Driving Across America on US Route 50
Fancy leaving it all behind for a few weeks and immersing yourself in a truly unique American experience? If you love long road trips, through breathtaking wild landscapes, far from civilization, you’ll enjoy driving along US Route 50!
Stretching over 3,007 miles, from San Francisco to Ocean City, the legendary Route 50 or Highway 50 is as mystical as it is spectacular. Indeed, this incredible drive will take you from ocean to ocean, through remote places in the heart of America, meandering through forgotten frontier towns, arid deserts, snow-capped mountain ranges, lush forests, stunning lakes, and sparkling rivers.
From California to Maryland, some of the areas you’ll cross are even so remote that one of them, the Nevada portion of the drive, has been named ‘’the loneliest road in America’’. Are you ready to embark on the journey of a lifetime?
To help you make the most of your trip and create unforgettable memories, we’ve listed below some of the best spots to explore for unique and gorgeous photo opportunities, authentic meals, and refreshing drinks!
If you’re starting your trip from the West Coast, San Francisco should be your starting point. Indeed, the Golden Gate City offers an array of gourmet food and drink options and countless photo opportunities.
One of the best landmarks in the city is the Golden Gate Bridge, which you can photograph from Baker’s beach at sunset or from Battery Spencer for a bird’s eye view of the iconic monument. If you’re hungry, head to La Taqueria for some authentic Mexican food or to Rich Table for their famous Porcini Doughnuts.
For cocktail lovers seeking a unique experience, we recommend visiting the Rye Cocktail Bar to enjoy one of their delightful drinks.
Your next stop on US Route 50 should be Placerville, a former gold mining town located at the foothills of the beautiful Sierra Nevada.
This unique town features beautiful vineyards and two gold mines and will instantly take you back to the gold-rush era. It’s also set in the heart of the El Dorado National Forest, offering many photo opportunities for photographers. After a busy day exploring the area, drop by the Old Town Grill for a delicious burger and a refreshing beer.
The road will then take you through the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountain Range all the way to Echo Summit for dazzling views of Lake Tahoe.
Along the way, you’ll be able to marvel at the timeless landscape as the verdant valleys of wildflowers, the deep canyons, the ancient glaciers, and the desolate pinnacles unfold in front of your eyes. If you decide to go for a walk, you’ll also be able to smell the tantalizing scent of lush prehistoric sequoia, cedar, and pine forests.
Once you reach the southern part of the spectacular lake Tahoe, framed by blue skies and towering alpine peaks, head to the Base Camp Pizza Co for a delicious gourmet pizza or to the Red Hut Waffle Shop for an incredible brunch.
US Route 50 will then take you to Carson City through the fantastic Spooner Summit and the small town of Genoa. If you have some time, stop along the Spooner Summit pass as it offers sweeping views of the glistening Lake Tahoe. Indeed, this prime spot provides photo amateurs and professionals alike an opportunity for stellar pictures!
Next, we’d recommend that you stop at Genoa, Nevada’s oldest settlement. The town has kept its rural frontier feel, offering an authentic Wild West experience. For a quick trip back in time, head to the Genoa Bar and Saloon, which is believed to be the oldest bar in Nevada, and enjoy a Bloody Mary or two.
After spending a night in Carson City, dining at the Red’s Old 395 Grill and enjoying perfectly cooked BBQ ribs, head towards the archaeological site of Grimes Point. This ancient Native American area features 6000-year-old petroglyphs and fantastic hidden caves. Continue through the arid and desolate desert and stop to admire the incredible Sand Mountain, a six-story high singing sand dune.
Route 50 will then lead you to the Great Basin National Park, where the fabulous Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, climbing up to 10,000 feet, will offer spectacular views of bristlecone pine groves, lower mountains, lakes, and arid desert landscapes. For the best pictures, try and explore the area at sunrise or sunset. If you like ancient caves, the Lehman caves are also worth the detour. For a well-deserved food stop, drop by the Kerouac’s Restaurant as the venue provides hungry visitors with an amazing choice of delicious food, wines, beers, and of course more cocktails.
The Nevada portion crosses the center of the state and was named The Loneliest Road in America by Life magazine in July 1986, so this means quite a few sections where you will see NOBODY. If you are passing at night, stop over and check out the night sky.
Utah is an adventurer’s wonderland so have your camera fully charged and ready to go, and driving along US Route 50 in this amazing state will allow you to enjoy THE most spectacular landscapes.
Base yourself in the town of Moab for a few days and explore the breathtaking Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. From arid wilderness and deep canyons to towering colored spires, pinnacles, and red sandstone arches, the landscape diversity will provide photo lovers with hundreds of photo opportunities along the way.
After driving all day, stop at Moab Diner to indulge in a delightful bacon cheeseburger, try the roast beef dinner or enjoy the diner’s signature burrito.
Once in Colorado, drive along the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Durango and enjoy panoramic views of some of the most rugged peaks in the Colorado Rockies.
The drive is truly spectacular as it takes you along breathtaking cliffs and across towering snow-capped mountain peaks all the way down to verdant valleys.
For the best photos, explore the area in fall, when this magical place is ablaze with vibrant autumn colors. If you decide to stop in Ouray, a pretty mountain town often referred to as “Switzerland of America,” check out the Brickhouse 737 for some amazing short ribs and mesmerizing cocktails.
For more spectacular Rocky Mountain views, drive through Pike’s Peak and soak in the panoramic vistas of snow-capped mountains, red pinnacles, and lush forest valleys.
You should also make sure to stop at Manitou Springs for refreshments and enjoy a delicious Mediterranean-inspired meal at the quaint Sahara Cafe.
Being the heart of the ‘’Wheat Belt’’, Kansas landscape is predominantly flat and agricultural. During your trip along Route 50 and across the state, explore the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. This fantastic area features 11,000 acres of undulating green prairies lit up with seasonal wildflowers, such as gorgeous narrow-leaf bluets and daisies, and shelters one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world with over 500 plant species. It’s also home to some incredible wildlife, including pure-bred bison herds.
If you decide to base yourself in Cottonwood Falls to explore the area, we’d recommend you to stop at Grand Central Hotel & Grill, an award-winning western-themed venue. Another worthy food stop along the way is the German restaurant Grünauer located in Kansas City. Many customers praise the amazing service and incredible menu.
West Virginia and Virginia
The US Route 50 continues from Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio through to the incredible Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, and more specifically, the rugged Allegheny Mountains. While driving through the area, you’ll be able to enjoy dazzling views of a mountain landscape sprawling across thick hardwood and balsam fir forests, white-water rivers, thriving valleys covered in wildflowers, and impressive waterfalls.
Some of the best spots for stunning photos of the wilderness include Blackwater Falls State Park and Hawks Nest State Park.
Once you’ve entered Virginia, stop in the charming town of Winchester for a delightful pizza at Pizza Co Pizza Parlor. You can also visit the historic district before heading to one of the orchards in the surrounding countryside for a relaxing afternoon and some beautiful photo opportunities.
The last major stop before reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Ocean City is Washington. If you can stop for a couple of days to explore the city and immerse yourself in over two centuries of American political history. Whether you enjoy fine art, history, or simply like to marvel at impressive monuments, Washington will delight you. Some of the must-sees in the capital include the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and of course, the White House.
For unique photo opportunities, head to the Tidal Basin at sunset for a gorgeous shot of the Washington Monument. Another amazing sunset photo opportunity can be found at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Once you’ve captured the perfect image, drop by the Old Ebbitt Grill (one of the best Steakhouses in the Country) or The Dabney to sample some of the best food in town.
Springtime brings the cherry blossom festival, so if you’re in town around check it out. You will get some great shots of national monuments surrounded by cherry blossom.
From there, you’ll be only a mere 139 miles away from Ocean City and its iconic Atlantic views.
We hope you enjoyed this article and you’re now ready to pack your bags and go.
Have you traveled US Route 50 before? If so, we’d love to read about your experience in the comment section below, and check out our other road trip suggestions including our list of 5 Of The Most Beautiful Landscapes in the World
Dan has been working in the photography industry for over 20 years mostly in the commercial space. He re-focused in travel and travel content 5 years ago after a long career in commercial studio, interior and advertising content for industry leaders in many genres.
Published many times in print with Professional Photographer, Sony, Culture Trip, Countryside Magazine, NY Tourism Guide, New York Times, many real estate marketing magazines throughout the USA and many online publications. Dan has also co-authored “Creative Photography : The Professional Edge”.
Dan also runs yearly photography tours in Alaska at alaskabearcruise.com where he is the guide and company co-owner. He also runs a successful nationwide photography business.
Current principal sponsors include Think Tank Photo and Lumix, also a previous British Photography Awards Ambassador.