48 State Trip
In 2004, completed our greatest road trip. My employer's sabbatical program allowed me to take 10 weeks off that year. We spent all 70 days on the road. From our home in Oregon we mapped out the key things we wanted to see on the map. After looking at the route, we decided if we were going to drive so far, we might as well see all of the states.
It was the best 70 days of my life. We traveled 17,000 miles, saw 48 states (some of them briefly), and had a blast. Our friends called us crazy for attempting the trip, but I would do it again if given the opportunity. Check out the map below. A full account of the trip is below the map.
48 State Trip Map
48 State Trip Account
“The Trip” as we call our summer adventure, was an attempt to see and experience as much of America as possible. The trip started from our home near Portland, Oregon. In order to get in and out of the South before it got too hot, we left in mid-May about 3 weeks before school got out. We were initially concerned about taking our children out of elementary school for those last 3 weeks, but the teachers and administrators didn’t seem concerned. It would be an extended field trip of history, culture, geography, and social studies.
There is nothing like departing on an adventure. After the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the winter at Fort Mandan in present day North Dakota, they were ready to depart for the main part of the journey in April 1805. Meriwether Lewis wrote in his Journal, as they headed out on the first day, “We were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden. I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.” Our experience was not so grandiose, but the day we left there was a spirit of excitement in our family that we had never before experienced. We had been planning this trip and the anticipation was intense. I could barely sleep the night before.
The first part of our trip was heading down to Southern Oregon to spend a weekend with Mary’s family at their vacation club resort. After a relaxing weekend with Mary’s parents, we drove through the beautiful forests of Southern Oregon and Northern California. Our destination was a place I had wanted to see my entire life, the Giant Redwoods of Northern California. The Smith River was beautiful among the thick evergreen giants of Northern California. We stayed at Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park and camped amongst the enormous trees.
Close to the coast, we took a trip down to the ocean in Crescent City. As we suspected, the ocean in Northern California is too cold to get in, just like it is Oregon. The next day we hiked in the Redwoods, then drove through the Avenue of the Giants in Redwood National Park, ending up in a KOA in Eureka, California.
The next stage of our Journey took us back inland, uphill, and to Yosemite National Park. This was my first time to see the wonders of Yosemite, which are spectacular. We spent three days there, and then drove down the San Joaquin valley of California to stay with Mary’s grandparents. It was one of the few times along the way we stopped to visit family.
After a weekend break we headed on to San Diego, California. On the way we enjoyed a baseball game at Dodger stadium and ate chicken dinners at Knott’s Berry farm. We camped at Carlsbad State Beach, north of San Diego. In Southern California we went to Legoland, but not Disneyland as we would be “doing Disney” later on in the trip. The best thing about Southern California was the ocean water: we could get in. To live near a cold ocean like we do in Oregon is a bit tortuous. The water looks inviting, and you are tempted to get in, but every time you do you are punished with its utter iciness. It was fun to for our kids to play in the ocean for the first time in their lives. I also enjoyed some body boarding, something I hadn’t done since I was a kid.
After a few days of Southern California, it was time to head east. We felt like we were passing the point of no return as we headed out of California and Nevada to points eastward. We drove over Hoover Dam, then up into Grand Canyon National Park in 110 degree heat. The Grand Canyon should be on the “must see” list of American treasures. No photograph I have seen captures the feeling of immensity you get when you look in with your own eyes. A full day of hiking in the park gave us a good taste of the canyon.
Continuing east we drove to Cortez, Colorado and went and saw the ancient cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. These were historical sites I had learned about in school and had seen on TV. It was satisfying to finally walk among them. Next we drove through the beautiful high country of Southwestern Colorado, then down into New Mexico. We met up with I-40, the straightest road I have ever seen, which took us from desert to farmland and eventually Texas. We stayed in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, and experienced the Texas attitude, along with the famous hospitality that makes the attitude charming.
Leaving Texas, we plunged deeper and deeper into the east, which was all new territory to us. The landscape is something we had never seen before. We found Oklahoma to be beautiful, especially the red soil topped with green vegetation. We finished the day in Arkansas and stayed at a US Corps of Engineers park in Fort Smith. Public lands like ths are some of the best camping deals in the United States. The next day we headed east to the other side of Arkansas, staying at a campground on the banks of a river I had always wanted to see: the Mississippi. Our night on the Mississippi River was made even more enjoyable by a trip into Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis was the most enjoyable and family friendly of all the big cities that we visited. We didn’t see Elvis, but we had a great time walking down Beale Street.
The next day we headed south right through the middle of Mississippi. Of all the states we drove through, in no state did we drive so much yet see so little. To me, Mississippi is I-55, a straight highway with big beautiful green trees on either side. The vegetation is so thick and consistent we could never see past it, even when we passed by the city exits.
We spent the night at a state park in Louisiana and went out and explored the bayous. The bayous and New Orleans are a world different than anything we have ever experienced having lived all our lives in the West. We tried to explore New Orleans, but did not do it well. It was here in the bayou that we learned the meaning of, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”
Heading east we traveled through Alabama. When we saw the USS Alabama permanently docked off the coast, we enjoyed an unplanned tour. We ate some delicious gulf coast sea food, something that had eluded us in New Orleans. From there it was on to Florida, and some of the best days of our trip. The Gulf Coast of Florida is much more beautiful than we had imagined it. We stopped for the night at a state beach near Destin, on the pan-handle of Florida. It was by far the most fun time I have ever had swimming. The ocean was beautiful and wonderfully warm; the sandy beach was immaculate with the whitest sand I had ever seen.
The only way we could get the kids to consent to leave the beach was to promise them that we would go to another beach the next day. And so the next day we completed our trip across Florida to Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Ocean. Again, we loved playing in the warm ocean water. While at Cape Canaveral, we spent a full day visiting the Kennedy Space Center visitor’s complex, which had a lot of cool stuff to see.
The next stop was the main attraction, Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World is enormous. We stayed in the Disney Fort Wilderness Campground for five absolutely jam packed days and nights. Having fun at Disney World was exhausting. We would get up early in the morning in order to get into the parks before the lines got long. In the evening we stayed until they kicked us out, which was usually 11:00 at night or even later. We did take breaks in the afternoon, but after four days in four different Disney amusement parks we were exhausted. Getting into the car and driving again was a nice relaxing change.
We weren’t finished with Florida yet. We headed south to Everglades National Park. There we saw alligators, a variety of turtles, and other wildlife we had never seen before except in the zoo. We still went south and camped on Key Largo at another state park. State Parks are also some of the best deals for camping on a road trip. Since we were so “close” we decided we couldn’t go home without driving out to the southernmost part of the United States. On a Sunday, we drove across the 42 bridges and islands on US1 to get to Key West. It is a bit of an odd feeling to be on a highway over the water and see ocean in all directions for almost as far as you can see. The longest bridge there is 7 miles long. It was a long afternoon drive, but if we hadn’t done it, we would have regretted it.
On a Monday morning, we took a glass bottom boat tour to see the coral reef. We loved it, and enjoyed all the varieties of fish and sea creatures that we saw. We had seen fish like this in zoo’s and aquariums, but it was neat to seem them out in their natural habitat. We headed north again with a bit of sadness. We would miss all of the fun we had in Florida, America’s playground.
After a long days drive we camped in Georgia. We then drove northwest into Great Smoky National Park where we camped. The mountains are not high compared to the mountains we are used to out west. But they are definitely not small and unsubstantial as I had imagined them when I saw the elevations listed on a map. We found them to be beautiful, majestic, and rugged. We learned that Great Smokey Mountain National Park is world renown for the diversity of its plant and animal life.
The next day was a long but beautiful drive through Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. It was the second longest driving day of the trip at 700 miles, but it was also one of the most scenic. We pulled into a large RV park just outside Washington DC near midnight. We were not discouraged or overly tired though. We still had a lot of excitement because of what we had seen, and anticipation for the days ahead.
We had a full 5 days to explore Washington D.C., but only saw a fraction of the things that could be seen in that area. We did meet our Senator, and visited the Smithsonian museums and the monuments along the national mall. We also went on day trips to Gettysburg and Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s Residence. There was a lot of walking involved, but a lot of learning as well. One of our favorite things to see in Washington D.C. was a wall that had current newspapers posted from around the nation and the world. It was fascinating to see how different people and cultures saw, interpreted, and prioritized the same events.
Heading north we wished we had planned a stop in Philadelphia. The only adventure that we had there was navigating the downtown traffic with our Suburban and trailer, and realizing that there was no way we would be able to park and see the historic sites. We then traveled to a RV park in Jersey City. The park was on the Hudson River and from it we could see the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan. We spent the next day exploring New York City. It was a blast. We will never think of New York City the same way again, having walked it’s streets for a day. Even the superficial experience we had gave an understanding that one cannot gain from watching TV shows about this famous city.
We then traveled to the Boston area and explored the town of Plymouth, where the Mayflower landed. We got there just a little after the museums had closed, but a nearby souvenir shop helped to ease our disappointment. We finished the day with a trip to the beach. Even though it was a brisk 75 degrees outside and the beach was rocky, we had to drag our children away from the ocean when it was time to go because they were having so much fun. The next day we walked the “Freedom Trail” in Boston, seeing some of the historical sights related to the American Revolution. That same day we traveled into Maine to see our sister city Portland, Maine. We enjoyed the fresh, cool air and some Maine lobster too.
While in Maine we paused to reflect that we had come as far east as we were going to go. It was gloomy to think that we were now heading toward home. We were still having a lot of fun and we did not want this trip to end anytime soon. “Heading home” next took us up through Vermont and New Hampshire. We went through the middle of these states, mostly staying on I-89. Even from the freeway, the beauty of these states was amazing. The terrain was mountainous, rocky, and consistently green. We stayed a few days in upstate New with my parents who flew out to meet us.
A highly anticipated part of our trip was Niagara Falls, America’s first State Park. We felt compelled to see famous landmarks like this.. We had a blast riding a Maid of the Mist boat into the heart of the Canadian falls. Most of us liked it, I should say. Carolyn, our four year old, clung to the railing, looking out at the river. When Mary came up to her and asked, “Isn’t this fun?” she slowly and calmly replied, “I never want to do this again.” At least she wasn’t crying or complaining. We also hiked the Cave of the Winds trail down amongst the American falls. It was a real kick putting on a rain poncho and sandals, then waking amongst the falls and feeling their power while getting splashed from all directions.
Next we headed to Ohio and enjoyed Cedar Point Amusement Park which has been called the “world’s best amusement park.” We were there to ride the tallest roller coaster in the world. It turns out the world’s tallest roller coaster was broke the whole day that we were in the park. Apparently it frequently is broken down as they haven’t got all the bugs worked out yet. Still we had a great time with the kids, who enjoyed proving they were brave enough to go on all the rides they were tall enough to ride. Their parents met some roller coasters that truly scared them, even without getting to the worlds tallest.
We spent a week driving through the Midwest, including Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. It was amazing to us just how much farmland was out there. We spent most of the time visiting places of historical significance to our family.
We then turned north into South Dakota, and camped at a RV park just outside of Badlands National Park. As I stopped the car I saw that it was 95 degrees outside. I dreaded getting out into the heat, but when I did it was amazingly pleasant. We were finally out of the humidity of the east, and it felt good.
Our family really enjoyed the Badlands, where you can hike wherever you want amongst some really interesting land features. We then traveled west to the Black Hills. The Black Hills far exceeded our expectations for beauty. There we enjoyed Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Cave of the Winds National Park, and seeing lots of buffalo.
We headed even farther north into North Dakota, partly just to check another state off of our list. We camped in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The scenery is great in this national park. Buffalo roamed the hills and would come right up to the road. It was fun to get a close-up view of the enormous, fearsome looking animals.
We then headed on to Montana where we camped near the Battle of Little Bighorn National Monument. As we watched the sun go down from our hillside campsite, a few scattered clouds caught the rays of the setting sun and we understood why they call it Big Sky Country. The Battle of Little Bighorn National Monument is a very interesting and educational place to visit. We learned a lot about what life was like for a Native American and a US Army soldier during the westward expansion of the United States.
We then headed southwest to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone had just experienced a big mudslide and the east entrance was closed. We didn’t mind too much though, as the detour route took us through the rugged and high mountains of Northern Wyoming. The views and scenery were simply stunning.
We spent four days in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is a place I had visited many times as a youth, but it has not become dull. It is one of the most interesting and beautiful places in the United States. Yellowstone is a central destination for people going on road trips. My parents met us there, and they introduced us to the license plate game. The idea is to write down the states that you see on vehicle’s license plates. In about 2 hours we saw license plates from 40 of the 50 United States, proving that Yellowstone is a hub for road trippers.
That takes us to essentially the end of our adventure. The rest of the trip involved visiting family and attending family reunions in Utah. It was good to catch up with the relatives and enjoy some quiet time. On Monday, the first day of August, we drove the 800 miles to our home. It was good to see neighbors again. It was great to sleep in a nice soft bed. It was nice to have plenty of places to put your things. But for all of that, we were sorry that our trip was over.