How Long It Would Take You To Travel From New York To California Throughout American History

Road trips: they're exciting, and teens love to go on them in movies. But traveling across the United States hasn't always been so thrilling. For instance, going from New York to California in the early 1800s would have taken months, and many didn't survive the trip. Learning about life on the Oregon Trail makes one grateful for modern transportation - previous eras haven't had the same luxuries or options. 

Today, there are a number of ways to voyage across the country, and we can do so faster than ever before. Whether you're looking for a short flight or want to spend a week in the car seeing the sights, there are a wide range of transportation options and travel times for a journey between America's Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

  • By Covered Wagon In The Early 1800s: 4-5 Months
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    By Covered Wagon In The Early 1800s: 4-5 Months

    In the early 19th century, settlers could travel from 15 to 20 miles per day by covered wagon. Given the distance between New York and California is around 2,445 miles, the journey would take approximately 122 to 162 days, or from 4 to 5.5 months.

  • By Horse Throughout Time: 4-6 Months
    Photo: Yasemin Schmitt / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    By Horse Throughout Time: 4-6 Months

    Even today, there exist "long riders," or equine enthusiasts who travel across the country via horse. Known as riding "ocean to ocean," travelers have to allow for rest every 500 miles. There may also be delays for tasks like changing horseshoes or for bad weather.

    This type of trip takes approximately four to six months.

  • By Boat In The 1850s: 43 Days

    By the mid-1800s, traveling to California from New York was possible by boat via the Isthmus of Panama or by sailing around the tip of South America. Taking the Isthmus of Panama route reportedly took approximately 43 days while sailing around South America took about 198 days.

    Unfortunately, cholera outbreaks claimed a number of travelers and slowed travel.

  • By Train In 1860: Four Weeks
    Photo: Currier and Ives / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    By Train In 1860: Four Weeks

    Technology for rail travel advanced considerably by the mid-1800s. By the late 1850s, it was possible to travel from New York to California in four weeks - the only states you couldn't reach in one month from New York were in the Pacific Northwest.

    The invention of the steam engine in 1830 substantially decreased railway travel times.