This Map Shows the Ultimate U.S. Road Trip

The concept of a road trip is as American as apple pie, and yet, devising the “best” U.S. driving route is a bit of a head scratcher. Much depends on time parameters, personal preference, and frankly, how long you want to spend behind the wheel.

Tracy Staedter at Discovery News decided to take on that challenge, enlisting Randy Olson—Michigan State University doctoral student and the man behind the famed (and super helpful) Where’s Waldo algorithm—to devise what you might call the platonic ideal of the United States road trip. The parameters were: It had to hit all of the 48 continental states, every stop had to be a National Natural Landmark, a National Historic Site, a National Park, or a National Monument, and of course, had to be confined to car travel and within U.S. borders.

With a stop in Washington D.C. and two in California, the result is 50 points of all American awesomenesss.

Here are the destinations:

1. Grand Canyon, AZ
2. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
3. Craters of the Moon, ID
4. Yellowstone National Park, WY
5. Pikes Peak, CO
6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
7. The Alamo, TX
8. The Platt Historic District, OK
9. Toltec Mounds, AR
10. Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN
11. Vicksburg National Military Park, MS
12. French Quarter, LA
13. USS Alabama, AL
14. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL
15. Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
16. Fort Sumter National Monument, SC
17. Lost World Caverns, WV
18. Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
19. Mount Vernon, VA
20. White House, Washington, D.C.
21. Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
22. New Castle Historic District, DE
23. Cape May Historic District, NJ
24. Liberty Bell, PA
25. Statue of Liberty, NY
26. The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT
27. The Breakers, RI
28. USS Constitution, MA
29. Acadia National Park, ME
30. Mount Washington Hotel, NH
31. Shelburne Farms, VT
32. Fox Theater, MI
33. Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
34. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
35. West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
36. Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL
37. Gateway Arch, MO
38. C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS
39. Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA
40. Taliesin, WI
41. Fort Snelling, MN
42. Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
43. Mount Rushmore, SD
44. Fort Union Trading Post, ND
45. Glacier National Park, MT
46. Hanford Site, WA
47. Columbia River Highway, OR
48. San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
49. San Andreas Fault, CA
50. Hoover Dam, NV

That list starts with the Grand Canyon, but you could theoretically begin anywhere as long as you drive in sequence after that. Staedter guesses it would take a little over nine days of driving straight through, but more realistically is a two- or three-month trip.

For the nitty gritty on how he came up with the route, check out Olson’s blog. After determining the stops, the main goal of the algorithm was to find the shortest distance between points.

Olson wrote to Staedter: "Instead of exhaustively looking at every possible solution, genetic algorithms start with a handful of random solutions and continually tinker with these solutions — always trying something slightly different from the current solution and keeping the best one — until they can’t find a better solution any more."

And whether or not you understand the specifics of how it was created, the map is truly a marvel and the kind of itinerary you'll probably spend all winter dreaming about. See the full, interactive map here, and for additional #travelgoals, check out Olson’s road trip maps for U.S. cities and Europe.

The Most Popular Tourist Attractions in Each State

Hot air balloons drifting over the Rio Grande River in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Hot air balloons drifting over the Rio Grande River in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Greg Meland/iStock via Getty Images

In 2018, Americans took about 1.8 billion trips for leisure purposes alone, the U.S. Travel Association reports. But what types of attractions do they visit during those trips? Thanks to new data from Groupon and Viator, a TripAdvisor company, we now have the answer.

Map of the Northeast of the United States, showing a few of the most popular tourist attractions in that region
Groupon

Groupon mapped out each state’s most popular travel experience and classified them according to price, type, and region. Tourists in the northeast United States tend to gravitate toward what Groupon describes as “exploration and discovery” activities, like the Founding Fathers Tour of Philadelphia, Maine's Portland City and Lighthouse Tour, and the day trip from Boston to Martha’s Vineyard.

Map of the Midwest region of the United States, listing a few of the most popular tourist attractions in those states
Groupon

The Midwest is by far the cheapest place to vacation, with the cost of attractions in the region averaging about $48. Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and North Dakota are great states to visit if you’re looking for a top-ranked food tour, while South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois offer plenty of educational tours and experiences (including a movie site tour for Field of Dreams fans).

Map of the Southern region of the United States, listing some of the most popular tourist attractions in that area
Groupon

Experiences in the South are fairly varied. Visitors have plenty of options, whether they’re looking for a historic tour of Asheville, North Carolina's Biltmore Estate (the largest privately owned house in the United States) or a day of thrills at Virginia’s Busch Gardens amusement park. Tourists in the South do seem to prefer watery activities, though—the region is popular for dinner cruises and dolphin watching.

Map of the Western region of the United States, listing some of the most popular tourist destinations in the area
Groupon

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the West is easily the most expensive region for visitors, averaging about $176 per attraction. Tourists in this region tend to gravitate toward experiences like helicopter tours and hot air balloon rides, all of which push the region toward the pricey end of the scale. Still, if you’re looking for astounding natural beauty, there are few places with more variety than the American West.

The Most Famous Mythical Creature in Each State

CashNetUSA
CashNetUSA

The widespread popularity of fantasy franchises like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones suggests that, on some level, we all wish that dragons, giants, and other magical creatures actually existed.

While Nifflers, Thestrals, and Blast-Ended Skrewts may only be found within the pages of a Harry Potter novel, plenty of other mythical beasts have allegedly been spotted a lot closer to home than you might think. CashNetUSA's SavingSpot blog created a map highlighting the most famous magical monster in each state—an American edition of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, if you will.

Some slither, others skulk, and pretty much all of them have the potential to take your nightmares to the next level. You’ll probably recognize some of the better-known ones: New Jersey is home to the Jersey Devil, Texas claims the fanged Chupacabra, and Washington boasts Bigfoot, who seems downright charming compared to others on the list.

new jersey's jersey devil illustration
CashNetUSA

However, the majority of these creatures are rather obscure, and therefore all the more terrifying. The emaciated Wendigo from Minnesota kills with a glance, smells like a dead body, and will not hesitate to gobble you up. And good luck trying to outrun Illinois’s hissing, three-legged Enfield Horror, which can cover 25 feet in a single leap.

minnesota's wendigo illustration
CashNetUSA

Pennsylvania’s Squonk, on the other hand, is almost too pathetic to be scary. Apparently, it’s so ashamed of its saggy skin and wart-covered face that it can cry itself into a pool of water and simply slip out of any cage. If you see it, maybe just compliment its twinkling eyes and send it on its merry way.

pennsylvania's squonk illustration
CashNetUSA

The Loch Ness Monster lives all the way out in Scotland, of course, but she’s definitely inspired a few Nessie-wannabes right here in the States. Nevada has Tahoe Tessie, an 80-foot-long possible plesiosaur, and Maryland’s Chessie calls the Chesapeake Bay home.

nevada's tahoe tessie illustration
CashNetUSA

If you pay close attention to the details of SavingSpot’s accompanying online bestiary, you’ll see some clues about how these tall tales arose from fairly normal occurrences. Eyewitnesses first described Idaho’s aquatic dino Sharlie as a huge log, North Carolina’s Beast of Bladenboro resembles a bear, and Rhode Island’s vampire Mercy Brown was once a real woman—locals declared her a vampire after digging up her grave and realizing she hadn’t decayed at all. (For the record, she had only been dead for two months, and the winter temperatures likely preserved her body.)

mercy brown illustration
CashNetUSA

Find out which mythical beast hails from your home state here.

[h/t CashNetUSA]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER