The Great Northern is a route that features nearly 3,600 miles of mountains, lakes, badlands and valleys. This epic cross-country road trip closely parallels US-2. U.S. Route 2 (also known as U.S. Highway 2) was nicknamed "The Great Northern" in commemoration of the the historic transcontinental railroad that helped pioneer the settlement of the West. Highway 2 is the Northernmost east-west route in the country, and driving it continuously will even take you into Canada! Plus, as one of America's longest transcontinental road trips, you'll enjoy unsurpassed scenery as you journey from coast to coast, bisecting the North American continent, just like Lewis and Clark over a century ago.
Start at the Pacific Ocean to make your Great Northern trip truly cross-country. Besides, the beaches here are utterly breathtaking. The misty waves, the jagged cliffs, and the tidepools filled with enchanting sealife all add to the experience. Plus, Olympic National Park boasts a stunning temperate rainforest that's worth exploring as well.
Seattle has tons of great hotels, but come on, you can't pass up the chance to stay in one of the country's most beautiful treehouse resorts! Treehouse Point in Issaquah, WA is more like camping, since not all of the treehouses are equipped with running water, but it's worth it to sleep in among the branches of one of the Pacific Northwest's many gorgeous forests.
Even if you've never seen Twin Peaks, you'll still fall in love with Twede's Cafe's "damn fine cup of coffee" and incredible cherry pie the way David Lynch (and, of course, Dale Cooper) did from the cult TV show. In fact, the town of North Bend is rustic Pacific Northwest charm at its finest. Plan on spending the day exploring, and visit nearby Snoqualmie Falls.
The Pacific Northwest is also known for their funky arts scene, and Dick and Janes Art Spot is a great example of everyday folk art. The couple has adorned their fences, yard and the exterior of their home with bottle caps, reflectors, and other found objects, turning their house into a work of art! Since it's a private home, be respectful when taking pictures from the side of the road.
Riverfront Park is a central feature of Spokane and features tons to see and do. It's got the pavilion, a carousel, an IMAX theater, a small theme park for kids, a skyride over the waterfall, and a massive red wagon, just like the one you probably had as a kid. Great photo op!
Once you've hopped the border from Washington to Idaho, You'll feel right at Ida-Home at the Ida-Home B&B! It's got everything you could want in a bed and breakfast, from hot tubs and campfires to stunning sunsets and spacious, elegant rooms with private bathrooms. Oh, and the gourmet, locally-sourced, organic breakfast you can enjoy on the porch as you wake up in the morning is pretty great, too.
The Swan River Inn in Bigfork, MT is a little hotel with a room for every taste, literally. It features themes like "leather and lace", "exotic Arabian nights", "Tuscan", "French Country", "Geisha", "Art Deco", and "Log Cabin", just to name a few. When you're not basking in the quirky decor of your accommodations, you can enjoy the rooftop garden or walk into the rad town of Bigfork.
Mystery Houses are a classic roadside stop, and the Montana Vortex and House of Mystery in Columbia Falls has been bending brains since the 1970's. Once you step inside, forget everything you learned in high school physics, because gravity will appear to stop working, you'll be able to see your aura, and you can soak up the healing energy from the labyrinth.
Definitely plan on spending at least a day exploring Glacier National Park. You'll want to drive along the Going-To-The-Sun Road, and take a boat tour on one of the park's stunningly clear glacial lakes at the very least. Plus, be on the lookout for the adorable mountain goats and huckleberries along the way (you can pick up to a quart to carry out for road snacks!)
Lewis and Clark made a journey that was just as rad as the Great Northern, so stop at the Lewis and Clark National Interpretive Center in Great Falls. This super comprehensive museum will teach you everything about their cross-country excursion. As you travel across the country, learn about what Westward expansion meant to the country, and the struggles of Lewis and Clark's adventure.
When you're hungry, head to Great Falls for some cold drinks, great campfire-style steaks and chops, homemade mint ice cream and other steakhouse classics. Eddie's Supper Club and Coffee serves old-school cuisine in an authentic 1960's atmosphere, which makes this a fun place to stop for dinner or coffee on the road. You might need a nap after digging into their prime rib and shrimp scampi, though.
Pheasant Tales Bed and Bistro is a casual B&B that mostly caters to those looking for hunting and hiking in Montana, which is a really fun way to experience that side of the state. It's a very relaxed (but still super accommodating) place, and the views from the sun room are just as good as their dinners.
Teddy Roosevelt was famously into conservation and creating National Parks, so stop by Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which preserves some of North Dakota's most gorgeous badlands and pay tribute to him. Prairie dogs, Teddy's old cabin, and great stargazing can also be found here.
State governors lived in the Former Governors' Mansion in Bismarck, ND, from 1893 until the 1960's, but it's been painstakingly restored to look as it did during the 19th century. Not only does the mansion give you a cool look into the past, but it also shows you how they went about bringing it back to its opulent 1800's roots.
Next up, Minnesota! People can't really agree on where America's most famous tall tale character was born, but some claim he hails from the small town of Brainerd. Hit up Paul Bunyan Land off State Highway 18, where, you'll find rides, a petting zoo, a pioneer village of sorts, and more. It's definitely got that nostalgic atmosphere, so stop by and poke around.
Minnesota has a strong Nordic heritage, but only one B&B lets you literally become a viking for a night. No, I'm not kidding: when you stay the night at the Nordic Inn Medieval B&B in Crosby, you get a Viking costume and must create a character to role-play as during the dinner feast. And if history isn't quite your thing, don't worry: they have a Minnesota Vikings themed room, too.
You're on the Great Lakes, so why not check out some of the unique marine life of the region? Learn about shipwrecks, otters, birds, and tons more at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth. You can easily spend several hours exploring here.
Equally as important as the creatures that live in the lakes is the maritime history of humans exploring them, and you can learn all about that at the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center. From model ships and rooms created to feel like the interior of a boat to views of the lake, perfect for watching ships, it's educational and entertaining. And the best part? It's free to visit!
Next up is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Along this gorgeous lakeshore, you'll find sand dunes, caves, waterfalls, and more. Whether you're exploring on foot or on a kayak, you won't find a more memorable lake landscape.
When you're ready for a bite to eat hit up Roxane's Smokehouse Restaurant. Don't stress yourself out trying to decide which of the smoked meats to order off the menu: split the combo platter and enjoy it all. Or, if you're a breakfast-all-day kinda person, the smoked brisket omelette is a revelation. Top if off with a slice of classic banana cream pie!
The Museum Ship Valley Camp in Sault Ste. Marie is an old Great Lakes freighter that's been turned into a massive museum with over 100 exhibits! There's also an observation tower where you can take in the views of the bustling shipping channel. What better way to learn about the history of Sault Ste. Marie than here?
The Montreal Botanical Garden is huge, and literally every square inch is gorgeous. From the Rose Garden to the Chinese and Japanese Gardens to the arboretum and the collection of rare orchids, you'll find yourself in pure, natural bliss. Plus, you can visit the always-interesting Insectarium, and the garden is close to the Olympic Stadium as well.
The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is a replica of the Notre Dame in Paris, and is the perfect way to learn about Montreal's French history. Note that the stained glass windows on this basilica actually depict scenes from the religious history of Montreal instead of Biblical scenes!
The vintage atmosphere and picture-perfect views of Asticou Inn really add to the experience of staying at this historic hotel; it's right by Acadia National Park, which was once a vacation destination for the rich and fabulous during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Definitely make sure to enjoy popovers and tea on the porch.
Finally! You've reached the Atlantic Ocean...so take in the very best views the East Coast has to offer at Acadia National Park. The misty cliffs, picturesque lighthouses, and breathtaking hikes are all worth checking out!
The best time of year for a Great Northern road trip is late spring, summer and early fall. Since you're traveling along the northern part of the states, weather definitely will play a role in your trip. Also, consider getting a National Park pass if you plan on hitting up several national parks along the way, because it will definitely save you money.