The cross-country road trip is one of the most hallowed undertakings of American life. It is a veritable rite of passage; an institution, even, not unlike the medieval pilgrimage or the Victorian Grand Tour (except in that the former was a journey fraught with peril and undertaken in the name of piety and salvation that often ended in death, the latter a foppish foray enjoyed by 19th Century Europeans with too much money and free time for their own good).
Diving coast-to-coast across the United States of America affords one the chance to see sights ranging from the Grand Canyon to the towering Rocky Mountains, the bright lights of Las Vegas to the clear nights of the desert. And also you get to see a whole hellofalot of cornfields and cows. In fact, if you don’t plan your road trip carefully, you might be left with the impression that America consists chiefly of those two things. Which would not be entirely inaccurate.
But today, rather then talking about a leisurely tour in which you fritter off the hours and slowly tick off the miles, we’re talking about a veritable vehicular sprint across the approximate 2,800 mile span separating two of America’s major metropolises. (Or… metropoli? Metropiflaps! That’s it. Good.)
If you do the simple math, you’ll see that a four day journey from Sunny LA to Bustling NYC will require you to drive about 700 miles a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. Yes, it can be done in fewer days — in fact, a trio of intrepid men did the drive in fewer than 29 hours a few years back. But for our purposes, we’re assuming you may well be driving alone, thus you’ll need to sleep (and micturate and maybe even eat foodstuffs) at least a few times.
So for an approximation of a three night, four day drive from LA to NYC, here are three different itineraries that will ensure you have a drive that’s efficient, enjoyable, and memorable, too.
The Scenic Route – Natural Beauty Abounds
Plenty of towns along the way, but a tent and sleeping bag will serve you well.
– Leave Los Angeles on I-10 east. Head about 110 miles, reaching Palm Springs, and take Route 62 North. From this smaller state highway, you can take a side trip into Joshua Tree National Park.
– Stick with Route 62 east for about 140 miles until you find Highway 95. Take it north nearly 300 miles to reach the Grand Canyon National Monument! Hooray!
– Find I-15 and take it N/E out of the Grand Canyon until you find UT-20 (150 miles or so), then take that east, watching for signs to Bryce Canyon National Park. What a beautiful place!
– Backtrack some to Highway 89 and head north until you hit I-70. Now we’re gonna cruise some, following this interstate clear through Denver (lots of nice mountains on the way).
– Leave Denver on I-76, which you’ll follow clear out of Colorado. Shortly after entering Nebraska, you’ll hop on I-80 east, which follows the famed Platte River. Exit a time or two to see the river.
– Follow I-80 across Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. Enjoy the Great Plains, the open sky, and… don’t plan to see all that much in terms of variety for a while. Sorry.
– Shortly after you enter Indiana south of Lake Michigan, take I-65 north to State Highwa7 12 east, which you’ll follow to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Sandy dunes and fresh water await!
– Now back to Route 80, which you’ll take clear into PA, watching out for I-79 after 50+ miles. Head north on I-79 to State Highway 62 east, which will take you through the lovely Allegheny National Forest. (A smaller road splits off 62; Route 666 offers an even better experience of the woods.)
– Head back down toward I-80 east on Route 219. Take 80 east about 280 miles… and watch out for signs for NYC.
The City Drive – Uptown Adventures
5-star hotels or fleabag motels; take your pick, these cities have ’em all!
– Vegas, baby! Take the 10 to the 15 and you’ll be in Las Vegas in 4 or 5 hours. Not a great day for covering miles, but you gotta stop in Sin City. You might want to stop off for a roll of the dice then keep going.
– This is a long day… you’re going almost 750 miles from Vegas to Denver via I-15 and I-70. Denver has great dining, beer, sports, and more, but if that’s just too far for one day, stop at Grand Junction, CO. That’s just 510 miles for ya, and it’s a city of 60,000 residents noted for its wineries.
– From Denver, we’re headed 600 miles due east on I-70 to Kansas City, a town noted for its craft breweries and live music scene.
– Now from KC to Chicago. It’s a 500 mile jaunt, but that’s nothing! Enjoy all the many sites and sounds and tastes of this vibrant city, then wake up, shake off the hangover and…
– Ready to drive 790 miles? Great! Then you’ll be in NYC in just 12 or 13 hours! Take I-80 and I-90 all the way in.
The “Let’s Just Get There, Dammit” Approach
Stop and sleep as you will; the point is just to get there.
– Leave LA headed east on Interstate 10 – go about 40 miles, depending on where you got on the 1o.
– Pickup I-15 headed N/E – do that for about 500 miles.
– Jump on I-70 heading east – stick with that for about 1,800 miles.
– Take I-81 north – this leg is about 130 miles.
– Take Interstate 80 east – watch out for signs that read “New York City,” you’ll be there in an hour and a half, depending on traffic.
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