The Lincoln Highway Road Trip Guide
Back in the day, if you wanted to drive out to California from New York City, there was only one way to go – the Lincoln Highway.
The groundbreaking roadway linked 13 different states at a time when automobiles were just becoming firmly established in our society. It gave many Americans an almost unbelievable opportunity to travel freely and experience the vast, unknown countryside for themselves.
Let’s explore a bit more!
History of the Lincoln Highway
The Lincoln Highway was named after the nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated in 1865. Actually, it was the first national memorial to the fallen president and has statues of its namesake along the way.
In fact, it predated the Lincoln Memorial monument in Washington D.C. by nine years.
Construction of the cross-country highway in the United States started in 1913. When it was officially dedicated in 1922, the Lincoln Highway extended more than 3,000 miles to San Francisco.
The transcontinental route was the brainchild of a visionary entrepreneur from Indiana named Carl Fisher. Besides being a real estate developer, he was a tireless promoter of automobile use. There were few good roads in the country, but most of them were dirt. His ambitious idea called for a continuous gravel road from one end of the United States to the other. Can you imagine?
To pay for it, he solicited $10 million from the public as well as corporations. Eventually, the federal government kicked in millions more to complete the east-west route. It was then improved over time with brick, concrete, and asphalt.
For a few decades, the Lincoln Highway was one of the best-known roads in America. However, when the federal government developed its system of numbered highways, it simply became known as U.S. Route 30. Modern travelers also follow the same general path as they whiz along Interstate 80.
Many younger motorists may be largely unaware of how famous and important the original highway was. For that reason, a preservation group actively works to make sure the Lincoln Highway isn’t lost to history.
Where Does the Highway Begin and End?
Where do we start? In Times Square, at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. The official finish line is in San Francisco at Lincoln Park, also named for the president. The 100-acre park in the northwestern part of the city was established in honor of Honest Abe in 1909.
The Lincoln Highway in California
The road goes both ways, of course.
Driving west to east, you get to explore a good bit of northern California. Initially, there were two routes in eastern California. The so-called Donner route runs parallel to today’s I-80 while the Pioneer branch ran farther south.
The Lincoln Highway in Nevada
It can get awfully lonesome out here. For the most part, the old road follows today’s U.S. 50. There’s a long stretch east of Reno that’s mostly open country for more than 300 miles with some high mountain passes.
The Lincoln Highway in Utah
Much of what’s left of Lincoln Highway in Utah is on private property these days. Some public places remain that are worth seeking out.
These include a once-bustling inn in the community of Sheridan, the old Bittner Ranch, and the courthouse in Coalville.
The Lincoln Highway in Wyoming
Take the Lincolnway exit from I-80 in Cheyenne for a quick cruise into the past.
There, you can check out the famous Tree Rock, the Lincoln Monument, and the historic Union Pacific Station.
The Lincoln Highway in Colorado
The route changed a bit over the years, and a “Colorado Loop” was part of it early on. An alternate route dipped down from Big Springs, Nebraska, to Denver before looping northward to Cheyenne.
Some of these sparsely populated areas appear to have changed very little in the century since.
The Lincoln Highway in Nebraska
In the Cornhusker State, Highway 30 is officially known as the Nebraska Lincoln Highway Historic Byway. It’s certainly well maintained and well-marked and crosses the entire state.
A few miles outside of Boy’s Town, signs point the way to some remaining brick pavement from 1920.
Lincoln Highway in Iowa
You can still drive much of the old route in Iowa, mostly on Highway 30.
Just off the highway, there are a few stretches that are still gravel. Watch for the signs that say Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway.
The Lincoln Highway in Illinois
Popular stops are the Lincoln Monument in Dixon and the headquarters of the Lincoln Highway Association. It’s in the tiny town of Franklin Grove in a building that the president’s cousin designed.
The Lincoln Highway in Indiana
Past Joliet and greater Chicago, Highway 30 continues, following the latter of two different routes that crossed Indiana. Stop off at Lincoln’s log cabin that’s on display in Fort Wayne.
The Studebaker National Museum and Archive are also worth a detour in South Bend.
The Lincoln Highway in Ohio
This is one of the best places to see intact sections of the brick roadway and vintage brick and concrete markers. The Ohio chapter of the highway group deserves a lot of credit for their preservation work.
The Classic Car Museum is another excellent stop.
The Lincoln Highway in West Virginia
The route changed in 1928 to include West Virginia, but not very much of it. The new maps steered motorists from Ohio to Pennsylvania through about four miles of the panhandle of northern West Virginia.
It remains a great excuse to visit the World’s Largest Teapot in the small city of Chester.
The Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania
Through historic towns like York, Lancaster, and Bedford, you can follow some 200 miles of the original road. It’s marked here as the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. Toward Philadelphia, it skirts the modern U.S. Highway 1.
The Lincoln Highway in New Jersey
Crossing the Delaware River puts you on one of the busiest stretches of the Lincoln Highway, then and now. It’s a path through historic American towns like Trenton and New Brunswick and bulging metropolises like Newark and Jersey City.
The early Lincoln Highway users crossed the Hudson River by ferry not far from the modern Lincoln Tunnel.
The Lincoln Highway in New York
And now we’re back where it started – just a mile down 42nd Street on the other side of the Hudson. Of all the states linked by the Lincoln Highway, the state of New York had the shortest segment.
There’s little here to remind you of the highway’s heyday, but state officials did place a sign in Times Square in 2009.
Best Hikes Along the Way
Get off the road for a bit and take in some natural sights just off the highway. Back east and way out west, here are two great places to stretch your legs.
Just off U.S. 30 near Boswell in western Pennsylvania, Laurel Highlands is a popular spot but usually not too crowded. It’s a 4.8-mile out-and-back trail that’s suitable for all skill levels. It’s also part of a larger 70-mile trail through the forest with some great scenery.
You may spot some wildlife and, depending on the season, varieties of gorgeous wildflowers. The elevation gain is just under 1,100 feet.
Donner Peak Trail
In Tahoe National Forest, this 3.8-mile path is rated as moderate, mostly because of its rocky terrain and potentially snowy conditions.
The trail is near the town of Norden and is heavily trafficked, especially in warmer months. You’ll enjoy the sights of some lingering snow into early summer, but the trail can be hard to follow if the snow’s too heavy.
The first switchback is especially narrow and steep. Dogs are welcome, too, but keep them on a leash.
Best Camping Along the Way
Lincoln Highway RV Park
If Nebraska is a convenient stopping point, head toward North Platte on U.S. 30. Owners Louie and Diane Herrick understand your needs because they’ve spent lots of time on the road themselves.
Besides full hookups and large pull-thru sites, there’s a convenience store and even a bar and grill with live music!
The RV park also offers three lakes and a beach on the property for recreation. The price is reasonable at $30/night.
A well-kept family-oriented campground in Kinzers, Pennsylvania, with full-hookup sites starting at $46/night. This is in the historic Dutch Country, and the town of Lancaster is just ten miles away. Both the roads and sites are gravel.
The spaces are also a bit tight, and some are shaded while others are in the open. It’s a quaint stopover point, and the Amish neighbors sell baked goods on-site on the weekends.
Is a Lincoln Highway Road Trip Worth It?
Revisiting this historic route can offer a fascinating glimpse into yesteryear. This is particularly true in the Midwestern states where so much of the history is preserved. However, a start-to-finish run along the Lincoln Highway isn’t practical.
Instead, we suggest some leisurely side visits during your other travels around the country. We recommend this kind of approach with the famous Route 66, as well.
Do your research in your downtime, then set out to see specific interesting points along the old Lincoln Highway route.
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