How to Actually Drive Across the USA Hitting All the Major Landmarks

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Image credit: Brian DeFrees' road trip route
Image credit: Brian DeFrees’ road trip route

Periodically this year, I’ve seen the image above posted to Facebook purporting to be “how to drive across the USA hitting all the major landmarks.” Except it’s not very good at it. The image alone doesn’t even make much sense! What counts as “major landmarks”? Apparently there are none in Boston. It looks like a great trip, but I don’t think it qualifies as advertised.

What the image really shows is the route taken by Brian DeFrees across 32 states in 55 days, taking 200,000 photos and turning them into a video. It’s pretty cool—you should check it out. But the video and visiting friends were his main priorities, not “hitting all the major landmarks.”

So could you do that?

It’s going to be a longer trip.

Here’s a shot I took at creating such a path for you, assuming you have quite a bit of free time on your hands, as it’s going to take weeks. Brian’s trip took 55 days, and it skipped a lot of states. How long this would take you depends on how long you stayed in a given spot, of course, but you’re looking at 222 hours (more than 9 days) of driving time alone.

Image credit: Ruth Suehle; created with Google Maps
Image credit: Ruth Suehle; created with Google Maps. Click to enlarge.

The biggest task here, of course (other than 222 hours of driving), is choosing what counts as a “major landmark.” It’s impossible to let somebody else make your dream road trip itinerary. That list of perfect landmarks is going to be different for everyone, depending on whether the car’s occupants love art or nature, lighthouses or lakes. For this list, I tried to create a balance that included:

– Traditionally “major” landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty or Golden Gate Bridge
– Nature stops, like Yellowstone National Park
– History stops, like Gettysburg National Military Park and The Alamo
– Science, like Cape Canaveral
– Arts, like the Philbrook Museum of Art and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
– What Trivial Pursuit would call “sports and leisure,” like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Churchill Downs

It’s a well-rounded road trip. You can use this map to see the list of places I chose. In larger cities like New York or San Francisco, rather than suggest every possible place you could visit, which would be lists of their own, I picked one highlight. Doesn’t mean the rest aren’t great.

The second goal was to visit every state, even if it wasn’t much more than a drive-through. On a road trip, the best stops are the ones you didn’t know you were going to find. Long, blue stretches on this map are just undiscovered adventures waiting to happen.

However, this is the part where I have to note that upon a final pass, I discovered I neglected Michigan. My utmost apologies to the land of people who are the masters of navigation by pointing to their hands. You don’t need this map. Just stretch out your arm and call it the country. You have the necessary experience to make it work. For the non-Michiganders who need to get that state into this trip, you can hit up Hitsville, USA, the home of Motown. I have never had a more enthusiastic tour guide. You won’t regret it.

If you’re ready to start planning your own drive, check out my two secrets to planning your best road trip adventure. And then get driving!

[Read more great, geekk family posts over on our compansion site:]

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16 thoughts on “How to Actually Drive Across the USA Hitting All the Major Landmarks

  1. I have been planning an epic road trip for months. The plan was to visit every one of the 48 states. After doing a lot of mapping and planning, I decided that it would be too much for one trip and now I plan to break it off into 3 trips over 3 summers. Just too hard with 2 girls ages 10 and 6 and a wife who hates road trips. I have seen many routes mapping the fastest way to do all 48 states but few include landmarks, and even fewer include Memphis, where we would be starting. Thanks for making this. If you have free time on your hands feel free to break this into 3 trips for us… Love Geekdad – keep up the good work.

  2. I’ve driven cross country NY to CA five times since 1993. We usually did a week out a week in CA and a week back. It was rough at first, but we eventually got it down to a science. With a time limit and or an anchor date (wedding, reunion etc.) it forces you to structure things and make decisions…for better or worse.

  3. Sadly this gets close to some awesome Canadian landmarks but not close enough. If you are making the effort to go this far get to Montreal, get to the real glacier national parks.

  4. Have the drive go through the Upper Peninsula and the rest of northern Michigan!! It will be a stunning drive (if done in the summer). You would then hit Detroit and back track a few hours to Chicago to finish the rest of the trip. You would be skipping Madison, Wisconsin. But you can’t skip Detroit!

    1. True. I’ve been to the Upper Peninsula and it’s beautiful, stunning in fact. Detroit, not so much. But leaving out my state of Wisconsin, no way!

  5. What is the point of interest in northern Alabama and the point of interest in southern Nevada?

  6. As a child my dad worked on both coast and we traveled by car and train many times but each time taking a different route. My dad thought we should see the US and it is well worth it. I have been in all states except Hawaii as you can’t drive there. I would do it again in a heartbeat. But my advise it don’t take the highways take the roads not so used, one finds great paces.

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