Last Updated on April 14, 2023 by Jessica Lauren Vine
It’s time to have fun. How long does it take to drive cross country in an RV?
The main reason many of us choose to travel by RV is that it allows you to travel great distances while bringing with you many of the comforts of home. RV travel is a great way to see the country, which is why the cross country trip sits atop the bucket list of many RVers. One of the most common questions is “How long does it take to RV across the country?”. As with most things RV, the answer to that question is dependent entirely on you—the RVer. In this article, we’ll look at some possible answers to the question and why it does depend entirely on you.
What Does “Cross Country” Mean to You?
Our first step in trying to figure out how long a cross country trip will take starts with what we consider to be “Cross Country.” When most of us think of a cross country trip we think of the typical east/west sea to shining sea trip, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s also the north/south route, or the connecting the corners routes. Which of those you choose can significantly alter the distance and therefore the time it would take to travel it. Even different direct routes within those groups can be quite different. For example, Boston, MA to Seattle, Wa Via I-90 is around 3,100 miles. Jacksonville, FL to Los Angeles, CA is closer to 2,400 miles. At 65 mph, that’s at least a one to two day difference. Let’s look at some common routes and the minimum times it would take you at 65 mph.
|Days @ 8rs driving/day
|Days @ 300mi/day
|Los Angeles, CA
|Kitty Hawk, NC
|Los Angeles, CA
|Bar Harbor, ME
|San Diego, Ca
|Bar Harbor, ME
|Key West, FL
|Key West, FL
|San Diego, Ca
|San Francisco, CA
The table shows some common cross country routes you can take. The speed of 65 mph was chosen just as a maximum average speed many feel comfortable driving an RV. Highway speed limits across the country vary from 55mph max in California to 80 mph+ in the rural areas of the west, so your actual speeds will vary. I calculated days for the trip assuming you drive 8 hours a day averaging 65 mpg. This is pretty unlikely. A more realistic measure is a 300 mile a day limit. Having made these trips several times, that’s typically what we shoot for. In most cases, that allows you to get up in the morning, eat breakfast, break camp and be on the road without too much pressure. It also allows you to arrive at the next camp in time to set up for dinner or to make check-in times for those campgrounds that close after 5 or 6 pm. In short, it makes for a reasonable stress-free travel day. If that’s how you like to travel, then use the 300-mile/day column to give you an idea on the fastest you could make the trip.
How Long Does It Take to Drive Cross Country in an RV? – Choosing the Best Route
The best route across country is usually the one you haven’t done before that either has points of interest you would like to visit, or offers some other benefit like being the easiest route to your destination. Let’s look at some of the routes and what they have to offer. I’ll focus on the primary east/west routes and touch briefly on the north/south options.
I90/I94. This connects Boston, MA to Seattle, WA. The shortest route uses I-90 all the way. Along the route, you’ll pass through Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, and Wisconsin Dells. Near Tomah, WI I-94 splits off for a northern route. This adds a few miles to the trip, taking you through Northern Minnesota and North Dakota before reconnecting to I-90 just east of Billings, MT. Take this route to visit Minneapolis, MN, Fargo, ND, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. If you stay on I-90 you’ll go through South Dakota passing through Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Other nice cities along the way include Billings, Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula Montana. Crossing into Idaho you’ll go through Coeur d’Alene and Spokane, WA. National parks and national monuments along the route include Cuyahoga Valley, The Badlands, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and more. Of all the cross country routes this is by far the most scenic.
Of all the trips, this can also be one of the most challenging. Winds in the Great Plains can be strong in the spring and summer, and there’s no tree cover to block it along the highway. The mountain passes can be high and steep going through the Rockies even on the Interstates. Fuel is generally readily available. This is not the route to take between late fall and late spring. Winter weather can arrive early and leave late in the higher mountain passes and driving an RV in it will require tire chains. In fact, several states along the route mandate tire chains be in your vehicle from late fall to early spring.
I80. This connects New York City to San Francisco, CA. Along the route, you’ll find many great cities like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Des Moines, Omaha, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno, and Sacramento. National Parks along the way include Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon. The route is flatter and more direct than I-90 while still offering a great variety of things to see and do. Between Cheyenne, WY, and Reno, NV you can experience long stretches with no fuel stops so fill up when you can. I-80 is still far enough north to experience bad weather in the winter.
I-40. I40 runs from Wilmington, North Carolina to Barstow, CA. To make it to the coast you’ll need to jump down to I10 at some point or take smaller highways past Bastow. Along the route, you’ll pass through Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, and Albequerque. National Parks along the route include the Great Smoky Mountains, Petrified Forest, The Grand Canyon, and Joshua Tree. This route is also relatively flat. It can still experience bad winter weather and passes through the heart of tornado alley so the spring storms can be fierce.
I-10. I10 runs from Jacksonville, FL to Los Angeles, CA. The eastern half is just inland from the Gulf Coast making it a great jumping-off point to visit the beaches along the way. Major cities include Mobile, Biloxi, New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, Tuscon, Pheonix, and Palm Springs. National Parks along the way include Big Bend, Seguro, and Joshua Tree. I10 is the flattest and most southern East/West route which makes it the best option for winter travel.
The North/South routes. I95 would bring you from the Bar Harbor area to Key West, FL. This is a US history dream trip. If you’re a history buff you can’t go wrong, and it ends at an awesome beach location. What more can you ask for? The I-5 route from Seattle to San Diego is cool too, and pretty short. Along the way, you’ll pass Olympic National Park, Mt Rainier National Park, Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic, Redwoods, Yosemite, and Sequoia. Joshua Tree is not too far out of the way, nor are any of the coast parks like Big Sur and the Channel Islands. While I-5 is the fasted route, the parallel Highway 101 along the coast is the “dream trip”. It’s much slower, but if you have the time definitely do at least some of it. The best sections are in Oregon, but California has some great spots too. Large RVs are not suitable for Hwy 1 south of Leggett, CA so make sure you stay on 101 if you’re headed south.
As you can see, there is a lot to see and do on any one of these cross country trips. You could easily spend months traveling them, especially if you went out and back on different routes.
How Much Time Does It REALLY Take?
Having done this a few times my best advice is to accept the fact that you can’t do it all so you’ll need to put together a plan that allows you enough time to see or do the things you really want. Then plan your travel times to allow you to do some spur-of-the-moment things without too much disruption. We limit travel to 300 miles or so per day. That allows us enough time to travel at a relaxed pace where we can get to the next camp early, or have time to stop at places that caught our attention as we drove without setting us back too far. We travel, sleep, travel between major points of interest along the way. When we get to a planned destination, we try to stay long enough to experience the area. Not just see it, but experience it. From our travels, we’ve found that to be at least 4 – 7 days for most major national parks or areas with multiple points of interest like the Black Hills. Some parks like Mammoth Cave and Hot Springs can be experienced in a day, but most will take more time.
One of our favorite trips used this travel method. It took us from our old hometown of Cleveland, OH west via I-90 to Newport, OR then south to San Franciso and back via I-80. Not quite cross country, but close enough. On that trip, we experienced Wisconsin Dells, The Badlands, The Black Hills, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast, a week in San Francisco, and more. The total trip was 6 weeks, and it was a truly amazing experience. We’ve been fortunate enough to do bigger trips since then with the same success.
If you have at least 4 weeks you could do an east/west transit and back. More time would be better, but I think at 4 weeks you could do it and enjoy it. If you have limited time, a North/South transit may be the better choice. The shorter distances would allow you to see and do more along the way. Regardless, if you have the opportunity don’t pass it up. Going is always better than not, and you can always make the best of the time you have.