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Features & Columns

Ultimate Road Trip Map Hits Every Major Landmark in the United States

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Ultimate Road Trip Map Hits Every Major Landmark in the United States

2015-03-16 09:46:02

 -by Samantha Wilson, Assistant Editor; Image: Olson's map (Image Source: Randy Olson)

There comes a point in everyone’s life where it’s time to hit the highway and set off on a road trip. But the problem commonly faced is setting the perfect course for hitting all the stops and landmarks possible within the most efficient amount of time. It’s nearly impossible to see everything the United States has to offer in one go, without getting sick of each other cooped up in the car for long stretches of endless highway. 

Last week, Discovery News writer Tracy Staedter commissioned Michigan State University doctoral student Randy Olson to make the ultimate United States road trip map. Olson would use his algorithmic talents to plot something spectacular. The parameters were simple: make at least one stop in all 48 continental United States, make each stop a National Natural Landmark, National Historic Site, National Park or National Monument, and never leave U.S. soil — a true road trip is taken in a car only.  

To make an even 50 stops (since Alaska and Hawaii are out of bounds), the map also included an extra stop in California, as well as a stop in Washington, DC. Olson was able to plot his map using a combination of free information from Google Maps API and code he wrote himself in order to calculate the distance and time it would take to hit all 50 landmarks across 2,500 miles with the least amount of backtracking possible. He details that process in a blog, which can be read here.  

Because that would take an excessive amount of time to complete, Olson employed the use of a generic algorithm to aid the completion of the map. He writes: "Instead of exhaustively looking at every possible solution, genetic algorithms start with a handful of random solutions and continually tinker with these solutions — always trying something slightly different from the current solution and keeping the best one — until they can’t find a better solution any more.”

If you were to follow Olson’s map, the road trip would take a total of 9.33 days of driving — not including how long you decide to stay in each location to check out the bounty of national wonders and historical landmarks. According to Staedter, it’s more realistic to give yourself two to three months to complete the journey. 

A list of the stops on Olson’s map: 

 

1 Grand Canyon, AZ

2 Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

3 Craters of the Moon, ID

4 Yellowstone National Park, WY

5 Pikes Peak, CO

6 Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

7 The Alamo, TX

8 The Platt Historic District, OK

9 Toltec Mounds, AR

10 Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN

11 Vicksburg National Military Park, MS

12 French Quarter, New Orleans, LA

13 USS Alabama, AL

14 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL

15 Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA

16 Fort Sumter National Monument, SC

17 Lost World Caverns, WV

18 Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC

19 Mount Vernon, VA

20 White House, Washington, DC

21 Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD

22 New Castle Historic District, Delaware

23 Cape May Historic District, NJ

24 Liberty Bell, PA

25 Statue of Liberty, NY

26 The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT

27 The Breakers, RI

28 USS Constitution, MA

29 Acadia National Park, ME

30 Mount Washington Hotel, NH

31 Shelburne Farms, VT

32 Fox Theater, Detroit, MI

33 Spring Grove Cemetery, OH

34 Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

35 West Baden Springs Hotel, IN

36 Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL

37 Gateway Arch, MO

38 C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS

39 Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA

40 Taliesin, WI

41 Fort Snelling, MN

42 Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE

43 Mount Rushmore, SD

44 Fort Union Trading Post, ND

45 Glacier National Park, MT

46 Hanford Site, WA

47 Columbia River Highway, OR

48 San Francisco Cable Cars, CA

49 San Andreas Fault, CA

50 Hoover Dam, NV

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