meant I would have a long day of driving to make up for the lost ground on Day 1.
Tuesday, May 2
Fishkill, NY > Pittsburgh, PA (383 miles/6:15 Drive Time)
Pittsburgh > Columbus, OH (182 miles/3:00 Drive Time)
On day two, I wanted to stop in Pittsburgh, PA, as I had yet to visit the city. With an early departure from Fishkill, I spent a long morning and afternoon barreling across the large state of Pennsylvania. I made my Pittsburgh pit stop at the West End Overlook, which gives a fantastic view of the city.
From there, it was three hours west on Interstate 70, briefly passing through West Virginia en route to Columbus, Ohio where I stayed with friends for the night.
Wednesday, May 3
Columbus > Cincinnati (110 miles/1:45 Drive Time)
Cincinnati > Louisville, KY (100 miles/1:35 Drive Time)
Louisville > Chicago (300 miles/5:00 Drive Time)
For Day 3, I made a few different stops, and made little progress west. I met family for lunch in downtown Cincinnati, and explored the city for a bit. That afternoon I checked out The Banks park area of Cincinnati and The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge that connects Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, KY.
From Cincinnati, I took a detour to Louisville, Kentucky to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and grab a bottle of bourbon for the end of my trip. Then it was on to one of my favorite cities: Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, May 4
Chicago > Kansas City (510 miles/8:00 Drive Time)
With eyes on Dallas as my next major stop, Kansas City seemed like an ideal stop. So I slept in until the late morning, and then pushed on to K.C.
With a full 500-mile day of driving ahead of me, I didn’t make any extended stops outside of food and gas.
TIP: I didn’t get time to explore Kansas City on this trip, but we’ve got plenty of Kansas City Day Trip ideas for you here on Amazing America.
Friday, May 5
Kansas City > Wichita (200 miles/3:00 Drive Time)
Wichita > Dallas (370 miles/5:30 Drive Time)
With plans to meet up with friends in Dallas for a night on the town in Deep Ellum, I got an early start on the road and found myself in Wichita for lunch. I took the opportunity to check out the Keeper of the Plains monument along the Arkansas River and grab some barbecue downtown.
Saturday, May 6
Dallas > El Paso (635 miles/9:00 Drive Time)
After a fun night exploring Dallas, I didn’t have a firm plan on where I was heading next, but I knew I wanted to see White Sands National Park (even though it hadn’t yet been designated a National Park at the time). While I had originally considered adding Big Bend National Park to the itinerary, I knew that heading for that remote area of Texas would add at least an extra day—and likely two—to my trip, and instead I decided to buckle up for a long haul to El Paso, putting me within easy striking distance of White Sands.
The drive across West Texas is long and monotonous; if you drive the state at its widest points from east to west across Interstate 10 from Orange to San Antonio to El Paso, it’s well over 850 miles and 12 hours.
My drive from Dallas to El Paso was about 635 miles and about nine hours. It was late and dark when I pulled into my hotel in El Paso, and I was relieved to be off the road after a long day on Interstate 20 with just a meal and gas stop in Odessa, TX.
Sunday, May 7
El Paso > White Sands NP (100 miles/1:30 Drive Time)
White Sands NP > Truth or Consequences, NM (125 miles/2:00 Drive Time)
Truth or Consequences, NM > Scottsdale, AZ (415 miles/6:00 Drive Time)
White Sands was among the best stops I made on the trip. The park was relatively empty on a Sunday morning and was pretty amazing to explore with my Nikon. You really do get the feeling of being on another planet while exploring the dunes here, which was a welcome experience after days of grinding on the interstates. I also knew I was closing in on my destination as I hit the desert.
From White Sands, I went north up I-25 to stop in on the legendary resort town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I always thought it was the coolest location name in the United States and wanted to see what it was all about. Truth or Consequences is a tiny resort town originally named Hot Springs, New Mexico, but the town was renamed in 1950 after a popular radio show.
Truth or Consequences features several artsy antique stores, gift shops, cafes, and a few breweries along Broadway Street, much as you’d expect from a resort town.
I stopped in for lunch and wandered the area Elephant Butte State Park along the Rio Grande before continuing to my last stop before Las Vegas—Scottsdale, Arizona to meet a friend for dinner.
Monday, May 8
Scottsdale – Kanab, Utah (435 miles /8:00 Drive Time)
From Scottsdale, I made my way north into the Arizona mountains to see a few of the state’s most breathtaking attractions. You might associate Arizona with desert and cacti, but I’d argue that you’ve got to head into the mountains to see the best the state has to offer. About two hours north of Phoenix is Sedona, known for its red rock mesas and legendary spiritual vortexes. Sedona is among the country’s best resort towns, popular with yoga enthusiasts and photographers alike. There’s no shortage of spots to stop in for souvenirs or lunch either.
Having been to Sedona many times, I only stopped for lunch and a few photos on this trip. From Sedona, I moved up north into the higher elevations, passing through Flagstaff en route to Grand Canyon National Park. On this trip, I wasn’t prepared to hike the Canyon, but instead just wanted to stop in, take in the views from the South Rim, and continue the trek. Certainly, if you have the time, the Grand Canyon is worthy of a day or more. Having already hiked the Grand Canyon before, I only spent about 45 minutes on this trip taking in the majestic views that must be seen to be believed, even though I’d seen them before.
The Colorado River is impressive, but perhaps the best view of the Colorado to be had is in Page, Arizona, which sits just south of the Utah border. Just 10 years ago, Horseshoe Bend was a spot known mostly to photographers and locals, but the Instagram era has overwhelmed this spot. It’s still absolutely worth the visit, but expect large crowds here any day of the week, assembling from well before sunrise up through sunset and blue hour.
Nearby Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon are also must-sees if you’re going to swing through Page, but in either case you’ll have to plan to experience them. I booked a tour for Antelope Canyon (and this is basically mandatory, as it sits on native lands and daily tours sell out in advance), but I got lucky and was able to sneak on a boat tour of Lake Powell the same day.
After spending most of the day in Page, I hit the road for Kanab, Utah. Along the way sits perhaps one of the most underrated spots in the region. The Toadstool Hoodoos are a relatively undersubscribed attraction off the side of Route 89. At first glance, it appears to be just a roadside pull-off, but after about 45 minutes of hiking, you’ll find yourself among a fantastic landscape of hoodoos in relative silence. The last time I was here, I basically had the place to myself for most of my visit. If you’re in the area, it’s worth the visit.
Tuesday, May 9
Kanab, UT to Springdale, UT (68 miles/2:00 Drive Time)
Kanab is a popular tourist town, especially for visitors to Zion National Park. On this day, I had two goals: check out the legendary pink Sand Dunes and explore Zion National Park.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is quite spectacular in person, and while, yeah, it’s just a large sand dune, the pink colored sand gives it an other-worldly mystique. This was another relatively quiet location, but it’s one of Utah’s many spectacular State Parks.
As for Zion National Park, it’s among the country’s most popular National Parks thanks to its proximity to Las Vegas and unrivaled attractions like The Narrows and Angels Landing. In recent years, Zion has moved to a reservation system during peak season, as overcrowding has reached massive proportions. You’ll have to plan ahead and get there very early to get into the park. Expect large crowds in all parts of the park.
You could try visiting in shoulder season when crowds thin. For the more adventurous and experienced, a winter trip to Zion can be magical; Zion draped in snow is truly breathtaking.
After a day exploring Zion, I stayed in nearby Springdale, Utah which plays host to Zion tourists year-round.
Wednesday, May 10
Springdale, Utah > Las Vegas, NV (190 miles/3:00 Drive Time)
The next major stop of the trip was set for Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, which is straight shot south on Interstate 15 from Zion. While there’s a few attractions along that drive, the best stop is one of the most incredible State Parks in the US. Valley of Fire State Park is adjacent to Lake Mead in the Moapa Valley, and, while you can’t see it from the interstate, the detour here is non-negotiable. Having traveled the United States extensively, I can confidently say that Valley of Fire is one of my favorite places in the entire nation.
Having lived in the Las Vegas area for a few years, Valley of Fire was a regular stop for me, and when friends came to town with more than a day or two to see Vegas, I always brought them to this park, and they were always blown away by its raw beauty. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is much better known among tourists and locals alike, but Valley of Fire is more diverse and simply more impressive.
If you only have time for one hike at the Valley of Fire, the Fire Wave hike is your best bet. Despite little elevation gain, it’s still a rugged hike thanks to uneven terrain and unfettered sun exposure with few shelter spots. Especially in the spring and summer, be sure to bring plenty of water and sunblock along.
Even if you don’t have time for a hike in the Valley of Fire, a windshield tour is almost as good.
After the Valley of Fire, it was on to Las Vegas. As you already know, there’s a million things to do in Las Vegas, and even if gambling and nightlife aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of great day trips from Las Vegas.
We’ll leave the comprehensive Vegas guide for another time, but here’s a few quick tips for enjoying Las Vegas: First, bring comfortable shoes, as you’ll be walking between casinos and everything is much further away than it appears. Do your best to stay hydrated; you’ll thank us later. When picking where to stay, consider its location on the strip (center strip makes things easier) and amenities more than the room itself. After all, you probably won’t spend that much time in the actual room, right?
Thursday, May 11
Las Vegas > Los Angeles (359 miles/6:30 Drive Time)
The drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, under optimal conditions, typically takes about four hours if you stick to Interstate 15 and it’s not a Sunday. I took a little different route this time, opting to hit one of my favorite National Parks along the way.
Before leaving Nevada, I made an early morning stop at a now-famous art installation in the desert called Seven Magic Mountains. This place has become popular with locals and tourists alike, and its generally busy all day long, but it’s an easy stop of I-15 and makes for perfect Instagram fodder.
After that, it was on to the Kelso Dunes, 45 square miles of aeolian sand deposits seated in the southern base of the Mojave National Preserve. Hiking the dunes is fun, but arduous, and in the summertime, it’s not recommended, as temperatures can soar up toward 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This was my third sand dunes location of the trip, however, they’re all unique and stunning in person.
The main event on this final day of driving would be Joshua Tree National Park, a place that’s scenic year-round, and even gets the occasional winter snow drift if conditions allow. The park’s giant boulders and iconic namesake trees cut stark visuals across the horizon at all hours, but can be especially dramatic at sunset.
After watching the sun set in the park, it was time to hit the highway again, eventually picking up Interstate 10 westbound for Santa Monica, passing by the windmills of Palm Springs and through the mountains. The Pacific Ocean was finally within reach, and my epic drive was winding down.
My oceanfront hotel was a welcome sight when I finally arrived in Santa Monica, with just one last stop in the morning: Santa Monica Pier, the end of Route 66 and my epic trip.