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Road trip from New York to Los Angeles: The Epic New York to LA Drive

Updated: 5 days ago

The New York to Los Angeles road trip has something for everyone, whether you are traveling with family, friends, or in a group. Driving from the East Coast to the West Coast or from the West Coast to the East Coast takes approximately 42 hours if you drive non-stop, covering a distance of 2,790 miles. The trip can span anywhere from 4 to 7 days, or more.

Thanks to the Dataneb for publishing this article.

It's one of the best cross-country road trips in the United States, driving from New York to Los Angeles, and passing through some of the country's most famous tourist attractions, national parks, and scenic routes. This road trip is about fun and enjoyment, not rushing through the drive.

I have shared a few helpful product links throughout the blog to enhance your trip. Based on my experiences from several trips, these items have been lifesavers. While I highly recommend them, the choice is yours—you'll learn your lesson either way.

Table of Contents: New York to LA Drive

new york to los angeles drive

New York to Los Angeles Drive (Routes)

There are a couple of routes for the New York to Los Angeles drive, both of which cover approximately distance of 2800 miles and take around 42 hours.

Considering the length of this trip and to ensure a smooth journey, I highly recommend getting this car servicing kit and an emergency medical kit—it has been invaluable on my trips.

For navigation, I highly recommend using a dedicated GPS device rather than relying on your phone. This avoids draining your phone's battery and ensures continuous navigation even in areas with poor cell service.

Multiple times on this trip, you will end up driving without a phone signal, sometimes even at night.

One route for the New York to LA drive is via I-80 W (the blue line on the map above), and the second route is via I-70 W and I-40 W (the bottom grey line on the map above). Both routes pass through different states, which can help you decide which route to take.

Route 1 (via I-80 W)

Over 7 days, you will drive through 12 different states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona (optional), and California.

new york to california by car

Arizona is optional if you wish to pass through. I extended my trip to include Arizona because I love its vivid landscape, which includes Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Horseshoe Bend.

If possible, get a dashcam (front-rear) that can record everything in case of incidents. It's a long trip, and this will be a lifesaver. This will also help you record while you drive through national parks so that you can enjoy your drive instead of being busy recording. The front cam recording looks perfect.

Below is a picture of Horseshoe Bend in Arizona; I truly admire this natural wonder.

best driving route from new york to los angeles

Route 2 (via I-70 W and I-40 W)

The second route is to drive via I-70 W and I-40 W, driving through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

new york to la drive

A road trip is always enjoyable, especially for those who love driving, and it becomes even more memorable when you're traveling in a group.

If you have family traveling with you, I would recommend buying a car-wide mirror—it will make your conversations with backseat passengers much more entertaining.

Unfortunately, I was the sole driver for the entire trip, but I wasn't alone; my wife kept me awake with her jokes, albeit not very good ones. ;)

To stay powered up and connected during the trip, I also recommend a long phone charging cable (6 FT) so that it can reach the back seat, a phone mount, and a reliable ~10,000 mAh power bank.

These were essential for us, especially on those long stretches of road. We even got travel games.

You will cross four different time zones (EST, CST, MST, PST) during what is perhaps one of the longest road trips you can imagine in the United States, and I assure you, you'll love it. I've covered the hotels, locations, routes, and driving hours I followed. So feel free to adjust if you have other plans.

New York to California Drive

My initial plan for the New York to California drive was very flexible. Feel free to add or subtract extra days between destinations based on your preferences. I recommend avoiding advance hotel bookings to maintain flexibility and the option to change your plans.

Who cares about the hotel; find one on Google with good ratings, and you'll be fine. After such a long, tiring drive, you only need a comfy bed.

For the worst-case scenario, I recommend keeping an inflatable bed for your car. It can provide a comfortable resting spot if you're unable to find suitable accommodations or if you prefer sleeping in your vehicle.

  • Day 1: New York to Chicago, IL

  • Day 2: Explore Chicago, IL

  • Day 3: Chicago, IL to Omaha, NE

  • Day 4: Omaha, NE to the Rocky Mountains, CO

  • Day 5: Explore the Rocky Mountains, CO

  • Day 6: Rocky Mountains, CO to Page, AZ

  • Day 7: Explore Page, AZ

  • Day 8: Page, AZ to Las Vegas, NE

  • Day 9: Explore Las Vegas, NV

  • Day 10: Las Vegas, NE to Los Angeles, CA

  • Days 10-11: Explore Los Angeles and San Diego, CA

After so many days of driving, your car will likely start to smell. I recommend having a portable car vacuum, a car trash can with a lid, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and an air freshener to keep your car clean and fresh.

I also kept a trunk organizer as I knew things would get messy. Trust me, if your car is organized and smells fresh, you'll do much better throughout the trip—that's from my experience.

Day 1. New York to Chicago, IL (11 hours, 745 miles via I-80)

An eleven-hour New York to Chicago drive is quite long, isn't it? Yes, but I planned to drive the maximum distance on the first day because I had plenty of energy. Additionally, stopping in Chicago was a good idea.

However, if an eleven-hour drive is too much for you, you can split it into two days, with a 7-hour drive followed by a 5-hour drive, making a stop in Cleveland, OH.

If you have some time in the evening, you can visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, and it's a beautiful place.

new york to la drive

I had visited Cleveland a couple of times before, so there wasn't much left for me to explore there.

Anyway, I stayed at Cool Springs Inn, Michigan City approximately an hour's drive from Chicago, for a couple of reasons.

The first reason was the cost; hotels in Chicago were too expensive, approximately 3-4 times the cost of what I paid in Michigan City ($45). Secondly, Chicago is only about an hour's drive from this place, so you can wake up early in the morning and explore Chicago if you want.

You can visit these places in Chicago:

  • Navy Pier

  • Willis Tower

  • Cloud Gate

  • John Hancock Center

  • Shedd Aquarium

  • Art Institute of Chicago

There is a lot to do in Chicago; in fact, a day is not enough for Chicago. Consider getting a city pass and try to explore as much as you can. Extend your stay if needed.

chicago to los angeles drive

At the end of the day, you can either drive back to Cool Springs or book another hotel nearby.

The Palmer House is a good option if you want to spend more time in Chicago downtown, I have been there a couple of times. It's a bit pricier at around $150 per night, and you have to pay extra for parking, approximately $50, but the place is awesome. I paid this price in 2018, so it would have changed since then.

Day 2: Chicago, IL to Omaha, NE (7.5 hours, 466 miles via I-80)

Well, I didn't stop at Omaha, Horizon Inn Motel as per my initial plan. Instead, I drove an additional 8 hours to reach Rocky Mountains, CO, which was originally my Day 3 stop.

It might sound crazy, but I drove for over 15 hours to reach Colorado. I was particularly interested in hiking and exploring Colorado, so by adding an extra 8 hours of driving, I effectively saved a day for Colorado.

To keep your energy up during such long drives, I recommend bringing along some electrolyte drink mix. They were a lifesaver for me, helping me to stay alert and focused on the road, and even useful during hiking.

Omaha offers plenty to do if you stick to the initial plan. If you have an interest in zoos and America's largest indoor rainforest, visit the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, which features an incredible indoor desert and rainforest.

new york to california drive

Day 3: Omaha to Rocky Mountain, CO (8 hours, 568 miles via I-76)

Colorado is too vast to explore in a single day. So I stayed there for a couple of days, with my first stop at Coyote Mountain Lodge. I began the day with a hike in the Rocky Mountains and then drove through the Garden of the Gods.

On the second day, I stopped at Estes Park and visited Royal Gorge Bridge (shown below). Later in the evening, we went to Great Sand Dunes National Park.

new york to california drive

I haven't seen landscapes like those at Great Sand Dunes in my entire life. You'll find snowy mountains, deserts, lakes, and lush green forests all in the same place. It's truly mesmerizing!

new york to california drive

Day 4: Sand Dunes, CO to Page, AZ (7 hours, 426 miles via US-160)

Arizona is also too vast to explore in one day. However, you can visit Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and drive through Zion National Park or the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon itself requires a couple of days if you want to explore all its corners. If you want to save some time, you can consider a helicopter tour from Las Vegas.

Here's a random picture from Zion National Park. It's a stunning place, so don't miss the chance to drive through if you're nearby.

new york to la drive

Antelope Canyon shines bright orange in the noon sunlight, so it's a good time to visit around that time. You'll need to book tickets for this.

new york to los angeles

Day 5: Page, AZ to Las Vegas, NE (4 hours, 272 miles via US-89 & I-15)

Las Vegas is self-explanatory, and I don't think this place needs any explanation. You can try different foods and drinks, enjoy a stroll along the streets, experience the nightlife, enjoy rides, and explore the city. Saturday night is the most popular time, so plan your trip accordingly.

Driving in Vegas can be chaotic, with several pedestrians walking and lots of luxurious cars. If your car doesn't have a blind spot mirror, definitely get one.

Day 6: Las Vegas, NE to Los Angeles, CA (4 hours, 270 miles via I-15)

You can cover this distance on the 5th day itself if you don't like Vegas. But I believe that's not the case; no one wants to skip Vegas.

Southern California has tons of things to do, including Universal Studios, the San Diego Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, the Santa Monica Pier, and plenty of beautiful beaches.

One of my favorites is Potato Chip Rock Mountain, a short mountain hike near San Diego County. Here's a picture.

new york to los angeles

Road Trip Preparation Checklist

  • Ensure you have valid insurance and registration. These documents are crucial for your journey, and keeping them organized is key. I highly recommend using a card holder to keep them safe and easily accessible while on the road.

  • Ensure your vehicle is fully serviced before planning this trip, including an engine oil change, checking tire conditions, lights, brakes, etc. I wasted several hours due to an oil change in Arizona, so be cautious.

  • Avoid booking a hotel in advance, but try to make a reservation before 3:00 p.m. if you decide to book on the same day to avoid higher costs. I had to cancel one booking due to a change in plans.

  • Avoid overloading your vehicle; always leave extra space for yourself.

  • Take regular breaks while driving; I was taking breaks every 3-4 hours of driving.

  • Try not to drive more than 8 hours per day, although I didn't follow this rule myself.

  • Keep warm clothes (jackets) in your car, as the weather can change significantly during such a long-distance tour. For example, when I started the trip, it was 25 degrees Celsius in New York, but it dropped to 2 degrees Celsius when I reached Colorado. This might be different depending upon the season for you.

  • Keep an ample supply of water and food in your car.

  • Carry a tire inflator in your car; you can find one on Amazon for around $25.

  • Avoid driving between 6 pm and 7 pm due to the sunset. Since you'll be driving west, you'll face the sun every evening.

  • Most importantly, enjoy your trip and take your time; there's no need to rush!

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Thank you! This blog definitely covered us with practical tips.


Excellent overview, I’ll use this formula for my trip, well done.


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