The Great Northern: An Epic Cross-Country Trip
The Great Northern is a route that features nearly 3,600 miles of mountains, lakes, badlands and valleys. This epic cross-country road trip closely parallels US-2. U.S. Route 2 (also known as U.S. Highway 2) was nicknamed “The Great Northern” in commemoration of the historic transcontinental railroad that helped pioneer the settlement of the West.
Highway 2 is the Northernmost east-west route in the country, and driving it continuously will even take you into Canada! Plus, as one of America’s longest transcontinental road trips, you’ll enjoy unsurpassed scenery as you journey from coast to coast, bisecting the North American continent, just like Lewis and Clark over a century ago.
Olympic National Park
Start at the Pacific Ocean to make your Great Northern trip truly cross-country. Besides, the beaches here are utterly breathtaking. The misty waves, the jagged cliffs, and the tide pools filled with enchanting sea life all add to the experience. Plus, Olympic National Park boasts a stunning temperate rainforest that’s worth exploring as well.
Seattle has tons of great hotels, but come on, you can’t pass up the chance to stay in one of the country’s most beautiful treehouse resorts! Treehouse Point in Issaquah, WA is more like camping, since not all of the treehouses are equipped with running water, but it’s worth it to sleep in among the branches of one of the Pacific Northwest’s many gorgeous forests.
Double R Diner (& Twin Peaks Filming Location)
Even if you’ve never seen Twin Peaks, you’ll still fall in love with Twede’s Cafe’s “damn fine cup of coffee” and incredible cherry pie the way David Lynch (and, of course, Dale Cooper) did from the cult TV show. In fact, the town of North Bend is rustic Pacific Northwest charm at its finest. Plan on spending the day exploring, and visit nearby Snoqualmie Falls.
Red Mountain Coffee
Red Mountain Coffee in Snoqualmie Pass is a quaint little coffee shop (Washington is known for their awesome coffee, of course) attached to a historic travelers’ stop, so it makes for a nice place to grab a slice of pizza or even just a drink and a snack, and get off the road for a bit.
Dick and Janes Art Spot
The Pacific Northwest is also known for their funky arts scene, and Dick and Janes Art Spot is a great example of everyday folk art. The couple has adorned their fences, yard and the exterior of their home with bottle caps, reflectors, and other found objects, turning their house into a work of art! Since it’s a private home, be respectful when taking pictures from the side of the road.
Frank’s Diner in Spokane is situated in a train car and is a classic road food stop. Frank’s serves up all the staples (burgers, hash browns, biscuits), as well as tasty takes on old favorites (hello, Creole seafood omelets!)
Red Wagon – Riverfront Park
Riverfront Park is a central feature of Spokane and features tons to see and do. It’s got the pavilion, a carousel, an IMAX theater, a small theme park for kids, a sky ride over the waterfall, and a massive red wagon, just like the one you probably had as a kid. Great photo op!
Once you’ve hopped the border from Washington to Idaho, you’ll feel right at Ida-Home at the Ida-Home B&B! It’s got everything you could want in a bed and breakfast, from hot tubs and campfires to stunning sunsets and spacious, elegant rooms with private bathrooms. Oh, and the gourmet, locally-sourced, organic breakfast you can enjoy on the porch as you wake up in the morning is pretty great, too.
Silverwood Theme Park
From twisting roller coasters and gut-wrenching drop rides to bumper cars and train rides, Silverwood Theme Park in Athol, ID is an old-school theme park that definitely brings fun for all ages.
Don’t be fooled by the *very* rustic exterior and sawdust-covered floor of Kalispell’s Moose’s Saloon. They serve up hot and delicious pizzas and sandwiches. Plus, if you’re traveling with kids, they’ll love their talking moose.
Swan River Inn
The Swan River Inn in Bigfork, MT is a little hotel with a room for every taste, literally. It features themes like “leather and lace”, “exotic Arabian nights”, “Tuscan”, “French Country”, “Geisha”, “Art Deco”, and “Log Cabin”, just to name a few. When you’re not basking in the quirky decor of your accommodations, you can enjoy the rooftop garden or walk into the rad town of Bigfork.
Montana Vortex & House of Mystery
Mystery Houses are a classic roadside stop, and the Montana Vortex and House of Mystery in Columbia Falls has been bending brains since the 1970’s. Once you step inside, forget everything you learned in high school physics, because gravity will appear to stop working, you’ll be able to see your aura, and you can soak up the healing energy from the labyrinth.
Glacier National Park
Definitely plan on spending at least a day exploring Glacier National Park. You’ll want to drive along the Going-To-The-Sun Road, and take a boat tour on one of the park’s stunningly clear glacial lakes at the very least. Plus, be on the lookout for the adorable mountain goats and huckleberries along the way (you can pick up to a quart to carry out for road snacks!)
Big Lodge Espresso Tipi
Over in Browning, get ready for another roadside icon. The Big Lodge Espresso Tipi is a coffee shop that doesn’t rest on its distinctive digs to bring in customers: it actually makes a mean latte, and is the perfect place to fuel up while spending lots of time on the road.
Lewis and Clark National Interpretive Center
Lewis and Clark made a journey that was just as rad as the Great Northern, so stop at the Lewis and Clark National Interpretive Center in Great Falls. This super comprehensive museum will teach you everything about their cross-country excursion. As you travel across the country, learn about what Westward expansion meant to the country, and the struggles of Lewis and Clark’s adventure.
Eddie’s Supper Club & Coffee
When you’re hungry, head to Great Falls for some cold drinks, great campfire-style steaks and chops, homemade mint ice cream and other steakhouse classics. Eddie’s Supper Club and Coffee serves old-school cuisine in an authentic 1960’s atmosphere, which makes this a fun place to stop for dinner or coffee on the road. You might need a nap after digging into their prime rib and shrimp scampi, though.
Pheasant Tales Bed & Bistro
Pheasant Tales Bed and Bistro is a casual B&B that mostly caters to those looking for hunting and hiking in Montana, which is a really fun way to experience that side of the state. It’s a very relaxed (but still super accommodating) place, and the views from the sun room are just as good as their dinners.
War Horse National Wildlife Refuge
If you are looking to do some hunting and fishing (and to maybe have your B&B hosts cook your catches) then War Horse National Wildlife Refuge is the place to do it. It’s also an incredible place to enjoy the rugged landscapes of Montana’s untouched wild beauty.
CC’s Family Cafe
Thick, rich milkshakes, triple-decker sandwiches, and awesome classic roadside vibes make CC’s Family Cafe the perfect place for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Teddy Roosevelt was famously into conservation and creating National Parks, so stop by Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which preserves some of North Dakota’s most gorgeous badlands and pay tribute to him. Prairie dogs, Teddy’s old cabin, and great stargazing can also be found here.
Rough Riders Hotel
Keep the Theodore Roosevelt theme going with a stay at Medora, North Dakota’s Rough Riders Hotel. The 19th-century building and Western decor add an authentic charm, but it’s still got TVs and Wi-Fi. Plus, the price is super reasonable.
Former Governors’ Mansion
State governors lived in the Former Governors’ Mansion in Bismarck, ND, from 1893 until the 1960’s, but it’s been painstakingly restored to look as it did during the 19th century. Not only does the mansion give you a cool look into the past, but it also shows you how they went about bringing it back to its opulent 1800’s roots.
Space Aliens Grill & Bar
For an offbeat place to fill up on food, head to the Space Aliens Grill and Bar. This quirky regional chain makes some out-of-this-world grub in a spectacularly kooky environment. Definitely a fun place for kids and adults alike.
Frontier Village & National Buffalo Museum
It’s hard to believe that the prairies along the Great Northern route used to be filled with roaming bison. Learn about these endangered beasts and about the Plains Indians, who relied on them for so much, at the Frontier Village and National Buffalo Museum’s interpretive center.
Fargo Movie Wood chipper
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Fargo,” then you’ll want to stop by the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor Center to see the film’s most notorious prop…the wood chipper. They also have copies of the script inside, and there’s even a replica of the wood chipper outside in case you stop by when they’re closed.
While in Fargo, rest your weary head at Hotel Donaldson. This place is so cool, you’ll forget that you’re not in New York or Chicago. Each suite was decorated by a different local artist, there’s a rooftop bar, and complimentary artisan pastries are included with your room.
Paul Bunyan Land
Next up, Minnesota! People can’t really agree on where America’s most famous tall tale character was born, but some claim he hails from the small town of Brainerd. Hit up Paul Bunyan Land off State Highway 18, where you’ll find rides, a petting zoo, a pioneer village of sorts, and more. It’s definitely got that nostalgic atmosphere, so stop by and poke around.
Nordic Inn Medieval B&B
Minnesota has a strong Nordic heritage, but only one B&B lets you literally become a Viking for a night. No, I’m not kidding: when you stay the night at the Nordic Inn Medieval B&B in Crosby, you get a Viking costume and must create a character to role-play as during the dinner feast. And if history isn’t quite your thing, don’t worry: they have a Minnesota Vikings themed room, too.
Great Lakes Aquarium
You’re on the Great Lakes, so why not check out some of the unique marine life of the region? Learn about shipwrecks, otters, birds, and tons more at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth. You can easily spend several hours exploring here.
Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center
Equally as important as the creatures that live in the lakes is the maritime history of humans exploring them, and you can learn all about that at the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center. From model ships and rooms created to feel like the interior of a boat to views of the lake, perfect for watching ships, it’s educational and entertaining. And the best part? It’s free to visit!
Barnes Trading Post Wilderness Inn
The rustic, woodsy-themed Barnes Trading Post Wilderness Inn is simple, but super cozy. Log furniture, a secluded location, good amenities, and an on-site restaurant make this a peaceful place to rest for the night.
Sidnaw Eats prides itself on its casual and tasty food served to you by incredibly friendly locals! Grab some coffee and pie here for the road.
Canyon Falls Roadside Park
If you need to stretch your legs, Canyon Falls Roadside Park in L’Anse, MI is an easy, 20-minute-or-so hike. The trail takes you through mossy canyons to a lovely waterfall, which makes it a super rejuvenating way to take a break from driving.
Da Yoopers Tourist Trap
We love roadside kitsch, and the self-proclaimed Da Yoopers Tourist Trap off Highway 41 definitely fits the bill. Cheesy and tacky but still amusing, it’s free to walk around this joint dedicated to Michigan’s U.P. (Upper Peninsula), and browse their silly gift shop.
Blueberry Ridge B&B
You’ll feel like family at the quaint Blueberry Ridge B&B. The hostesses are sweet and incredibly caring, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a fresh glass of rhubarb juice when you arrive, and some of their amazing blueberry buckle for the road.
Lakenenland Sculpture Park
Lakenenland Sculpture Park in Marquette, MI is free and open 24 hours. This wonderland filled with whimsical sculptures by a local welder is absolutely enchanting. You can fish in the pond, cook s’mores over the fire, or enjoy the live music they have on occasion.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Next up is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Along this gorgeous lakeshore, you’ll find sand dunes, caves, waterfalls, and more. Whether you’re exploring on foot or on a kayak, you won’t find a more memorable lake landscape.
Upper Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan boasts tons of awesome waterfalls, and the Upper Tahquamenon Falls are no exception. This park has inspired tons of people too, from poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to hipster singer Sufjan Stevens.
Roxane’s Smokehouse Restaurant
When you’re ready for a bite to eat hit up Roxane’s Smokehouse Restaurant. Don’t stress yourself out trying to decide which of the smoked meats to order off the menu: split the combo platter and enjoy it all. Or, if you’re a breakfast-all-day kinda person, the smoked brisket omelet is a revelation. Top if off with a slice of classic banana cream pie!
Museum Ship Valley Camp
The Museum Ship Valley Camp in Sault Ste. Marie is an old Great Lakes freighter that’s been turned into a massive museum with over 100 exhibits! There’s also an observation tower where you can take in the views of the bustling shipping channel. What better way to learn about the history of Sault Ste. Marie than here?
Sturgeon River Inn
The Sturgeon River Inn is a comfortable and affordable place to spend the night. They have an on-site restaurant and bar, and the whole place overlooks the lovely Sturgeon River.
Ottawa Jail Hostel
Normally, you want to avoid spending the night in the slammer, but the Ottawa Jail Hostel is just too cool to pass up. Sleep in a bunk bed in a jail cell, enjoy the mug shot decor, and have fun!
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Canada has a fascinating history with space and aviation that doesn’t often get the attention it deserves. A guided tour of the massive Canada Aviation and Space Museum is the perfect way to brush up on the coolest parts of Canadian aviation.
Montreal Botanical Garden
The Montreal Botanical Garden is huge, and literally every square inch is gorgeous. From the Rose Garden to the Chinese and Japanese Gardens to the arboretum and the collection of rare orchids, you’ll find yourself in pure, natural bliss. Plus, you can visit the always-interesting Insectarium, and the garden is close to the Olympic Stadium as well.
Amazing bagels outside New York? It’s true, they exist! Whether you want one plain, with a healthy schmear of cream cheese, or topped with lox, you’ll want to grab a few for snacks later on from Fairmount Bagels.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is a replica of the Notre Dame in Paris, and is the perfect way to learn about Montreal’s French history. Note that the stained-glass windows on this basilica actually depict scenes from the religious history of Montreal instead of Biblical scenes!
Monadnock Bed & Breakfast
There’s nothing we love more than exploring quaint small towns, and staying at the Monadnock B&B is the perfect home base for checking out Colebrook, NH.
World Traveler Sign
Stop by Lynchville, ME’s World Traveler Sign! It’s a quick little photo op to remind you of how far you’ve come…and how much of the world there is left to see!
The Northeast is dotted with classic diners, each more delicious and friendly than the next. The A1 Diner in Gardiner, ME, is a chrome car that adds authentic 1940’s vibes that you can enjoy while you eat your All-American food. Try the grilled blueberry muffin… you are in Maine, after all!
Stephen King’s House
Next up, Bangor, ME! This town is the setting for many Stephen King novels, and it’s also where the horror writer lives. You can’t go inside his house or anything (seriously, don’t trespass), but driving past his gorgeous home will give you a pretty good idea of where he gets inspiration.
The vintage atmosphere and picture-perfect views of Asticou Inn really add to the experience of staying at this historic hotel; it’s right by Acadia National Park, which was once a vacation destination for the rich and fabulous during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Definitely make sure to enjoy popovers and tea on the porch.
Acadia National Park
Finally! You’ve reached the Atlantic Ocean…so take in the very best views the East Coast has to offer at Acadia National Park. The misty cliffs, picturesque lighthouses, and breathtaking hikes are all worth checking out!
The best time of year for a Great Northern road trip is late spring, summer and early fall. Since you’re traveling along the northern part of the states, weather will play a role in your trip. Also, consider getting a National Park pass if you plan on hitting up several national parks along the way, because it will definitely save you money.
Did you make this long cross-country trip, or experience stretches of it? Share your favorite parts of the ultimate road trip with us on Instagram.
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