The United States is really big. Like, REALLY BIG. A 3-week road trip across America is barely enough time to even scratch the surface. In fact, 3 months even would have been inadequate.
But you gotta start somewhere.
My 3 week road trip along the route of Old Route 66 taught me a lot of things about traveling in my own country. It taught me that this country is so much more diverse and beautiful than I ever realized. It taught me that the Southwest is HOT in the summer. It taught me that some tourist sites are tourist sites for good reason, and are worth visiting even if it does mean paying $4.12 a gallon for gas on your way out (I'm talking about YOU, Grand Canyon).
And it taught me that not enough Americans appreciate what we have right in our own backyards.
My sister and I made a lot of stops in just 3 weeks. We covered nearly 6,500 miles and went through more than a dozen states. So choosing my “favorite” stops is tough. But I've narrowed them down to the 10 that I found most memorable, in order of when we visited them.
My Top 10 Road Trip Stops
Oklahoma City National Monument and Museum
I only vaguely remember the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. But Oklahoma City has never forgotten. This museum was kind of a last-minute decision for my sister and I to visit, but it really is probably the best museum/memorial I've ever been to. Outside, 168 empty chairs representing the lives lost in the bombing sit on one side of a large reflecting pool that stands in the position of the destroyed Murrah Building. The nearby museum takes you chronologically through April 19 and the months following, in a multimedia experience that will definitely leave you thinking. I dare you to visit this museum and not be moved.
On the less serious side, stopping at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, and (legally) vandalizing some old cars was also a trip highlight. This was one stop that had been planned from the outset of the trip, and it definitely did not disappoint. We brought our own spray paint, and left our marks on the half-buried cars. Someone told me that this is the most-visited roadside attraction in America. I can believe it.
The beauty of New Mexico
New Mexico seriously surprised me on this trip. I went into the state not expecting very much, and left with a new appreciation for this part of the country. Sante Fe is a really cool town, and Northern New Mexico is absolutely BEAUTIFUL, with big skies and colorful bluffs in all directions. Definitely do not skip this state if you head out West.
Our day in Monument Valley — spent hot air ballooning and getting a private backcountry tour — was my favorite day of our trip. Utah is stunning, and Monument Valley is a truly special place. Getting to know more about its history and the Navajo people who call it home was great. And seeing it from a couple thousand feet up? Unbeatable.
This was another spot that was on our itinerary from the beginning. Once we figured out we'd be spending some time in Arizona, I knew we had to fit in the town of Page and its famous slot canyons. Located on Navajo land, Upper and Lower Antelope canyons provide tourists with access to narrow slot canyons where light beams burst downward at certain times of day. We only had time for Upper Antelope Canyon and had to pay to visit, but it was absolutely worth it.
RELATED: Is Antelope Canyon Really Worth Visiting?
The Grand Canyon
What road trip out West would be complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon? Yes, it's touristy. And yes, you should absolutely avoid buying gas anywhere near Grand Canyon Village. But this place is popular for a reason — it's breathtaking. My sister and I visited both the North Rim and South Rim in one day. And, while I wish we could have had more time to spend at this natural wonder, I'm glad we got to see both sides of this American icon.
After the Grand Canyon, we spent a day and a half in the town of Sedona, Arizona. I'd been told that Sedona was pretty. But nothing prepared me to actually see it. Set in a landscape of towering red rocks and green cacti, Sedona is right up there on my list of scenic places I could see myself living someday (you know, if I won the lottery). My favorite thing in Sedona, however, has to be Slide Rock State Park. Here, you can play around in a river and take your turn slipping down a natural stone slide. It's so much fun.
Las Vegas was the furthest point West on this road trip. And it was awesome. Even though my sister wasn't yet 21, we had a blast wandering around the Strip at night, and then visiting a few casino-hotels in the daytime. Vegas can be jarring if you don't know what to expect. But it certainly is entertaining. Even without the gambling and booze, we had a great time just people-watching and taking in all the sights and sounds. I definitely need to go back here soon.
Whitewater rafting/zip lining
We spent a day in cool Colorado having a bit of adventure in the Rocky Mountains. We went ziplining in the Rockies, then spent about 4 hours rafting down the Arkansas River. Despite my borderline daredevil status, these were two activities I had never done before. Great guides and perfect weather made this a really memorable day.
Crazy as it may seem, something from Nebraska is making it onto my list. I almost was going to end with Churchill Downs (the racetrack where the Kentucky Derby is raced each year), but, thinking back on it, the Archway Monument in Kearney, Nebraska, was really great. It's basically a museum/multimedia experience celebrating travelers in America — from the pioneers forging westward to road trippers like me. This place was Nebraska's saving grace, as far as we were both concerned.
Along with Churchill Downs, honorable mentions have to go out to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri, and Arches National Park in Utah.
READ NEXT: The Perfect 10-Day Itinerary for the American Southwest
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Would any of these stops make it onto YOUR American road trip itinerary?
Especially for those of us in the U.S., there really is SO much to see right here at home. I mean, I like traveling abroad, too, but I also like traveling here at home!