Road Trip Across the US: Places to Stop, Landmarks to See and Things You Can Skip

About a month ago, I set out on a cross-country road trip, New York to San Diego, about as far across the continental US as you can go. This trip has been one that has been on my list forever (okay, okay, so technically I’ve already done it once with family, but when you’re 8 years old you don’t remember much). Now, looking back – it all seems like a dream. Exhaustion and 12+ hour driving days for a week will do that to ya I suppose, but I mean dream in a “I can’t believe I’m so lucky to have seen so much of this gorgeous country and I also can’t believe the planet is so beautiful” kind of way. I’m telling you, if your travel bucket list is made up of only international destinations, you’re missing out on some serious beauty right here in your own back yard.

Anyway, having lived in the south for a little over a year, we took the northern route,  and our itinerary is listed below. For planning purposes, making over ten stops, our trip lasted a little over 7 days.

 

Stop 1: Indiana Bluffs State National (no one really knows who it belongs to) Park

A week before we left on our trip, my dad showed us pictures of his and my mom’s own trip cross-country, when they were about our age. Some of the first pictures he showed us were the beautiful blue waters of Indiana State Park (then it was a state park, now apparently it’s national). Their nostalgia prompted us to add this beach to our list, but for as pretty as it was, we had the hardest time…. well… finding it. We arrived to the park with our newly minted National Park Pass in hand, just itching to test it out, only to be turned away and told that it’s still considered state land. The national land is “down the road a couple miles, but there’s no beach access because you have to cross through residential property.” I still don’t understand what this fully means, but short on time, we forked over the $10 to park our car and see the dunes. Of which were also ~slightly~ disappointing. While the beach was a nice set up, Lake Ontario is a pretty close rival, so there’s no need to stop here if you’re from CNY.

Final Verdict:

THING YOU CAN SKIP

 

Stop 2: Mount Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota

 

This is probably the stop I get the most questions about. Whether its family, friends, coworkers, the one thing they all wanted to know when I came home was, “was it worth it?” Now everyone has their opinion, but I say yes. While it is just some faces carved into a mountain, it’s still pretty damn freaking cool. Plus the history behind it. Plus the fact that the last living Mount Rushmore carver (who I just Googled and turned 98 years old the day I was writing this blog, tell me that isn’t kismet) was there to sign autographs and talk about his experience the day we went. He spoke of starting when he was just 17 years old, and of the practical jokes he and the other workers used to play on one another. It was an incredible experience all around, especially for those history buffs out there.

Final Verdict:

LANDMARK TO SEE

 

Stop 3: Rocky Mountain National Park/ Estes Park, Colorado

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Rocky Mountain National Park wasn’t on my bucket list, I won’t lie. Which is surprising, to tel you the truth. On my many transcontinental flights from New York to California this past year, I’m never not in awe of the massive expanse that are the Rocky Mountains. They’re massive. No, massive doesn’t even begin to describe it. We drove over 10k feet in elevation just to pass through them, and in June, almost all of the peaks still had snow. It really puts your life and meager existence on this planet into perspective.

Dyl had visited Estes Park (the town right outside the national park itself) back in the fall, and wanted to show me around. This was the first time in my trip I stopped, did a mental check and seriously questioned why I don’t just go off the grid for a year, see everything there is to see in the world. The town was quaint, adorable, and what. a. view. I can’t imagine even the winters here being bleak – winter in Colorado is a whole different beast than an east coast winter.

Final Verdict:

PLACE TO STOP

 

Stop 4: Fort Collins, Colorado

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This is the only photo I have of our stop in Fort Collins 😂 Casual rock through the windshield 5 minutes before pulling into our crash pad for the night. Don’t worry, I got the matching chipped front bumper later on in the trip to match. My brand new car is no baby anymore.

In terms of places to visit, though, Fort Collins is a pretty cool place. We had some of the best tacos and margs at Blue Agave, did jello shots and toxic cherries (everclear inflused) at Town Pump and dined on mimosa towers for brunch the next morning at Butters.

Final Verdict:

PLACE TO STOP

 

Stop 5: Red Rocks Amphitheater, Colorado

Everything I expected it to be. Beautiful. Exciting. Maybe a bit smaller than I envisioned. But still incredible.

I consider this stop a half check off the bucket list. A half slash, if you will. Until I go to a concert here, it will not be complete. Oh well guess I just have to go back. 😏🤷🏼‍♀️

Final Verdict:

LANDMARK TO SEE

 

Stop 6: Salt Lake City/Park City Utah

Another stop that wasn’t on my MUST SEE list, but boy I’m glad that we did. Salt Lake is such a unique city. With its Mormon influences, crazy high street numbers and weird as heck drinking laws, I’ve never been any place quite like it. With that being said, if you’re into the outdoors and outdoor activities, I can’t think of a better place to live. You’ve got mountains, you’ve got snow, you’ve got skiing (some of the best skiing, I might add), biking, hiking, the list goes on and on.

We took a day trip up into Park City while we were here, and once again I was amazed how much the weather can change at the blink of an eye. I know, I know, elevation will do that, but one minute we were in the 70-degree sunshine and the next we were up in the clouds amidst a snowstorm. It’s wild. And beautiful. Park City was something out of a movie, with it’s ski lodges and mammoth resorts, high end shopping and hipster restaurants. We passed condo after condo, each more gorgeous than the next, and I vowed to return for a skication with the Kardashians one day.

Final Verdict:

PLACE TO STOP (with a full wallet)

 

Stop 7:  Zion National Park, Utah

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I defied death on this trip. There, I’ll just say it. I was casually told that we were “going to hike Angel’s Landing tomorrow, just a warning, the last leg can be kind of tough.” Okay, I thought, I’m no stranger to hiking. Circle back to an hour into the hike, where we get to this “kinda tough” leg of the trail. You are LITERALLY holding onto a rope that has been hammered in to the side of the mountain, sheer thousand foot drops on either side of you, people trying to scale BACK DOWN THE MOUNTAIN using THE SAME ROPE, meaning one of you has to loosen your grip and stand where a light breeze could blow you to your gruesome demise. Does it sound insane to you yet? Because same. I still can’t believe the National Park Service allows people to do this, and that more people haven’t died.

The park in itself is unbelievable, though. I would love to go back and camp out for a week, really get to see it all, including The Narrows.

Final Verdict:

LANDMARK TO SEE

 

8. Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

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If you Insta like I Insta, this picture should look familiar to you. It’s everywhere, and rightfully so – just look at that. The Colorado River taking 180-degree turn right in front of your very eyes. And then there’s the colors, it’s every photographers dream.

This is definitely a stop you can make no matter what your schedule – the walk from the parking lot to the above view only takes about 10 minutes and is moderate at best. Just please, please don’t be one of those people dangling over the edge to get that ~perfect~ shot. I sound like my mother, but I watched one middle-aged woman get too far and break into a full blown panic attack, making everyone else around her super uncomfortable and nervous as well. Just… if you have to do it… don’t 🙈

Final Verdict:

LANDMARK TO SEE (but doesn’t take long)

 

9. Grand Canyon, Arizona

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Truthfully, after Zion, the Grand Canyon felt like a step down. I know a million people are going to go nuts over me saying it, but it’s literally just what it says it is…. a grand… canyon. Not to say it still isn’t breathtaking. I’m going back myself this November to hike down to Havasu Falls, but if you’ve seen it once, I don’t think there’s a dire need to go back. I would have liked however to go across the Skywalk on the western rim, I’ve heard thats a pretty spectacular experience.

Final Verdict:

LANDMARK TO SEE (if you’ve never seen it before)

 

10. Sedona, Arizona

What a way to end a trip. Driving into Sedona, the landscape unfolded before us like the most beautiful painting you’ve ever seen coupled with the most eloquently written novel you’ve ever read.

We almost didn’t go to Sedona. It wasn’t on our list, it just wasn’t going to make the cut. But I had a friend who went on a work trip to Sedona and told me about the energy vortexes, and if we were going to be that close, I had to check it out. Now, I can’t imagine if we didn’t.

The cutest town. While we went on a hike specifically to feel the vortexes, I didn’t feel any tingling or any of the other signs like we were told we might, but I to this day wonder if the euphoria we felt from the moment we got into town was just that – good energy. I truthfully don’t doubt it for a minute.

Sedona, I will be back. To eat your cactus fries, lay by your pools, ride through your canyons and watch your incredible sunsets.

Final Verdict:

I’VE NEVER BEEN MORE IN LOVE – GO!!!

 

11. San Diego, Caifornia

 

San Diego is like a second home to me. This is probably because so many people I love live here. With its perfect weather, proximity to so many amazing things (see above), ocean views, great food – the list goes on and on – it’s no wonder people love it. If you’re planning a trip to California, forgo LA. Go north, or go south. San Diego is a wonderful vacation spot.

 

I felt like the destinations just got better and better the further west we went. There’s not a whole lot happening in the midwest, not to say it’s not worth anything – listen to Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” while driving through Iowa and tell me you don’t get the feels. But once you get into the mountains… and then the desert… that’s when the heat starts crankin’. I’m so thankful I had this opportunity to see so much of the country that is unknown to so many.

 

Tips:

  • There is nothing in Wisconsin. Or South Dakota, Minneosta, Kansas, Iowa. Get through these states as quickly as possible.
  • Cap your daily driving time at 12 hours. Even with a copilot, no one wants to sit in a car that long. It’s brutal.
  • Expect gas prices to fluctuate just as much as the landscape.

 

 

What landmarks are you favorite? If you had to put together your own list, what would you include?

 

xx

One thought on “Road Trip Across the US: Places to Stop, Landmarks to See and Things You Can Skip

  1. You’ve inspired me once again Jess! I’m already planning on duplicating your trip. It’s intimidating at my “middle” age, but you make it seem effortless and exciting. I’m going…someday soon!

    Like

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