I was discussing the three-day drive across Texas we’ve taken in the past and wondered how that stretch compares to other states. I decided to let Google Maps be my guide as I looked throughout the country for similar treks for the nine longest in-state drives.
I created a few ground rules, such as any route candidate for my list being calculated as the shortest drive between two cities or towns. This means that there may be longer routes to or from unincorporated towns not showing on Google Maps. I can’t do much about that. I only utilized routes that stayed within the state being researched. A few shorter routes may have existed through neighboring states. Also, traffic, season and weather don’t affect distance, so I kept to miles instead of hours.
One last point – I didn’t research all 50 states. Obviously, states like Hawaii, Rhode Island and Delaware won’t be on any longest drive list. But as I calculated the most extensive drives in states like Pennsylvania, Maine, Virginia and North Carolina, it became clear that most candidates were less than 400 miles. With the 9th largest stretching 629 miles, I could visually rule out dozens of states.
Here’s the list, ranked shortest to longest:
9. Oklahoma- Kenton to Tom- 629 miles
Many of the states on this list are of medium size compared to the rest of the country but have irregular shapes that provide longer routes. This is true of Oklahoma, where we start at the edge of the panhandle and drive catacorner to the bottom of the pan, covering over 600 miles. The route only utilizes a few dozen miles on an interstate (I-40) and flows through Oklahoma City smack dab in the middle of the Sooner State.
8. Michigan- Copper Harbor to Erie Township- 631 miles
Situated at the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or U.P., is Copper Harbor on Lake Superior, and it’s now on my bucket list to visit. On the other end of the drive is a small town near Ohio on Lake Erie. In between, the Mitten State will provide a variety of sights and views of three of the Great Lakes.
7. Nevada- Laughlin to Denio- 698 miles
It was surprising to see Nevada on this list. Laughlin is found near the state junction points of Nevada, California and Arizona in the far south of the Silver State. Almost 700 miles north is Denio, a small town at the Oregon border. Along the way, you’ll see some of the state’s desert and scablands, Las Vegas and other gambling meccas, and many miles of secluded highway.
6. Montana- Troy to Ridge- 721 miles
I did expect to see the Big Sky Country in the Top 9, but the surprise was that it wasn’t longer than a few others on the list. Troy is in the northeast corner near the Idaho border, sitting in the middle of the Kootenai National Forest. Over 700 miles southeast is Ridge in the opposite corner. The two towns show a stark contrast in environments, with Troy in the midst of fabulous forested mountains and Ridge reminding more of the barren hills of the Dakotas.
5. Idaho- Good Grief to Fish Haven- 827 miles
Another panhandle, another long drive. At the far northern edge of the Gem State is the best city name on this list, Good Grief. Because the most direct route takes you through Montana, we had to calculate traveling through Boise to stay in Idaho to reach the southeast corner of the state at Fish Haven. This takes you along several mountain ranges and forests until you reach the capital city, then the scenery becomes more scrub-like.
4. Florida- Muscogee to Key West- 840 miles
Let’s face it, panhandles give states an edge to get on this list, and the Sunshine State is no exception. Like Oklahoma, we begin on the far eastern edge of the panhandle in the town of Muscogee, then head west to the body of Florida before driving south, all the way to the Keys. The distance between the two is so far that Google shows the direct flying time to be almost four hours. The inland drive will repeat the same scenery for much of the trip, except for the time you are near the ocean. On this jaunt, south is best, as it includes West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, the Everglades and Key West, many of which are on most people’s bucket lists.
3. Texas- El Paso to Orange- 858 miles
Now we see the state that started it all, Texas, and its 3-day straight shot east from El Paso, all on I-10. The Lone Star State is vast and mostly barren, though green by comparison to much of the southwest. Hundreds of miles after leaving El Paso, you’ll finally reach San Antonio, the 7th largest city in the country, and about 3 hours later, Houston, the 4th largest. Orange is just across the state line from Lake Charles, LA, and is hurricane susceptible.
2. California.- Smith River to
Winterhaven- 1008 miles
Not far from the Oregon coast is Smith River, California, a continuation of the fabulous northwest coastline. This path takes you south along the coast until you reach San Francisco, then it heads inland through wine country and the Big Valley, before hitting the Los Angeles metropolitan area. From there you travel east, then south towards Mexico, ending up in Winterhaven, next to Yuma, AZ. You’ll see a wide range of panoramic views of ocean, coastline, vineyards, agriculture, historic cities, theme parks, and southwestern deserts. It’s never a bad time to take in a thousand miles of the Golden State.
1. Alaska- Homer to Prudhoe Bay- 1074 miles
As we all expected, the Last Frontier takes the top spot for providing the longest in-state drive. Interestingly, the longest route I could locate included just the main body of the state, since so much of Alaska is inaccessible by car, even in the summer. Speaking of summer, that’s the only season most of this route is safe. But, the views! Prudhoe Bay is on the Arctic Ocean and was built atop the tundra. This route is almost 1,100 miles in length and just about every mile has dramatic views. Like many awe-inspiring landscapes, photographs along this byway simply can’t do them justice.
Honorable Mention- Missouri- Watson to Cottonwood Point- 560 miles
At nearly 600 miles long, the Show-Me State was just out of the Top 9, but the odd-shaped state still deserves a mention. In the far northwest corner, Watson is more like Nebraska than Missouri. The lack of a direct route to the southeastern notch forces the route to take a bit of a zig zag, traveling south along the Nebraska and Kansas state lines, hanging a left in Kansas City and a right at St. Louis, then south along the Illinois line and the mighty Mississippi River. This would definitely be an interesting drive.
Now, then, these are the longest drives in the country that don’t cross state lines. Many of these are now on my future to-do list, if not my bucket list. I trust you have the same interest.
Jack Huber is a novelist with 7 mysteries published, along with several books of poetry and photography. Now retired, he and his wife, Nadyne, are free to travel the country in their 32' 5th wheel and 1-ton Ford pickup.