By: David Reichman
Going on a Cross Country Road Trip excites most Road Trip Planners because there's something about the open road that beckons, promising freedom, or at least a taste of it. Finding the balance between hitting as many states as possible and "enjoying the ride" can be somewhat relative, to be sure, but even with a cross country objective, quality still trumps quantity... best to see less at a leisurely pace than to see more in a blur from the highway.
How much time you set aside for this trip greatly impacts the total mileage you'll put on the odometer, as does the number of people in your car. Couples can drive further than families because children just get too antsy to sit still for long periods of time (DVDs & iPods notwithstanding). A group of friends can probably cover the most distance because they can drive through the night and switch drivers every four hours while others sleep (& save on hotel costs to boot).
Okay...now to the TOP 5 CROSS COUNTRY ROAD TRIPS that every Road Trip Planner should try, David Letterman style:
#5 - THE GREAT RIVER ROAD (10 states - 2300 miles): American travelers do so love nostalgia and meandering alongside the great Mississippi River from bow to stern in a manner reminiscent of Mark Twain's riverboat days gets many road trip planners excited about all the possibilities. What's fun is skirting along the edges of two states to follow the river. The Mississippi River is much more romanticized than the Missouri River, which is actually the longest river in the U.S. Your route could be considerably shorter (1500 miles) if you took the more direct route between the headwaters and the mouth...you decide just how closely you want to follow the river. Just make sure you don't miss experiencing the Mississippi River from a riverboat.
#4 - SOUTHERN COMFORTS (8 states - 3000 miles): This cross country road trip allows road trip planners to blend in variety and spice to their trip! Here's where you'll experience the good ol' southern hospitality in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, the Cajun flavors of Louisiana, get a taste of the Texas BBQ, the southwestern spices found in New Mexico, Arizona and the laid back atmosphere of southern California. US-80 will take you through the bulk of this trip which offers more varied cultural experiences than you're likely to get in any other U.S. cross country trip. And the variety is not limited to the cultural differences from town to town but the surrounding landscape which rolls from one type of terrain into another. You start (or end) at the vast stretches of beach at San Diego, travel past a cacti strewn southwestern desert, cruise through seemingly endless plains and into the Deep South cotton lands and plantations. While some travelers are drawn to the green and serene found in a Northern cross-country road trip, many others revel in the South's variegated russet-colored landscapes and straight highways stretching before them like the backbone of America disappearing into the horizon in a purple haze.
#3 - THE OREGON TRAIL (11 states - 3200 miles): This road trip is for road trip planners who want to go the distance while traveling a goodly portion along a historic route. You start (or end) out from the wild Oregon coastline, travel through increasingly diverse terrain, to - and through - dense urban populations and finish by the serene waters of Cape Cod. The Oregon Trail is known best as the migration trail pioneers embarked upon when America was young. Of course, you're not traveling by wagon train so you don't need to set aside four to six months just to traverse the 2,000 mile section they followed (Missouri-Kansas-Nebraska-Wyoming-Idaho-Oregon). In fact, you could comfortably do this road trip in less than 3 weeks (if you rent a car & fly back). The main route you'll follow here is US-20 where you get to hit some truly gorgeous places like Niagara Falls and Yellowstone Park.
#2 - THE PACIFIC COAST ROAD TRIP (3 states - 1500 miles): Even though you're traveling through only three states, you'll be cruising the length of the West Coast from Olympia, Washington in the North, through Oregon and to San Ysidro, California, right near the Mexican Border on the South. Check out Things To Do Along The California Coastline for tips from a long-time Californian (California comprises the bulk of this Road Trip). A good Road Trip Planner can create a kaleidoscope of experiences along this route as it takes you from primitive forests, secluded hideaways, historic towns to major cities with the latest innovations, always flanked by a stunning coastline holding beaches and beach-lovers of every shape and size. Called Star Route 1, more known as Highway 1, with the California stretch called the Pacific Coast Highway, it is mesmerizing.
And the #1 CROSS COUNTRY ROAD TRIP OF ALL TIME? (8 states - 2500 miles): The mother of all highways, the most romanticized, most sung about, most appearances in a movie highway...drum roll please...ROUTE 66! It's so popular that a Google Search for "Route 66" yields more than 6 ½ million results! Covering eight states from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, it is the #1 recognized Road Trip and well worth any road tripper's attention.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your Road Trip Planner and start your engine! The open road awaits!