Florida Man on the Run

Six Fun and Unique Cross Country Road Trip Ideas

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There are literally COUNTLESS cross country road trip ideas you can imagine. There are almost an equal amount of blogs like this one listing out how to drive one of these cross country road trip ideas, or recommending the absolute best ones to take. I love a good cross country trip as much as you do. I’ve had a chance to drive some of the most iconic road trips in America, but so have a lot of other people. So, I wanted to think outside the box a bit for my next great road trip idea.

As I got my planning juices flowing and started my research, there have been a ton of great ideas. I wanted these potential trips to fulfil two qualities. First, it has to be a multi-state trip of at least 500 miles. That’s short enough for a long weekend, while still technically being a cross country trip. Second, it had to have a clear theme. I wanted them to have a roughly definable “purpose” that outlines why you might want to embark on the trip in the first place. You’ll find at the bottom of each entry an embedded map. You can use these to preview these unique road trip routes and even download the direction directly!

I’m not quite sure which of these cross country road trip routes I’m going to tackle next, but why wait to share these awesome trip ideas with you? So here are six fun and unique cross country road trip ideas I’ve planned out!

1. Great Lakes Shoreline Road Trip

This is a cross country road trip idea I’ve had bubbling in my head for years. The great coastal road trips, like the Pacific Coast Highway, get a lot of attention. However, America has an often forgotten “coast” along the Great Lakes. I wanted to design a route which offered that shoreline, coastal feel in the heart of America. This road trip clocks in at a monster 4,317 miles! That is a trunk-load and then some of driving, spread out over a whole month. Yet, the real secret of this trip is how flexible it can be.

With all the spots I have mapped out, you can do a loop of any of the great lakes in just a couple days. Lake Erie or Ontario loops can be done over a three or four day weekend. The bigger lakes like Superior, Michigan, and Huron could easily be done in a week or less. The Lake Michigan Loop in particular, has huge variety. Sandy beaches, rolling dunes, deep forests, and the urban landscape of Chicago are all included.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s Lover’s Leap in the Fall is particularly striking

Those who are crazy enough, like me, to tackle the entire trip are in for a treat. The first portion of this cross country road trip idea explores the shores of Lake Superior. This is one of the best parts for outdoor lovers. Visits to Isle Royale National Park and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are highlights. Then you’ll journey through Wisconsin to the Windy City. After catching a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, you’ll get a chance to visit the lovely small towns of Michigan’s western shore.

After spending a day on Mackinac Island, it’s time to follow Michigan’s Sunrise Coast. Once you reach Detroit, the trip becomes a lot more urban. Cities like Toledo, Cleveland, Erie, and Buffalo hug the shores of Lake Erie. Make sure you stop at Niagara Falls to enjoy it’s breathtaking misty vistas. The final US portion goes along the southern shore of Lake Ontario to Sackets Harbor.

If you’ve got your passport handy, you can tack on an extension through Canada. This portion of the trip has it’s own big city, Toronto. However, after you leave Canada’s largest city, this trip is far more of a wilderness road trip. Much of it follows the Trans-Canada Highway along the northern shores of the Great Lakes. It’s a fantastic way to see huge parts of Ontario and makes for an epic final leg on your Great Lakes Shoreline road trip!

2. The Great BBQ Pilgrimage

Let’s be real: Everyone loves BBQ (no matter how you choose to spell it). I’m definitely among the BBQ faithful. What better way to celebrate your love for this delicious cuisine than taking a cross country trip to try as much of it as you can. This was one of the first cross country road trip ideas I came up with, but one of the hardest to map out. How can you narrow it down to just a few BBQ joints? I’ve done my best to collect some exemplary examples of each regional style across the country.

Each stop on this cross country trip invokes that region’s specialty. The map at the bottom shows you all the stops, but a few key ones need to be called out. Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur, Alabama is the original home of Alabama White BBQ. You’ve got to take the chance and try it! The Moonlite Bar-b-q Inn serves up the unique mutton that makes Kentucky’s BBQ stand out as part of this road trip idea. My final call out is Goldee’s Barbecue in Texas. This has been named the #1 BBQ joint in Texas, so that’s certainly hard to pass up. It was even featured on a pretty neat YouTube documentary that you can watch below!

There will be plenty to eat as you cover over 2,700 miles on this cross country trip. With the primary purpose of this road trip idea being eating, you’re not gonna need a lot of time for other things. The trip can be done in as few as eight days for the truly hungry, or as many as twelve if you want to savor every bite. I’ve built 11 stops across seven states, though you’ll pass through a few more. However, I encourage you to find even more delicious BBQ along the way! Sometimes the most unique road trip routes are the ones that have unplanned detours!

One of the best aspects of this fun and tasty cross country trip is that it can be taken year-round. BBQ doesn’t depend on the weather to enjoy it! Of all the cross country road trip ideas I came up with, this one is definitely the most laid back. So grab a partner, choose a starting point, and get to driving (and eating)!

3. Colonial New England Loop

Over 200 years of American history can be explored if you follow this cross country road trip idea. History buffs can delight in this colorful journey. That’s especially true if you take it during the height of the fall colors in New England. One of the best parts about this loop is the ability to modify it to your heart’s content. If you visited every site on this list, it would cover 1,000 miles across every state in New England. That doesn’t make it the longest trip on this list of cross country road trip ideas, but it’s still pretty sizeable. It also is very flexible with the number of days you need to spend. You could spend as few as seven days or as many as 20!

The USS Constitution is a must see stop on this list of cross country road trip ideas. It's great for kids on your cross country trip.
Check out the USS Constitution while you’re hanging around Boston!

The reason for so much flexibility in this trip is that you can prioritize what you want to see. A quick loop might encompass a single day in Boston followed by drives to the other major towns. Lengthening the trip is as easy as settling down in one area for a few more days. This is how I’d recommend the trip be done. Enjoying and exploring the history of not only the places I’ve included on this list but the hidden or forgotten ones along the way. Not to mention that there are literally hundreds of great historical sites with no colonial connections at all you can visit along the way.

Many of the places you’ll find on this list won’t take much time to see. However, they do tell a collective story of our nation. There is a rich and complicated history built into the very fabric of the land. I think it’s important to spend time understanding how such an influential part of our nation’s history came to be. Doing that through exploring historic homes, cities, and battlefields helps us create a connection to a time we often idealize but fail to understand.

4. Big Sky Adventure

For those who love a good open road, it’ll be hard to beat the Big Sky Adventure. This cross country road trip idea takes you through America’s Big Sky Country. You’ll be venturing across four states (S. Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) while visiting iconic sites of America’s western frontier. Be prepared for winding roads, long empty stretches, and hundreds of scenic views. I’d recommend between 11-14 days to cover the 1,739 miles of this journey.

It all begins in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This picturesque town gives access to many points east for major travelers. Leaving Sioux Falls you’ll head to the southwestern part of the state. Southwestern South Dakota is an underappreciated part of the country. While many people know the famous sites, such as the Badlands or Mount Rushmore, these areas don’t get the same visitation numbers as many similar places across the country. This is good for you because it means your trip won’t be too crowded.

The Badlands are a prime stop in South Dakota and a key reason for making the Big Sky Adventure part of my cross country road trip ideas
The Badlands are truly a sight to behold and one of the most stunning locations out of all these unique road trip routes

From here you’ll head west into Wyoming towards Bighorn National Forest. Hiking and outdoors enthusiasts might want to spend an extra day or so exploring the rugged expanse of this forest. For the less adventurous, you’ll make your way to another famous western site. The Battle of Little Bighorn has become an iconic part of the American mythos. Like many stories from the American frontier days, what is fact and what is fiction can be hard to separate so it’s great to learn the truth where it all happened.

The adventure continues across the Montana cities of Billings and Bozeman. It’s also easy to find the “headwaters” of the Missouri River, so don’t pass up that chance outside Bozeman. At this point, it’s time to visit the Granddaddy of them all, Yellowstone. What can really extend the time needed for this trip is how long you plan on staying in Yellowstone. For those who have never been and want to explore, you’ll need at least three or four days. Don’t shortchange yourself here. Yellowstone is all it’s hyped up to be and more for those willing to put in some effort away from the crowds.

After Yellowstone, this iconic cross country road trip idea will be coming to its close. Parks like Grand Teton and Craters of the Moon are amazing in their own rights. That’s especially true in the Fall, as Grand Teton is one of the best fall national parks. The tail end of this trip features a stop at the impressive Snake River Canyon outside Twin Falls. This is the spot of Evel Kineval’s final jump, just don’t try it yourself. Finally, you’ll come to an end in Boise, Idaho. Much like the start in Sioux Falls, Boise is an excellent gateway to many more sites to the west. Boise serves as the end of Big Sky Country, so it’s a fitting end to your Big Sky Adventure!

5. Civil War Battlefield Route

I wanted to come up with a road trip idea that was perfect for history buffs of all kinds. The American Civil War is a defining period of our nation’s history. A road trip to visit these sites can be both a memorable and educational experience. It’s also a fantastic way to experience a part of the country often overlooked for road trips. Many of the sites I’ve included are also among America’s best national battlefields.

I’ve included both a main route and a potential alternative route you can follow. The main route covers 1,329 miles and needs a minimum of eight days. The alternate route takes a more southern approach. You’ll drive over 1,758 miles, which means you’ll need about ten to eleven days for it. I prefer the main, northern path better, but it does miss out on Fort Sumter where it all really began.

This monument stands on the Vicksburg battlefield. There are many like it on this list of cross country road trip ideas.
You’ll find a bunch of monuments like this one in Vicksburg on this cross country trip!

One of the best parts of this trip is how it connects two points in time. The ending points of the journey both involve battles that culminated the first week of July 1863. The Siege of Vicksburg was a pivotal point in the Western Theater. Right as it was ending, the Battle of Gettysburg was raging in Pennsylvania. The fact that these two battles occurred at the same time and with the fate of a country at stake is a quirk of history. By making this trip you can connect these two points, and the men who fought at these sites, on a journey into the past.

Both of the routes will allow you to visit critical moments during the war. This includes the numerous battles fought across Virginia. This state was the major battleground during the war. The alternate route rejoins the main road trip at Appomattox Courthouse. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army, bringing an end to the war at this location. It’s fitting then that its serves as a “midway” point of sorts. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg and Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg would ultimately bring them together at Appomattox.

No matter which direction you choose to travel, you’ll be impacted by this road trip. Exploring America through it’s complicated and troubled past is a great way to gain understanding we need to make a better future. I can say from experience, visiting these hallowed grounds is a humbling moment and one that I hope you’ll experience for yourself. It’s definitely one of the more unique road trip routes I could come up with.

6. The Four Corners Loop

This cross country road trip idea is a giant, looping, journey across the American Southwest. It’s also one of the best national park road trips you could plan as well. You’ll visit four states (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah) as your cruise across the highways of the southwest. It also features stops at eleven different national parks and even a few national monuments as well. This massive loop covers over 3,026 miles. Any trip that follows the directions will take a bare minimum of two weeks. I’d recommend taking more like twenty-four days to one month if you want to spend any time hiking or enjoying more than one day at a location.

You’ll find sunrises like this one at Black Canyon of the Gunnison all over this Four Corners cross country trip

The Four Corners Loop can start in one of three major cities. Denver, Phoenix, and Albuquerque are all big stops on the way. If you live near one of these cities then you’re all set. Those having to fly in can pick whichever one offers the best airfare. Once you’ve picked your starting point, it’s time to choose the direction. This loop can be driven either clockwise or counterclockwise. The biggest suggestion I have is heading in the direction that has the places you most want to see. For instance, I’d start in Denver and drive counterclockwise. This gets you to the Mighty Five in Utah quickly and gives options for ways to make worthwhile detours if you’re inclined.

Of course, no Four Corners Loop road trip is complete without a visit to the Four Corners monument. The Monument is pretty out of the way for most of the trip. As part of the loop, I’ve placed it between a visit to Santa Fe, NM and Mesa Verde. This is the best point on the trip because you will get to see the, frankly lackluster monument and then visit one of the most historic and culturally important sites in America.

There are plenty of highlights on this road trip. Part of the reason I put it at the end of this list is because there is simply so much to see. I’ve spent time visiting the Mighty Five in Utah, so parks like Arches and Canyonlands are major highlights to me. Rocky Mountain National Park might be one of the most beautiful parks in America. The drive through Grand Staircase might be one of the most hair-raising on the entire list. The entire trip courses through some of the most iconic American scenery, which makes it one of the best cross country road trip ideas.

Creating Your Own Cross Country Road Trip Routes

I’m certainly not the only authority on fun and unique road trip routes. In fact, YOU probably have just as many great cross country road trip ideas as me! When it comes to crafting your own cross country trip, it just takes a bit of imagination and a touch of Google-fu. Each road trip idea I came up with started with a simple premise. From there I jumped on google to do a bit of research. Then I took all those destinations and plugged them into Google’s My Maps feature. This is the ultimate (and FREE) road planning tool. It’s how I created all those fancy maps you see above. Once you’ve got your own cross country road trip ideas down, all you have to do is plan out the rest of the trip. When you combine one of my unique road trip routes (or your own) with my road trip hacks, you’ll be all set to get going!

Let me know in the comments what your next cross country trip is! I love to hear about them! To stay up to date with each post, please follow me on Instagram or Facebook! Alternatively, sign up for my newsletter using the box at the bottom of the page! If you loved this post, then pin it and check me out on Pinterest as well!

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