Northern U.S. Road Trip

by on July 22, 2010

northern usa road tripThe route you take on you road trip can actually tell a lot about you, besides where you live. If you chose the southern route, you probably enjoy warm weather, relaxation, and might have a laid back personality. If you choose the northern route, you probably enjoy beautiful views over warm weather, adventure over predictability, and spontaneity over planning. A northern U.S. road trip consists of an east to west or west to east road excursion that usually involves I-90 and I-80.

Along this route, expect to see great American classics like Niagara Falls, the city of Chicago, Badlands National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the Pacific Northwest. To every major National Park or landmark, a road or highway exists that will take you there. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can fork south towards the Grand Circle of the Southwest and to the state of Utah.

To start, you may begin in New England or New York on the east coast. Starting in one of these places is essential to it really being a “northern” road trip route. As you pass along I-90 heading west, you’ll start in the city of Boston, make your way through the Berkshires, and enter the state of New York. Once you enter New York, you’ll quickly pass through Albany, the state capitol. Further west, be sure to stop at the Finger Lakes and Howe Caverns. Further west still, there’s Niagara Falls and the city of Rochester. If you have your passport handy, make the trek over the border of Canada to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, where the views are unbelievable (well worth it, even if just for a few hours).

Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Chicago

As you make your way west again along I-90, you’ll pass through the state of Pennsylvania and Ohio. This part of the road trip gets very industrial, and can give you a glimpse into the hardworking midsection of the country. If you’d like, you can fork off here through Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois for a midwestern USA road trip. If you stay on I-90, you’ll enter the cities of Cleveland, Toledo, Gary, and eventually the metropolis of Chicago. Chicago is the centerpiece of the midwest, and the 3rd largest city in the USA. This gigantic city is a must-stop on your trip, though you may want to plan your grand entrance into town during off-peak hours — anytime but rush hour, which runs from 6:30 am to 10 am, and 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm (sometimes later). Expect to pay a good deal of money for parking, so make the most of your trip and get on a sightseeing bus to see the most in the least amount of time.


After your big city break in Chicago, you’ll hop back on I-90 west towards rural Illinois. This is where the trip can get a little monotonous in terms of scenery, so you’ll need some tunes, talkative passengers, and a good guide book that will point out where the best of the best is along the highway. From Chicago, you can either head north towards Wisconsin, or stay west and head through Iowa and Nebraska. Of the two routes, staying on I-90 is the more scenic of the two routes, albeit slightly longer. If you head directly west, you’ll need to take I-80 to head through Iowa, Nebraska, and the southern portion of Wyoming. Eventually this route leads to Salt Lake City, Reno, and San Francisco.

South Dakota

If you choose I-90, you’ll pass through some of the great American landmarks that make this country so unique. Rural farmland in Wisconsin and Minnesota are met with an abrupt change as the climate becomes more arid along the South Dakota border. It’s not uncommon to see some severe thunderstorm and tornado activity along this route, especially from spring to fall. Halfway through the state of South Dakota, you’ll pass by Badlands National Park, a true gem in the plains. Just to the west, the scenery gets even more rugged in the Black Hills region, where you can find Mount Rushmore National Monument.

Wyoming, Yellowstone, and the Pacific Northwest

As you head west to the state of Wyoming, this is where it gets tricky. The best stuff in the state of Wyoming is just off the main highway, I-90, not on it.  I-14 is the most direct route to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National park. The road is called a number of routes, but you’ll want to keep heading west on I-14, then I-89 to the Old Faithful Geyser. As you browse around the park, eventually you can mozy out to Grand Teton National Park to the south. Head east towards the state of Idaho, and you’ll come across Idaho Falls and the capital, Boise. I-84 will take you to the Pacific Northwest, and the state of Oregon. From here, you can decide to head further north towards the state of Washington, or head directly west to the Oregon coast. Further south, you can find Yosemite National Park and Northern California, which will round out your northern road trip experience. In total, expect to spend at least pass through roughly 21 states, over 3,000 miles, and 2 days and 4 hours of non-stop driving. To comfortably experience the northern road trip route, plan on spending at least 8 days to see all of the sights (and to get a good amount of sleep, which is necessary for good driving!).

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