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Are you dreaming of taking a road trip across America? You will see many different natural and historic landmarks on your cross-country trek. However, prepare to get comfy in your car or use a rental RV service such as RVshare as it will take several days to make a coast-to-coast trip. But, with proper planning, you may be able to shorten the time spent driving while still taking in the unique sights that the domestic United States has to offer.

Crossing state lines from El Paso, Texas to Las Cruces, New Mexico to visit Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in 2011. Visit the area in your road trip across America. Credit: Johnny Jet

As this might be the “road trip of a lifetime,” consider taking extra vacation days so you don’t rush part of your trip. Taking a longer vacation means you can drive fewer hours per day and still have plenty of time to sightsee. Consider dedicating at least two weeks to travel and sightsee for your cross country road trip.

Here are some of the best road trips across America. But first, let’s look at how long it will take.

How Long Does it Take to Drive Across the USA?

If you haven’t been on a long road trip before, get ready for the trip of a lifetime. Most cross-country road trips take between 36 hours along the southern United States. Northern road trips from New England to the Pacific Northwest take approximately 45 hours as there is more terrain to cover.

Most people will drive between 8 and 12 hours each day to make visible progress and still have time to sightsee. You might be forced to drive 12 hours daily if you have 10 days or less of vacation to make a roundtrip.

Tip: Don’t forget to bring your travel credit cards with you. There are cards for gas purchases, restaurants (including for drive-throughs, takeout, and delivery to your accommodation), groceries, and hotels. Several cards are offering bonus points, miles, and even limited-time offers for everyday spending that can help you maximize your card’s value.

Charleston, SC to Los Angeles (2,482 Miles or 36 Hours)

You can start (or end) your road trip across the southern United States in Charleston, South Carolina. This charming southern town played a quintessential role in America’s founding and continues to be a friendly beach destination.

Driving eight hours a day means you will split your driving over five days one-way. Driving 12 hours reduces your travel days to three full days in the car. However, most people do not want to drive longer than 12 hours per day for personal comfort and to preserve your stamina.

You have two long-distance interstate highways to follow into Los Angeles and reach the Pacific coast.

Take I-40

Perhaps the most popular way is Interstate 40, which technically starts in Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilmington is another fine coastal city with a rich history if you want to drive I-40 from start to finish in Barstow, California.

You see, Charleston is on I-26 and you catch I-40 in Memphis, TN. I-40 ends in Barstow and you drive the remaining 116 miles on I-15 to reach Los Angeles. This route is 2,482 miles by car.

Taking the upper route to L.A. lets you see these cities and landmarks:

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Birmingham, AL
  • Memphis, TN
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • Flagstaff, AZ

The western portion of I-40 parallels much of historic US Route 66. You may decide to get off the interstate and take scenic byways to see swaths of Main Street USA. Perhaps your grandparents took this route back in a previous era and you can retrace their steps.

Take I-10 Instead

You may decide to swing by the Gulf Coast or through Texas if you don’t want to head west on I-40 the entire time during your road trip across America. In Atlanta, you can take I-85/I-65/I-12/I-10 through Mobile, Alabama; Baton Rouge; Houston; San Antonio; El Paso; Tucson and Phoenix, eventually making it to California. This lower route takes 37 hours or 2,630 miles.

Boston to Seattle (3,024 Miles or 45 Hours)

Another true coast-to-coast road trip across America follows I-90 from Boston to Seattle.

Key stops along the way include:

  • Albany, New York
  • Syracuse
  • Buffalo
  • Cleveland
  • Chicago
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • La Crosse, Wisconsin (Mississippi River crossing)
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  • Rapid City
  • Butte, Montana
  • Spokane

In previous years, you could take a scenic detour across eastern Canada, but the border remains closed. However, skirting Lake Erie from Buffalo to Cleveland is nice too.

What About Visiting North Dakota?

If you have already been to South Dakota and seen Custer State Park or Mt. Rushmore, this can be your chance to scratch North Dakota off of your travel list.

In fact, you can actually have one less hour of driving time—44 hours versus 45 hours—if you drive the entire stretch. Fewer driving miles is one way to save money on road trips after all. At Tomah, Wisconsin, follow I-94 to Minneapolis. You pass through North Dakota’s Fargo and Bismarck and reconnect with I-90 at Billings, Montana.

New Jersey to San Francisco (42 hours)

Interstate 80 is a great way to see the middle of the United States map. The start and endpoints of I-80 are Teaneck, New Jersey (just north of New York City), and San Francisco. You drive 2,899 miles in 42 hours.

Key points of interest if you ride I-80 the whole way include:

  • Youngstown, Ohio
  • South Bend, Indiana
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Reno, Nevada
  • Sacramento, California

You may need to adjust your travel plans through New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut. The Tri-States Quarantine has a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for incoming visitors. If you’re taking a cross-country road trip ending in the tri-states, you will most likely need to quarantine.

Take I-76 and Route 66 Detour through Los Angeles

I-80 shares the road with I-90 from Cleveland to Ohio. If you’re saving an I-90 road trip for another day, you might consider hopping on I-76 outside Youngstown, Ohio.

This extended route adds 4 hours (46 total driving hours) and roughly 200 additional miles.

You will pass through these towns as you go to San Francisco:

  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Indianapolis
  • St. Louis
  • Oklahoma City
  • Albuquerque
  • Flagstaff

You follow the I-40 road trip route from Oklahoma City west to Barstow. From there you take California Highway 58 through Bakersfield and take I-5 north until reaching San Francisco.

If you have extra time, you can bypass I-5 and head west to the coast and ride the Pacific Coast Highway. To see the coast, follow I-15 to Los Angeles and US Highway 101 and California Highway 1 northbound.

New York to Florida (14 Hours+)

Did you cancel your Florida beach trip this year due to travel restrictions? You might be able to make your trek to the beach while the water’s warm and before winter comes.

On August 6, 2020, Florida, lifted their mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from the New York metro area. This travel restriction originally went into effect in late March.

Total case counts are still high in Florida, so be cautious if you go. Different Florida counties and cities have more restrictions than others. However, Florida gives you the Atlantic and Gulf Coast beach options.

Driving from NYC to Jacksonville is 933 miles and just under 14 hours. Going all the way to Miami takes 1,282 miles and 18 hours.

If you prefer the clear Gulf of Mexico waters, you might consider heading to Tampa. The driving distance is 1,129 miles and 16 hours 30 minutes.

The most direct route for all three beach cities is I-95. If you don’t want to go all the way to Florida, South Carolina and Georgia have nice beaches too, with lots of space to social distance.

Disney World and other Orlando theme parks are operating at reduced capacity as well. Make sure you wear the right mask to visit Disney.

Summary of How Long It Would Take For a Road Trip Across America

A cross country trip might only take a few hours by plane but takes days when you drive. Having a flexible travel schedule and a tentative travel plan lets you maximize your stops, so you can still have an epic road trip. In addition to stretching your legs, you can sightsee and make other unique travel memories. Don’t forget to bring one of the best credit cards for road trips, so you can earn rewards for more travel in the future.

FAQs

How long does a cross country road trip take?

Road trips across the northern United States tend to be longer than the southern United States if you try to stay on the same coast-to-coast interstate. Here the approximate one-way driving times for three routes:

  • Boston to Seattle: 45 hours
  • New York to San Francisco: 42 hours
  • Charleston, SC to Los Angeles: 36 hours

An 8-hour driving day means it can take between 4 and 6 days to reach the other coast. Driving 12 hours each day reduces your one-way driving days down to 3 days (36 hours) and 4 days (48 hours).

Can you drive from LA to New York?

Yes, you can drive from Los Angeles to New York. The most direct cross country road trip takes 41 hours and is 2,776 miles. Some “turn by turn directions” and key landmarks include :

  • Take I-15 from LA to Barstow, CA
  • Drive I-40 from Barstow to Oklahoma City
    • You will pass through Flagstaff, AZ, and Albuquerque
  • I-44 from Oklahoma City to St. Louis
  • I-70 from St. Louis to New York
    • Pass through cities include Indianapolis, Columbus (Ohio), and Harrisburg (Penn.)

If driving 8 hours per day, it takes 5 days to reach New York City from Los Angeles.

How many hours a day should I drive on a road trip?

Most people should drive between 8 and 12 hours per day on a road trip. You may decide to stop every 2 or 3 hours to stretch and get more gas.

You may need to drive 12 hours if you have a short travel schedule. However, if you get drowsy or stiff while driving, you should strive to only drive up to 8 hours per day. Shorter driving days help protect your personal health and also give you more time to sightsee and enjoy being outdoors.

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4 Comments On "How Long Does a Road Trip Across America Take?"
  1. Bonnie|

    I love your posts on road trips! My favorite way to travel in the lower 48 states.

    Driven cross country twice (from Hampton, VA to San Francisco, CA).
    First trip was I-80 and it took us about 6 days (driving rental van).
    The second time we took I-40 in a car (two adults and a child) – what an adventure! Winslow, AZ, Grand Canyon.

    My next road trip be driving the Mississippi River from the headwaters in Minnesota to New Orleans. If you have any thoughts on that – would love to hear them!

    Thanks for ALL of great articles and tips – can’t wait to hit the road!

  2. Toni Powell|

    We just drove from Tucson, AZ to St. Augustine, FL due to family emergency (NOT vacation!) We have been isolating at home since March and are in a risk group due to our age. After significant research we decided that driving was safer than flying for us. We packed a cooler with all the food we needed for breakfast and lunches, stopping only for gas and to sleep, and got carry out for dinner. We did not use any public restrooms along the way. We did not make advance reservations for hotels, as we weren’t sure how far we could drive each day. When we started getting tired, I used my Hilton app to book a room at a Hampton Inn, feeling like Hilton’s cleaning protocol with Lysol would ensure a safe stopover. Since it was getting close to 6pm, I paid in advance to guarantee our room for late arrival. Although we have stayed at many nice Hampton Inns previously, this one was certainly substandard and NOT cleaned thoroughly. The outside doors and elevator were positively grimy. The bathroom floor had hair on it. Fortunately, we brought our own pillows. In spite of prepaying for the night, I wish we had left and found an alternative. Although they stated masks were mandatory at the front door, many people (probably construction worker staying there) were coming and going through the side door and elevators without masks. My point in relaying this information is twofold:

    1-No matter what Hilton advertises about their cleaning policies, if they don’t demand compliance with their franchise holders, it will not help you. Sticking a sticker on your door saying it’s Lysol Clean doesn’t cut it. I have voiced my concerns directly to Hilton about our stay.

    2-There is no shortage of places to stay and advance reservations are not necessary. Don’t prebook a room. Stop and make sure you’re comfortable with their protocol before you pay.

    1. Johnny Jet
      Johnny Jet|

      Good tip! Thanks for sharing

  3. THOMAS STAUBER|

    I took a road trip with my two boys when they were 8 and 11 around 1990. We used the whole summer plus some extra days The total distance was 14,000 miles as we boxed the United States visiting 40 plus states and many National Parks. No reservations were made and many deviations were made.
    It was a great learning experience for them and they have repeated the trip with there own families.
    The boys kept log books and map details as it was a life changing experience.

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