How to Plan Your Road Trip Route

Once you've selected your destination, it's time to plan your road trip route. When you punch two endpoints into Mapquest and click Get Directions, it generates detailed driving directions.

But depending on where you're heading and how far you're driving, that may not be the end of determining your road trip route. Sure, if you're driving from Salt Lake City to Omaha, you're pretty much taking I-80 no matter what.

But what if you're driving from Minneapolis to Seattle? Taking I-94 and I-90 the whole way will be fastest. You'll probably see more interesting scenery, though, if you start off on US Route 12 through Minnesota and South Dakota, or get off I-94 onto US Route 200 in Montana.

And the farther you drive, the more nights you'll need to stop. The placement of those stops is critical to remaining well rested, but it can also affect how much sightseeing you'll be able to do along your road trip route.

If you do as we like to do and drive six hours per day, that still leaves you some recreational time in the evening after you've reached your hotel, campground, or old college roommate's house.

Easiest way to nail down your road trip route?

  1. Visit Mapquest.com.

  2. Punch in your starting city and destination.

  3. Mapquest may suggest multiple routes depending on whether you want to take Interstates or other major highways. Keep in mind that while it's faster to use Interstates, the view they offer is often less interesting. Select a route.

  4. Now, start adding stops to break up your trip into days. Click Add Stop. A new field will appear. Drag it until it is between your starting and ending points.

  5. Type in the name of the city where you think you'll want to stop for the night. This, of course, should be a city on or near the route you've chosen. Click Get Directions.

  6. Look at the Driving Directions, which will now include mileage and times for each leg of your journey. Did adding that stop break your trip into manageable days? If not, add in at least one more stop using the same approach.

  7. When you're satisfied with the route you're taking and the amount of driving you're doing each day, you're done. Print out your route now, send it to your phone, or send it to Facebook. Just don't lose it after all this work.

Example: If you've spent any time on Road-Trip-Ready.com, you know we once took an epic 17-day, 4,393-mile road trip, for some reason. We started in Fresno, California and ended in Belleville, Illinois.

Plug those endpoints into Mapquest, and you get two options. Both start on Highway 99, continuing on Interstates 15 and 40. One had us continuing on I-44 and I-270, while the other had us using U.S. Route 54 for a long stretch.

Neither option gave us a weird enough road trip route, so we zoomed in on the map. What winding rural highways could we incorporate into our trip? Where would we like to spend our nights? How could we break up this trip into manageable six-hour chunks?

To make a long story short, we plugged in stops in:

  • St. George, Utah. That allowed us to drive through Vegas and get a taste of the glitz (we didn't get out of the car).

  • Kayenta, Arizona. On the drive to Kayenta, we meandered through polygamy country and stopped for lunch at the Dam Diner in Page, Arizona. Then we spent the night in this reservation town.

  • Santa Fe, New Mexico. Actually, we spent an extra night in Santa Fe so we would have a chance to explore.

  • Liberal, Kansas. Along the way, we stopped and bought T-shirts at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. Enough said.

  • Fort Scott, Kansas. So, one day of our road trip consisted of driving the length of Kansas. This included a morning field trip to the Big Well in Greensburg and lunch in Old Town Wichita.

And our next stop was at our destination in Belleville.

Oh, but that's not all. Do you really think we took the same route on the way back? Well, then you don't know us very well.

On the way back, we plugged in:

  • Columbia, Missouri. This set us up for a very short first afternoon's drive (followed by laundry at a Pilot Travel Center).

  • Lincoln, Nebraska. Here, we stayed with dear friends. Definitely worth a stop.

  • Cheyenne, Wyoming. A night in the Plains Hotel over the beautiful, clean streets of downtown Cheyenne: "I highly recommend it, if you have the means."

  • Rock Springs, Wyoming. This very manageable day consisted of a stop at University of Wyoming and a lot of silent contemplation of the rugged scenery around us.

  • Salt Lake City, Utah. A friendly, modern city.

  • Winnemucca, Nevada. We don't really gamble, but spending the night at a casino was too interesting to pass up.

  • Sacramento, California. It was a relief to stay with relatives after so many nights in hotels.

With a little work, we were able to tweak our road trip route to include some fascinating sights. Follow these steps to do the same!

New! Comments

What do you think about all this? Leave us a comment below.