The 50 Best Road Trips in America
Nothing beats packing up the car, making some new playlists, downloading a few podcast series, and heading off for a road trip. Here are 50 of our favorites from sea to shining sea.
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Hit the road!
While we’re all more than ready to get away this summer, travel isn’t as easy as it used to be. Many European countries have closed their borders to Americans, and coronavirus concerns and restrictions dominate nearly every aspect of vacation planning. According to research from the International Air Transport Association, roughly 55 percent of Americans still don’t feel comfortable on planes, so your choices may feel even more limited. But we have some good news for you: Not only can a road trip be a safe, socially distanced option, but it can also be fun and memorable. As the saying goes, getting there is half the fun, and as you’ll see with these 50 road trips, the destinations are pretty amazing, too.
Great River Road
Drive along the mighty Mississippi River and check a whopping ten states off your bucket list in the process! According to GapYear.com, “This north-south route calls out to nature lovers thanks to all of the wildlife resorts lining the route, like the Yazoo Refuge and the Theodore Roosevelt Refuge.” Plus, there are plenty of quaint river towns, like Greenville and Rosedale. The finish line of this awesome U.S. road trip is a thrill, too: You’ll turn off your engine in New Orleans for jazz, beignets, and a celebratory toast with a hurricane, mint julep, or whatever else you fancy. Before you pack the car, download these essential road trip planner apps for your best adventure yet.
One day in Big Sur
Accomplish the life-affirming, photographic-buffet goal of taking in Monterey, Pebble Beach, Carmel, and Big Sur along Highway 1 all in one day, as travel photographer Kirsten Alana has done. During her road trip, Alana enjoyed a private tour of the wine cellar at Casanovas in Carmel, marveled at the work of famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, and gazed at the wondrous Lone Cypress on the famed 17-mile drive. The 250-year-old tree, it has been said, “is to the Monterey Peninsula what the pyramids are to Egypt, what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.” Alana herself sums up the experience poetically: “The magic of California seemed to bless us in big and small ways no matter what diversion we chose. From the smallest creatures hiding in the rocky shoreline to the largest of the trees and the magnitude of the beauty of each complete scene.”
The Loneliest Road
One is the loneliest number, and while traveling on this transcontinental highway, there will be moments when you will feel as if you are the only one left on Earth. The isolation and remoteness of this 3,000-mile road trip, stretching from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, California, is what gives U.S.-50 its memorable moniker. UnusualPlaces.org notes that there are hundreds of small old towns dotting this line across the country and that “the route offers such a compelling cross-section of the nation that Time magazine devoted nearly an entire issue (July 7, 1997) to telling the story of the road it called the ‘Backbone of America.'” While we’re on the subject, these are the most charming small towns in every state.
The National Coal Heritage Trail
Sure, solar power may be the future, but to our knowledge, there isn’t a solar-themed road trip (unless you count Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park). In West Virginia, the National Coal Heritage Trail “meanders through coal mining history” as you visit “reconstructed mines, railway lines and stations as well as towns and even an underground mine tour,” says West Virginia Tourism. Better still, this National Scenic Byway that crisscrosses the state delivers spectacular scenery to accompany your tour through U.S. history.
Gilmore Girls trip
You might not immediately think of Connecticut as a worthwhile road-trip destination, but fans of Gilmore Girls will love the chance to visit the real-life inspiration for Stars Hollow. The quaint towns of Kent and Washington Depot, which served as creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s inspiration for the show’s setting, are as close as you can get to the fictional town…and close enough to New York City (about 2.5 hours without traffic) to make a fun long weekend out of it. Thrillist says that you can “channel Rory Gilmore and browse for paperbacks at the independent bookstore House of Books and stay at the five-star Mayflower Inn, the real-life version of Lorelai Gilmore’s workplace, the Dragonfly Inn.” In Connecticut, you’ll also find one of the 15 most underrated American cities worth a visit.
Georgia Sea Islands
This 915-mile road trip that traverses a national seashore, beach towns, and a massive state park will have you hopping from St. Simons Island to Sea Island, as well as visiting Jekyll Island and Cumberland Island, according to Two Wandering Soles. Highlights include visiting the lighthouse in St. Simons, indulging in some finger-licking-good BBQ, finding driftwood on the beach, and, while on the island owned by the Carnegie family, touring the ruins of Dungeness Mansion, which was destroyed by fire in 1959.
Austin to New Orleans
The Big Easy is a fantastic conclusion to any U.S. road trip, but making this journey from Austin, Texas, is extra special because, as GapYear.com explains, “you’ll see some crazy roadkill (think alligators and possums), some amazingly delicious fast food outlets (make sure to try Popeye’s in Louisiana) and some stunning countryside featuring bridges over epic swamps, farms in the middle of nowhere and thick, lush forests.” Driving straight through is roughly nine hours, but the benefits of stretching it for an out-of-this-world NASA day in Houston, a tasty crawfish boil in Lake Charles, and the chance to better understand race in America at plantations and antebellum estates, are immeasurable. To explore more of our country’s history, check out these 12 American landmarks that celebrate Black culture.
A thousand miles through Arizona
Michael Moebes of Dadcation knows his way around a road trip. He and his family have seen and done it all, all over the world, so when they pack up an SUV and drive a thousand miles through Arizona, it makes a fellow traveler wonder what is on offer in the state. As it turns out, pretty much everything! Moebes points out that there’s the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, Meteor Crater and Monument Valley, and, of course, the Grand Canyon. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and if you make this a family road trip, you’ll make memories your kids will likely want to replicate with their own children in a few decades’ time.
A Southwest sampler
According to Ramona Cruz-Peters of Fab Everyday, this road trip touches on everything from the grave of the Wild West’s number one killer (John Wesley Hardin) in El Paso, Texas, and the world’s largest chile pepper in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to the Continental Divide, a dash of Route 66, and a heaping of the otherworldly, photogenic masterpiece that is Antelope Canyon in Arizona. This Southwest sampler road trip can be broken up into pieces or done as one long vacation, focused solely on national parks, or veer toward roadside America attractions, tailored to whatever it is you and your favorite people prefer.
Is camping also part of your road-trip plans? These are the 15 best places to camp in national parks.
This coastal road trip starts with the Red Arrow Highway from New Buffalo to St. Joseph. With the waters of Lake Michigan on your left, head north through the quaint villages of Union Pier, Lakeside, and Harbert before arriving in St. Joseph, where you’ll want to stretch your legs on streets dotted with art galleries and antique shops. As your designated driver navigates the coastal roads, sample wines from vineyards on the Lake Michigan Wine Trail before finding food and fun in South Haven and Holland, where, finally, you will reach the tulips and windmills of this Netherlands-inspired gem of a town.
Highland Scenic Highway
If the idea of spending a day driving through dense forests and experiencing a 100 percent increase in elevation in the process sounds appealing, traverse the Highland Scene Highway while cutting through the Monongahela National Forest. West Virginia Tourism notes that there are “four overlooks, and plenty of spectacular places to stop and enjoy the expansive view of the Allegheny Mountains,” all while covering a mere 43 miles of hardwood forest and rising up to 4,500 feet.
No matter where you travel, make sure to keep these 10 things in your car during the pandemic.
The Southern Riviera
This drive along Florida’s Gulf Coast is an idyllic way to explore the beach towns and emerald sand of the panhandle. While on scenic 30A, you’ll pass through “long-leaf pine flatwoods, along the white sand beach and sea oat-covered dunes, past freshwater coastal lakes and saltwater inlets, over sand hills and coastal uplands, along wetlands and marshes, through hardwood hammocks and coastal scrub.” Red Roof Inn’s Road Trip site tells travelers where there are quaint places to stop, eat, see, and stay along 30A, making this stretch of American byway one of the more unique and pleasurable in all of Florida. Check out these other breathtaking coastal-town road trips in the United States.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Starting with a drive across the iconic Mackinac Bridge, take a one-day, east-to-west scenic shoreline road trip along the southern edge of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on U.S.-2. You’ll find sand-dune picnic spots, authentic local pastries famous to the UP, breathtaking overlooks, great hiking trails, and beach-time fun in the chilly waters of Lake Michigan. Pure Michigan reminds road trippers not to miss Cut River Bridge Overlook Park at the scenic turnout about 25 miles west of St. Ignace; you’ll get an amazing view of Lake Michigan and the Cut River, which is 150 feet below your feet.
Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive
At just 115 miles, this one-day road trip through both the southern and northern units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest gives travelers to Wisconsin an easy glimpse into the state’s geological landscape and rich history. Enjoy a stay at either the Siebkens or Osthoff resorts (they’re across the street from each other, both tucked in along the lake) and have a meal at the marvelous Paddock Club in the charming small town of Elkhart Lake before driving down to Whitewater Lake using a pleasant mix of local roads and county highways. Just FYI, turns for the scenic byway are marked with green acorn signs. Along the way, enjoy photographic panoramas, historic sites, and recreation areas. Can’t travel this summer? No worries, here are 8 winter road trips to plan right now.
Real magic in Northeast Florida
The Sunshine State is far more than just beaches, theme parks, retirement communities, and weird “Florida man” news stories. The northeast portion of Florida offers a road trip focusing on U.S. history, a French ball game, and luxurious R&R. Just two hours from Disney World is St. Augustine, the oldest city in America, where you can travel back in time with visits to the Castillo de San Marcos fortress and the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the United States. Before you drive away, pull the driver out of your bag and stop at the World Golf Hall of Fame. Driving north past Jacksonville, arrive on Amelia Island for a game of pétanque, a walk around Fort Clinch State Park on the Florida-Georgia Line, and enjoy a beach stay at the glamorous Ritz-Carlton.
West Virginia’s Route 32 through Canaan Valley
The shortest of the best U.S. road trips on our list will take you from Harman to Thomas along Route 32 in West Virginia. This 20-mile stretch is mountain driving at its best, on twisty roads with significant elevation changes as you traverse the stunning Canaan Valley State Park, Blackwater Falls, and the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which is described by the state’s tourism site as “a 16,000-acre refuge conserving the largest high elevation valley east of the Rockies.” Instead of encountering a bevy of fellow road trippers out here, you’re more likely to share your day with wildlife, forest lands, and friendly locals in a couple of charming small towns.
Ready to hit the road? Not so fast! First, memorize (and utilize) these 50 packing tips.
The most famous site in Wyoming is Yellowstone National Park, but Travel Wyoming reminds us that there’s a lot more going on here than the famous home of Old Geyser and snow-faced bison. This thrilling route ends at the east entrance to Yellowstone, but before you arrive, you’ll have had fun in and vow to return to the underrated capital city of Cheyenne, hand-feed bison at Terry Bison Ranch, have a fresh-brewed craft root beer at Danielmark’s, wander Fort Laramie National Historic Site, taste local wine, and discover the legend of the jackalope. And that’s not all—you’ll also get to play in water beneath a natural bridge, find your perfect pair of cowboy boots in Casper at a store selling western ware since 1919, go back in time with dinosaurs unearthed in the state, and have Wild West adventures before culminating with the glory that is Yellowstone.
California’s giant sequoias
It is likely that when you think of redwood trees, it is coastal redwoods you imagine. Those are the tall ones, dotting the rugged northern California coastline, and a road trip to see them is a must-do. But the giant sequoias are no slouches themselves! Valerie Stimac of Valerie & Valise notes that “Giant Sequoias, or Giant Redwoods, are only known to exist in 75 specific groves on the Western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas between the elevations of 5,000 and 8,000 feet. What makes Giant Redwoods unique is that they grow incredibly large around their base—while Coastal Redwoods are typically measured in height, Giants are measured in girth.”
Stimac’s journey from San Francisco spans 900 miles, and it will take you to the Discovery Tree, “the first Redwood noted by naturalists in the 1850s, which was felled and now serves as a scenic—monstrous—stump you can climb on.” You’ll also get see a sunset in the famed Yosemite Valley, so have your camera charged and ready to capture the magic as Ansel Adams once saw it. And speaking of vacation photos, you’ll love these 17 amazing snapshots from road trips across America.
No one can argue that Yellowstone isn’t the glittering diamond on Wyoming’s finger, but as Cheyenne Tourism acknowledges, “one need not drive all the way to Yellowstone to get a taste of the diverse geology and paleontology of this amazing state; the southeast corner of Wyoming tells the Earth’s history in its stones and artifacts.” The first stop on this five-hour round-trip road trip is Vedauwoo, a collection of otherworldly rock formations that are a dream to climb and include some 1.4-billion-year-old granite. Next, you’ll be in awe of the fossils at the free-to-enter University of Wyoming Geological Museum and gasp at the views as you wind through the Snowy Range on Highway 130.
Of course, no prehistoric road trip would be complete without a dip into a hot spring. At Hobo Hot Springs, there are several thermal seeps where primitive rock formations trap runoff and create hot pools ranging from 101 to 110 degrees…and those are also free to enter! Load up the car with gas, the trunk with bags, and your brain with these travel puns and dad jokes before your next road trip.
This 14-hour journey will take you all over Nebraska, including the lovely town of Valentine and Niobrara State Park, in search of ghosts haunting old theaters, hotels, and battlegrounds, as well as an old schoolhouse where a young girl is said to still be playing her clarinet. The haunted Nebraska road trip ends with a meal at a restaurant called Speakeasy, where “Faceless Fred, an unfortunate soul whose wife, tired of his cheating, cut off most of his face and disposed of his body in a well,” says Only in Your State. The restaurant was built on the site of the abandoned well, and apparently, “Fred moved in. He bangs pots and pans around in the kitchen but is generally seen as a harmless entity.”
To break up the driving, get some fresh air as you bike the longest rails-to-trails route in America or have an airboat adventure to spot bald eagles in the trees. No matter what you love to see and do, there’s room for you in Nebraska.
Oklahoma Pioneer Woman road trip
Here’s a road trip dedicated to Food Network TV star and Osage County resident Ree Drummond (aka the Pioneer Woman) and the county itself, which is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island! Not only will this historic route take you through the delicious sites important to Drummond (like the Mercantile), but you will also drive through 40,000 acres of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and possibly spot free-ranging American bison, stop in Bartlesville to see the home of and museum dedicated to Phillips Petroleum, and ride the amusements at Kiddie Park for just 50 cents each. Now that’s some historic pricing! Check out these 10 travel tricks that may just change your life.
Lake Superior’s North Shore
Explore Minnesota tempts road trippers with the promise of a 145-mile scenic stretch that “hugs the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to Grand Portage, and is dotted with small towns, state parks, scenic trails, historic sites and untouched wilderness.” And that doesn’t even mention the 19th-century lighthouse and tugboat, museums, and art galleries on offer along this route. This is the kind of road trip where you’ll spend as much time in the car listening to music and podcasts as you do outside of it, canoeing the many lakes of Minnesota, hiking, and gawking at waterfalls tucked inside a national forest…which is ideal because you’ll be hoovering up all kinds of delicious food during this North Shore Minnesota road trip!
The Ultimate Alaska road trip
For many, Alaska seems reachable only by cruise ship. While an all-inclusive cruise is a great starting point to see this vast, magical state, accessing Alaska from cruise ports just scratches the surface of what you can see, do, and experience way up here. Afar has the scoop on a “weeklong road trip that traverses four scenic byways and juxtaposes bustling Denali National Park, the most popular in the state, with the less visited but no less impressive Wrangell–St. Elias.”
This 954-mile trek begins in Anchorage and gives you access to Denali, North America’s highest mountain peak, while also venturing into a few less-trafficked corners of the state, too. That includes McCarthy, “a dusty one-road town with a year-round population of just 27 residents but a mighty food scene,” thus giving you something familiar to post on Instagram as well as something unique and aspirational for your friends and family to be jealous about back at home.
Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive
It’s only 26 miles, but my goodness is it stunning. The Travel Channel calls this patch of asphalt “the prettiest extended stretch of urban parkway in America,” and within minutes you’ll understand why. Starting at the southernmost point of the drive, head north toward downtown for a dramatic finish line. You’ll see parks and green spaces, sandy beaches and grand museums, towering skyscrapers featuring some of the most impressive urban architecture in the country, pass Soldier Field (a legendary NFL stadium that looks like a spaceship landed inside the Parthenon), and the Navy pier—all while keeping the glittering blue waters of Lake Michigan tucked in close on your right. As entrances into big cities go, nothing beats Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.
Enjoyable in the summertime but world-renowned in the fall, this 34.5-mile drive through the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest is a recognized National Scenic Byway and considered one of the best fall foliage viewing areas on planet Earth. With many jaw-dropping vistas and photographic overlooks dotting the route—which offers up views of the White Mountains, the Swift River, Lower Falls, Sabbaday Falls, and the Rocky Gorge—there is hardly a better way to spend a single autumnal day on the road in America. Where else can you see the leaves changing color? Here are more great road trips that showcase stunning fall foliage.
This day trip is available for only a few months each year when the snow is plowed and finally melts away in mid-June, but when that window opens jump through it to take a road trip out and back on Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana. You may see a family of bears crossing the street or a mountain goat or two hanging out in their natural habitat, and you definitely will see a slew of epic waterfalls (including the most beautiful ones in the state), sweeping vistas made for your smartphone’s pano mode, and massive conifers along this showstopper of a road. If you are staying at the magnificent West Glacier KOA, the start of Going-to-the-Sun Road is close enough (3-miles away) that you may want to make this 2-4 hour trek multiple times because it’s truly spectacular and unlike any other 50-mile stretch of asphalt in America.
Kentucky bourbon trail (with a designated driver)
“Traveling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail can take three days or two weeks. It is whatever you make it,” shares respected travel writer Jason Greene of One Good Dad fame. “Some stop by the gift shops and that’s enough for them. Others, like my brother-in-law and I, we wanted to take a distillery tour at each location we visited.” Greene points out that, “each distillery offers a history lesson, discusses how their bourbon differs from others, and offers the happy ending of a bourbon tasting.” Having a designated driver each day of your road trip makes this possible. For a luxurious, Instagram-worthy place to stay during your bourbon trail road trip, check into the Kentucky Castle in, appropriately enough, the city of Versailles.
Oregon’s Splendor and the California Redwoods
Start in Portland with more Pip’s mini artisan doughnuts than seems wise (it’s OK, they are so small!) and a Timbers or Thorns soccer match at newly renovated and reopened Providence Park. Next, head east on the Historic Columbia River Highway for a bevy of cascades including legendary Multnomah Falls. Bring your swimsuits and towels because many of the waterfalls have wading pools to cool off and pose for photos with the rushing water overhead. Hang a right on Route 35 to start south toward Mt. Hood for a hike and to Bend, Oregon for a great meal at McKay Cottage. Continue to Crater Lake, for a drive along the rim road and maybe a hike down to the water. You’ll soon reach the majestic California Redwoods—Star Wars’ fans take note: this park was the stand-in for the forest moon Endor. Go as far south as Fern Canyon for a mystical short hike and an afternoon spent on the wild Pacific beaches there. Start driving north again but this time hug the rugged Oregon coastline with massive sand dunes until you reach Tillamook Creamery back up near Portland. Along the way, you will have experienced a diverse array of nature, city life, sports, and tasty cheeses.
Cross country one way: Northern route
It’s both the classic American road trip and one of the best road trips you can take, especially with kids in tow. From personal experience, we recommend a one-way cross-country trek and doing it in a minivan. Make this journey in two weeks, in either a Kia Sedona and Toyota Sienna, because a minivan provides ample room for all your people and all the stuff your people will accumulate, and yet is still capable of navigating city streets with ease, unlike a camper van or RV. The best northern route starts in Seattle and travels east with a heavy dose of National Parks to start (Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons) before making your way to Minneapolis for some charming Midwestern city life and an organic, locally-sourced yet Nordic-inspired dinner at The Bachelor Farmer. Next, pay a visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Usonian home, Jacobs I, in Madison Wisconsin, before moving on to a big city adventure in Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. Proceed to loop around the lake to spend time among Holland, Michigan’s tulips and windmills, then rock out at the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland before finishing in either historic Philadelphia or on Coney Island in NYC.
Cross country one way: Southern route
Starting on the East coast this time, from maybe Atlanta or Washington, D.C., travel through Memphis for BBQ and the National Civil Rights Museum. Then spend a night or two in St. Louis at the elegant Curio Collection Hilton Union Station Hotel specifically so you and the fam can visit the City Museum which remains the best place in America to be a child (of any age), and take a fun trip up into the Gateway Arch. Make the famously flat and tedious trek across Kansas (if only to be able to expertly make the ‘this is as boring as driving across Kansas’ joke) to reach Denver for a night of vintage amusements at Lakeside and to see a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. From there, pass through Aspen before dipping down into southern Utah for a bevy of stunning National Parks (Bryce Canyon, Arches, Zion), then make the toasty crossing through Death Valley, spend a clear night gazing at the stars in Joshua Tree, and finish up with a ride on the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier.
Midwest baseball road trip
Many of America’s best ballparks are situated within easy drives of each other in the Midwest making a baseball road trip easy and amazing, anytime from late March to early October. Start at PNC Park in Pittsburgh to cheer on the Pirates, then make your way through Cleveland and Detroit, before finding your way to Chicago to experience the magic of Wrigley Field and the Cubs before tasting a bratwurst in Milwaukee and heading up north to Minneapolis to see the Twins. If the schedules for the MLB teams don’t align perfectly, fill in the gaps with minor league baseball games (there are many teams scattered across the Midwest from Indianapolis, Toledo, Columbus, St. Paul and beyond) to score better value on ticket prices and concessions while watching the stars of tomorrow play ball. Along the way, root root root for the home teams, enjoy adult beverages of your choice, and let your kiddos turn their tongues pink with cotton candy as you partake in America’s pastime. Before you go, find out how 25 of the MLB teams got their names.
Million Dollar Highway
Toeing the line between dangerous and thrilling, this 25-mile stretch of winding road spanning parts of southwest Colorado and New Mexico is lined with ghost towns, hot springs, National Forests, mountains, and the city of Durango, one of the prettiest small towns in America and the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed. This best road trip can be done in a single day, providing that day is in season, because you will be traveling from an elevation of 6,200-feet near Durango to over 11,000-feet when crossing Red Mountain Pass.
Pack your passport for this great northern adventure because while most of this road trip occurs in the United States, you will cross over into the wild west of Canada’s Yukon Territory when you drive north from Skagway on the stunningly panoramic Klondike Highway. This choose-your-own-adventure out-and-back road trip can be completed in a day (even during a Carnival cruise to Alaska because there’s an Avis within walking distance of the port) and will provide you with unique memories and photo ops. During this spectacular road trip, you’ll pass the curious Carcross Desert and reach the marvelously glowing green Emerald Lake before making the return drive back to Skagway for a tasty fresh-caught local halibut during lunch at Olivia’s Restaurant at the Historic Skagway Inn.
With the smell of salt air blowing through your car windows from all directions, a leisurely road trip on the Cape provides you with true rest and relaxation while “seeing what Cape Cod looked like before tourists discovered it.” Route 6A’s website goes on to point out that, “many of the homes and churches along this tree-shaded road are listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” giving you the chance to visit and spend time in some of the oldest towns, with the quaintest shops and restaurants in America during a Cape Code road trip from Mashpee to Provincetown.
The Overseas Highway
The Overseas Highway, built atop a former railroad over a century ago, crosses 42 bridges, including the Seven-Mile bridge over Pigeon Key as it goes south from Miami to Key West. Road trippers traveling this most southern leg of Route 1 should plan to exit the highway frequently to experience island life and stretch this easy one day drive out over several. Visiting the Florida Keys via the Overseas Highway is more about the journey than the destination. As Trip Savvy puts it, “today, motorists can travel the highway in less than four hours from Miami. However, drivers should allow time to experience the natural beauty of the ever-changing scenery of the seas and wilderness bordering the roadway, and the magnificent sunrises and sunsets.” Before you tackle the Overseas Highway, consult this road trip checklist for your car.
Trail of the Ancients and the Moki Dugway
The 116-mile Trail of the Ancients, which traverses Colorado and Utah, is America’s only National Scenic Byway dedicated solely to archaeology and will take you to some of the most famous sights in the country, including Four Corners and Monument Valley. You could make this 480-mile drive straight through in a long day but following this six-day itinerary allows you to truly experience the Native American history along the route. The Trail of Ancients is paved save for a harrowing three-mile switchback-laded stretch known as the Moki Dugway, offering unrivaled panoramic views of this otherworldly landscape. Thrill-seekers will also want to check out these most dangerous roads around the world.
Route 66: Texas edition
No collection of best U.S. road trips would be complete without at least one mention of famed Route 66, after all that is where one gets their kicks. Instead of the expansive road, let’s focus solely on one particularly grand stretch of Route 66 through the Texas panhandle. A Travel Texas representative admits that this piece of Route 66 is relatively small (only about 180-miles in total) but notes that the pit stops are iconic. In fact, this stretch is even known to be the inspiration for the animated film Cars. The 50s-style pit stop Midpoint Cafe in Adrian Texas is the halfway point between Chicago and Santa Monica and has a “Lick The Plate Club” for hardcore pie lovers. The city of Shamrock is arguably the most historic pit stop on this route with its Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café, which was built in 1936 to serve weary travelers along Route 66, but the star attraction is in Amarillo. Cadillac Ranch is legendary for the unique 1974 art installation featuring ten Cadillac cars half-buried in a single file line that visitors are allowed to spray paint, meaning the road tripper ever has the exact same experience at the Ranch. Here are 10 more must-see stops along Route 66.
Starting in the east, in Knoxville, this “400-mile road trip will take you from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Mississippi River, and all that is in between,” says National Geographic. Early in the route, you will “discover the ‘Secret City’ of Oak Ridge. Constructed in 1943 to house facilities and workers helping build the world’s first atomic bomb, Oak Ridge hosts a section of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.” By the time you make it to Nashville, you’ll be ready to splash around at the remarkably cool watery playground that is SoundWaves at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and head out at night for some bar hopping and live music (check to see what’s on at the legendary Ryman Auditorium). Finish up along the Mississippi in Memphis with authentic dry rub BBQ at The Rendezvous and an important dose of American history at The National Civil Rights Museum. Speaking of great food, here are 10 epic summer road trips for foodies.
Ideally, you’d be in a convertible as you cruise up the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California 1, from Los Angeles. Before you even get far along, pull off to the right for a scrumptious freshly-caught taco at Malibu Seafood with multi-million dollar views. Continue north to Big Sur and Monterey, stopping at beaches and overlooks as you go. Eventually, you’ll hit a sweet spot of San Francisco’s Museum of Ice Cream but go up just a bit more, over the Golden Gate Bridge, to Muir Woods National Monument. You could pick up Route 101 and drive all the way up to Oregon to see the Redwoods, but we recommend an entirely separate road trip for those natural wonders. See above!
According to Wanderlust Crew, this Maui road trip is “the most popular drives in all of the Hawaiian Islands. The 60-mile Road to Hana takes you along the eastern coast of Maui where you will be sandwiched by beautiful ocean views and jungles filled with waterfalls. All in all, this Hawaii highway will wrap you around about 600 curves and cross a staggering 59 bridges so the next time you visit Maui, take a break from getting sunburned on the beach to make a picturesque road trip along the Hana coast.
Blue Ridge Parkway
“The 469-mile drive that connects two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina—is the most visited road controlled by the U.S. National Parks System,” according to the Travel Channel. This journey is epic at any time of year but in autumn, when the colors begin to change and the trees glow with vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows, you’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier drive in the continental United States.
Black Hills, South Dakota
You may think South Dakota is nothing but Mount Rushmore and rolling hills but you’d be so very wrong! Head up from Harrison Nebraska after enjoying lunch at the distinctive Village Barn Cafe, to Custer State Park. With any luck, you will get stuck in one of the legendary bison traffic jams—the best kind of traffic in the world. Then you should swing past Mount Rushmore for a quick look-see but don’t even bother to pay the overpriced fee to park as this is the most overrated tourist attraction in America. Stay nearby in one of the cottages at Whispering Winds in Hill City. Wake up refreshed for a thoroughly magical mystery drive through The Badlands, the most wondrous site in the state.
Binghamton carousel circuit
Head to Binghamton, New York in the summertime to ride the circuit in the “Carousel Capital of the World.” Drive to each of the six historic carousels located in Binghamton for a spin on a carved wooden “jumping” horse or stationary chariot that was crafted nearly a century ago. Best of all, every one of the historic carousels is free to ride. Complete the circuit and earn an exclusive button as a memento from this most unique American small-town experience. If you are feeling bullish on history and on carousels, take this road trip further north to North Tonawanda, New York just above Buffalo to revel in the glory that is the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum. Every parent must consult our road trip survival guide before loading the kiddos into the family car for a road trip.
Hamilton-inspired New York state drive
Start at the dueling grounds where Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, just across the Hudson in Weehawken, New Jersey, then drive through the Lincoln Tunnel to reach Manhattan. There sits the only house A. Ham ever owned, now the beautiful Hamilton Grange National Memorial. While in the city, drive to the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Manhattan’s oldest surviving house. NYC Park’s tell us that, “when Lin-Manuel Miranda sought inspiration for Hamilton the musical, he did so by writing portions of it at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Miranda wrote the songs ‘Wait For it’ and ‘The Room Where It Happens’ in Aaron Burr’s bedroom at the Morris-Jumel Mansion.” Finally, drive out into the New York state countryside to the capital city of Albany to tour the Schuyler Mansion, the site where Elizabeth Schuyler wed Alexander Hamilton in 1780.
Whether you reach the peninsula by car ferry from Seattle or “the long way” by road from Olympia (the easier path if coming straight from the airport), spending a few days driving Olympic is like going back in time to when dinosaurs roamed and lush vegetation ruled the land. The popular smart traveling site Valerie and Valise recommend you take three days to make your Olympic Peninsula road trip, with ample time out of the car to “hike Hurricane Ridge, explore the Hoh rainforest, and soak in the hot springs.” Of course, Twilight fans will want to stop in Forks but you won’t find much there except a town sign ready for your selfie. The real star out here is mother nature!
Civil Rights in the south
Travel writer Jason Greene spent over three weeks in the south with his kids on their road trip along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail but you can do it in a fraction of the time if need be. Start in Atlanta for a slew of MLK and civil rights sights and museums, including the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site where Greene, “recommends that all Civil Rights tours in Atlanta should start at the visitor center to receive an intense history lesson on the Civil Rights Movement by studying various displays on segregation, SNCC, Sit-ins, and more.” From there, head to The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, what Greene calls the most intense museum he has ever visited. Continue on to Tuskegee, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma in Alabama to go deep into the crucial civil rights history of the United States with stops at the 16th Street Baptist Church, Freedom Rides Museum, and National Voting Rights Museum and Institue along the way. These are more of the top cities for American history buffs.
Since 1836, the Pottawatomie Lighthouse, the oldest of Door County’s lighthouses, has been guarding the passage that acted as the early gateway to Green Bay from Lake Michigan. You’ll drive on beautiful Highway 42 north, along the county’s western shore passing through quaint communities, to its end at the Northport Ferry pier. Drive onto the Washington Island Ferry Line car ferry for the 30-minute crossing to the island where you’ll drive past a wooden stavkirke (church) and two lavender farms before reaching your next car ferry to Rock Island State Park. That’s where Pottawatomie Lighthouse awaits, on 5,000-feet of shoreline, after a pleasant one-mile hike. On the return leg of this Wisconsin road trip, stop off at Door County’s ten other lighthouses.
Acadia National Park Loop
One of the shorter road trips on our list delivers a day jam-packed with “stunning views, forests, mountains, and rocky shores,” according to Wanderlust Crew. This 27-mile drive through Maine is made complete by a meal in Bar Harbor at Side Street Cafe and topped off with some fresh blueberry soft serve at CJ’s Big Dipper. Need a cool, affordable place to stay near Acadia? Look no further than the Eden Village Motel and Cottages.
Outer Banks Scenic Byway
Let’s be honest about North Carolina’s Outer Banks…there isn’t a whole lot to do! And that’s precisely why people continue to flock to this sandy stretch of Atlantic coast. But the time will come when you simply can’t sit on the beach or in your gigantic rental home anymore, and that is when you hit the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, 138-driving miles and 25-ferry miles that will wind you through 21 scenic coastal villages. In total, this road trip is 6.5 hours long, with 3.5 of those being spent on ferries, so take one day of your next Outer Bank family vacation to make this unique journey together.
A deep bayou drive from NOLA
You should start this road trip with a rollicking good time in the New Orleans’ French Quarter. Enjoy a few late NOLA nights, too many Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, and some jazz at Preservation Hall, then sleep all that off before heading west to begin a deep bayou road trip adventure. “The best road to drive is Highway 31,” says Travel and Leisure, “which winds along Bayou Teche from New Iberia to Breaux Bridge,” passing by evocative “garlands of moody Spanish moss dangle from mighty oaks and cypress trees, while alligators and herons splash about in the swampy lagoons.” Take a detour along the way to check out the strangest roadside attraction in Louisiana.