What if you took a list of 50 must-see American attractions and plotted a road trip to hit all of them? Your route would likely look like this, says Discovery News, which partnered with a doctoral candidate at Michigan State University and used an algorithm to come up with what they say is the perfect cross-country American road trip.
You may disagree. Though the idea of a best-of-the-best itinerary is fun (if gimmicky), the attractions on this route are subjective. Discovery News may rate the Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion in Des Moines as a must-see, yet you might give it a disinterested shrug. There are quite a few places on this list that some experts might consider second- or even third-tier sites (such as the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum, Fox Theatre, Hanford Site, and others).
The itinerary is contrived to fit Discovery News’ criteria of (a) remaining solely in the United States; (b) including designated national landmarks, historic sites, and national parks and monuments; and (c) including only one attraction in each one of the lower 48 states (except for California, which got two). The White House in Washington, D.C., rounded out the 50 picks. The problem, of course, is that some states are filthy rich when it comes to road trip – worthy national landmarks and other are, well, not so much. This explains why a governor’s mansion makes the cut while Zion National Park and Niagara Falls do not.
Methodology aside, this is a pretty comprehensive itinerary that does hit many iconic American landmarks. And if hitting all the states in the contiguous United States is one of your goals, this route accomplishes that. The researchers used an algorithm to come up with a loop that allows you to start this road trip in any state and follow it until you’re back at your starting point.
Which American landmarks would be stops on your family’s perfect road trip? You can create your own customized map using a number of online tools, including Rand McNally’s TripMaker, MapQuest’s Route Planner, and Google Maps.
Let’s take a look at the 50 must-see American attractions below:
No question—of course, you need to see the Grand Canyon. Whether you go to the South Rim or North Rim (open May through October) depends on what time of year you’re driving through.
2. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Going for the Astronomy Festival, Geology Festival, or just beautiful scenery or a hike? Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah has it for you.
3. Craters of the Moon, ID
Want wilderness? The Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho is an official Wilderness Study Area—it’s got amazing dark sky and some nature that remains “substantially uninfluenced by humans.” These days, that’s got to be hard to come by.
Another “bucket list” place for multitudes of Americans is Yellowstone, known for its geysers, amazing vistas, hot mud, and the way the ecosystem has rebalanced with the reintroduction of wolves.
Visit the second-most popular mountain on the planet, Pikes Peak. A shuttle will even take the work out of getting to the summit. And there are donuts when you get there.
Caves, cacti, desert, and fossil reefs are all at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Spelunkers can even arrange for permits to travel off-trail on self-guided or ranger-guided trips underground.
7. The Alamo: San Antonio, TX
The Alamo as a fort was significant in the creation of San Antonio and its designation as “Military City, U.S.A.” Visitors to the fort and shrine are sure to remember it.
8. Platt Historic District: Sulfur, OK
Twenty miles of trails in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in the Platt Historic District (formerly Platt National Park) are available for a variety of skill levels of hikers and have varying scenery among them, such as waterfalls, wildlife, Travertine Creek, ponds, and lakes.
9. Toltec Mounds: Scott, AR
Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park contains ancient mounds—what remain from a “ceremonial and governmental complex”—from A.D. 650 to 1050, when the area was inhabited by American Indians.
In this day of McMansions, the size of Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion might surprise you. The time capsule–ness of the home captures all the King’s favorite 1977 kitsch. If you can’t there for his birthday during Elvis week in August, the candlelight vigil is broadcast.
Last Updated on February 8, 2019