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Cross Country Road Trip – Southern Route

Coast to Coast Road Trip from Florida to California

Filler’ up, strap on your seat belt, crank up the tunes, and hit the road! From the wide-open spaces of the historic west to the sultry urban chaos of Orlando, the coast-to-coast road trip is the quintessential American adventure. Totaling 3,500 miles – without detours – this is the mother of all road trips. Escapees who undertake this adventure figure out one thing very fast: America is huge! We’ll leave it to the travel blogs to parse and puzzle over which east-west route is best for you and simply pass on a few tips learned from Escapee trailblazers of yore so you can customize your own epic adventure. We’ll start our Cross Country Road Trip Southern Route itinerary from our Orlando Escape 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

Orlando, FL

Los Angeles, CA

Driving from Florida to New Orleans

Miami Florida Key West Campervan Beach

It’s a long haul from Orlando, Florida, to the jazz-filled streets of New Orleans, Louisiana. Many people cruise through this stretch without stopping and we think you’ll be making a monumental mistake if you do the same.

Best Drive

If you take I-10, it’s a 3-4 hour drive east to west between Pensacola, Florida, and New Orleans, LA. Like most interstates, I-10 takes you the fastest, most direct, and aesthetically unpleasing route to get you from point A to point B. In lieu of this, we recommend taking the coastal road east to west via Highway 90 and Highway 98 instead. Dotted with great beaches, roadside dives, and rusted, forgotten Americana, this is what you’re looking for in the American coastal south.

Best Beaches

Dauphin Island, Alabama, is the first truly great beach along this route headed East. Fort Morgan, Alabama, on Highway 180 is a cool spot in its own right and gets you partially away from the madness of Gulf Shores.

Best Food

This is shrimp and oyster country. You can’t go wrong with any of the local spots you’ll see along the route. Avoid the chain restaurants and make sure you try a shrimp po’ boy and some hush puppies when you stop. Best of all, for just a few bucks you’ll get enough food to share.

Best Dive Bar

The Flora-Bama – Straddling the border of Florida and Alabama, this is not to be missed. Stop in, grab a cold Budweiser, order a basket of boiled shrimp and a dozen oysters and watch the locals parade by. Known as the “Redneck Riviera” to outsiders and locals alike, you might have such a good time that you sleep in the parking lot. We certainly have.

Driving from New Orleans to Austin

Street band New Orleans Louisiana

The western section of this drive is pretty lifeless in our opinion, but the eastern portion is wildly interesting. Look out for alligators!

Best Drive

Stick with Highway 90 between Lake Charles and New Orleans. It’s much more interesting than I-10 and the wetland is the most productive shrimping area in the USA. Grab a big bag of boiled shrimp or crawfish (in season) for a couple of bucks and keep driving. Be sure to check out Highway 1 between Golden Meadow and Grand Isle. This 25-mile (40 km) stretch of highway is a “don’t miss” if you happen to find yourself on Highway 90 outside of New Orleans. It sends you right through the center of Louisiana’s wildest protected wetland and will be one of the best side trips of your entire drive. Count on a couple of hours of extra time to do the drive and send us a postcard from Grand Isle to show us how much you appreciate the travel tip.

Best Music Venues

At the risk of getting into, at best, an extremely heated debate about what defines “best” or, at worst, a fist fight, Escape Camper Vans states unequivocally that this listing of “Best Music Venues in Austin, Texas,” is in no particular order:

  • Hole in the Wall
  • Continental Club Gallery
  • Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon
  • Paramount Theatre
  • Victory Grill
  • The Carousel Lounge

Run a Google search for each to see which bands are in town and make your decision based on what type of artist you’re itching to check out. Each venue has its own history, quirkiness, and vibe, and you really can’t go wrong with any of ‘em. http://www.austin360.com/ is also a great resource for listings in Austin.

South By Southwest Music Festival

If you’re heading through the Austin, Texas, area during the latter part of March, you just might have hit the musical jackpot. The South by Southwest (SXSW to locals) Music, Film & Interaction festival is one of the hippest shows going on these days. Read our guide to music festivals by campervan.

Best Nature Getaway from Austin

Make sure you check out Barton Hot Springs.

Driving from Austin to Big Bend National Park

Campervan in Austin Texas

Head out through Texas Hill Country on I-10 or several of the other side trips (Hwy 90 is really interesting). We at Escape don’t have much to say about this portion of the trip…you’ll know why once you get out there.

Big Bend National Park Highlights

At 800,000 square acres, this Chihuahuan Desert park won’t leave you running out of things to do:

  • Hike Chisos Basin
  • Take a dip in the Rio Grand
  • Catch a sunset at “The Window”
  • Whitewater raft Boquillas Canyon
  • Sit in a natural hot tub above the Rio Grande in Langford Hot Springs
  • Oh yeah, and look out for mountain lions

Big Bend to the Grand Canyon

Going the most direct route, it’s a 900-mile (1448 km), 13-hour drive between these two national parks through some desolate desert landscapes. We recommend the less direct southwest route, which bows around Mexico and takes you through Tucson, Phoenix, and the Sonoran Desert, while the northern route takes a more direct path through the middle of nowhere.

We’ll leave the decision to you and provide an overview of some of the way-points in between:

  • Cadillac Ranch – A bunch of Cadillacs jammed nose-first in the ground.
  • Saguaro National Park – More cactuses than you’d believe possible.
  • Tombstone, Arizona – Guaranteed to see a gunfight every fifteen minutes!
  • White Sands National Monument – Yep, mounds of white sand, and lots of it.
  • Meteor Crater National Monument – Where a big rock slammed into the earth and left a big hole.
  • Petrified Forest National Park – A forest of stone scattered about the desert. This place is totally worth a look.
  • Sedona, Arizona & Oak Creek Canyon – The heart of Red Rock Country and the center for New Age Spiritualism. Make the short detour to see these geologic formations.
  • Grand Canyon National Park – The biggest ditch on the entire planet.
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico – An artist’s community formerly owned by Spain and Mexico.
  • Canyon De Chelly National Monument – Easily our favorite canyon in the desert southwest, maybe in the galaxy. Navajo guides are mandatory for entry.


Due to the proximity to Mexico on the Southern Route, keep your passports and travel documents handy as you’re more than likely to get pulled over at a checkpoint by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Grand Canyon to Los Angeles

Los Angeles California view

Here, we’ll highlight the waypoints and more obscure things to check out between the South Rim and the area around Zion National National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Check out our National Parks Tour page for a full itinerary.

  • Antelope Canyon – One of the most accessible and most photographed slot canyons on earth. Owned by a Navajo family–you’ll need to book a tour to enter.
  • Goblin Valley State Park – Escape the crowds at Zion and Bryce National Parks and check out some of the state parks Utah has to offer. At Goblin Valley, hoodoos (weird rock formations) abound.
  • Valley of Fire State Park – Technically in Nevada, but we figured we’d add it to this list. Great rock formations, super place to go bouldering, and there are no crowds.
  • Capitol Reef National Park – One of the lesser-known National Parks in Southern Utah. Head to this place to escape the crowds of Zion and Bryce National Parks.
  • Lake Powell – Everyone knows Lake Powell, but few know it’s actually pretty cheap to rent a boat for a day and cruise around this 254 sq-mile (652 sq km) water paradise. Tip: bring a GPS or a smartphone because it’s really easy to get lost!
  • Dinosaur Tracks outside Tuba City, Arizona – 5 miles (8 km) west of the town of Tuba City, Arizona, is a wide mesa that’s literally covered with dinosaur tracks. Check this place out if you’re near the Four Corners.

Read about a past renter’s cross-country road trip here.

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