The Epic Coast to Coast Route
Adventurer & Photographer
The Epic Coast to Coast Route
Start / End
Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mount Rainier
At least 18
Spring through Fall
This coast-to-coast route road trip will take you on an unforgettable vacation across the United States, exploring many national parks and fantastic cities along the way. You will begin by flying into Boston. After enjoying all of the history and culture that the city has to offer, you will start your long drive west. Your next stop: the wonders of Niagara Falls and the charms of neighboring Buffalo. From there, you will stop in the fantastic city of Pittsburgh and explore all of its great cultural attractions. After your time in that city, you’ll head to another: the fascinating and re-emerging Detroit. From the so-called Motor City, you’ll roll into Chicago, the so-called Windy City. The next leg of driving will take you to the last major city for the next several days, the cosmopolitan Minneapolis. A trip to lovely Sioux Falls is next and from there you will head directly west into the incredible Badlands National Park at the other end of South Dakota. No trip to the state is complete without seeing famous Mt. Rushmore, so you will visit the site before you travel through the scenic Black Hills and cross into Wyoming. There, you will first enjoy the otherworldly Devils Tower and drive to the stunning Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. You will then head down into Utah to enjoy both the massive Great Salt Lake and the many cultural activities of adjacent Salt Lake City. Your next leg will lead you up into Idaho to check out Craters of the Moon, an amazing geological wonderland. After that, you will go up into eastern Oregon to explore both Hells Canyon and the surrounding environs. On your final stretch, you will drive northwest, passing the towering Mt Rainier until you eventually roll into Seattle.
We recommend at least two-and-a-half weeks to encompass all of the possible offerings that are suggested in this itinerary. The national parks in this trip are all worth spending at least a couple of days in, perhaps more. The major cities, too, are all worthy of some of your time. Many of the drives are several hours long – with some very long stretches between towns – so plan your travels accordingly. The weather on this trip is hugely variable, depending on the season and location. The late spring is ideal in terms of temperature, though there could be remnants of snow in Wyoming. In the summer, it will be quite hot everywhere, muggy in some places and very dry in others. In the autumn, it will be much more pleasant, though there is again potential for snow in the more mountainous regions. In the fall it will certainly rain quite a lot in Seattle. Follow the forecasts before traveling.
ARRIVAL IN BOSTON
Fly into Logan International Airport and pick up your rental car. Driving around the city can be difficult for visitors, so one smart option would be to park at a garage in the North End and take “the T” (subway) around the city. The historic neighborhoods around Beacon Hill and downtown are perfectly suited for walking and taking in the buildings, streets and parks that were integral to the founding of the United States.
NIAGARA FALLS STATE PARK
The following morning, hit the road for a long drive that crosses the full width of both Massachusetts and upstate New York. Your next destination is the iconic Niagara Falls, which will be well worth the trip. A good midway stopping point could be Syracuse, the economic hub for this part of the state and home to a major research university. Get a drink at Recess Coffee and hit the road again. If you time it right, arriving at Niagara Falls State Park just before dusk could be perfect for taking in the majesty of one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. There are hiking trails around the gorge to take in the panoramic views. Spend the night in nearby Buffalo, the second most populous city in the state after New York City.
PITTSBURGH AND THE CITY OF BRIDGES
The drive down to Pittsburgh follows the eastern tip of Lake Erie, with numerous spots to turn off the highway and check out this immense body of water, the fourth largest of the Great Lakes. Your destination for the day is Pittsburgh, the so-called “Steel City” for its long history in steel manufacturing. (It is also considered the “City of Bridges,” for its 446 river-spanning bridges.) At the convergence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, this lovely city is home to a huge diversity of cultural activity from sports to arts, shopping to dining. There are a number of esteemed museums, like the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Andy Warhol Museum, and many neighborhoods perfect for shopping or strolling around in, like the Strip District or Lawrenceville. If it’s baseball season, getting tickets for a Pirates game at historic PNC Park would be a fun outing, too.
DETROIT ROCK CITY
Detroit occupies an interesting place in contemporary America. During the height of the booming automotive industry based in the city, Detroit was once one of the largest urban areas in the entire country. Then, after numerous plant closures, the city suffered an enormous population loss, with up to a quarter of the city moving elsewhere. Today, though, the city is on a tremendous upswing as young people, artists and entrepreneurs have been moving to Detroit to take advantage of cheap property and endless opportunities to start businesses. There is now a thriving arts scene, interesting shopping and inventive restaurants, alongside many historical pieces of architecture from the city’s earlier era.
TO CHICAGO AND THE WINDY CITY
Chicago is a world-class city, though one that is somewhat peripheral due to its location away from the coasts. This perhaps makes the city even better, though, as Chicago has retained much of its local culture and history over the centuries. There is enough to do in Chicago that one could easily spend a week sightseeing there, but if you only are dedicating a couple days to the city, you can easily concentrate your time on the key attractions. As the city is fairly spread out, you could pick a neighborhood to concentrate on – like the famous Loop, or the less traveled Pilsen, Ukrainian Village, Logan Square and Wicker Park – or ping pong around the city by public transit to see Cloud Gate and Millennium Park, the Magnificent Mile, the Field Museum, Garfield Park Conservatory and other deservedly known places. There is a lot to explore in Chicago and anywhere you go will be worthwhile.
MINNEAPOLIS AND THE LAND OF TEN THOUSAND LAKES
The largest city in the state of Minnesota, Minneapolis has in recent years been recognized as one of the country’s most desirable cities to move to, due to its affordable housing, efficient public transportation, exciting arts scene and access to great outdoors activities. As for the latter, the city is on the Mississippi River and near to the Minnesota River, as well as the numerous lakes and wetlands that dot the state, so it’s prime for canoeing and kayaking in the summer. Spend a day or two in the city to really take it all in and see what people have been raving about.
WEST OVER THE PLAINS
Your gateway to some of the most stunning national parks in the country will be Sioux Falls, the largest city in the state of South Dakota. The small city is considered one of the epicenters in the Great Plains and has a fair amount to do for a day or so. It would be an ideal location to stroll around and relax – and maybe do some necessary shopping for supplies – before you spend long stretches of time in the relative wilderness.
THE STUNNING BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK
One of the most underappreciated of the national parks awaits you at the beautiful Badlands National Park, a landscape of sharp buttes, gnarled rock pinnacles and twisted spires in the middle of the largest mixed grass prairie in the United States. The geology around the park is truly otherworldly and very much worth exploring. There are plentiful hiking opportunities, but getting a lay of the land by car may be the most efficient way to see the park. There are also many sites related to the surrounding Native American culture and the history of homesteading in the region.
THE BLACK HILLS
Your next leg of driving will first take you to the requisite Mt. Rushmore, one of the most iconic monuments in the United States. Though there are some trails around the site, it’s best to drive there, stretch your legs, look at the visitor center, take some pictures and get back on the road. More worthwhile is the wide region of the Black Hills, which, like the Badlands, feature unparalleled natural beauty. Shoot for a quick day hike in Black Hills National Forest or Custer State Park to really absorb the environment. Your next stop is just beyond the Wyoming state line, the amazing geological formation at Devils Tower. This looming monument is a sacred site for the Lakota tribe and it is also one of the most popular rock climbing spots in the country. Spend the night in nearby Gillette to rest up for the following day.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Wake up early and head west to Cody Wyomingif you have the time then try to hit the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West on your way through. Hop on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway that connects Cody to Yellowstone National Park. One of the most beautiful drives in America you will experience the rushing Shoshone River, amazing rock formations and the mountains views. If you want to get out and stretch your legs there are multiple spots along the highway. Once you reach the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park don’t forget to grab a park map. In that map you will be able to see anything and everything that may spark your interest during your park journey. Remember, Yellowstone covers a huge area of land. If you want to get the best experience without a lot of driving we suggest staying one night within Yellowstone National Park.
SALT LAKE CITY VIA GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
After your stay at Yellowstone, you will head south with Salt Lake City as your destination. On the way, you will drive through the equally breathtaking Grand Tetons National Park. You could definitely choose to spend a day or two here, as there are many amazing hikes and natural attractions to explore. But if you’re itching to cover more ground, a drive through the park could suffice, as you’ll witness the towering mountains from the comfort of your car as you head south. When you eventually land in Salt Lake City, plan on spending a couple of days there. A truly fascinating place, Salt Lake City is the most populated city in the Intermountain West and famous for being the headquarters for the Mormon Church. Indeed, the combination of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Temple Square, alongside an active outdoors scene and thriving arts community, make for an interesting local culture. There are plenty of excellent shopping and dining opportunities here, in case you’ve been missing them over the past week or so. Definitely worth exploring is the massive Great Salt Lake, the centerpiece for the state and region. It is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and one of the largest terminal lakes in the world. It’s a spectacular natural feature in a spectacular city.
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CRATERS OF THE MOON
After your stay in Salt Lake City, you head Northwest to Pocatello and the Craters Of The Moon. Craters of the Moon formed during eight major eruptive periods between 15,000 and 2000 years ago. Lava erupted from the Great Rift, a series of deep cracks that start near the visitor center and stretch 52 miles to the southeast. During this time the Craters of the Moon lava field grew to cover 618 square miles. Our recommendation would be to head to Pocatello and get settled for the day, gather a picnic together, then head out to Craters of the Moon. The best place to start your adventure is at the Robert Limbert Visitor Center. The center will be able to provide you with maps and information, as well as an exquisite exhibit center and bookstore. After Craters of the Moon, head back to Pocatello and get ready for a great night. There are a number of different things to do in Pocatello, but we would recommend heading right to the heart, Old Town Pocatello. From specialty shops to fine dining, Old Town Pocatello is a magnet for people looking for a unique experience.
WEST TO OREGON
Your drive to Oregon is fairly long – nearly eight hours until your next destination – but it is also unparalleled in its natural beauty, as you traverse through several wilderness areas and national forests. Right on the border between Idaho and Oregon is the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, one of the more incredible wilderness areas in the state. You can get amazing bird’s-eye views of the region’s mountain valleys from the Hells Canyon Overlook, so make sure you at least stop there. If you want a more extended time to stretch your legs, there are numerous trails for hiking in the area. Plan on spending the night in Joseph, a quaint town in the northeastern corner of Oregon. Joseph was once a booming lumber town, but the region hit a long lull when many of the mills went out of business in the 1980s. Today, however, it is home to thriving bronze foundries and many ex-pat artists from Portland who are creating a niche in the town. Joseph would make a great base for exploring the natural wonders in this part of Oregon. The Wallowa Mountains, the Zumwalt Prairie and Wallowa Lake are all relatively close and worthy of your time.
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK AND YAKIMA
Mount Rainier National Park, which, at 14,410 feet is an iconic feature of the Washington landscape. This active volcano is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States and spawns six major rivers. Visit the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center to get some orientation around the park and decide if you want to spend a full afternoon here or even longer. (As with all of the national parks, you could spend a day or a week at Rainier, so it’s largely up to you to figure this out.) Aim to spend the night in Yakima after your time at Rainier. Yakima is a small city famous for its fertile agricultural productivity, specializing in hops (over 70% of the nation’s hops come from the Yakima Valley), apples and wine. As for the latter, there are numerous wineries in town; touring some of them would be a great way to spend an afternoon. As a whole, the town makes an excellent stopping point on your drive east.
.5 HOURS/72 MILES
Seattle is where your coast to coast route ends, but don’y be too hasty to head to the Airport to fly out. Seattle is a world-class city, and you should take a few days to experience all there is to do here. The city is relatively easy to navigate by car, though it may be best to avoid driving in the late afternoon, as the freeways and roads can be horribly gridlocked around rush hour. (There is a decent bus system, as well.) Like many West Coast cities, Seattle is fairly spread apart, so it’s best to pick a few neighborhoods and explore from there. Downtown has the iconic Pike Place Market, as well as the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Aquarium and the first ever Starbucks Coffee, all within easy walking distance. Other great walkable neighborhoods worth checking out include Ballard, Fremont and Capitol Hill.