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 summer (read: hot and humid) months between July and early September. 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. We’ll keep the rundown across the nation short and sweet and leave it to Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and Road Trip USA to direct you to the major attractions along the way.
We’ll start the Cross Country Road Trip – Northern Route itinerary from our New York Campervan Rental Depot and meander west.
Distance: 3,500+ miles (5,633+ km)
Time: 3+ weeks
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.
Glenwood Pines. Get the burger. Then get ready for a nap.
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.
Honestly, we’ve never been here and don’t know much about it. We’ve heard the Canadian side is nicer than the American one. Once you’ve explored this stretch of the trip, give us a rundown and we’ll all be in the know.
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 the 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.
“I ain’t never been there. They tell me it’s nice” (name that song!). We hear the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland is totally worth the trip. Let us know what you think!
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.
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 www.do312.com gives a great rundown of all the upcoming music gigs going on in and around Chicago.
(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.
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.
The rugged beauty of this geologic oddity in South Dakota draws people 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.
Cedar Creek and Sage are both well-run campgrounds. Each will run you $18 without hookups as of this writing.
Now we at Escape can’t point any fingers at graffiti artists, but slapping a few Presidents on the side of the most sacred areas (the Black Hills) of the Lakota Sioux certainly ranks as one of the most brazen. You’ve come this far, might as well check those dead guys out while you’re here. The adjacent Crazy Horse Memorial is a more fitting tribute to a proud Indian Nation.
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.”
Tip submission from 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.
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 sun set over the mountains, this place has something for everyone. Look out for bison, bears, and moose!
Jenny Lake, Tower, and Slough Creek are great. They fill up fast, so get there early to scope out a spot.
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.
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.
Colter Bay Campground will get you off the beaten track and is a great launch point for Grand Teton National Park.
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and Snake River Brewery both serve great ‘American Fare’ and have cool memorabilia on the walls.
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!
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.
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.