Here at the Shop & Enroll blog, we’re big fans of traveling. We’ve given you tips for traveling home and abroad, shown how Medicare insurance coverage travels with you, and even made suggestions for some excellent vacations for seniors. If you’re looking to explore this great country of ours, there are few better ways than a road trip. We’ve previously written up our own history-focused road trip of the East Coast, but one data scientist has developed his own scientifically optimal road trip.

Randy Olson, the trip’s designer, originally developed his algorithm as a fun way to find the best search strategy to find Waldo, of Where’s Waldo fame. He later was challenged by a writer from the now defunct Discovery News, Tracy Staedter, to utilize this algorithm and come up with the statistically best road trip of the United States. In the end, Olson came up with two, one that took you to 50 of the country’s major landmarks and the other that explored 47 of the most popular cities in the United States.

Article based on Randy Olson’s “Computing the optimal road trip across the U.S.”

How the Trip Was Decided

To find the most statistically perfect road trip across the United States, Olson and Staedter came up with three key rules to follow.

  1. Make at least one stop in each of the 48 continental states.
  2. Only stop at National Natural Landmarks, National Historic Sites, National Parks, or National Monuments. (Don’t forget your National Park Senior Pass !)
  3. The trip must be experienced in a car without leaving the United States.

With these rules set, Staedter chose 50 landmarks that fit the bill. To make up for Alaska and Hawaii, she also picked two locations for California and one for Washington, D.C. Once the locations were set, it was up to Olson to find a route with the smallest amount of time in the car and one with the most enjoyable sites. By analyzing 2,450 routes, Olson utilized a genetic algorithm to come up with a final map, available here. For the technologically-attuned out there, Olson also linked to his algorithm, so you could design your own scientifically backed road trip!

The Perfect Road Trip Map

The road trip accounts for 224 hours driving, or 9.33 days, that treks over 13,000 miles (13,699 to be exact). Olson suggests that you take two to three months to complete the epic journey across the continental United States. Starting at the Grand Canyon, the tour zigzags through the middle of the country, before following the East Coast north and cutting back across the country. When you look over the journey you’ll be undertaking, you can see why it’s suggested to take two or three months to explore everything!

The full list of the sites seen on the tour is in the table below.

Landmark Trip    
1. Grand Canyon, AZ 2. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT 3. Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID
4. Yellowstone National Park, WY 5. Pikes Peak, CO 6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
7. The Alamo, TX 8. The Platt Historic District, OK 9. Toltec Mounds, AR
10. Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN 11. Vicksburg National Military Park, MS 12. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
13. USS Alabama, AL 14. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL 15. Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
16. Fort Sumter National Monument, SC 17. Lost World Caverns, WV 18. Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
19. Mount Vernon, VA 20. White House, Washington, DC 21. Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
22. New Castle Historic District, Delaware 23. Cape May Historic District, NJ 24. Liberty Bell, PA
25. Statue of Liberty, NY 26. The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT 27. The Breakers, RI
28. USS Constitution, MA 29. Acadia National Park, ME 30. Mount Washington Hotel, NH
31. Shelburne Farms, VT 32. Fox Theater, Detroit, MI 33. Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
34. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY 35. West Baden Springs Hotel, IN 36. Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL
37. Gateway Arch, MO 38. C.W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS 39. Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA
40. Taliesin, WI 41. Fort Snelling, MN 42. Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
43. Mount Rushmore, SD 44. Fort Union Trading Post, ND 45. Glacier National Park, MT
46. Hanford Site, WA 47. Columbia River Highway, OR 48. San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
49. San Andreas Fault, CA 50. Hoover Dam, NV  

Road Trip Landmarks Map

If historic sites and national landmarks aren’t your thing, Olson also designed a trip based around TripAdvisor’s top-rated cities to visit in the continental United States. The second trip follows the basic path of the landmark journey, but it’s slightly shorter (only 12,290 miles). Olson notes that Tripadvisor’s reviewers left off any cities from North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia, though you could certainly stop and explore them as you pass through. There’s also an extra stop in Ohio to keep the entire trip within the borders of the United States.

Since there’s so much to see in different cities and some states, like California, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania, you may need more than the two to three months originally given for the landmark trip. See Olson’s original article for Google Maps directions.

Olson’s 47 city tour stops in the cities and states shown below.

Popular City Tours    
1. Oklahoma City, OK 2. Wichita, KS 3. Denver, CO
4. Albuquerque, NM 5. Phoenix, AZ 6. Las Vegas, NV
7. San Francisco, CA 8. Portland, OR 9. Seattle, WA
10. Boise, ID 11. Park City, UT 12. Jackson, WY
13. Billings, MT 14. Sioux Falls, SD 15. Omaha, NE
16. Des Moines, IA 17. Minneapolis, MN 18. Milwaukee, WI
19. Chicago, IL 20. Indianapolis, IN 21. Louisville, KY
22. Columbus, OH 23. Detroit, MI 24. Cleveland, OH
25. Manchester, NH 26. Portland, ME 27. Boston, MA
28. Providence, RI 29. New Haven, CT 30. New York City, NY
31. Ocean City, NJ 32. Philadelphia, PA 33. Wilmington, DE
34. Baltimore, MD 35 Washington, D.C. 36. Virginia Beach, VA
37. Charlotte, NC 38. Charleston, SC 39. Orlando, FL
40. Atlanta, GA 41. Nashville, TN 42. Birmingham, AL
43. Jackson, MS 44. New Orleans, LA 45. Houston, TX
46. Little Rock, AR 47. Branson, MO  

Road Trip Cities Map

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Further Reading

The Shop & Enroll Blog — 5 Great Vacations for Seniors
The Shop & Enroll Blog — 5 More Great Vacation Ideas
The Shop & Enroll Blog — Medicare Insurance on the Go: How My Plan Works on Vacation
The Shop & Enroll Blog — 6 Tips for a Stress-Free Vacation
The Shop & Enroll Blog — 3 Important Things You Should Know Before Traveling Abroad
The Shop & Enroll Blog — How to Be a Snowbird in Retirement (18 Questions to Ask!)
The Shop & Enroll Blog — Why Seniors Should Travel, Even in Retirement
The Shop & Enroll Blog — The National Park Senior Pass: Lifetime Access to America the Beautiful
The Shop & Enroll Blog — Best Spooky Spots for Seniors this Halloween
The Shop & Enroll Blog — More of the Best Spooky Spots for Seniors This Halloween
The Shop & Enroll Blog — Romantic Trip Ideas for Valentine’s Day