This Map Shows the Ultimate U.S. Road Trip

The concept of a road trip is as American as apple pie, and yet, devising the “best” U.S. driving route is a bit of a head scratcher. Much depends on time parameters, personal preference, and frankly, how long you want to spend behind the wheel.

Tracy Staedter at Discovery News decided to take on that challenge, enlisting Randy Olson—Michigan State University doctoral student and the man behind the famed (and super helpful) Where’s Waldo algorithm—to devise what you might call the platonic ideal of the United States road trip. The parameters were: It had to hit all of the 48 continental states, every stop had to be a National Natural Landmark, a National Historic Site, a National Park, or a National Monument, and of course, had to be confined to car travel and within U.S. borders.

With a stop in Washington D.C. and two in California, the result is 50 points of all American awesomenesss.

Here are the destinations:

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, 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, D.C.
21. Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
22. New Castle Historic District, DE
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, 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

That list starts with the Grand Canyon, but you could theoretically begin anywhere as long as you drive in sequence after that. Staedter guesses it would take a little over nine days of driving straight through, but more realistically is a two- or three-month trip.

For the nitty gritty on how he came up with the route, check out Olson’s blog. After determining the stops, the main goal of the algorithm was to find the shortest distance between points.

Olson wrote to Staedter: "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."

And whether or not you understand the specifics of how it was created, the map is truly a marvel and the kind of itinerary you'll probably spend all winter dreaming about. See the full, interactive map here, and for additional #travelgoals, check out Olson’s road trip maps for U.S. cities and Europe.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Where in the U.S. People Aren't Getting Enough Exercise, Mapped
iStock
iStock

The U.S. is a notoriously sedentary country. A huge portion of the population doesn't meet the government's recommendations for physical activity, and that can have some serious ramifications for public health. But not everyone is equally sedentary. Physical activity rates can vary significantly from state to state, as a CDC report spotted by Thrillist illustrates.

The U.S. government currently recommends that adults squeeze in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, plus two days a week of "muscle strengthening activities" like weight lifting or calisthenics. Across the board, the number of Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 who actually meet that recommendation hovers at around 23 percent, but some states are much more physically active than others. (Men were also more likely to meet the recommendation than women, and working people were more likely than non-working people to get the recommended amounts of exercise.) The map below draws on data from the 2010 to 2015 National Health Interview Surveys, part of which included questions about exercise habits.

A color-coded map of activity rates in the U.S. with active states in blue and inactive states in red
Age-adjusted percentages of adults aged 18–64 who met federal guidelines for physical activity from 2010-2015
National Center of Health Statistics

Some of the states with the highest rates of exercise are ones we already associate with health and outdoor activity. California, for instance, scores relatively high, with 24 percent of adults meeting the guidelines. Colorado has the highest percentage, at 32.5 percent. Meanwhile, the South, a region already associated with high rates of obesity and poor public health, has some of the lowest activity rates, including 13.5 percent in Mississippi.

It's not just a matter of region, though. Much of the Midwest, including Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri, is at or slightly above the national average, while South Dakota is far below average. New York has a very low activity rate (18.9 percent) while next door, Pennsylvania has a much higher rate of 25.6 percent.

Even in more active states, these numbers may look exceedingly low. If—at the very best—less than a third of adults get enough exercise, that's bad news. But take a few caveats into account before you go judging the entire country as a bunch of couch potatoes. These are broad recommendations, and don't necessarily reflect everyone's health needs; people who are injured, disabled, or chronically ill, for example, aren't going to be able to go for hour-long runs every week, and they shouldn't.

Plus, there are some gaps in this data. The survey relates specifically to leisure time exercise, meaning that it can't reflect the full activity levels of people who have physically demanding jobs. If you're a door-to-door canvasser who walks all day, a yoga teacher, or a UPS driver who lugs boxes around, the bulk of your physical activity might not happen in your down time, but that doesn't mean you're not exercising. Commute time doesn't count as leisure, either, so the results don't factor in the exercise you might get if you bike or walk to work each day.

That said, there is plenty of other evidence that Americans spend too much time in their cars and in front of screens and not enough time moving. The problem is just much worse in Indiana than in Colorado.

[h/t Thrillist]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
The Most Popular Pixar Movie in Each State

Everyone has a favorite Pixar movie, and now you can see if your top pick matches up with your state's in this map from cable service resource CableTV.com. The map was created by analyzing Google Trends data for every Pixar feature film before The Incredibles 2, which just came out in June.

The most popular movie in the country is a sequel, which isn't that surprising given that Pixar sequels are usually a million times better than your average second outing. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the champion: Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory, which nabbed the top spot in 17 states.

But back to the quality of Pixar sequels: the data shows that every Pixar sequel is at least as popular as the first movie in its franchise. The sequels in the Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. franchises all placed first in at least one state.

2015's The Good Dinosaur may have flopped, but Idaho still loves it. Coco, Pixar's ode to The Day of the Dead, was the most popular pick in California, while Inside Out won the top spot in both Colorado and Vermont. New Mexico favored Cars, possibly because the film's fictional town Radiator Springs neighbors Route 66, which goes through the state.

Ultimately, we should all be grateful that no state picked notorious flop Cars 2.

The Most Popular Pixar Movie in Each State map
CableTV.com
The Most Popular Pixar Movie in Each State legend
CableTV.com
The Most Popular Pixar Movie in Each State legend
CableTV.com

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER