5 highlights of the #1 US road trip, according to science
The perfect American road trip has apparently been discovered. Programmer Dr Randel S. Olson used computer code and Google maps to compute the perfect road map of the USA. It’s a 2- to 3-month journey, a zig-zagging roadmap across the 48 states that takes you to every major landmark and every state, except Hawaii and Alaska. While this might be the stuff of retirement dreams, this road trip has been designed so that you can drop in at any point and make the most of your time. Here are some highlights that will help you get the most out of your next road trip in America.
1. The Down Home route
Dr Olson may not have thought he was giving the gift of rock and roll to the traveller when he put this map together, but if you take in the route through Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, this is what he’s done. Starting at Graceland, one of the world’s most impressive museums of one of the 20th century’s most impressive figures, Elvis Presley, you can follow the highway inland from the Mississippi River to arrive at Vicksburg National Military Park, the site of the turning point of the American civil war and the epicentre of the war that shaped America. You don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate the atmosphere and the rolling green lawns, towering monuments of Vicksburg, plus its proximity to some truly great southern-style home cooking. From here, it’s a scenic drive to New Orleans, a city that needs no introduction to music fans, history buffs, partygoers or foodies. It’s a short trip but one unlikely to leave the memory in a hurry.
2. The Empire Route
What more iconic place to begin an American road trip than with a ferry ride from the Statue of Liberty? Like tens of millions of Americans, the sight of the statue signalled the beginning of a life-changing experience, as it could be for those who take the Empire Route. If you do manage to escape the many charms and lures of The Big Apple, you could drive south through New Jersey to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, another founding totem of the rise of the American empire and a trip that will put you in the middle of one of America’s most fascinating cities. From here the trip bends southward to Cape May, the very southern tip of New Jersey. Known as the nation’s oldest seashore resort, it boasts promenades lined with some of the finest examples of Victorian architecture on the continent, one of the country’s best beaches and a haven for birdwatchers make this a resort unlike any other. After stopping to take in the wonderfully preserved Delaware town of New Castle, it’s onward to Maryland’s capital Annapolis, the location of the US Navy and an iconic town full of history. It’s a short drive from here to Mount Vernon in Virginia, the expansive home of founding father George Washington. You can a stop to look at the show that never stops in the White House should you wish. This is a US road trip that, more than any other, gives you an idea of the history of the US and lets you see just how far it has come.
3. The New England Route
The beauty of Olson’s road map of the USA is its flexibility. This route also starts in New York City but heads north, enabling you to join it together with the Empire Route to create a truly inspiring trip along the eastern seaboard. Northward from the Statue of Liberty, you arrive at the home of Connecticut’s most famous son, Mark Twain. His home has been fashioned into a museum that takes you through his life and works, and thereby giving you a rich description of the birth of modern America itself. To see some of the finest creations, make the short drive to The Breakers, the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, one of the country’s wealthiest industrialists. This 70-room mansion is one of the most notable examples of America’s “Gilded Age” and impresses all who visit it. The drive north to Boston takes you right to the doorstep of the Civil War. Full of gorgeous buildings, fine food and with some of the world’s great university’s on its doorstep, the true highlight of a visit is the Freedom Trail, a route that takes you through some of the key historic moments in the America’s history, ending with a visit to the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat, the USS Constitution. Launched in 1797 and given the name Old Ironsides after her repeated victories against the British, the USS Constitution offers a glimpse back to a time when the US battled pirates on the Barbary Coast, up to its interactive exhibits that bring to life its long and storied history.
4. The Sunshine Route
Think of Florida and it’s likely you think of sun, sea, oranges and endless parties, but one thing that is guaranteed to give you more to talk about is a trip to Cape Canaveral. A short drive from Orlando’s Disneyworld, Cape Canaveral is home to the Kennedy Space Centre Complex. Time your visit with a rocket launch or get a chance to meet an astronaut. If your interests extend to the solar system you’re sure to get a lot out of a visit here. Follow the Atlantic Coast northward and into Georgia and a place that is a lot more interesting than it sounds. The Okefenokee Swamp Park is one of the largest blackwater swamps in the world. It’s also adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, a 400,000-acre park teaming with American Alligators, otters, turtles, snakes and birds of prey. Few places will give you a better sense of the under-appreciated wonders that the US has to offer than here. Northward, the route takes you by Savannah, one of the most photogenic cities in the country, to another, Charleston South Carolina. If fine colonnaded buildings, echoes of the Antebellum era and dining al fresco sounds appealing, then Charleston won’t disappoint. Three-time winner of America’s Most Friendly City by Condé Nast Traveler, Charlestonians will be happy to direct you to any one of the festivals, museum exhibitions or shows that keep the city an arts and cultural centre of the south. One highlight is Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the US Civil War were fired.
5. Mountains and Canyons Route
The American West is known for its vast distances and vast skies. Stunning geologic formations dot the landscape, sometimes carving it to stupendous proportions. It can be difficult to wrangle the most impressive into a brief itinerary but Olson’s roadmap makes a strong case for being able to do it, and finish with the glitz of the Strip. Beginning in Colorado with the truly awe-inspiring Pikes Peak is a hard place to top. Not only is it the most notable of the Rocky Mountains, it’s also one of the most photogenic and accessible. As inspiration for the song “America the Beautiful”, Pikes Peak certainly lives up to its name. From here, the drive north to Yellowstone National Park is a long but incredibly beautiful one that takes in vistas of the Rocky Mountains, past America’s beer capital of Fort Collins and into Wyoming. National forests and awe-inspiring mountain vistas eventually give way to one of the most renown protected areas in the world, Yellowstone. Home to bears, wolves, hot springs, Old Faithful and some truly remarkable mountain ranges, almost the entire parkland is untouched and rewards all the time you can spare there. Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Park is another of America’s under-seen and underappreciated parklands. A basalt lava field that has, over millennia, opened up to showcase some of the most remarkable volcanic geology on the planet. Lava caves, vast rift cracks, impeccably preserved tree moulds and abundant wildlife, it’s a guaranteed highlight of any trip. From here, the road turns southward, through Salt Lake City, an important stop for anyone missing urban comforts, and further down to Bryce Canyon, one of America’s most loved and under-explored national parks. Home to vast canyons, soaring peaks and the long winding shallow river The Narrows, Bryce Canyon can match anyone’s fitness levels with impressive sights. In fact, one of the few places on earth that can match it for its sheer magnitude and ability to inspire wonder is your next stop. Grand Canyon, Arizona. Statistics and descriptions tend to blow away when describing the Grand Canyon. It’s easy to escape the daytrippers and the selfie-snappers. If you want to leave the car and take a mule trip to the floor of the canyon you can, but you’ll need to plan ahead. Short, long and multi-day walks all reward the adventurous. From here, it’s a day’s drive to Las Vegas and a perfect place to unwind and to catch a flight back home.
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