Cross Country Road Trip – Northern Route

New York to California – Cross Country Road Trip by Campervan

The northern route across America is a land of contrasts. Far from lifeless, this lesser-known/traveled route has its own unique draws to consider and is a perfect alternative to the southern route during the hot and humid summer months. On this trip, you’ll drive through the heart of the Great Plains, check out miles and miles of “Indian country,” wonder at the majesty of Yellowstone…and know that you are crossing through the most remote, least populated area in the Continental United States. Beautiful, varied, and historic – it’s the perfect route for a campervan road trip.

Leaving New York is an adventure in its own right. Love it or hate it, this vast sprawling metro is usually a good thing to have in your rear view mirror as you point the compass firmly west and head out on the adventure. Visit our blog for more in-depth trip ideas from each area.

We’ll start the Cross Country Road Trip – Northern Route itinerary from our New York Camper Van Rental Location and meander west.

North or South: Things to Consider

  • Time of year – Summer months can be hot and humid in the south. During winter months, the northern route can be extremely exposed.
  • Bugs – The southern US does have lots of mosquitoes during the summer months (July through August)
  • Goals for the trip – Whether it’s music, nightlife, the great outdoors, history, food, etc. the northern and southern routes offer dramatically different experiences.
  • Time – Allow several weeks to do any cross-country itinerary. If time is the most important issue, I-40 straight through the middle is the most direct route.

Directions Tips:

Distance: 3,500+ miles (5,633+ km)

Time: 3+ weeks

New York, NY

San Francisco, CA

New York

Finger Lakes Region

Get a bird’s-eye view of this place via your road atlas and you’ll immediately want to check it out. Created by the last ice age, these 11 long, thin lakes make for a great first stop once you escape the traffic of New York City. Take a quick dip in one of the lakes, try your hand at fishing, or just hike around the rolling hills–you’ll immediately feel like the “other” New York is light years behind you.

Best Eats/Drinks

Glenwood Pines. Get the burger. Then get ready for a nap.

Escape Tip

Stop over in Ithaca, New York, to check out one of the most idyllic college towns in the USA. An old hippy enclave from the 60s, you’ll fit right in by telling people you’re road tripping across the United States and sleeping in your vehicle every night.

Niagara Falls

Recognized as the oldest state park in the United States. Stop on the Canadian side for a better view of the falls. Take a ride on the Hornblower to go underneath the falls. They provide ponchos!


Amish Country

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is where you’ll find the greatest concentration of Amish. These people trace their heritage back hundreds of years to Dutch immigrants that came over in the 1720s. There are actually more than 25 different types of Amish, including the Mennonites, Old Order Amish, and the Brethren, and they still live and work much as their forefathers did. Be respectful and they’ll welcome you with open arms.


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland is totally worth the trip.


Ford Drive-In Movie Theatre

This 1950s-era complex just outside Detroit in Dearborn proclaims itself to be the “largest drive-in in the world” thanks to its five screens and 3,000-car capacity. It’s a little north of your east/west direction but could be worth checking out.



The City of Big Shoulders, or “Chi-town” to the locals, is a world-class city by any standard. Check out some of the neighborhoods—Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville, and Wicker Park are some favorites—catch a Cubs baseball game at Wrigley Field, or simply hang out until dawn at the local Chicago blues clubs.

Best Music Venues

This is highly subjective, but we suggest making a beeline to Kingston Mines, Schubas Tavern, the Double Door, Buddy Guy’s Legends, B.L.U.E.S, or Rosa’s Lounge if you want to get a solid taste of what Chicago is all about. The app and website gives a great rundown of all the upcoming music gigs going on in and around Chicago.

Best Eats/Drinks

(Again, highly subjective.) If you’re heading to Chi-town, how can you not dive into a Chicago deep-dish pizza? Check out Giordano’s, Gino’s East, and Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria for the real thing.

South Dakota

Wall Drug

Speaking of graffiti, who had that much time to hammer out so many advertisements and billboards! After a few hundred miles of seeing them, Wall Drug is a must-see for young and old travelers alike. You could spend hours in this place. Park it, buy some moccasins, cowboy boots, or a passable western cowboy hat, and get back on the road.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park South Dakota road

The rugged beauty of Badlands National Park in South Dakota draws tourists and photographers from all over the world. Great car camping can be found here and you’ll want to pull over for a day or so just to hike among the painted landscape. Make sure you stay over for at least one sunset and/or sunrise. Stop in Custer for souvenirs.

Best Camping

Cedar Creek and Sage are both well-run campgrounds. Each will run you $22 for 2 people without hookups as of this writing.

Mount Rushmore

Ready for some US history? Don’t miss this massive sculpture carved into Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Check out the monument as you walk in that explains the background of the design of each state’s flag design. The ice cream shop is worth a stop! Definitely make use of the parking garage as weather conditions can change (remember to check clearance first!).


Home to famous Saloon Number 10. With over 80 gambling halls to choose from, a lot about this carefully-reconstructed gaming town hasn’t changed since the days of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. You can even see a “real” gunfight reconstructed using “re-enactors.”

Bear Country

Observe black bears, elk, mountain lions, buffalo, reindeer, and other wildlife in their natural environment from the comfort of your own vehicle.

Escape Tip Submission from past renter, Andre

On your way to Yellowstone National Park, head up to North Dakota and check out the Bismark ND Visitor Center and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Then, stop and do a cruise on the Big Horn Canyon Reservoir in Montana.


Yellowstone National Park

Buffalo grazing in Yellowstone National Park

The area you pass through to get to Yellowstone is one of the most remote regions in the continental United States–but we probably didn’t have to tell you that. Although it’s a haul to get to, Yellowstone is a veritable paradise on many, many levels. From watching Old Faithful erupt and wandering around the bubbling mud pits to simply watching the sunset over the mountains, this place has something for everyone. Look out for bison, bears, and moose!

Best Camping

Jenny Lake, Tower, and Slough Creek are great. They fill up fast, so get there early to scope out a spot.

Escape Tip

Yellowstone is a big place. We’d recommend spending at least 3-4 days touring this wonderland so that you have time to take it all in.

Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park lake reflection

Park it in this idyllic community and take a dip in Jenny Lake before you head out again. And make sure you get a photo under the arches made of real elk antlers while you’re there.

Best Camping

Colter Bay Campground will get you off the beaten track and is a great launch point for Grand Teton National Park.

Best Eats/Drinks

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and Snake River Brewery both serve great ‘American Fare’ and have cool memorabilia on the walls.


Craters of the Moon National Monument

If you’re looking for a diversion during that looong haul back to civilization, make the short side trip off I-15 and check this place out. Huge fields of lava flows and cinder cones really do make you feel like you’re on the moon!


Bonneville Salt Flats

Looking for another interesting stopover between Jackson Hole and the California state line? Created by hardened white salt crust, the Bonneville Salt Flats are so flat that in 2006 someone set the land speed record going 350 mph (563 km/hr) here. While you won’t be driving nearly this fast here, the area does make for some cool photos. DO NOT try this in an Escape campervan. You are NOT covered by Escape Insurance or Roadside Assistance if caught driving on the actual Salt Flats.


Lake Tahoe to San Francisco

Please see our California Dreaming Itinerary for more details.

> Read about a past renter’s cross-country road trip New York to California road trip.

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