The Best Cross-country U.S. Road Trip Itinerary: Northern Route

9 stops not to miss — plus what to do and where to eat while you’re there.

Snoqualmie Falls in Autumn
Photo: Ken Stanback/500px/Getty Images

Nothing quite beats the experience-of-a-lifetime exhilaration of a cross-country road trip. If you are looking to get lost in adventure, nature, and the pristine surrounding beauty, then this route is for you. Here we mapped out the quintessential stops and exciting points of respite along the northern route from the Pacific Northwest to the Northeast. The best part? There is no exact science to it, so begin your journey from whichever coast you prefer and immerse yourself in all that this route has to offer.

Seattle, Washington

Before you depart Seattle, a city known for its iconic Space Needle cityscape, be sure to grab a coffee from Storyville Coffee Company and some artisanal Greek yogurt from Ellenos at Pike Place Market before continuing east. Snoqualmie Falls, a short drive from Seattle, is a great place to stop for a brief hike with exceptional views and a 270-foot waterfall. If starting your trip from the East Coast, Seattle will be your final stop on the route, so an overnight stay at Inn at the Market will be a must — if only for the views of Pike Place and the tranquil waterfront. Save room for the all-day breakfast menu at Bacco Cafe, one of the three restaurants at this hotel, for a taste of the local daily catch.

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

For a short visit to Coeur d'Alene, a lakefront dining experience is a must. Terraza Waterfront Cafe is the pinnacle fusion of Latin American cuisine in the heart of Idaho, and its prime location will ensure you spend time enjoying the views of Lake Coeur d'Alene. After thoroughly soaking up your surroundings and exploring the local shops, take an excursion to Seven Stars Alpaca Ranch for a guided tour with friendly alpacas as you escort them to their daytime pasture.

West Glacier, Montana

Plan a stay at Great Northern Resort — known for its whitewater rafting, lodging, and fly fishing — which is the go-to spot for travelers looking for a home base close to the West Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park. The resort offers cozy log cabin stays with a kitchen and fireplace or a nearby hotel for visitors looking for a more traditional lodging experience. As you depart for the park from West Glacier, head toward the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and once inside, make sure to stop at the Montana House in Apgar Village before making your way to the popular picturesque Lake McDonald.

Jackson, Wyoming

Businesses in downtown Jackson, Wyoming
Getty Images

The naturally occurring beauty of Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park, needs no introduction; rather, its colorful hot springs, gushing geysers, and cascading waterfalls are quite synonymous with Yellowstone. Make time to visit both the famed Old Faithful Geyser to watch it erupt and the brilliantly colored Grand Prismatic Spring. As you wander through the park, keep an eye out for the roaming wildlife — bison, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, deer, black bears, and more are commonly seen here. After you have explored the natural wonders of Yellowstone, stay at Spring Creek Ranch in Jackson for the evening.

Rapid City, South Dakota

Car Driving along winding road, Badlands National Park, South Dakota, America, USA

As you make your way to South Dakota, the scenic drive through the Black Hills National Forest will lead you through Custer into Rapid City. Stay at Bavarian Inn Black Hills Hotel in Custer, a short drive away from the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Once you have taken in the presidents' massive 60-foot faces made of granite, head downtown to Rapid City to eat at Murphy's Pub & Grill and sample some local draft beer. Continue your drive through South Dakota's Badlands National Park, a surreal, scenic landscape with stunning rock formations and designated viewpoints for photo opportunities — all along a 39-mile loop.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Spend some time meandering through the almost 60 sculptures in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden before venturing off to cross the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River. Stay at Hotel Ivy — located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis — for a taste of Midwest luxury. Grab dinner at Spoon and Stable, a restaurant in what once was a horse stable, for French-inspired cuisine by a James Beard award-winning chef, or dine at Murray's, a classic Minneapolis steakhouse. Stop by Union Rooftop for a cocktail with a skyline view.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago River with The River walk and surrounding downtown architecture in summer, Chicago, Illinois
Jumping Rocks/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This vibrant city is home to awe-inspiring architecture, urban beaches along Lake Michigan, and a bustling food scene. After taking time to explore the infamous Cloud Gate sculpture at Millennium Park, make your way to Navy Pier for some sightseeing before taking a tour of Chicago on the Chicago Architecture River Cruise. Dine at Au Cheval, a diner-style restaurant known for its gourmet take on a classic burger, or Cindy's Rooftop, a scenic rooftop restaurant at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel with seasonal menus and inventive cocktails. Stay at LondonHouse Hotel and bask in the urban views immediately overlooking the river.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Guestroom at Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Pittsburgh
Courtesy of Kimpton Hotels

Once you arrive in the "Steel City," check into the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in downtown Pittsburgh — an artistic, sophisticated homage to Pittsburgh's growing creative scene. From there, Point State Park, a National Historic Landmark and recreational park, is a short distance away. For dining, a must-visit spot is The Original Oyster House, Pittsburgh's oldest bar and restaurant.

New York, New York

Congratulations, you made it! Celebratory drinks are in order, and what better place to go to than the newest rooftop bar addition at the Hotel Hendricks, Daintree? After checking in to your room with a stunning view of the Empire State Building, make your way to nearby Bryant Park for a midday stroll. If you are in search of the classic New York bagel, look no further than Ess-a-Bagel. For dinner, go to Max in Tribeca or Via Carota in West Village for comforting Italian food. If you are beginning your cross-country trip from the East Coast, then New York City will be your first stop on the route, so be certain to give yourself plenty of time to explore Manhattan before heading west.

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