A Data Geek Has Computed The Perfect American Road Trip: 48 States, 50 Landmarks

By 03.16.15  •  2 Comments
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Because there’s nothing more American than taking a cross-country road trip, one man has done the lord’s work and used data analysis to create the perfect American road trip.

From the same man who created an algorithm for always finding Waldo in the ‘Where’s Waldo’ books comes a route through all 48 lower states in one continuous road trip that each and every one of us should take at some point in our lives. Randy Olson over at Washington Post’s Wonkblog (and KnowMore) has developed the optimal route through all 48 lower states using hard data, here’s the route:


The trip had three criteria according Randal Olson’s website:

1.) The trip must make at least one stop in all 48 states in the contiguous U.S.

2.) The trip would only make stops at National Natural Landmarks, National Historic Sites, National Parks, or National Monuments.

3.) The trip must be taken by car and never leave the U.S.

With that criteria in mind, Randal Olson applied some genetic algorithms to Google Maps and came up with the absolute best road trip through the lower 48 states, annd here’s more on on how he himself outlined this epic American road trip:

With those objectives in mind, Tracy compiled a list of 50 major U.S. landmarks — one in each state excluding Alaska/Hawaii and including D.C., and two in California.

The result was an epic itinerary with a mix of inner city exploration, must-see historical sites, and beautiful natural landscapes. All that was left was to figure out the path that would minimize our time spent driving and maximize our time spent enjoying the landmarks.

Assuming no traffic, this road trip will take about 224 hours (9.33 days) of driving in total, so it’s truly an epic undertaking that will take at least 2-3 months to complete. The best part is that this road trip is designed so that you can start anywhere on the route as long as you follow it from then on. You’ll hit every major area in the U.S. on this trip, and as an added bonus, you won’t spend too long driving through the endless corn fields of Nebraska.

Taking a road trip across America and experiencing first hand what our great nation looks like from the backroads to the big cities is a big part of developing your American identity. There’s just something so quintessentially American and nostalgic about packing up the car and driving thousands of miles to see all of our National Parks, our roadside attractions, and the oldest and most historic sites our great nation has to offer.

I myself have never had the great fortune of taking a lower 48 road trip, but I have road tripped from Tallahassee, Florida to Aspen, Colorado leaving in the middle of the night. We left after the bar we were at called last call (we had a designated driver) so we decided to drive 30-minutes to Georgia to get more beer as the gas stations in Tallahassee has already stopped selling. Earlier in that night we’d all been discussing places we’d never been, and the three of us had never been to Colorado. Once we got in the car someone mentioned “fuck it, let’s just go to Colorado” so we stopped at our apartments on the way out of town, packed some clothes and some blankets, the driver popped an adderall by the time I woke up we were already in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a hell of a trip. We spent a night in St. Louis partying at some mansion owned by a Wash U. student’s parents and it culminated with me clogging the urinal at the Sammy frat house by throwing up into it.

Then we left St. Louis and spent a week in Colorado, most of it in Aspen (some in Boulder). I continued to get hammered and throw up in urinals all across our great nation, but aside from that it was probably the best two week trip of my life.

When it comes to road trips it really is all about seeing our nation, and making sure you get off the massive highways, hence why Randal Olson’s ‘perfect American road trip’ is such a great way for you to really behold the Land of the Free.

Here’s the full list of landmarks in order (from Randal Olson’s website):

Grand Canyon, AZ
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID
Yellowstone National Park, WY
Pikes Peak, CO
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
The Alamo, TX
The Platt Historic District, OK
Toltec Mounds, AR
Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN
Vicksburg National Military Park, MS
French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
USS Alabama, AL
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL
Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
Fort Sumter National Monument, SC
Lost World Caverns, WV
Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
Mount Vernon, VA
White House, Washington, DC
Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
New Castle Historic District, Delaware
Cape May Historic District, NJ
Liberty Bell, PA
Statue of Liberty, NY
The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT
The Breakers, RI
USS Constitution, MA
Acadia National Park, ME
Mount Washington Hotel, NH
Shelburne Farms, VT
Fox Theater, Detroit, MI
Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL
Gateway Arch, MO
C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS
Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA
Taliesin, WI
Fort Snelling, MN
Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
Mount Rushmore, SD
Fort Union Trading Post, ND
Glacier National Park, MT
Hanford Site, WA
Columbia River Highway, OR
San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
San Andreas Fault, CA
Hoover Dam, NV

[WashingtonPost / Randal Olson]


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