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The Most Perfect Road Trip You Can Take

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Randal Olson is a data scientist based in Portland. He was asked by a writer for Discovery News, Tracy Staedter, to use his algorithm skills to create the perfect road trip across the United States.

Her only parameters were that the trip must stop in each of the 48 contiguous states, and every stop must be a national landmark, historic site, national park or national monument. Oh, and the car has to stay in the US.

Sounds like fun, right? I love the idea!

The 2 Most Perfect Road Trips You Can Take According to Science

The Ideal Road Trip

There is something so perfect about taking a road trip. The planning, the packing, the excitement. I love prepping the food for the ride. Why does everything taste even more delicious when you’re traveling?

Take these peanut butter stuffed cookies, for example. They’re so good! When you freeze them and pop them in a cooler for a getaway though, they become something seriously yummy. Try it for yourself. You’ll see what I mean.

Anyway, the brilliant Randal came up with 50 landmarks, one in every state excluding Alaska/Hawaii and including D.C., and two in California.

He wanted the best route for traveling between all the landmarks in order, without backtracking. That’s no small task.

In fact, Randal said, “if you started computing this problem on your home computer right now, you’d find the optimal route in about 9.64 x 1052 years…”

No thanks, sir. I’ll take your word for it!

A Journey of 13, 669 Miles

That’s the length of this road trip. While it will take you around 2 to 3 months to visit all of them, the entire trip can be done with only a total of 9 1/2 days of driving. That’s plenty of time to visit each place without feeling too rushed.

The Landmarks On the Perfect Road Trip

If you appreciate nature and getting out to see some of the things that make America unique and beautiful, you’ll love the experience. Here’s what you’ll see.

The 2 Most Perfect Road Trips You Can Take According to Science

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

The 2 Most Perfect Road Trips You Can Take According to Science

Or…Visit US Cities Instead of Landmarks

Alternatively, Randal gets that not everyone wants to see the Parker Carousel Museum in Leavenworth, KS. That’s why he laid out the same kind of road trip, but with a focus on America’s cities.

Here are the places you’ll visit if you utilize his algorithm. At 12,290 miles, it’s a little shorter than the landmark focused trek but you can still plan on roughly the same amount of time away from home.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Wichita, Kansas
Denver, Colorado
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Phoenix, Arizona
Las Vegas, Nevada
San Francisco, California
Portland, Oregon
Seattle, Washington
Boise, Idaho
Park City, Utah
Jackson, Wyoming
Billings, Montana
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Omaha, Nebraska
Des Moines, Iowa
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Chicago, Illinois
Indianapolis, Indiana
Louisville, Kentucky
Columbus, Ohio
Detroit, Michigan
Cleveland, Ohio
Manchester, New Hampshire
Portland, Maine
Boston, Massachusetts
Providence, Rhode Island
New Haven, Connecticut
New York City, New York
Ocean City, New Jersey
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Wilmington, Delaware
Baltimore, Maryland
Washington, D.C.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Charlotte, North Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Orlando, Florida
Atlanta, Georgia
Nashville, Tennessee
Birmingham, Alabama
Jackson, Mississippi
New Orleans, Louisiana
Houston, Texas
Little Rock, Arkansas
Branson, Missouri

Are You Game?

Are you packing? If you want to take a road trip but can’t necessarily do the entire thing, visit Randal’s site for more information. While you’re dreaming of a way you can take 2 1/2 months off work to see the United States of America, head into the kitchen and whip up some Pineapple Lemonade to sip. While it probably won’t convince your boss to give you the vacation time, it’ll sure make your day just a little bit sweeter.

As for me, I’m already packing… in my mind.

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35 comments

  1. Give me the map. I need to get started on my trip.

  2. What would be the estimated minimum cost? And are there tips to economize?

  3. Change it up a bit and go off the beaten path, plenty of small towns with interesting things to see !

    • I agree, make a “off the beaten path” trip. There is a lot to see in rural America or small towns. Much less hectic when you don’t have to drive through bumper to bumper traffic.

  4. What about Niagara Falls NY ????????????Seriously!!!!?!

  5. I would love the map too

    • San Andres Fault is a “landmark”??! LOL. Have you been to California? Were you at a loss as to which of our amazing landmarks to list so you went with a fault line instead?? This is clickbait and not a useful informative piece of information worth reading. 

      • Right?! Seems like everywhere else was an okay pick, but a fault line that causes mass destruction? Lol… go to Disneyland instead!

  6. I would love this! I teach and have the summer to complete this! Send me the map please!!

  7. I get that this was done with a computer program, but come on! You are ignoring what makes Michigan wonderful: our natural beauty. You can’t just hit Detroit and then U-turn back out of Michigan. We have a National Park worthy of a road trip in the Sleeping Bear Dunes. You have to see the Lake Michigan shoreline, and no trip to Michigan is complete without crossing the Mackinac Bridge. If you take that route, you could pop over to Wisconsin to continue your journey.

    • agreed! And Mackinac Island is also a must visit! (I lived in Mich briefly as a kid and loved Mackinac island <3 would love to visit again as an adult)

      Every state has so much more to offer than the little blip they are given in the trip plan though

    • Also lol, out of the plethora of amazing things you can see and do in Wa State… it chose Hanford nuclear site (which is a huge clean up site)… I mean, why?

  8. Post the map please

  9. Seriously!? What? The only place you’d go in Washington State is a Freaking Nuclear plant? HELL NO!
    In no particular order…

    1. Mt Rainier National Park
    2. Olympic National Park
    3. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
    4. North Cascades National Park
    5. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
    6. San Juan Islands
    7. Ect. Ect. Ect

    • Right? there is SOOOOO much here! why the heck would you go visit a Nuclear plant, it’s not even like it’s an impressive one lol

      • Seriously you can’t go to WA without going to Olympic N.P. , it’s amazing!

        • Well, after that Nuclear Power Plant, you can take the road south to the San Andreas Fault. Yes, take the journey to view a fault line that causes mass destruction… you can skip majestic places like Yosemite and the coast.

  10. Can you please—send me this info re: The Perfect Road Trip Map & sites. Send article to my email!

  11. I’m very interested in this nationwide road trip. Is the a map you can provide?

  12. I guess there isn’t a city in Vermont worthy of a visit??

  13. Challenge accepted!! Please send the map!!

  14. You forgot a city in Vermont. May I suggest either Burlington, Winooski, or Montpelier?

  15.  This will be fun 

  16. North Dakota isn’t mentioned in the cities to visit.

  17. No North Dakota on the list of cities…I hope (and assume) it’s an oversight in creating the list and it’s on the actual route

  18. The Alamo would be in San Antonio Texas not Houston Texas

  19. my great uncle jim was a big part of the carousel museum in Leavenworth before he died

  20. If in AZ, you should really stop off and see the Red Rock in Sedona, AZ.  

  21. Here’s a link to Randy Olson’s website and more information about the trip and the map:

    http://www.randalolson.com/2015/03/08/computing-the-optimal-road-trip-across-the-u-s/

  22. I would love The map please.

  23. I’m already doing this. Was on the road three months last year. Will be on it another 3 months this year and next year will be gone six months. Trying to see all the National Parks in the US. and any thing else that I ewant to see along the way.

  24. I didn’t hit all the places on these lists …..but I came close. I did two 2-3 month trip across the US. Absolutely eye opening experience!!! Hope you have safe travels…… watch out for the long haul trucks and people texting!!! Ug!

  25. Now where is that list of the trip you can take and stay very near 70° for the entire trip?

  26. Santa Fe, NM should have been on the list of cities!