Not Your Average Northern U.S.A. Cross-Country Road Trip

By: Tom Malone

When an opportunity to drive across the country arises, take it. You never know when this chance will present itself again. Driving from coast to coast provides chances to see parts of the country that you may never experience again. Those hidden gems across the continent rarely present themselves as fly-to destinations. Here’s a drive that will provide you with a unique window into Americana:

Day 1: Portland, Oregon to Butte, Montana

Starting your drive on the West Coast’s hidden gem gives you insight into a counterculture all its own. With its plethora of food carts, unbeatable green scenery, hiking trails, waterfalls, and downtown waterfront river walk, Portland provides a solid base for any outdoor adventurer to begin a cross-country journey. Stock up on all-natural food for your drive. Try to find a Portlander who’s actually born-and-raised in the city to find the best spots to eat and sight-see. Check out Pittock Mansion just outside of downtown. Grab a teriyaki chicken sandwich at The Taste Tickler. Then, move northeast along Interstate 84 and glimpse the famous Columbia River Gorge as you travel into Washington’s high desert. Pass into Idaho and you’ll quickly glimpse the beauty of Coeur d’Alene and the surrounding forest. Pull into Butte, Montana for a quality steak and some needed shut-eye.

Day 2: Butte, Montana to Rapid City, South Dakota

Leaving Western Montana at sunrise provokes a feeling similar to those in old Western movies. Pull your car up the mountains and cross the Continental Divide. As you drive through Montana, you’ll realize how it earned its nickname: Big Sky Country. Rivers and open range will make you want to buy acres of land and settle there. Dip into Yellowstone National Park if you have time. When you reconnect with the main highway, you’ll want to stop at Little Bighorn Battlefield and walk through the monuments and breathe in atrocity. As you move into Eastern Montana, you’ll hit the corner of Wyoming, where the highway becomes red. Nestle into Rapid City, South Dakota and prepare yourself for a long-yet-rewarding day to follow.

Day 3: Rapid City, South Dakota to Minneapolis, Minnesota

By taking a slight detour South from Rapid City, you’ll enter the Black Hills, which features Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument; both are worth the extra time. When you head East again, you have the option of driving through some of the weirdest, most obscure terrain in the country: Badlands National Park. After leaving the Martian landscape, you’ll cruise through the endless grasslands of South Dakota. Once you cross the border into Minnesota, fireflies may light up the fields. End your day in Minneapolis. Catch a late-night Twins baseball game at Target Field, or spend your evening enjoying the bustling lake scene. Either way, Minneapolis is worth the pit stop.

Day 4: Minneapolis, Minnesota to Evansville, Indiana

This leg of the journey provides an interesting contrast from the Western United States.
You’ll move through endless cornfields in Iowa, and then the Mississippi River emerges. Pass through Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain’s childhood home and historical setting for the fictitious stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Embrace the humidity of summertime. Cross over the Mississippi and gaze at the Saint Louis Arch, the Gateway to the West. Spend the night resting in the small town of Evansville with little to distract you.

Day 5: Evansville, Indiana to Morgantown, West Virginia

A few miles after your start, you’ll drive through Hoosier National Forest. No need to stop because soon after that, Louisville and Lexington Kentucky approach: both cities are famous for their own reasons. The Daniel Boone National Forest is next. With its sweeping blue forests and dense greenery, you’ll want to stop and appreciate it. With the many Kentucky bourbon distilleries along the way, make sure you plan for one of the stops as well. Morgantown, West Virginia is close. Take some time and appreciate the college town, the coal-mining aura, and the nearby river scenery.

Day 6: Morgantown, West Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Though a short distance on paper, budget time in for the perpetual traffic of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Appreciate the road signs (like Mason-Dixon Line). Philly requires at least half-a-day to explore. Walk through Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Grab a drink in some of the historical city taverns. Explore the graveyard, where multiple signers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are buried. Maybe even catch a Phillies game. Eat a Philly Cheesesteak at Pat’s King of Steaks. Stroll through West Philadelphia, where the Fresh Prince was “born and raised”. Then, rest up for a short-but-packed day tomorrow.

Day 7: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to New York City, New York

Leave Philly and cross the border into New Jersey. Pass Trenton and pull into Princeton to appreciate some educational history. Approach Princeton University and walk on the same cobblestone pathways as Albert Einstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Eat at the famous Hoagie Haven (and order a sub sandwich that you’ll never be able to finish). Then, pull into New York City and explore the traditional attractions at your leisure and reward yourself for the completion of an epic road trip.

*Photos By: Tom Malone
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