Hit All the Greats on This Northern Cross Country Road Trip

If you’re taking a cross country road trip in the summer, a northern route will probably be your preference if you want to keep as cool as possible. Be advised that it will still be hot, but not as hot as the southern part of the U.S. at this time of year. You can take this road trip any time of the year, but I wouldn’t recommend winter as many roads are closed due to the snow and ice (plus, many sights just aren’t the same when you’re shivering!)

Cross Country Road Trip

What to see and do on a cross country road trip is a common question on most travel forums (I participate on many of them including those on TripAdvisor.com and LonelyPlanet.com), and it’s a very reasonable question. Everyone knows about the bigger cities and most people end up zig-zagging all over the country as they cross it because they’re afraid they’ll be bored taking a more direct route.

This cross country road trip hit list will give you an idea of what to hit in each state if you’re crossing in a more direct route from coast to coast along the northern section of the U.S. All sights and cities are in a fairly direct trajectory that will make it easier for you to enjoy the ride without a lot of unnecessary driving.

Cross Country Road Trip Hit List – Northern Route

New York City
This is a perfect starting point for your cross country road trip (or ending point – there’s no reason you can’t start on the West coast and end on the East coast). NYC is one of the greatest cities in the U.S. – not only its financial heart, but also a center for the arts, music, cuisine, as well as many new cultural waves that influence all parts of the country. Plan on spending a minimum of three days here if you can. Check out my New York City Travel Tips for pointers on what to see and do as well as how to get around (and not act too much like a tourist).

This state has a number of must-sees. There are many hills and valleys in this state, making it extremely picturesque – especially if you get off of the interstate highway system.

  • Philadelphia – Visit the City of Brotherly Love on your cross country road trip and see such sights as the Liberty Bell and the birthplace of our nation where the Declaration of Independence was approved (see the original document!), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Betsy Ross House, and the frightening Eastern State Penitentiary (a crumbling ruin where Al Capone was once held (as well as many others)). Be sure to get a Philly cheese steak and some other great road food while you’re here!
  • Brandywine Valley – Just outside of Philadelphia, you’ll feel miles away from the city in this gorgeous region featuring rambling countryside roads, picturesque farms, many great wineries, and outstanding museums and historical homes. This road trip through the Brandywine Valley area will give you more details about what to see and do.
  • Amish Country – Continuing to head west on your cross country road trip, you’ll be passing through the counties just outside of Philadelphia near Lancaster that are still home to thousands of Amish farmers. Drive down most country roads here and you’ll see them pass in horse and buggies or even get a chance to purchase their baked goods at one of their roadside stands.
  • Hershey, PA – You’ve got to know what this stop is all about: chocolate! Although the tours of the factory are no more, you can go to Hershey’s Chocolate World and the Hershey Museum to find out what all the fuss is about – from making your own chocolate kisses to finding out the history of this town built by chocolate. If you love amusement parks, take an extra day here and visit Hersheypark – one of the best amusement parks in the Northeast.
  • Punxsutawney, PA – Even if you visit when it’s not Groundhog Day, there’s still plenty to see in this weather-obsessed town. There are tons of kitchsy Punxsutawney Phil statues all over town, a great Weather Discovery Center where you can pretend to forecast the news on a “green-screen” and, of course, see Phil himself at the Groundhog Zoo. This is also a great place to go if you’ve never been to a real small town (just suburbs or cities) – this place is a true American small town, and the friendly people and mellow vibe are all authentic.
Your cross-country road trip continues into Ohio – the state I used to joke about, before I knew better. I used to travel through Ohio on my way to school at MSU (when I returned home to CT for vacation) and my standing joke was "Ohio, the state where you can fall asleep at the wheel and wake up alive". This was based on the fact that the roads are flat and straight – especially the highways – and, yes, boring. Getting off of the beaten track, though, revealed some of the many great sights and things to do in the Buckeye State.
  • Cleveland, OH – It’s no joke (well, it was and wasn’t at the same time) that there was a 30 Rock episode devoted to Liz Lemon seriously considering moving to Cleveland. It’s a great city! There’s the Cleveland Museum of Art, the gorgeous Cleveland Botanical Garden (love the huge Glasshouse), and what would Cleveland be without the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
  • Lake Erie Island Hopping – Island hopping in Ohio? Yes, indeedy! Head over to Port Clinton on the shore of Lake Erie and get the feel of a seaside town without the salt. There are ferries that depart from this charming town to all of the islands including South Bass (bar-hopping and partying galore), Kelley’s Island (lots of great hiking and biking), and Middle Bass and North Bass Islands (fishing and birding). If you want a little more action – you’re right next to the Roller Coaster Capital of the World: Cedar Point!
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, OH – Your cross country road trip heads south next to be able to pick up a bunch of great sights along your route. Yes, it will be a little bit of a "loop" to be able to head back for Chicago, but it’s worth it. Put on your walking shoes and prepare to be enthralled at this museum dedicated to impressing you with all that the U.S. Air Force has been able to create to attack enemies from the skies (and space).
There’s a wide variety of things to see as you pass through Indiana on your cross country road trip – from racecars to gorgeous dunes of powdery sand fringing an ocean-like lake.This part of the trip will pull you back north after the first two "hits" so you’ll be on course for that great Midwestern city: Chicago.
  • Indianapolis, IN – You may miss the massive Memorial Day race – the Indianapolis 500 – if you visit any other time of year, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop to see the car-lover’s nirvana: the Hall of Fame Museum. Located near the raceway, this museum showcases over 80 fantastic cars – both race cars as well as historic specimens. If you’re not into cars or racing, Indianapolis has an outstanding (and free) Museum of Art and the sprawling and fantastic Children’s Museum (if your cross country road trip is a family trip).
  • Bridges of Parke County – You may think from reading that novel (or seeing the movie) that they’re all in Madison County, Iowa, but Parke County, Indiana is the real covered bridge capital of the world! There are thirty remaining original covered bridges in this area. The must-sees include the most-photographed: Bridgeton bridge (super charming with a waterfall and mill), Crooks Bridge (the oldest) and West Union Bridge (the longest). You’ll head west from Indianapolis to be able to see these bridges (what’s a road trip without covered bridges – come on!).
  • Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – Take this cross-country road trip northbound to hook up with Chicago and see the breathtaking dunes and sparkling waterfront between the towns of Michigan City and Gary. You’ll want to get out of your car and spend at least an afternoon exploring this beautiful parkland. You can hike, bike, watch hang-gliders, or just hang out on the beautiful beaches and swim in the crystal clear waters.
Part Two of this three-part cross country road trip heads through Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. After that, there are only three states to head through in Part Three before you hit Seattle, your final West Coast destination. What a ride!

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