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Culture

These Are America’s 10 Longest Highways

By Bradley O'Neill
Read time: 6 minutes

From Indigenous peoples to the pioneers of the American West, cross-country travel and exploration has long been an integral part of American heritage. In 1956, the creation of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways further paved the way for uninterrupted automobile journeys throughout the contiguous United States. Today, a network of over 46,000 miles of highways zigzags from north to south and coast to coast, connecting dozens of towns, cities, states, and natural landmarks along the way. Curious about which roadways stretch the furthest? Buckle up and embark on epic road trips on the 10 longest highways in the United States. 

10. U.S. Route 12 – 2,484 Miles

Road though tunnel in Dixie National Forest of Utah along U.S. Route 12
Credit: Bim/ iStock via Getty Images

Created in 1926, U.S. Route 12 traverses 2,484 miles across the northern U.S. from Detroit, Michigan, to Aberdeen, Washington. Large parts of the route follow the historic Yellowstone Trail, which was the first east-to-west automobile highway through the northern states. On its journey across nine states, U.S. Route 12 navigates varied landscapes like the canyons and cedar forests of Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and the buttes and badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It also cuts through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, a 2.3-million-acre area of prairies and rolling hills that’s home to the Lakota and Dakota nations. 

9. Interstate 40 – 2,555 Miles

Aerial view of traffic on Interstate 40 through forested valley
Credit: Bilanol/ Shutterstock 

The western terminus of Interstate 40 is found in Barstow, California, which was part of the historic Route 66 and is now home to the Route 66 Mother Road Museum. Traveling east, Interstate 40 heads through eight states on its way to Wilmington, a seaside city in North Carolina. A mix of breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and important cultural sites are found along the length of the 2,555-mile highway. Among them are Grand Canyon National Park and Acoma Pueblo, a Native American community set atop a mesa in New Mexico. Interstate 40 also provides easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile scenic drive through the Appalachian Mountains that’s billed as “America’s Favorite Drive.”

8. U.S. Route 2 – 2,571 Miles

Empty stretch of U.S. Route 12 through mountainous landscape
Credit: David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc./ Alamy Stock Photo

Nicknamed the “Great Northern” after the pioneering railroad route that runs parallel to its western section, U.S. Route 2 spans 10 states, plus a segment in Canada. The eastern section begins at the border town of Houlton, Maine, then passes through the lush landscapes of New Hampshire and Vermont to Rouse Point, New York.

The highway continues to Montreal and Ottawa in Canada, before returning to the United States in St. Ignace, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Huron. The western section passes through the wide-open spaces of the Great Plains and over to the Cascade Mountains near Everett, Washington. From bustling cities to Victoria-era villages and national parks, there’s plenty to see along the way, including Glacier National Park and the Hiawatha National Forest

7. U.S. Route 60 – 2,670 Miles

Farmland beside U.S. Route 60 in West Virginia
Credit: Jeff Greenberg/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images 

Completed in 1926, U.S. Route 60 meanders for 2,670 miles across the country from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Brenda, Arizona. The original idea was for the highway to link Chicago with Los Angeles, but that plan later took shape as the famous Route 66. A trip on U.S. Route 60 offers excellent opportunities for both outdoor adventure and cultural experiences. For example, you’ll find stunning views over the Phoenix valley via the Echo Canyon Hike, which skirts Camelback Mountain. In Oklahoma, Bartlesville is famous for its art deco buildings, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower.

6. Interstate 80 – 2,899 Miles

Traffic on Interstate 80, seen from above
Credit: PapaBear/ iStock via Getty Images 

Interstate 80 connects two of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States — New York City and San Francisco — located on opposite coasts. This transcontinental route crosses 11 states and retraces historic emigrant routes. One of these is the California Trail, which mountain explorers and fur traders used to travel between Missouri and California during the 1840s and 1850s. Dozens of interesting and offbeat attractions are scattered along Interstate 80 today. Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the “World’s Largest Time Capsule” in Nebraska, and the Tahoe National Forest in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains are all worth a detour.   

5. U.S. Route 50 – 3,019 Miles

Curving section of U.S. Route 50 in Nevada with sign dubbing in the "Loneliest Road in America"
Credit: Tashka/ iStock via Getty Images 

Stretching from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California, U.S. Route 50 incorporates some of the country’s most mesmerizing landscapes. Along the highway, road trippers will encounter the Appalachian, Rocky, and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, in addition to the Great Plains. Noteworthy sights include California’s Lake Tahoe and the rocky wonderlands of Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

In Nevada, a barren 300-mile stretch of the highway through the Great Basin Desert is dubbed “the Loneliest Road in America.” Also in Nevada, drivers can discover the historic cowboy culture of Lone Pine, which has been the backdrop for western movies since 1939’s Gunga Din starring Cary Grant, and intriguing natural sites like the speleothem-rich Lehman Caves and singing dunes of Sand Mountain

4. Interstate 90 – 3,020 Miles

Curving section of Interstate 90 overlooking Columbia River in Washington, seen from above
Credit: Bonnie Jo Mount/ The Washington Post via Getty Images 

From the shorelines of Lake Erie and Lake Michigan (two of the Great Lakes) to the Great Plains of North Dakota and the Rocky Mountains, Interstate 90 passes through many areas of breathtaking natural beauty. This east-west highway starts in Boston, travels through 13 states in the northern United States and ends in Seattle, Washington.

If you choose to drive the entire length, you will cross spectacular mountain passes like Washington’s Snoqualmie Pass, Lookout Pass on the Idaho-Montana border, and Montana’s Homestake Pass, where the highway reaches an elevation of 6,329 feet above sea level. Other notable places along the way include Minnesota’s 55-foot-tall Jolly Green Giant Statue, Mount Rushmore National Monument, and the Garnet ghost town in Montana. 

3. U.S. Route 30 – 3,073 Miles

Hairpin turn on U.S. Route 30, seen from above
Credit: Stefano Politi Markovina/ Alamy Stock Photo

Another highway that connects the country’s Atlantic and Pacific coastlines is U.S. Route 30. This long-distance roadway starts in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and ends in Astoria, Oregon. A significant stretch between Pennsylvania and Wyoming follows the historic Lincoln Highway, including the 200-mile Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor in Pennsylvania. The Lincoln Highway Experience in Latrobe offers the chance to delve into highway nostalgia. Other standout sights include curious roadside attractions such as The Coffee Pot in Bedford, Pennsylvania, and the Haines Shoe House in York, which can be rented for an overnight stay. 

2. U.S. Route 6 – 3,207 Miles

U.S. Route 6 winding up the Donner Summit
Credit: Hank Erdmann/ Shutterstock 

U.S. Route 6 begins in Provincetown, Massachusetts, near the site of the iconic Mayflower landing in 1620. It then traverses 14 states on its way to Bishop, California. In 1953, the route was given the name “Grand Army of the Republic Highway” to commemorate Civil War veterans. Those traveling on the highway today can discover everything from the dune-clad beaches of Cape Cod National Seashore to the adrenaline-pumping switchbacks of Loveland Pass on the Continental Divide. Popular stops include Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park for stargazing in a Dark Sky Preserve and Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1. U.S. Route 20 – 3,365 Miles

Dual-bridge span of U.S. Route 20 over the Mississippi River
Credit: Trong Nguyen/ Shutterstock 

Linking Kenmore Square in Boston, Massachusetts, with the Pacific coast town of Newport, Oregon, U.S. Route 20 is the longest highway in the United States. Over its 3,365-mile coast-to-coast journey, it runs mostly parallel to Interstate 90 and passes through 12 states. From the rural pastures of Pennsylvania and Ohio to the Rocky Mountains, U.S. 20 offers a fascinating glimpse of the country’s ever-changing landscapes.

Many natural wonders lay scattered along the route, including the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Yellowstone National Park, and Yaquina Bay State Recreational Site. There are plenty of curious roadside attractions, too — namely Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge made out of half-buried Cadillacs, and the RV Hall of Fame and Museum

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