The opportunity to set off on an epic cross-country trip does not come often, and if you have wanderlust, then this road trip from Washington DC to Los Angeles is exactly what you are looking for. From world-famous world wonders to iconic cities, this adventure has it all!
The 2,755-mile road trip from Washington DC to Los Angeles will take 43 hours to drive. The amazing highlights include Gatlinburg, Nashville, Memphis, St Louis, Kansas City, Moab, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks.
This incredible journey will take you from coast to coast across the expanse of the United States. Read on below to learn more about our recommended routes, top highlights, places to stop along the way, and best seasons to travel.
How far is Los Angeles from Washington DC, and how long will the road trip take?
|The Northern Route
|The Southern Route
The Southern Route to travel from Washington DC to Los Angeles spans 2,845 miles, with 43 hours of driving time, not including stops or detours.
The alternative Northern Route, on the other hand, will cover a distance of 2,755 miles and over approximately 41 hours of travel time.
While technically doable in a couple of days, to truly soak in the beauty and offerings of each stop, we recommend planning a road trip lasting 5-6 days.
Best road trip route from Washington DC to Los Angeles
While there are many different ways to make a cross-country road trip, we have curated two routes with some of our favorite places on the way. These routes both promise a wealth of highlights and attractions, the vibe and scenery vary significantly.
The Southern Route will take you through 9 different states, showcasing the diverse topography of the United States from coast to coast. In the early part of your trip, between Washington and Memphis, you'll see the lush green landscapes of national forests such as George Washington & Jefferson, Daniel Boone, and Nantahala.
Soon, the green landscapes will transition to deserts and then into rocky and dusty vistas as you approach Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. This constant change in scenery promises a road trip where each day is dramatically different from the last.
You can also make detours to explore America's most legendary drive, Blue Ridge Parkway and later on the "Mother Road"; Route 66 on the Southern Route and see some historic and quirky sights. If you'd like to learn more about how the interstate differs to Route 66, here is our comparative guide.
The Northern Route covers 11 states and gives you the chance to see some of the best of the central USA, including iconic cities such as St Louis, Kansas City, Denver and electrifying Las Vegas.
As you drive, you'll see picturesque national forests like Mark Twain and Wayne. The true spectacle unfolds after you pass Denver, where the legendary Rocky Mountains come into view, gracing your journey with sights of majestic snow-capped peaks such as Greys Peak and Mount Evans.
Heading further from Kansas City, the terrain morphs into drier landscapes, bringing you close to the sprawling Uintah and Ouray Reservation as you travel along I-70. Here, you can experience the rich heritage of the region's indigenous cultures.
Please keep in mind that some national parks on this road trip, such as Rocky Mountain and Arches National Parks, might require reservations before visiting, so make sure to check the official websites for up-to-date information.
How to drive from Washington DC to Los Angeles
The map above shows our suggestions for the best road trip routes between Washington DC and Los Angeles. Keep reading for detailed descriptions of both routes, where to stay on either, and the best things to do on the way.
The Southern Route
Starting in Washington DC, get on Interstate 66 (I-66) and drive west towards the Appalachian Mountains. From here, head south on I-81 to Roanoke.
Continue south until you reach Gatlinburg. After exploring the historical mountain city, get back on the route and drive west into Nashville.
When you've had enough of Music City, hit the road and drive west on I-40 to Memphis. Take your time getting to know the historic city before heading west on I-40 to Little Rock, Arkansas.
From here, head northwest into the Ozark Mountains and experience rural America at its finest. Continue on through the lush landscape and into Oklahoma City.
From here, continue west on I-40 all the way into Amarillo, Texas. The landscape will dramatically shift to desert as you drive.
Soon, make your way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Take some time checking out the food, culture, and history of this fascinating region before getting back on route. Continue on driving west on I-40 into Arizona and make an exciting detour to the majestic Grand Canyon.
From here, continue on into California and drive past Mojave National Preserve. Through the desert, you will soon reach your destination of Los Angeles.
The Northern Route
From Washington, DC, head north, through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Continue past Pittsburgh on I-70 until you reach Columbus, Ohio. Drive further west on the interstate into Indianapolis. From here, make your way into the famous city of St Louis.
After exploring the historical city, drive west through Missouri and to Kansas City. Then, get back on route and make your way west on I-70 through the Great Plains of Kansas and into Colorado.
Continue until you reach Denver. Take your time experiencing this one-of-a-kind city and head west up into the mighty Rocky Mountains.
Journey on into the deserts of Utah and make a detour to Moab, one of the most exciting outdoor destinations in America. Here, you can visit the beautiful Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.
From here, continue on southwest through the deserts and historical indigenous lands of Utah. Keep driving until you reach fantastic Las Vegas.
After getting the most out of Sin City, head back en route to California. Drive past the Mojave Desert and into your destination in sunny Los Angeles.
Best places to stop between Washington DC and Los Angeles
There are almost endless possibilities along the way for a stopover, but we've chosen our favorites. This way, you can rest in style and be ready to take on the long journey ahead.
Catch a live gig in Memphis
Memphis stands as the quintessential stopover point on your Southern Route road trip, at roughly 16 hours and 10 minutes from Washington, DC. Be it the world-renowned barbecue delicacies that promise a festival of flavors or the finest craft beer pubs, Memphis is a mosaic of unforgettable experiences.
Memphis takes pride in being the birthplace of rock ‘n' roll. As you dive into the musical essence of the place, a visit to the iconic Elvis Presley's Graceland Mansion cannot be missed. Afterwards, the heartbeat of Memphis' vibrant nightlife, Beale Street, will welcome you with open arms.
Once you get to Memphis, we recommend staying at the beautiful ARRIVE Memphis, located just a heartbeat away from Beale Street. This hotel features warm southern hospitality mingled with boutique chic and vintage ambiance.
You'll be able to dine in vintage-style booths, accompanied by games at shuffleboard tables. Nestled in the vibrant South Main Arts District, the hotel features an on-site cafe and bakery for a wholesome start to your day.
A mere 5-minute walk away is the National Civil Rights Museum. A 10-minute drive will bring you to Mud Island, a haven of entertainment offering a museum, pedal boats, and a captivating riverwalk showcasing a scaled model of the Lower Mississippi River.
Admire the mountain scenery in Denver
25 hours from Washington DC on the Northern Route, Denver is the perfect blend of nature and urban charm. If you love the outdoors, the Rocky Mountains are irresistible with their endless hiking trails and natural wonders close to the city.
Another place to visit while in Denver, especially if traveling with children, is Denver Zoo where you can (safely!) see the adorable residents up close and learn more about them and their habitats.
If you prefer to have a contemplative, tranquil day out, Denver Botanic Gardens is a beautifully manicured urban oasis where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Where to stay when you reach Los Angeles
As you end your journey, the cityscape of Los Angeles unfolds before you. Ageless glamor, bustling beaches, and iconic landmarks; LA is one of the world's great cities.
It's a city that features prominently on any travel enthusiast's bucket list, boasting attractions like the Sunset Strip, Venice Beach, the star-studded Hollywood, and the luxurious expanse of Beverly Hills, not to mention the nostalgic rides on the Santa Monica Pier.
Walk into the heart of the entertainment world as you stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A short distance away is the vibrant Santa Monica Pier, with its amusement park, aquarium, and family-friendly restaurants.
As the day winds down, we recommend staying the night at the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel - Dorchester Collection. You'll enter a world of elegance and old Hollywood charm, a place that has meant upscale sophistication since 1912.
Nestled amidst the hotel's lush gardens, the hotel harbors an outdoor café adjoining the pool, where you can unwind with a refreshing drink in hand. Check out the cafes and fine dining restaurants that will take your breath away.
With its prime location, a short walk from the hotel will lead you to the iconic Rodeo Drive, a paradise for shoppers with a penchant for luxury. It's a locale that brings world-renowned brands and boutique stores to your fingertips, where luxury meets style.
Things to see on a road trip from Washington DC to Los Angeles
This cross-country journey will be filled with adventure and non-stop excitement. To help you plan your ultimate road trip, we've included our favorite highlights below.
- Blue Ridge Parkway - Often referred to as "America's Favorite Drive," the Blue Ridge Parkway offers scenic roadways that connect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, this national park is renowned for its plant and animal life, ancient mountains, remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, and its mist-covered peaks.
- Melrose Caverns - Located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Melrose Caverns offers guided tours of the fascinating underground formations, showcasing the unique geological features and the rich history encompassed in the subterranean world.
- Pink Cadillac Diner, Natural Bridge - Situated in Natural Bridge, Virginia, the Pink Cadillac Diner is a classic, 1950s-style American diner known for its vibrant pink exterior, memorabilia-lined walls, and a menu featuring all-American favorites such as burgers and milkshakes.
- Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum - Located in Nashville, Tennessee, this museum is a hub of the rich history and traditions of country music, featuring a vast collection of memorabilia, photographs, recordings, and exhibits that narrate the story of this genre's development over time.
- TITANIC Museum Attraction - Found in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, this museum offers a unique and interactive exhibition experience where visitors can explore the recreated spaces of the Titanic.
- Memphis Zoo - Situated in Memphis, Tennessee, this zoo is home to over 3,500 animals representing 500 species, housed in naturalistic habitats, and offers educational programs and interactive exhibits, promoting conservation and wildlife education.
- Lake Dardanelle State Park - Located in Arkansas, this state park offers a rich natural and cultural history, providing visitors with opportunities for fishing, picnicking, and camping along the shores of Lake Dardanelle, a major reservoir on the Arkansas River.
- Sequoyah's Cabin Museum - Situated in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, this museum preserves the cabin of Sequoyah, the Cherokee scholar who invented the Cherokee syllabary, offering insight into his life and the history of the Cherokee Nation.
- Bricktown Canal - A notable attraction in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Bricktown Canal offers a scenic waterway lined with restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues, where visitors can enjoy boat tours, walks along the canal, and vibrant public art installations.
- Oklahoma Route 66 Museum - Located in Clinton, Oklahoma, this museum offers a journey through the history of the iconic Route 66, featuring vibrant displays, vintage cars, and historical artifacts that narrate the story of the "Mother Road."
- Cadillac Ranch - An iconic public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas, Cadillac Ranch features ten Cadillac cars half-buried, nose-first, in the ground, inviting visitors to contribute to the artwork by spray-painting the vehicles.
- Puerco Pueblo, Petrified Forest National Park - Situated in Arizona, Puerco Pueblo offers a glimpse into the lives of the ancestral Puebloan people through the remains of their village, petroglyphs, and archaeological exhibits.
- Grand Canyon National Park - Located in Arizona, this iconic national park is home to the majestic Grand Canyon offering breathtaking vistas, miles of hiking trails, and the opportunity to witness one of the most stunning geological wonders of the world.
- Mojave National Preserve - Nestled in California, this preserve is a vibrant and diverse landscape, featuring sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, and carpets of wildflowers, offering a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
- South Mountain State Park - This park offers a serene setting with over 40 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, featuring rugged mountain terrain, waterfalls, and creek areas, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
- Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum - This museum takes visitors on a nostalgic journey with a wide array of vintage toys, dollhouses, and model trains, providing an interactive experience that is suitable for both children and adults.
- Lewisburg Haunted Cave - This haunted attraction is situated 80 feet below ground in a limestone cave, offering a unique Halloween experience that combines the natural eerie environment with professional actors and high-quality special effects.
- Kaskaskia Dragon - In Vandalia, Illinois, stands the Kaskaskia Dragon, a large metal dragon sculpture that, for a coin, breathes fire, becoming not just a roadside attraction but an interactive art piece that delights both children and adults.
- Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis - This cathedral is renowned for its stunning architecture featuring one of the largest mosaic collections in the world, making it not just a place for worship but also a destination for art enthusiasts and historians.
- Maple Leaf Lake Conservation Area - This conservation area is a haven for nature enthusiasts, offering opportunities for fishing, hiking, and bird watching, characterized by its mixed habitats of forests, grasslands, and wetlands that support a rich diversity of wildlife.
- National WW1 Museum and Memorial - This museum offers a deep dive into the history of World War I, featuring a comprehensive collection of artifacts, interactive exhibits, and personal narratives, aiming to bring the experiences of the war to life.
- Fort Hays State Historic Site - Located in Hays, Kansas, this historic site preserves the history of the frontier military post that played a significant role in the settlement and development of the American West, featuring a range of exhibits on military history and frontier life.
- Georgetown Loop Railroad - This heritage railroad offers a scenic and historic railroad experience, allowing visitors to enjoy a train ride through the picturesque Rocky Mountains while learning about the rich mining history of the area.
- Arches National Park - Located in Utah, this national park is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, offering a unique landscape of red rock formations, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks, providing ample opportunities for hiking, photography, and star gazing.
- Canyonlands National Park - Also situated in Utah, this national park features a dramatic desert landscape carved by the Colorado River, with vast mesas, deep canyons, and impressive arches, offering opportunities for hiking, biking, and white-water rafting.
- Dixie National Forest - Encompassing a large area in Utah, this national forest offers diverse landscapes ranging from red rock formations to alpine meadows, providing ample recreational opportunities including hiking, horseback riding, and camping.
- Zion National Park - Located in Utah, Zion National Park is known for its immense canyon walls of reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone, offering breathtaking views and opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and exploring the virgin river and its emerald pools.
- House of Blues, Las Vegas - The House of Blues is a vibrant venue for live music, with a rich history of hosting performances by a wide variety of artists, coupled with a Southern-inspired menu to provide a unique dining and entertainment experience.
- Bonnie and Clyde's Car - This attraction features the actual car that infamous criminals Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed in, a piece of criminal history offering a glimpse into the lives and deaths of the notorious criminal couple.
Best time to go on a road trip from Washington DC to Los Angeles
Your final destination, the iconic city of Los Angeles, is genuinely a year-round destination with something to offer in every season. With events and festivities all year, the season you visit will depend on what you want to experience the most.
If you start your journey during the winter months, proceed cautiously, especially around the mountainous areas and near the cities, where both the Southern and Northern routes are prone to icy road conditions and traffic congestion.
Despite this, winter offers a chance to revel in the enchanting Winterfest in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg if you opt for the Southern Route. The early part of the year also invites you to the vibrant Palm Springs International Film Festival in January in Los Angeles.
Springtime is a beautiful time of year to travel on both routes. Temperatures are mild, and Los Angeles will welcome you warmly in this season, with temperatures hovering in the 70s and 80s.
Venturing in spring, particularly in May, you can see the Indianapolis 500 on the Northern Route or the Coachella Music Festival, a short drive from Los Angeles on both routes. If traveling during these months, you might also see superbloom fields on your way to Los Angeles.
Summer brings heat waves with temperatures soaring into the high 80s and sometimes 90s, especially in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, it's a festive season to reach your destination, with LA Pride celebrated in June and the CMA Music Festival in Nashville on the Southern Route that same month.
If you travel during fall, you will arrive in LA with some of the best weather around. If traveling on the Northern Route in September, you can enjoy and participate in the Denver Chalk Art Festival.
Another plus to traveling in the fall is the fall colors, especially on Blue Ridge Parkway and around the Ozarks and Rocky Mountains. Although LA doesn't have many fall colors, you'll enjoy the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade during this time.