Scientists Say This is the Ultimate U.S. Road Trip

(Updated March 2019)

Are you looking to explore the US? Do you like road trips? According to science, this is the ultimate US road trip.

This map was planned by Doctor Randy Olson, a senior data scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, where the initial idea was proposed to him by Tracy Staedter of Discovery News.  

But How?

Olson employed a sophisticated genetic algorithm that came up with the best routes and the lowest amount of backtracking.  He reports the trip will require driving a total of 13,699 miles or 224 hours of driving. If you wanted to drive the entire circular route in one long road trip you would need (numerically-speaking) approximately 9.33 days. Olson says, however, that in reality, it would actually take between two and three months to do it.

True Distance

 The map uses “true distance” or the shortest route by road between every landmark. Additionally, this road trip map even allows you to start and finish in your home state. You simply consult the map to locate your home starting point. Then, you follow the mapped out route until you arrive back home.

This road trip across the continental US is so well-conceived that you will be able to visit every single important landmark in each of the 48 (continental) states. Just get your friends in the car, crank up the tunes, hit the gas and drive. Let’s go!

The Ultimate U.S. Road Trip/Image: Dr. Randy Olson/Google

The Landmarks

  • Grand Canyon, AZ

This famous canyon is a whopping 277 miles long and the red layered rock shows millions of years worth of geological history.

  • Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

The canyon is best known for its unique structures called hoodoos, which are formed by stream erosion and frost weathering.

  • Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID

The park was created by various volcanoes over time and is a massive lava field. You can’t miss it!

  • Yellowstone National Park, WY

While the park is mostly in Wyoming, it stretches to parts of Montana and Idaho too. The 3,500 sq ft. mile area sits atop a volcanic hotspot and is covered with hot springs, forests and rivers.

  • Pikes Peak, CO

Just 12 miles from Colorado Springs is the peak, which happens to be the highest summit in the southern front range of the Rocky Mountains.

  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

These crazy desert caverns in southern New Mexico feature over 100 caves!

  • The Alamo, TX

A historic Spanish mission that was founded in the 18th century by Roman Catholic missionaries in San Antonio, Texas.

  • The Platt Historic District, OK

Also known as the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, the Platt Historic District is only the seventh national park to be established in the U.S.

  • Toltec Mounds, AR

At this historic archeological site, you can observe three historic mounds where 18 once stood.

  • Graceland, TN

This mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, once belonged to the famous singer, Elvis Presley. You can visit and enjoy the house and respective attractions including museums, restaurants and even onsite accommodations.

  • Vicksburg National Military Park, MS

The Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the Vicksburg Campaign and the battle that took place there during the Civil War.

  • French Quarter, New Orleans, LA

The heart of New Orleans is this french inspired district filled with jazz clubs, Cajun restaurants and the French market. If you really want to party, time your trip around Mardi Gras for an experience you won’t soon forget!

  • USS Alabama, AL

Docked at the memorial park, is the USS Alabama, a WW2-era battleship, which began sailing in 1943.

  • Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL

The station is an installation to the United States Air Force and is headquartered at the Patrick Air Force Base.

  • Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA

The Okefenokee Swamp is the biggest blackwater swamp in North America. The park is also a wildlife refuge and has a variety of animals from Alligators to rare bird species.

  • Fort Sumter National Monument, SC

This sea fort in Charleston, South Carolina, is most recognizable for two battles in the Civil War.

  • Lost World Caverns, WV

Just outside of Lewisburg, West Virginia, are the Lost World Caverns, a series of natural, underground caverns.

  • Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC

The memorial commemorates the first successful and sustained airplane flights to occur. Check out the visitor center, recreated 1903 camp buildings, monuments and other interesting artifacts!

  • Mount Vernon, VA

Mount Vernon was the plantation estate owned by George Washington, and the historic mansion and property can now be observed by visitors.

  • White House, Washington, DC

The White House is the official workplace and residence of the President of the United States and has been since John Adams, in 1803.

  • Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD

The Colonial Historic District is the capital of Maryland and was dedicated as a national landmark in 1965.

  • New Castle Historic District, Delaware

The district is a four or five block area in the town, filled with historic buildings, some dating as far back as 1700.

  • Cape May Historic District, NJ

Similar to New Castle, Cape May has a series of blocks that feature historic homes. Tourists and locals alike enjoy walking the streets of Cape May and admiring the beautiful homes.

  • Liberty Bell, PA

One of many historical treasures in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell is one of the most well known and recognized symbols of freedom in the United States.

  • Statue of Liberty, NY

The massive statue on Liberty Island in New York City stands 305 feet tall and is visited by people from all over the world.

  • The Mark Twain House and Museum, CT

The museum, located in Hartford, Connecticut, was once the home to the famous author, Samuel Clemens, and now commemorates his work.

  • The Breakers, RI

This beautiful mansion was once home to one of America’s wealthiest families and is now one of the greatest sites to see in Rhode Island.

  • USS Constitution, MA

The museum teaches the history of the U.S. Navy ship, named by George Washington, after the U.S. Constitution.

  • Acadia National Park, ME

This national park is home to the highest rocky headlands on the Atlantic coastline and is filled with beautiful scenery, both along the water, and the lush forests.

  • Mount Washington Hotel, NH

This gorgeous and unforgettable resort is also a favorite spot for celebrities and presidents. Who knows who you’ll see!

  • Shelburne Farms, VT

Shelburne Farms is a nonprofit organization and working farm dedicated to sustainable food. Sitting on 1,400 acres of land, the site is a National Historic Landmark and looks like a mansion straight out of a fairytale!

  • Fox Theater, Detroit, MI

Since being built in 1928, Fox Theater has become the oldest continually operating theater in the country. Its gilded, ornate interiors are utterly jaw dropping!

  • Spring Grove Cemetery, OH

Also a National Historic Landmark, the Spring Grove Cemetery is the second largest cemetery in the country. The cemetery is also a garden cemetery, with flowers and historic structures scattered around the property.

  • Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

The national park, located in central Kentucky, is best known for having the longest known cave system in the world.

  • West Baden Springs Hotel, IN

Long story short, who doesn’t want to stay in a luxury hotel built over a century ago? Indiana might not be the first place that comes to mind for a historical hotel stay, but you’ve just gotta see this one!

  • Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL

In Springfield, Illinois, is both the home and historic district in which Abraham Lincoln lived in from 1844 to 1861. The house has been restored to its 1860 appearance and is open to visitors.

  • Gateway Arch, MO

The Gateway Arch is a stainless steel monument in Saint Louis, Missouri, that stands 630 feet tall, making it the tallest arch in the world, and the tallest manmade monument in the western hemisphere.

  • C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS

The museum in Leavenworth, Kansas, tells the story and history of C.W. Parker, who produced carousels for a living. Explore vintage Americana at its finest!

  • Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA

Also sometimes called Hubbell Mansion, Terrace Hill is Benjamin F. Allen’s home. The mansion is the Iowa state governor’s mansion and is quite the sight to see.

  • Taliesin, WI

The Taliesin preservation is a property dedicated to preserving the natural and cultural environment of the area and the architectural ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright. Taliesin West, on the other hand, is in Arizona!

  • Fort Snelling, MN

Fort Snelling, originally called Fort Saint Anthony, is a U.S. military fort established in 1805, at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

  • Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE

The excavation site is filled with fossils of animals from 10 million years ago, who died from heavy ashfall, after a volcanic eruption.

  • Mount Rushmore, SD

This famous nation memorial is a towering sculpture of four important figures in U.S. history, engraved into a mountain of granite.

  • Fort Union Trading Post, ND

Set where the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers meet, the Fort Union Trading Post was at one point, the biggest location for fur trading.

  • Glacier National Park, MT

This mountainous national park in Montana attracts people from around the country because of its one million acres of beautiful terrain.

  • Hanford Site, WA

If you’re really into WWII and cold-war era history, the Hanford site is deactivated a nuclear production facility that sits along the Columbia River, on the Washington side. Be forewarned, however, there have previously been dangerously high levels of radiation around the site due to leaks in recent years.

  • Columbia River Highway, OR

A scenic highway on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. The highway has hikes just off of the road, with dozens of waterfalls and different wildlife species.

  • San Francisco Cable Cars, CA

A fun and historic way to get around the hill covered the city of San Francisco. The cars make their way all around the city and are popular for both locals and tourists alike.

  • San Andreas Fault, CA

This faultline runs for roughly 1,200 kilometers through the state of California, running close to big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can drive to the see the actual fault lines, just make sure not to watch that one movie about California falling into the ocean beforehand.

  • Hoover Dam, NV

The Hoover Dam is a concrete dam located in the Black Canyon, where the Colorado River runs through. The dam also sits along the border between Nevada and Arizona.

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