The Last Leg of Your Northern Cross Country Road Trip - Ghost Towns, Geysers, and Goggle-Worthy Mountains
Continue on your cross country road trip and see three naturally beautiful states packed with parks and attractions before ending in Seattle, that java-lovin’ city that just won’t quit (my bet: it’s all that caffeine)!
Wyoming is a state of enormous natural beauty – from powerful geysers to spectacular mountains to wide open grasslands dotted with grazing bison, it’s a nature program on steroids. During this portion of your cross country road trip, you’ll get a chance to witness a Wild West gunfight in the streets of a dusty town, view and explore a familiar mountain (hint: it’s in a famous movie), and explore one of America’s greatest national parks.
- Devil’s Tower National Monument – Continue west on your route from South Dakota (it’s a beautifully scenic drive from Deadwood) and you’ll run into something eerily familiar. It makes you think of a movie..., oh, yeah! Isn’t that the freakishly clawed-looking mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind? That "mountain" is actually a rock – a hardened hunk of magma that erupted out of the deeper earth for mysterious reasons (could it be…aliens?). Get out of your car and spend a day exploring this park – it’s worth it. Be sure to stop at the visitor center for trail maps and information regarding the park. There are lots of trails for all levels of hikers, from those who just want a scenic stroll to those who want to take on the tower and climb it. In June, however, climbing the tower is prohibited out of respect for Native American ceremonies that are performed then. Stay overnight in nearby Gillette or in one of the B&B’s at the park itself.
- Cody and the old Wild West – Get even more of the feel for the Wild West on your cross country road trip in this town that has a gunfight staged downtown every evening, a rodeo, a museum with the most Western relics in the U.S., and plenty of old-style saloons. The Cody Nite Rodeo is easy to buy tickets to – just look for the flag-covered Cadillac driving around town selling tickets. For the best seats at the gunfight, rent a chair from Cody Trolley Tours and you’ll be in the front row when the time comes to see the show (without having to spend the day staking your claim for good seat at this popular display in front of the Irma Hotel). Instead, visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and see this Western-focused museum which is really five museums under one roof: hence the nickname, "the Smithsonian of the West". You can easily spend an entire day here and many spend two. For some, this is the main attraction in Cody.
- Yellowstone National Park – What an amazing park! There are gorgeous waterfalls, flowing rivers, soaring mountains, verdant forests, a wide variety of wildlife, and, of course, the geysers (Old Faithful being the most famous). The top must-see along with Old Faithful and its namesake lodge (just wander the lobby – the whole place just reeks of camping and the woods - that whole wood-smoke smell thing) is Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. The canyon itself is gorgeous and you’ll get stunning views of the falls – be sure to bring your camera! Many say this is the best park they’ve ever seen, so get out of your car, stretch those stiff legs and check it out!
I love Idaho! I’ll never forget my first trip there when I was thirteen. I had no idea how beautiful it was. All I ever thought about when I pictured the state was that there had to be fields of potatoes. So – it’s flat right? Nope! Beautiful mountains are everywhere – for hiking and climbing in the summer and skiing down in the winter. Continue your cross country road trip out of Wyoming heading southwest to your first Idaho must-see.
- Potato Land - What would a trip be to Idaho without a visit to a potato-themed attraction? Look no further than the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot! This zany place has a huge Styrofoam potato, kitschy signs, the world’s largest potato chip (under glass) and lots of tidbits about this famous tuber. You even get a free box of hash browns with admission – a "tater for an out-of-stater" (that’s you). There’s nothing like crazy roadside attractions like this one to add some pizzazz to your cross country road trip. Make sure to get a photo beside the giant potato!
- Scenic Route Nirvana a.k.a. Stanley, ID – Three – count em – three scenic routes converge in Stanley, Idaho. You just can’t get there without viewing some spectacular scenery along the way. From Blackfoot, head northwest on Rt. 26 and then Rt. 93 to reach Challis, ID. Take a left onto Highway 75 and you’ll be on the Salmon River Scenic Byway that rides right through solid parkland, alongside the Salmon River and the awe-inspiring Sawtooth Mountains. Continue on 75 from Stanley and the road becomes the Sawtooth Scenic Byway. Head back to Stanley and hang a left and you’ll be on Highway 21 (Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway). When we drove around this area, we just meandered and stopped frequently. This is a great area for outdoor activities including hiking, camping, rafting, fly fishing and mountain biking. If you like to hike, take a hike to one of the many high mountain lakes here (in the Sawtooth Mountains) – they’re beautiful and crystal-clear, reflecting passing clouds perfectly.
- Idaho City: Mining Town and Semi-Ghost Town – If you have time and the interest, I highly recommend you go to Silver City, ID. It’s out of the way (heading south-west of Boise), but it’s the best ghost town I’ve ever seen. All the old buildings are still standing, eerily silent – some still have lace curtains hanging in the windows. There’s an old cemetery, too, on a hill. This old mining town that was completely deserted when we visited (others have confirmed that it is now sparsely occupied and the town still stands (though there are more tourists now)). If you’re following this cross country road trip’s path to Seattle, though, the next best thing is to continue on scenic Hwy 21 right into Idaho City, a former famous mining camp that has many historic buildings (elementary school, blacksmith, hotel) and an old cemetery. It’s not deserted, but you’ll still get a taste of yesteryear (and a spooky feeling in the graveyard).
You’ve arrived in the final state you’ll be visiting during this cross country road trip and it’s a beauty. On your way from Idaho, stop at Hell’s Canyon in Oregon if you have the time. This canyon area is the deepest canyon in the U.S. and a top area for white water rafting, mountain biking and hiking. So what must-sees beckon? With a glorious mountain range, Washington is America’s "Alps", so you’ll want both a taste of a Bavarian alpine town as well as a view one of the highest snow-capped mountains. But, first, one of Washington’s most famous exports: wine!
- Walla Walla – It’s a funny name for a place that produces world-class wines. The town "so nice they named it twice" has two exports to match its twin name, the second being the famous and sweet Walla Walla onion. This area produces almost as much wine as California and it’s good. Spend a day or three touring this wine region and tasting all the goodies at some of the 360 wineries located here.
- Little Bavaria – Leavenworth, WA has fashioned itself into a picture-perfect alpine town complete with tiny lights adorning all of the half-timbered buildings, polka dancers, and lots of hearty sausages washed down with German beer. Outside of town, there are plenty of things for the outdoors lover – you name it, they’ve got it!
- Seattle, WA – This great city is your last stop on this cross country road trip, and a perfect one for both its urban offerings as well as the natural beauty that surrounds it. Start by grabbing a cup of coffee at one of the many outstanding coffeehouses this city is famous for (and don’t just stick to Starbucks – there’s a whole world of wonderful coffee here and it shouldn’t be missed). For tips, check out my road food section that details not only the best coffeehouses (by popular vote) but also the best place to enjoy this city’s delicious fresh seafood. Next, hit the Space Needle for a bird’s eye view of the city and the surrounding waters. Then explore the compact downtown before heading over to Pike Place Market to watch fish fly (okay, the fishmongers throw them) and sample all the great foods offered here including fantastic cheeses, delicious baked goods, and fresh fruit. There are many great food tours of Seattle – one of the best is Seattle Food Tours (opens in new window) . It’s a great way to experience this city.
If you have time, continue your cross country road trip to nearby Mount Rainier National Park (that's your snow-topped Alp!) and then hook up with Rt. 101 down the coastline of Oregon – this detailed road trip plan
gives you places to stop and see along the way on this gorgeous coastal route. If you’re driving back home (the car wasn’t a rental/other), be sure to take a different route and see other sections of the country on your return cross country road trip – it will take your trip to the next level!
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