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How To Road Trip From State College To Pasadena

With Penn State football heading to the Rose Bowl for just the fifth time, fans all over the country and clambering to get to Pasadena.

It’s the last time the game will be played in its traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 format, marking the end of an era and increasing the game’s appeal. It could be a once-in-a-lifetime trip opportunity.

But, nonstop flights into Los Angeles and Burbank from State College don’t exist. Options from Philadelphia, New York, and Pittsburgh are nearing $1,000 and hotel prices around New Year’s Eve aren’t making things cheaper. We don’t blame you if the thought of a cross-country road trip is creeping into your mind.

If the Lewis and Clark that lives inside all of us is screaming your name, it might be time to grab some friends and hit the open road. Luckily, we here at Onward State know a thing or two about Penn State road trips and are here to map things out for you.

Round trip, driving to Pasadena from State College is 5,122 miles — or driving from one McLanahan’s to the other 12,805 times. At the national gas price average of $3.29 and the average car pulling about 25 miles per gallon, gas will come out to about $674. If you can, avoid filling up in Illinois and Pennsylvania as those states have the highest gas prices east of the Rocky Mountains.

Remember, the more friends you can convince to come, the better. You’ll be able to dilute the costs among yourselves and take shifts driving.

There are a few route options for driving across the county, which all take about 38 hours. We recommend choosing one of the top two routes to get the maximum ~views~ in Colorado and Utah.

We’ll be laying out the top route since it goes through Big Ten country. But if you want to opt for the middle route to drive through Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Kansas City, that’s great, too. But just know you’ll be missing out on beautiful stops like Iowa City, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska. You can always do one on the way there and the other on the way back.

We’re proposing a four-leg journey that features some high-mileage days on the front end but an easy back end with a New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas. Or, if partying isn’t your thing, we have the option to spend the last night of 2022 among the red rocks of Zion National Park instead.

You’ll have a big window to cruise into Los Angeles on New Year’s Day, which might be much-needed if you’re nursing the first hangover of 2023.

Leg 1: State College to Iowa City

In order to get there on New Year’s Day, which is the day before the game, you’ll need to leave on Thursday, December 29.

The first leg of this trip is a bit of a grind, clocking in at nearly 12 hours and covering almost 800 miles. It may be wise to stop short somewhere closer to Chicago and give yourself some breathing room, but something about crossing the Mississippi on the first day just feels great.

If you do this leg in one go, you won’t have lots of time to sightsee unless you wake up early and hit the road, which we do recommend. Luckily, there’s really not much to see here. Once you get west of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, it’s almost completely flat until Denver. But, it might be worth it to quickly check out something scenic in the park, like Brandywine Falls, before braving 1,000 miles of corn and tornadoes. We did this at New River Gorge on the way back from Auburn and it was completely worth it.

Also, when in Rome (Chicago), you might as well get a picture in front of the iconic ~bean~ to document your journey. It might add about an hour to the trip depending on traffic, but it’s the only landmark you’re going to get for a while.

Motels in Iowa City on the night of the 29th start at $55. Again, packing as many people as you can in your car and lodging rooms will make things pretty cheap, pretty fast.

Leg 2: Iowa City to Denver

Rise and shine, it’s time to get Rocky Mountain high, baby. This leg takes just a tad north of 11 hours if you want to make it all the way to Denver. But, motel prices in places like Fort Morgan and Brush, Colorado, look more appealing and start at $59.

Both of these snowy Colorado towns are on the same route to Denver and will shave an hour off of the 11-hour trek from Iowa City.

This part of the trip will really separate the men from the boys. There’s really not much to see the entire day save for driving through Des Moines, Iowa, Omaha, Nebraska, and Lincoln, Nebraska. You’ll cross the beautiful Missouri River at the border of Iowa and Nebraska and then spend most of your day driving through Nebraska on I-80.

Luckily, there are some ~interesting~ stops along the way to break things up. The Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska, is about six hours into the drive. It’s basically what its name says it is: a collection of classic cars. It’s $10 to enter, but college students and seniors get a $2 discount.

If you like big things, Milford, Nebraska, is the place for you. This city is about five hours west of Iowa City and will take you on a short detour through Lincoln, which means you can get a picture in front of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium if you wish. Milford features the world’s largest time capsule (it’s set to be opened in 2025) and the previous site of the world’s biggest covered wagon. The wagon has actually been dethroned and is now permanently closed, but it’s a pretty fun stop.

The Great Plains Travel Guide has some other options along I-80 if you want to take your time getting to Denver.

Leg 3: Denver to Las Vegas OR Zion National Park

Happy New Year’s Eve! If you survived the long drives of the previous two days, you should now be poised to get to Las Vegas by midnight. We must warn you: hotels in Las Vegas are New Year’s Eve are not cheap!

The absolutely lowest you’ll be able to go is the $200 range. It’s also about an 11-hour drive from Denver, so you need to be prepared to rise and grind if you want to see the ball drop in Sin City. This option is if you want to splurge and celebrate your journey with a night out in Vegas. Expect to pay a lot for cover charges and drinks, too.

But, if partying isn’t your speed and you’d rather ring in the new year under the stars, we have an alternate option. Zion National Park is about a nine-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver and is one of the most beautiful places in the United States.

It’s too late to snag a reservation to camp inside the park and you probably won’t make it in time to catch the last shuttle into the canyon, but the town of Springdale and the surrounding natural area are just as beautiful.

Thanks to the abundance of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Utah, dispersed camping outside the park is easy. It drops below freezing overnight this time of year, so make sure you’re prepared with a proper tent, sleeping bag, and layers. Just staying in the car is an option, too.

You can camp anywhere on BLM land, which is basically everywhere a mile or so off the highway in this part of Utah, for free. The Boondocker’s Bible has a list of a few specific spots if you’re nervous about exactly where to post up for the night. Try to get to the park by sunset, but definitely pack a headlamp or two to make setting up camp easier.

Leg 4: Zion National Park OR Las Vegas to Pasadena

Happy 2023, baby! Whether you enjoyed a night of stargazing and red rocks or gin and gambling, it’s time to head to the promised land.

If you don’t find yourself waking up from a night out until noon, do not fret. Pasadena is less than four hours away. For the Zion folks, you’ll have about a six-and-a-half-hour drive ahead of you. Either way, take your time and soak up the sights on this part of the drive.

Once in Los Angeles, you’ll want to stay a bit away from Pasadena to get the cheapest hotel rates. The Starlight Inn in Northeast Los Angeles seems like a great middle-ground and has rooms available for less than $100 per night.

It’s time to relax, enjoy the California sun, and gear up for the Rose Bowl. To reward your long journey, it could be worth it to spend an extra day out in Los Angeles after the game to really milk your time out west.

All in all, if you want to save a few bucks and live out a quintessential American experience, this road trip could be the trip of a lifetime. Definitely take your time getting home and check out some of the things you rushed by to get to the game on time.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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