Road trips are by far one of the best ways to see any country. You control exactly where you want to go and exactly when you go there. It’s no wonder some people choose to give everything up and spend their life living on the road.
If road trips are your thing, then you probably won’t find anywhere better to do it than right here in the good ole’ US of A. Not many places in the world can boast the sheer variation of places, climates, cultures, wildlife and people that we do right here.
We’ve put together 12 of what we think are the best road trips any self-respecting road tripper should complete in their lifetime, from the coastal highways of California to the Great Lakes of the Empire State and everywhere in between.
1. The Pacific Coast Highway, California. (Map)
The PCH is easily one of the most iconic drives in the United States. The well-travelled Highway 1 plays host to some of the most dramatic and stunning coastal scenery anywhere in the world. Starting in the former Californian capital, Monterey, this drive covers a distance of 144 miles.
As you make your way along the narrow roads you’ll witness some of the most breathtaking cliffs plunging into the Pacific at Big Sur, a 90 mile stretch and considered by some as the most memorable part of the trip.
Continuing down Highway 1 will lead you to the famous Bixby Bridge, the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and the Beautiful Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This road trip ends when you reach Morro Bay, easily recognized by the huge landmark Morro Rock, an extinct volcano which is around 23 million years old.
Whilst the Pacific Coast Highway isn’t the longest road trip you’ll ever take, it certainly is one of the most impressive. This is the definition of quality over quantity.
2. Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, Colorado. (Map)
From the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, next up on our list is the Rockies Scenic Byway in Colorado. This road trip takes you along one of the highest roads in the USA, rarely dropping below 9,000 feet and spanning 89 miles of incredible scenery.
The trip starts in Aspen, a popular ski resort once an old 19th Century mining camp. Leaving Aspen, follow Highway 82 and follow the roaring fork river upstream. This mountainous pass is constantly climbing for around 15 miles. At the top of the climb is Independence Pass. Clocking in at over 12,000 feet, this is one of the highest points on the drive. Here the road gets narrow and steep, hence its closure during the snowy months.
After Independence Pass you’ll hit Twin Lakes, Leadville (the highest incorporated city in America), Camp Hale, Red Cliff (home to the stunning Red Cliff Bridge) and finally, Minturn. This is where this road trip ends and the views here are nothing short of astounding.
3. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia & North Carolina. (Map)
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the longest road trips in America weighing in at roughly 469 miles. You can technically complete this in 11 days but realistically, you’re going to want to set out a good couple of weeks for this one to allow for stop-offs along the way.
The Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park to The Great Smoky Mountains National Parkway in the south. More people make this trip every year than visit the Grand Canyon, so you definitely won’t be lonely out on the road.
Blue Ridge Parkway is a road built for road trippers. It was designed to be a destination in and of itself. Another thing that you’ll notice as you cruise along the parkway at the strict 45mph speed limit is that there are no billboards, traffic lights or stop signs. In fact apart from the odd sign, the only hint of civilization is the road you’ll be driving on.
Along the way, you’ll find no end of things to do and places to see. The scenery changes constantly, from climbing up the side of a mountain and back down the other side, dropping down into river canyons and back out to sprawling farmland and dense forests.
There really is so much more than we could pack in here so check out the official Blue Ridge Parkway website for more information.
4. Seward Highway, Alaska. (Map)
If you fancy something a little different, then taking a road trip in Alaska might just be for you. While you’re on the Seward Highway you’ll see plenty, from whales and mountains, to glaciers and waterfalls.
One thing you won’t see much of is civilization. Much like the Blue Ridge Parkway the Seward Highway doesn’t feature much in the way of signs, billboards, etc. You’ll come across a few small towns, but this is mostly a sightseeing trip for those who want to see spectacles of the natural world, and boy, does it deliver.
The trip spans approximately 127 miles which you could drive in 3 hours. However, you won’t want to and you’ll probably find yourself taking days to complete the round trip and rightly so.
Starting in Anchorage, you’ll make your way around south-central Alaska through protected wetlands, state parks where you’ll (hopefully) get a glimpse of Beluga whales that frequent the area.
Eventually, you’ll reach the end of the trip you’ll reach Seward, a busy harbor surrounded by huge mountains. Luckily, the last view on the trip is also the best one.
5. Overseas Highway, Florida. (Map)
The Overseas Highway in Florida is a truly spectacular sight to behold. Consisting of a total 113 miles and 42 overseas bridges, this All-American Road is an incredible feat of engineering. However, you’ll probably want to start in Miami, which will make this trip a little longer at around 165 miles and will take at least 3.5 hours not counting any stops you make.
Construction on the highway began in the 1930s, providing access to the chain of beautiful islands south of Florida for the 3 million tourists that visit the keys every year.
If you choose to take the trip yourself, then you’ll want to allow yourself plenty of time to stop off at all the recreational spots built into the road so that you can enjoy the area’s outstanding natural beauty and wildlife.
6. The Loneliest Road, Nevada. (Map)
The Loneliest Road was the name given to U.S. Route 50 in Nevada by Life Magazine way back in 1986. This route is a historic corridor originally used for the Pony Express and later for the Lincoln Highway – the first transcontinental highway across the United States.
One of the reasons that we included this road trip in our list is because this 400-mile route takes you through some of the most iconic scenery associated with road tripping in the USA. You’ll climb up through mountain ranges, down into classic mining towns and cruise down long, open roads with endless horizons.
If you want to go on the ultimate American desert driving experience this is the one for you.
7. Great River Road, Minnesota to Louisiana. (Map)
The Mississippi River is perhaps the most iconic of all the rivers in America. If you don’t fancy making the paddle yourself amongst the huge 1,500-ton barges or taking a trip aboard the infamous Delta Queen Steamboat Hotel, then there is another option.
The Great River Road is a single route that travels approximately 1,300-miles along the entire length of the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Louisiana. This road trip is certainly a mixed bag of scenic natural wonders and the vast, sprawling industry that many people wouldn’t usually equate to the mid-west.
This road is certainly not an effective way of interstate travel. The road sticks to the river, regularly crosses is where possible and meanders through old towns, forgotten by most. Don’t be surprised if you find you get lost regularly, that’s all part of the fun of the Great River Road.
8. Beartooth All-American Highway, Montana and Wyoming (Map)
The Beartooth Scenic Highway is the highest paved primary road in the state of Wyoming. One of the draws for many people is the variation of scenery that you will experience. From lush, green forests, stretching far off into the distance, to Alpine tundra bursting with wildlife.
Along the way you’ll get the chance to see over 10,000 mountain lakes, 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet high and 12 national forest campgrounds. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll get a glimpse of some the more rare species native to the area such as black bears and grizzly bears.
This seasonal road starts from Red Lodge in Montana, passes over the border into Wyoming and finishes back over the border in Cooke City, Montana. This road trip is only 68 miles long and won’t take a particularly long time to drive. That said, you could (and should) spend a good day or so stopping off at various places and experiencing the true spirit of Wyoming and Montana.
9. Hana Highway, Maui, Hawaii. (Map)
If you ever find yourself on the islands of Hawaii, then you absolutely have to take a trip along the 64-mile Hana Highway. This road is a popular tourist destination due to the picturesque coastlines and breathtaking waterfalls that can be found along the road connecting Kahului with the town of Hana in east Maui.
Although the road is not a particularly long road, you’ll find it takes around 2.5-3 hours to make the trip (not counting the many stops you’ll want to make). This is because the road for the most part is very narrow and winding, which is part of what makes the drive so much fun for a road trip, but does require you to limit speeds to as low as 5 mph in places. In fact, there are roughly 620 twists and turns in the Highway 360 section of the Hana Highway, which travels mostly through the dense tropical rainforests on the island.
Something that you should note, however, is that most rental contracts on the island prohibit driving along this stretch of road, due to the sometimes rough nature and remoteness of the road. For this reason, we recommend preparing for this road trip well ahead of time.
10. Great Lakes of the Empire State, New York. (Map)
Starting in Dunkirk, NY this 315-mile long road trip takes you on a tour of the north of the state of New York and the great lakes that populate the area on the border, eventually ending at the mouth of the St. Lawrence river at Cape Vincent.
The trip begins at Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse, takes you up to the world renowned Niagara Falls and along the southern coast of Lake Ontario and up to the Canadian border at Cape Vincent.
There’s plenty to see on the trip and plenty of places to stop off and take in a little history if that’s your thing. Otherwise, just enjoy the trip and delights that the Great Lakes have to offer.
11. Columbia River Scenic Highway, Oregon. (Map)
The Columbia River Scenic Highway is a 75-mile long road trip through the state of Oregon. Built between 1913 and 1922, the route passes through the Columbia River Gorge and travels between Troutdale and The Dalles.
This is one road trip that you’ll definitely want to take your time completing. Because the road is so high up, you’ll get to witness some spectacular views of the river gorge below and the six main waterfalls in the area. Even if you aren’t in the area specifically for a road trip, this is a great opportunity to get off the interstate and ride this scenic highway instead.
As with most of the shorter routes on this list, you won’t be in a rush to complete it and allowing yourself the better part of a day from start to finish will more than help to do justice to the natural beauty of the place.
12. Route 66 – Illinois to California. (Map)
Any self-respecting road tripper worth their salt knows about the infamous Route 66. This is easily the most iconic road trip in the United States and is traveled by thousands of people every year.
One of the reasons this trip is popular with so many people is the sheer amount of interesting things to see on your journey. From classic all-American diners, painted Cadillacs sticking up out of the ground, the world’s largest rocking chair to the Grand Canyon, there really is no other place on Earth like Route 66.
Naturally, we saved the longest road trip until last on our trip and stretching from Illinois in the East to California on the West Coast to the tune of 2,448-miles, Route 66 is completed by most people in around two weeks. However, if you really want to soak up everything there is to see (more than we could ever list here) then a month on the road will certainly get you close to enough time.
Taking a month to make this quintessentially American road trip will allow you to take your time, visit all the places along the way, including the busy downtown areas, which most people would naturally avoid if they had to keep an eye on the clock. You’ll also avoid the busy interstate highways and be able to stick more to the historic route where you’ll be free to explore and make your own way, in your own time.
We’re only scratching the surface!
- Road trips are an amazing way to get to know an area intimately and give you, the traveler, the flexibility to make the trip your own. You don’t have to stick to timetables, follow tour groups or put up with that insanely annoying baby on the tour bus.
Hopefully, this list gives you a taste of what’s possible with road tripping, but these are only 12 of what we think are the best out there. The list is endless, so be sure to do your own research and find the perfect trip for you.