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Arlington (Virginia)

Jason from Arlington (Virginia) asked

USA cross country road trip

I want to do a cross country road trip starting from Washington, DC to California and back.  I was thinking about taking a southern route on the way out west and then a northern route on the way back.  Some places I want to hit are:

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Grand Canyon
  • Portland, OR
  • Moab Valley, UT
  • Chicago, IL
  • Nashville, TN

Any recommendations or tips?  Any other must see places? 

United States   Washington, DC (District of Columbia)   Yosemite National Park (California)   Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)   Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)   Portland (Oregon)   Moab (Utah)   Canyonlands National Park (Utah)   Chicago (Illinois)   Nashville (Tennessee)

9 Answers
top answer by
Zach from Perth

Some tips i wrote out for a buddy that will apply to you to:


Basic Ideas/thoughts/feelings


i like your route, its seems like you have a good urban mix in there which suites you well.  My preference might be more remote and wild but  you will get plenty of that as well.  I would just go on your route, meet people, get ideas from them and take some side trips based on what you feel.  I have been really lazy with videos and blogs on living out of a car and travelling but here are a few tips i have learned after years- a decade?- doing this: 


- get the annual national park pass- if you go to 4 or more parks, its worth it.  just ask for it at the first park


-leave your front seat open-  for easy access for any hitchhikers you see.  always pick up female hitchhikers and most males as long as they are just some homeless guy, even then- pick em up.  the stories are excellent.  


-always have a few beers or a case in the back of your car- to share at campsites when you wonder over to someones campfire.  i prefer something more obscure like ginger beer or weird beers like lionshead


-a instrument if you know how to play it.


-Food: i use alot of canned goods and grains that just need to add boiling water to.  Couscous is good- curried cashew style.  long life milk and cereal is great- my favorite is canned coconut milk.  it will be cool enough you can get away with perishable foods for a few days (butter,veggies,salads,milk,etc).  bring plenty of eggs, they are like a canvas on which you create masterpiece meals.  chips and salsa rock.  salt and pepper can make anything taste good.


fishing rod- you never know when you can just pull off the road and throw a line in.


-retrofit your car so you  can sleep in it.  this is so handy when you get somewhere and its pouring rain or you rock up in a city with no where to stay.  you can slip into the back and park it on the steet somewhere.  i've done this at least 50 times in the last 5 years.  San Fran, Sydney, Melbourne, Phoenix, Vegas, Perth (like 40 times). 


LA- you can stay with at my brother place in culver city- he can point you to some cool places-  he lives about 4 miles from venice and santa monica beaches-  you can just cruze down there on by bike.  i love the beach culture there- some real wackos.  much different than australia beaches.


grow the beard-  this has paid dividends for me on the road (not so much in greater society though)


go off road when possible- i got two flat tires at the same time in the rental while trying to do this in tassie.  i had to walk out to someones house and hitch a ride to town 50 km.


keep notes everyday.  i still look at mine on occasion to reminisce about the good old days.


look at a paper map, bring a paper map.  if it looks cool on the map, go check it out.  my dad has AAA motor club so he can get all the paper maps for free and guide books free.



Trip ideas and thoughts


It will be april/may so there will still be snow in the high country. 


-Not sure about Albuquerque as time may be better spent elsewhere.  i have not been there so i dont really know.  ive heard Santa Fe (New Mexico) is cool.  and check out Taos just north of sante fe.  i think it is a ski town.


- do the great sand dunes.  youll see sand and snow and mountains all in one landscape.  i recommend sprinting down the dunes as fast as possible.  devin knows what he is talking about.  i think zapata falls in the in the area as well for a quick side trip.


- I like to hang out in Telluride colorado but a bit out of the way for your route.  the via ferrata looks really cool. .  if nothing else just hike up to the top of the waterfall as seen in picture 5.  if you go, there is a free camping spot that is sick and overlooks the town.  beautiful at night.  however, there is still going to be a lot of snow so you may not be able to get up to it.  

-San Juan Mountains (right where Telluride is) are amazing ({weminuche wilderness for a few overnigts

-also near Telluride is Ouray- you can do some ice climbing...

-so you could alter you route to go from albuquerque/sante fe to taos to Durango/Telluride then over to great sandunes and up to denver.  a bit all over but worth looking into the options.  see how you feel on the road.


-Yosemite National Park- would be greeat in spring because of high flowing water falls- camp in the park with climbing bums- ask brock landers where to go- he has bummed all around there.  

-Death Valley National Park would be good this time of year. so would joshua tree in southern california.  it seems like you want to do the cali coast- if you didnt you could go through death valled, bishop california, mammoth lakes, yosemite the san fran...  I would probaly do the cali coast though- meet so cool people.    


Wind River Range wyoming- really loved this remote and rugged range.  i did the cirque of the towers hike but it will be snowed in at this time of year

Lander wyoming- bars where all kinds of outdoor guides and nols instructors live and hang

-do the Bighorn National Forest for me.  i really want to get into that mountain range


-if you go through south dakota- there is a little side trip you can do.  Near Kadoka South Dakota, look up a thing called the iron cross or something like that.  it is some farmer who welded together a bunch of metal to make a huge cross. its rusted out but still a cool little side trip that no one would ever find out about unless they were looking.

- do Rushmore in badlands


-North Dakota badlands/theodore roosevelt nat park  are pretty cool but probably not worth the extra effort.  the is a bike trail that runs 90-100 miles called the maah dey hey trail.  i did two hours on it.  weird feeling because you are in the middle of a huge plain.  the heartland.


Colorado Plateau:-The colorado Plateau is awesome but empty.  it is the northern arizona/southern utah area of the world.  So much cool stuff to see here:

-North Rim of the Grand Canyon- I hope it is open for you (no snow) but it probably wont be.  so here is another option, something i have dreamed of doing- . Toroweap Overlook is really remote and really hard to get to but lower elevation so would probably not be snowed in.

- and if you are heading to toroweap, i would check out Colorado City arizona.  it is polygamist city.  jon krakauers book under the banner of heaven talks abou tit

-If you go to the canyon, you have to make the long hard trek to the bottom and back.  it will give you a true perspective of the canyon.  And i would highly recommend camping at least one night in the canyon if you can.  You have to get a permit which means you are running out of time but may be able to walk in and get one.  

-from the north rim, an epic trail to the bottom is the 14 mile nankoweap trail (there are some ruins at teh bottom).  so amazing.

- Antelope Canyon looks amazing- need a permit

-get onto the rez for a look at how they live

-Havasu Falls on the southern side of the canyon is remarkable

-Buckskin Gulch.  or any slot canyon you can get into

zion- narrows is really cool, the other one is the subway (never done it), and angels landing looks like a must hike...


im just confusing you more so do whatever you want to do.  Ive had a good life with abundant adventures.  let me know if you want expansion on any topic.

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Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Albuquerque (city)
  2. Santa Fe (New Mexico) (city)
  3. Taos (city)
  4. Telluride (city)
  5. San Juan Mountains (attraction)
  6. Ouray (city)
  7. Durango (city)
  8. Yosemite National Park (park)
  9. Death Valley National Park (park)
  10. Wind River Range (attraction)
  11. Lander (city)
  12. Bighorn National Forest (attraction)
  13. Kadoka (city)
  14. South Dakota (attraction)
  15. Rushmore (city)
  16. North Dakota (attraction)
  17. Colorado Plateau (attraction)
  18. Grand Canyon (attraction)
  19. Toroweap Overlook (attraction)
  20. Colorado City (city)
  21. Antelope Canyon (park)
  22. Havasu Falls (attraction)
  23. Buckskin Gulch (attraction)
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answered by
Jinny from Los Angeles

Hi Jason! 

I've done a ton of road trips in the east coast, so most of my recommendations would be in this area heading west through the south. I haven't been to too many places in the North West to give any recommendations for you way back. If I was to plan a perfect road trip across the US (which I'll actually do in January when I permanently move to California from NC) is the following:

1. Washington, DC

2. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville and maybe stay the night here. It's a small quaint little city. Has a southern US meets Europe feel to it. 

3. Atlanta, but unless you want to do all the touristy things like the Coca Cola Plaza or CNN Center, you can skip the dip and head to the next place.

Ruby Falls in Chattanooga

5. Music Row in Nashville. This street is AWESOME if you love to party and listen to good music. It's just a one big party street where every bar is playing live music. I'd make your second night here if you're not stopping in Atlanta.

6. New Orleans. If you don't mind taking the drive down here, then I'd highly recommend staying at least two nights here. This place is such a ball of fun and full of history. 

7. San Antonio. If you like historical architecture then you'd love it here. 

8. Las Vegas... Sorry, I had to skip out NM and AZ, I've never been... but for sure you want to stay at least 2 nights in the Sin City. There are LOTS to do besides gambling and partying. My favorite is taking a drive out to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

9. Los Angeles. Come say hello and I'll show you around! I'd say the best things to do here are going to the Getty Museum and watching the sunset at the Griffith Observatory. Spend maybe 2 nights here and then drive down to San Diego for another night and check out La Jolla Beach to see some wild seals.

10. California. There's a bunch of amazing beaches here like Fort Bragg and Schooner Gulch State Beach. You can also check out some of the wineries and vineyards on your way to San Francisco. You'll find PLENTY to do in that city. 

Good luck!

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Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Washington, DC (city)
  2. The Biltmore Estate (attraction)
  3. Asheville (city)
  4. Atlanta (city)
  5. Coca Cola Plaza (attraction)
  6. CNN Center (attraction)
  7. Ruby Falls (attraction)
  8. Chattanooga (city)
  9. Music Row (attraction)
  10. Nashville (city)
  11. New Orleans (city)
  12. San Antonio (city)
  13. Las Vegas (city)
  14. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (attraction)
  15. Los Angeles (city)
  16. Getty Museum (attraction)
  17. Griffith Observatory (attraction)
  18. San Diego (city)
  19. La Jolla (attraction)
  20. Fort Bragg (city)
  21. Schooner Gulch State Beach (attraction)
  22. San Francisco (city)
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answered by
Lori from Holland, Michigan

We just did the north route from Chicago to Colorado last summer and took the south route back. Some highlights...

  • Oklahoma Joe's BBQ & Catering in Kansas City. Its in a gas station, the line is long, but it is completely worth it.
  • The Schlafly Tap Room in St. Louis is a great brew pub in a great city.
  • You would think the City Museum, also in St. Louis, is just for kids, but my husband and I had a blast exploring the place (we're in our 30's).
  • If you're looking for some good farm food, try Machine Shed Restaurant Urbandale - its right off of I-80 and their pie will hold you over for the whole day.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful, we visited just outside of Estes Park.
  • If you have time, the Peak to Peak Hwy is a great way to see the rockies driving north from Denver (or south from Estes). A little nail-biting sometimes, but unbelievable views.

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answered by
Scott from Fort Collins

Hello Jason!  I'm not sure how much time you have, but I hope you have a lot.  :)  I think I would be much more equipped to answer your question if I knew how long you were planning to take on this adventure.  There are so many different ways to do this, while incorporating some of your "must sees."  Let me know and I will happy to give you some ideas.  Thanks!

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answered by
Jo Anne

Sounds like an amazing trip!  Hope you have plenty of time to "smell the roses".  When in Yosemite, there are MANY wonderful sights, my friends and I hiked up the Lambert Mt. trail, and the view was spectacular. What ever you do, don't overlook the Mariposa Grove.  It is one of the most impressive and humbling areas I have visited.

If you're planning to include Yellowstone National Park, you should also include Grand Teton National Park.  (It is my personal favorite.)  It seems the Tetons take hold of your soul and never let go.

The drive along the coast in Ca. and Oregon is breath taking, especially the road through the Redwoods.  Portland has two interesting markets on Saturdays, one is a farmer's market, and the other is more of a craft show, but both are fun. 

Your entire route is filled with the wonders of nature and will be very memorable to you.  Just take the time to drink it in.

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answered by
Bryson from Chattanooga

If you're hitting up Nashville you mind as well head over to Chattanooga, TN and through to Asheville, NC. A great resource that will help provide some local knowledge on your travels that is worth checking out is RootsRated (full disclosure, I work for with RootsRated)

It's designed to help you find the hikes, trails, camping, etc as well as get a some great burger and beer spots and a variety of other places to get a taste of the local flavor.

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Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Nashville (city)
  2. Chattanooga (city)
  3. Asheville (attraction)
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answered by

Near Moab, fifteen miles up the Colorado River, are the Fisher Towers. These are first class technical climbing destinations.  If you want a look at them, look at the opening credits of John Ford's film Rio Grande, where the Colorado doubled for the Rio Grande.

Also near Moab is Mesa Verde National Park. This tells you about resource exhaustion by the old ones.  You can drive down to ShipRock pinnacle, visible for Mesa Verde and it is one of those stark places you envision on the moon.

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Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Moab (city)
  2. Fisher Towers (attraction)
  3. Mesa Verde National Park (park)
answered by

If you decide to go through Nashville, TN make sure to visit the The Parthenon. For food Puckett's Grocery & Restaurantis excellent for lunch and dinner and Pancake Pantryfor breakfast. I also highly recommend The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Gardenfor food and drinks.  

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answered by
Julie from St. Louis
Monument Valley is a must. Easy to work in if you are hitting MoabGrand Canyon National Park. Hire a Navajo Guide to show you around.

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