US 20 is the Big Daddy of road trips.
by Roadtrippers - June 15th 2016
- 3,439 mi.
Route 66 might be known as America's Mother Road, but U.S. Route 20 is, without question, the Big Daddy. It's America's longest road, stretching from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon. That's 12 states and 3,365 miles of transcontinental American awesomeness to explore. Go big and then go home with a mega road trip along this epic route!
Start off by admiring the singular beauty of the Pacific Coast at Newport's Yaquina Bay. Oregon's wild beaches, with their seastacks and tidepools, are unlike anything anywhere else in the country (and set the West Coast apart from the East Coast's beaches on the Atlantic). Then bid adieu to the shore (for now) and prepare yourself to drive right through the beating heart of America!
After hours of driving, a pint at Deschutes Brewery will be well deserved. Their restaurant in Bend also serves up mouthwatering elevated pub grub... think, Korean Gochujang chicken wings, elk burgers, tempeh rubens, pork shoulder mac and cheese, and more. On tap you'll find old Deschutes staples like the Black Butte Porter and the Fresh Squeezed IPA alongside limited releases that are brewed in-house.
As you make your way through Idaho, be on the lookout for fossils. Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is one great place to see how the rocky Idaho landscape hides tons of ancient remains. The fossil bed has been an important archaeological site since the 1920s, and still produces thousands of fossils and shards a year. Learn about the intriguing animals like massive ground sloths, saber-tooth cats, and mastodons that are now extinct but once called Idaho home. The visitor center has tons of great information on the site's past and how to explore!
And you can't drive through Idaho without paying tribute to the state's most famous product. The Idaho Potato Museum. You'll learn everything you never knew about the root veggie, from various potato-related anecdotes to its place in Idaho's culture to how it's been grown throughout history. See a collection of potato peelers, antique farming equipment, and, of course, the giant potato statue out front. Grab some fries and the "free taters for out-of-staters" before you head back out on your way.
The route passes through West Yellowstone in Montana, and then into Wyoming, so you can't miss the chance to stop by America's original (and most insane) National Park. The park is a hotbed of geothermal weirdness, with geysers, colorful hot springs, bubbling mudpots, and more. If you don't have time to wait for Old Faithful to blow or to hike around Grand Prismatic, take a scenic drive through the Lamar Valley to spot bison, or snap a picture of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone!
Wyoming is also known for its pioneer past. The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center is a fascinating look back at settling the prairie. Hands-on, interactive exhibits keep kids engaged while adults can browse the collection of artifacts. The story of the American Western migration is also told through performance and videos. You won't just learn about what life was like in a wagon or on a homestead... you'll get insight into wildlife, native cultures, and natural history as well.
Appreciate the uniquely American weirdness that is Carhenge. It's more a collection of weird car-art (think graffiti cars and a station wagon made to look like a Conestoga wagon) but the crown jewel of the place is the Stonehenge homage made entirely of cars. Set in the rough Badlands scenery, there's actually a lot to see here, and it's well worth the stop. It looks especially majestic around sunset!
In Nebraska, imagine what the country looked like millions of years ago. 12 million years, to be precise. Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historic Park features an absolutely mind-blowing number of ancient remains. The bones of all kinds of strange creatures can be seen here. Walk through the fossil beds, learn about paleontology, and see a dig in action. The site is quite scenic as well, so you won't have a hard time spending an hour or two exploring here.
Also, visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Sioux City. It's free, and provides an in-depth look at the story of Lewis and Clark, following their trials and tribulations as they became the first men to cross the continent. By the end, you'll be thankful that your cross-country road trip is a bit easier than theirs!
As you make your way through the ever-changing and totally gorgeous landscapes across the country, pay tribute to the man who was so inspired by them that he changed architecture forever: Frank Lloyd Wright. His Oak Park Home & Studio is a great way to learn about his early and formative years, and to get a peek into how he worked. This "architectural laboratory" is where he and his team designed over 100 buildings, including some of his most famous works like the Robie House and the Unity Temple.
The home of another American icon is not too far away: the house where pop star Michael Jackson and his siblings were raised is in the tiny town of Gary, Indiana. The house is fenced off, buy you can admire the tributes and memorials placed around it from afar, and if you're lucky, you might encounter one of the neighbors selling souvenirs. They'll definitely have some great stories about what it was like living next to this legendary building.
Spare a day of travel to spend some time at Cedar Point Amusement Park. It's one of the best parks in the country for roller coaster fans, and the sheer number of rides and attractions here will keep kids and adults of all ages enthralled for hours. Sure, it's a little pricey, between the tickets and the cost of food, but you can keep things reasonable by packing a picnic for lunch and buying tickets online in advance.
The route also wanders through Cleveland, where you can jam out at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. It's a bucket list-worthy destination for anyone. Their collection of artifacts is absolutely legendary, from Lady Gaga's meat dress to Elvis's car to Michael Jackson's glove to Joey Ramone's leather jacket... seriously, the list of iconic objects on display is almost endless. Even if you're not a rock fan, the amount of history here is venerable, and it's all incredibly well displayed.
As you make your way into Erie and Western New York, you'll be in prime wine country. Johnson Estate Winery is a quiet little slice of heaven, with rolling green hills and a cozy little tasting room where six samples of wine will only set you back $2. They offer a huge variety, from pinot noirs and merlots to rieslings and chardonnays to ice wines, ports, and sherries. For a real taste of the region, try one of the light blush wines. They also sell food and little gifts, so you can get some snacks to go with the bottles of wine you're sure to leave with.
If you're into attractions that are as interesting as they are quirky, the Jell-O Gallery Museum is a must-visit. Old recipes, Jell-O molds, ads, and more tell the surprisingly storied history of the... solid/liquid/snack/salad/dessert food. It's a quick little stop that's just super endearing... and don't forget to grab a box of Jell-O in the gift shop!
Pay tribute to another great legend in American history: the inimitable Harriet Tubman. The site has four buildings across 25 bucolic acres, which means there is a ton to learn here. The guided tours of the property provide extra insight into the life of Tubman, who, as an escaped slave, risked her life going back to rescue other slaves. You'll learn a ton about the incredible history of the abolition movement and the mysterious Underground Railroad.
And, while you're in the area on your cross-country road trip, celebrate the country's favorite past time at the Baseball Hall of Fame! Exhibits detailing the long and storied history of the distinctly American sport, from the anything-goes early days to the Negro Leagues to honoring the greats. You'll leave with a new appreciation for the sport, from where it's been to where it's headed.
Soak up the beauty of the Berkshires from Naumkeag, a historic Gilded Age "cottage" (read: mansion). The home itself is an architectural masterpiece, and the gardens are absolutely breathtaking. Set atop a hill and offering stunning views, it's a lovely way to really appreciate the rich history and beauty.
You can step back in time at Old Sturbridge Village. This living history museum paints a picture of what life was like in 1830s New England. Many of the buildings are original and include mills, homes, a schoolhouse, a meeting house, a bank, a farm, and more. Costumed interpreters put on demonstrations and re-enactments, not only educating everyone on what life was like, but preserving this period of history in a unique and fascinating way.
End your cross-country longest road in America trip in a place where America began: Boston. Old North Church is one of the coolest Revolutionary War sites still standing, and it can give you a neat look at the period of time when our country chose to fight for freedom. Celebrate with some chowder and enjoy the views of the Atlantic, because you've made it across the country on America's longest road!
Of course, summer is a great time for a trip along US 20... the weather might get hot, and some spots (*ahem* Yellowstone) might get crowded, but many roads and attractions close during the winter. Spring and fall provide mild weather, which is always nice, but can be rainy, and the variable weather might making packing a little tougher. Either way, it'll take you at least a few weeks to fully appreciate everything offered along US 20, so leave yourself plenty of time... and just enjoy the ride!