Skip to main content

How Long Does it Take to Drive Across the United States?

Many dream of driving across America to soak up the country’s rich landscape and culture. If you really concentrate on the actual drive, with as few breaks as possible, the iconic coastal journey between the Pacific State of California and the Atlantic city of New York can be done in as little as 48 hours. And the record stands at 28 hours and 50 minutes.

But, if you squeezed that huge journey into a few days, you wouldn’t have much time to take in the scenery, meet new people and enjoy all that other good stuff that comes with travelling. It’s better to spread things out over a week or more, and split the driving into manageable stints rather than one continuous big slog. In fact, the longer the better. When it comes to road trips, it really all about the journey rather than the destination.

The most conventional route remains the 2,700 mile route popularized by Erwin Baker in 1933 the Cannonball Route, but there are many other emblematic road trips that have inspired American culture, from Jack Kerouac to Hunter S. Thompson. Hire a car in the USA with Netflights and read on for some worthy road trips to consider.

Cannonball route

Traditionally a race from New York City to Redondo Beach, California, the 2700 miles of this journey cut across the middle of America. It can be completed over five days with four overnight stays, but feel free to adapt the journey to suit your interests, particularly as you begin to cut through America’s beautiful mid-belt. For instance, start in the cute New England towns of Maine farther north.

US route 20

Like the Cannonball Route, Route 20 is a coast to coast journey, this time traversing the Pacific Northwest across to New England. This epic 3,365 mile journey can be done over 11 days, but you’re much better off extending this trip to really take in the Northern mountains, lakes and, of course, Yellowstone National Park – build in a full day here at least.

Hugging the coast

California’s north-south state highway takes in the Pacific coastline. Running 745 miles, this is an easy and relaxing route that takes in California‘s redwoods and astonishing sea vistas. Driving is easily accomplished over three days but be prepared for potential gridlock around major cities. If you’re starting in San Francisco, start with a visit to Alcatraz to give your vehicle a getaway car vibe.

Route 66

The legendary Route 66 originally contained 2,451 miles which connected Chicago with Santa Monica. These have now been absorbed into state and local roads, but the route is still both navigable and enjoyable. Crossing three time zones, Route 66 takes at least two weeks if you want to visit its key cities and landmarks. If you drove non-stop at an average 80mph, you could do the whole section in about 30 hours.

Highway 6

Officially known as Route 61, the drive from New Orleans to Wyoming is 1,400 miles. It’s the same route as the Great Migration, a journey undertaken by African-Americans across the Mississippi Delta to Chicago at the start of the twentieth-century until 1970. The result of this historic journey is a wealth of musical and gastronomical influences, which have given rise to its nickname, “Blues Highway”.

Drive across the lower states

Another coast-to-coast trip, the journey from Florida to the bottom of California takes in north of 2,600 miles. It’s possible to drive it in five days and four nights, but it’s worth considering extending your trip to take in the deserts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. There’s a fantastic American-Mexican fusion in these southern states, coyotes prowling the sands late at night, and big hitter cities like Houston, Texas and New Orleans along the way.

Monument Valley

Distance travelled doesn’t equate to fun had. Shorter road trips are sometimes the best, as there’s time to linger in the spots you like and you can take spontaneous detours. Absorb Utah’s Monument Valley then drive up to the Grand Canyon to get a real feel for the Colorado Plateau and its sandstone buttes. The journey takes in parts of Route 17, Route 160, Interstate 40 and Route 66, and can be completed in a day. Or you could incorporate it into a much longer trip in the wider Navajo Nation Reservation area.

Hiring a car

Car hire in America is straightforward and convenient. You can drive at your own pace and customise your itinerary to encompass everything you want to see. Of course, the real bonus is taking off on a spontaneous and unplanned route.

Keen to start planning your road trip? Find cheap flights to the USA with Netflights.

And, if you want to break up your journey, check out the best stopover cities for flying to America.