There is nothing that I love to do more than travel overseas. But since there is so much of my own country that I haven’t yet explored, I decided to take a road trip from New York across the United States (and back) by myself, for two months.
People often argue that they can’t afford to travel or pay for an expensive long haul flight, overlooking what’s on their own doorstep. In this post, I share with you my road trip itinerary and hope to inspire you to explore your own home country.
FIRST STOP – CHICAGO
My solo road trip started in Chicago. I have to admit that I had friends in the city at the time of my travel so I wasn’t there by myself, but I swear for the rest of the trip I was! We did all the touristy things here, saw The Bean (or Cloud Gate), ate deep dish pizza at Giordano’s, visited the Goose Island Brewery, went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and ate a few Chicago dogs along the way (Yes, I like to eat).
My favorite was The Wiener Circle, make sure to go late night so that 1. They can make fun of you and 2. You can get a chocolate milkshake. Warning: you should probably google “wiener circle chocolate shake” before you order it.
After a few days in Chicago, my solo adventure began. I wanted to visit as many National Parks on this trip as I could. Most parks charge a fee to visit for the day. However, if you are going to visit multiple parks make sure to pick up an “America the Beautiful” Pass. You will save a lot of money with this pass and it’s good for a year! You can purchase the pass at any park or here.
BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK
My first solo stop was The Badlands National Park. The park is over 244,000 acres and home to some of the world’s richest fossil beds. Given the size of the park, I drove around some of it, as and did some hiking. This park was once home to rhino, horse and saber-toothed cats, but now you will find your hikes accompanied by mountain goats, bighorn coats and prairie dogs, along with the occasional bison. There are also rattlesnakes, so beware, but thankfully I did not see any!
Mount Rushmore was up next. It is a must-see, however, you really don’t need much time here. Walk around, take a few pictures, and you are done. But if you get your first ever flat tire here like me (yes, of course, I would get my first flat tire while driving across the country by myself), you might be stuck here a little longer.
However, despite this setback, I still made it to my next destination, Devil’s Tower National Monument, in time to set up camp before nightfall. I tried to camp as much as possible on this road trip, which, as a solo traveler was a bit scary at times but it also helped me save money. I would recommend staying at a KOA Campground: they are family-friendly and have bathrooms and security, which made me feel safer. The KOA at Devil’s Tower shows the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind every night!
THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
Onto the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. My original plan was to drive around the park and find somewhere to hike, however after a few minutes drive into the park, a herd of buffalo decided to take over the road. My two-door Honda Civic was no match for these guys, so I turned my car off, opened up the sunroof, and stood there watching them for hours instead.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Yellowstone National Park was next on my itinerary. I planned on only being here for two days, but discovered that was clearly not enough time to explore the world’s first National Park. I also planned on doing a lot of hiking here, however there was a bear attack a few days prior so I decided it was not a great idea to go hiking here alone, even if I had bear spray. (You should bring a can and can get it here).
Instead, I swam in the Yellowstone Boiling River, (south of the 45th Parallel Bridge, located in the Mammoth area of the park), hiked around Norris Geyser Basin, (the hottest and most changeable thermal area at Yellowstone), and Steamboat Geyser, (the world’s tallest active geyser). I saw the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, waited for Old Faithful to erupt, (which is the most famous geyser in the world), biked to Morning Glory Pool, and drove to Grand Teton National Park.
There’s plenty of wildlife to see in the park, moose, elk, bison, bears, and more. But please remember to keep your distance, they are wild animals! As you can see, there is a lot to do at Yellowstone, so make sure to leave plenty of time in your road trip itinerary to see it all.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Glacier National Park was next on my list. This national park is made up of idyllic forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountain views, and spectacular reflective lakes. Glacier National Park offers a hikers paradise with over 700 miles of trails to explore.
However, I strongly recommend exploring it by horseback, which is a great way to see a lot of park. There are a few different trails you can choose from. I decided on a trail around Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park, followed by a drive up “going to the sun” road.
SAN JUAN ISLANDS, WASHINGTON
After exploring the National Parks, I made my way to the West Coast, to my favorite place, San Juan Islands, Washington. The island is beautiful, and the highlight of a trip here is seeing orcas in the wild. I highly recommend taking a whale watching tour to see the orcas. Both Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching and Spirit of Orca are good tour options. If you can’t afford to go on a whale watching boat you can head over to Lime Kiln Lighthouse, where the orcas often pass by, offering potential for a sighting from land.
There are only a few hotels on the island, so they can get a bit expensive. If your looking for a cheaper place to stay consider Wayfarer’s Rest, which offers dorm rooms, private rooms and cabins. For food on the island I recommend Golden Triangle Thai Restaurant and for seafood, Fridays Crabhouse is perfectly situated across from the water, offering a great view.
After my island adventures, I started the drive down the Oregon coast. I was sure to stop and spend a day at the beach near Haystack Rock, and check out the tide pools at Ecola State Park, where you will find lots of purple starfish. A stop at Crater Lake National Park is also a must while in Oregon. 7,700 years ago Native Americans witnessed an eruption triggering the collapse of a towering volcano Mount Mazama, creating the caldera of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States at 1,949 feet (594 m).
Once I arrived in Northern California, I was surrounded by the beautiful Redwood Forests and decided to stop at Jedediah Smith Redwood to take them all in. After being amazed by these huge redwoods I decided to move on to the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, especially exciting for me as I have always been a collector of sea glass. The beach named “Glass Beach” is not what I expected.
Yes, there is more glass here then you could find on a normal beach but after much more research I found out there is a hidden cove to the left of “glass beach” where the entire beach is full of glass. It is hard to find, and is a little bit scary climbing down the cliff, but so worth it!
After a short stint in San Francisco, where I biked over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and took the ferry back to enjoy a bread bowl clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf, I made my way back to the National Parks!
I planned one day for Yosemite National Park, which only gave me time to drive around which was a mistake. You should plan to spend a few days at least at all of these parks to fully enjoy them. The next stop I recommend is Death Valley National Park, straddling the borders of California and Nevada, the park is the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the US. Make sure you have food, water and gas before going into the park, they don’t call it Death Valley for nothing!
Traveling through Southern California I stopped at the Cabazon Dinosaurs (from Pee-Wee Herman), Joshua Tree National Park (no need to venture into the southern end), Salvation Mountain (very cool to see, but getting there was a bit scary alone – I wouldn’t have wanted to get a flat tire out there!, and finally Calico Ghost town, which should be visited early morning or late afternoon, as mid-day is too hot.
In Los Angeles, I spent a lot of time in Griffith Park where you can hike, explore the old zoo, visit the Observatory, and go horseback riding for a more touristy ride, or Griffith Park Horse Rental for a much cheaper rate. Make sure to visit the Santa Monica Pier, walk along the Venice Beach Boardwalk (and eat Venice Fish Tacos), or rent a bike and see both! Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to LA without stopping at Pink’s (I told you guys I like food!)
NEVADA AND NEW MEXICO
I do love the West Coast, but it was time to start heading back east. I drove along the Extraterrestrial Highway to Racheal Nevada/Area 51. There’s really nothing out there except the gates to Area 51 (about an hour and a half ride on a very deserted dirt road) and The Little Aleinn Cafe, but I wouldn’t recommend eating there, considering I saw lizards running out from the kitchen.
I made sure to stop at Antelope Canyon in Arizona, and Horseshoe bend before I visited the Grand Canyon. There are plenty of ways to see the Grand Canyon and plenty to do, but I chose to take a mule ride down the North Rim. I then stopped at Monument Valley, the absolutely stunning White Sands National Park and Cadillac Ranch.
The last stop on my trip was Nashville Tennessee, the home of country music. I have just but one request of you if you decide to visit Nashville, stop at the Loveless Cafe, which has been offering chicken and biscuits to visitors to Nashville for over 60 years. You can also check out the Honky Tonk Bars, (Layla’s is my go-to), or roam around the beautiful Centennial Park.
And that was it. Before I knew it two months had passed, my road trip was over, and I found myself heading back to New York. A female, traveling solo on a two-month adventure, driving through some of the United States most barren lands may sound scary, but I highly recommend considering it! You get to do what you want, when you want and be on your own schedule the entire time. You’ll learn so much about yourself and grow as a person. It’s freeing, it’s empowering, so what are you waiting for?!
We hope that this article has inspired you to do a road trip across the United States. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Kerry Harrison
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I’m ashamed to say I’m an American who has yet to road trip across out beautiful (and HUGE) country – will most definitely use this article when I plan that trip :D
We Are Travel Girls says
If you do, then make sure you write about the trip and share with our community!
my wife and i have done two road trips this year in the usa , we live in australia
10,000 kms all up , im planning the next one as i type this …… usa is the best place on earth imho
Kerry, if you update this or post again, I’d love to hear more about your accommodations over those two months, such as if you stayed in hotels and motels or if you did more camping. I’m coming up on my first solo adventure from east coast to west and that’s my biggest concern about going it alone.
From your trip, I’m most excited about adding the Boiling River and Nashville to my agenda, neither of which were originally in the plan.