Top 20 All-American Road Trips
It doesn’t get much more American than a road trip. The road trip is the true representation of the best that America has to offer; the freedom of the road, westward expansion, the belief that something better is just over the horizon, and the firm belief in unlimited possibility. It’s never too late to embark on a road trip, and the crappier your car, the better the story you’ll come back with.
Road trips are also incredibly easy; they’re the poor man’s vacation. Grab a sleeping bag, your iPod, and some gas money, and you’re all set. You’ll be forever changed by a few hours on the road. It’s the easiest way to step outside of yourself and drive straight into new experiences.
Can’t decide where to start? Here are the best road trip routes America has to offer you, from the cliffs of Hawaii to the Florida keys and everything in between.
Top 20 All-American Road Trips
It doesn’t get much more American than Route 66. The famous road has long been known as the “Main Street of America” and is the inspiration behind countless songs, movies, and adolescent fantasies. It was one of America’s first highways, and you can still drive most of the route from Chicago, Illinois all the way to the famous Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, California, almost 2,500 miles.
While it was discontinued officially in the 1980s, the spirit of Route 66 still lives on, and it’s one of the best road trips you can take. The route isn’t small, and driving it will easily take you at least a week, especially with all of the historic and wonderful adventures waiting to be explored along the way, from ghost towns to car graveyards to giant teepee hotels.
Every music lover and blues aficionado needs to road trip the Blues Highway once in their life. Highway 61, nicknamed “Blues Highway,” travels all the way from New Orleans, Louisiana to Nashville, Tennessee. There’s music saturating every stop along the way, from “Music City” to the birthplace of the blues itself. You’ll drive by plenty of famous musician’s homes and birthplaces, thousands of music venues and recording studios, and plenty of stores to grab some new tunes to enjoy on your road trip.
3Pacific Coast Highway
Almost as famous and perhaps more treasured than America’s Route 66 is the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs for along the coast of California, with plenty of twists and turns among the sea cliffs and coastal mountain landscapes. The road covers 550 miles of breathtaking scenery, with plenty of fun stops along the way.
If you want the best views, start your journey at the north end and travel south for uninterrupted views of the ocean without oncoming traffic. If you want to extend your journey (and who wouldn’t?) you can start your road trip back on Route 1 in Port Angeles, which connects to the official Pacific Coast Highway and follows almost the entire coastline through Washington, Oregon, and California.
New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway may be relatively small for a road trip at just under 35 miles long, but the gorgeous scenery and the plethora of activities and sights along the way could easily stretch out this road trip into a full day event and one you shouldn’t miss. The road has been granted official American Scenic Byway status, and has plenty to offer nature lovers, from gorgeous fall colors and foliage to waterfalls and rushing rivers.
Florida’s Route 1 takes you from Key Largo all the way to the southernmost point of the continental US at Key West while hopping from island to island over turquoise sparkling waters and white, sandy beaches lush with palm trees. It’s the tropical paradise of a road trip, with plenty of water views no matter what side of the car you sit on while you road trip. Each bridge that connects the keys from one to another offers a breathtaking and somewhat adrenaline packed experience.
The longest bridge is the famous 7 mile bridge that connects Little Duck Key to Knights Key, and where for nearly 15 minutes you drive suspended far above the aqua waters and miles away from shore. The highway is only two lanes, so it can become incredibly crowded, especially the closer you get to Key West. But you really can’t ask for a better place to sit back and enjoy the views from the rush hour traffic.
6Michigan’s Gold Coast
Michigan’s Gold Coast is one of the more unknown road trip routes in the United States, but that should only increase your desire to road trip there. You won’t have to compete with crowds or deal with traffic while you get to enjoy miles of sandy beaches, beautiful dune landscape, and plenty of lighthouses and quaint tiny villages that dot the shoreline. The drive from Grand Rapids to Geln Harbor is nearly 200 miles, and makes for a great weekend road trip to get away from it all and unwind.
7Route 12, Utah
You’ll want to make sure your car is in good working condition before tackling Utah’s Route 12. The 124 mile route will take your road trip through some of Utah’s highest points of elevation, and wind you up and down mountains at around 9000 feet above sea level. It’s a great chance to soak up some of the most beautiful natural places in the country; the route starts and ends at two of Utah’s best parks, Bryce Canyon National Park and Capitol Reef National Park.
For much of the drive you get to drive around sharp twists and turns in the Escalante Canyon region, and see the layers of red rocks and sediment in a larger than life area. Make sure you’re alert and have an extra jug of water in the back of your car; many areas of the road are as desolate as you could wish for, allowing you to truly experience the grand majesty of Utah’s natural beauty.
8Going to the Sun Road
If the romance of the name alone isn’t enough to tempt you, it’s location should; Going to the Sun Road is the only road that crosses through Glacier National Park, a international park that sits on the border between Canada and Montana. Much of the road is closed from October to May due to snow coverage, which can top out at 100 foot high snow drifts, but the rest of the year the road is a perfect and steep climb among glacier covered mountains, lakes and streams of unbelievable brilliance and color, and dense, beautiful forests.
The lushness of the area is perfection, and there are plenty of opportunities to spot the park’s wildlife up close from the driver’s seat, including deer, bears, and even the beautiful, snowy white mountain goats the climb the cliffs along the road. If at all possible, drive a convertible with the top down; the tops of the mountains are too high to see from inside a car without peering underneath the windows, and no top helps you to really be able to see the truly huge proportions of the landscape.
9Columbia River Highway
You can road trip the “King of Roads” for nearly 75 miles along Oregon’s Columbia River on the Columbia River Highway, which boasts just as much impressive architecture as it does natural wonders. There’s miles and acres of waterfalls, riverfront, lush rainforests, and one of the world’s most beautiful bridges. The road stretches from Portland to The Delles, and is one of Oregon’s most beautiful features.
10Big Bend Scenic Loop, Texas
In the mood for some adventure along your road trip? For nearly 250 miles, Big Bend Scenic Loop curves through Texas’ best places for adrenaline pumping sports. The remote wilderness is filled with plenty of opportunities for world class rafting, dirt biking, camping, and off roading. The route follows the Rio Grande, and has plenty of opportunities to enjoy views of Mexico as well.
11Hana Highway, Maui
Hana Highway may only be a little over 50 miles, but it can easily take you several hours to traverse the road from start to finish. The road is the main stretch from Kahului to Hana, and the entire trip is spent winding your way along the cliffs edging the sea and alongside lush, tropical forests. If you want to extend your drive, you can continue following Route 31 all the way to Kīpahulu as well. Either way, there’s plenty of black sand beaches, roadside stands, and cascading waterfalls to easily stretch your drive into a full day’s itinerary. You can stop and swim at the Seven Sacred Pools, see the painted bark Eucalyptus trees, and go spelunking at the sea caves all without leaving the route.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy Cape Cod is from the driver’s seat of your car as you wind through almost 118 miles of beaches, fishing villages, and some of America’s oldest homes and waterfront towns. Driving Route 6 should take you more than a day easily, as there is plenty to stop and explore along the way, from wind swept sand dunes to restaurants with some of the best lobster you will ever try. There’s stretches of isolated beaches as well as heavily populated towns, giving you plenty of scenic variety. The drive is a great one to take several times throughout the year, as each season brings a new kind of beauty to the sea’s landscape.
Known by some as the most beautiful highway to be found across the globe, Beartooth Highway runs through some of Montana and Wyoming’s most incredible scenery. The road actually starts just north of Yellowstone National Park, and winds its way up and down mountains through the entire Absaroka-Beartooth National Wilderness. The vistas from the road are incredible, as the route will take you to elevation levels bordering on 11,000 feet above sea level at the peaks of the mountains.
Thanks in part to the extreme elevation, the 68 mile long route can occasionally have passes closed when weather conditions prevent proper road clearance, so before you road trip make sure to check the website for current road conditions and closings.
14Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
Feel like getting high- in the air, that is? Colorado’s Trail Ridge Road tops out at over 12,000 feet above sea level, and is the nation’s continually paved road in the United States. The road cuts right through the heart of the Rockies and traverses both sides of the Continental Divide. 11 of the route’s 48 miles are above the treeline, and rises just under 5000 feet within a few miles. As you drive, you’ll be following the same trail Native Americans used for centuries; even though you’re in a car, you can still see plenty of the wildlife that still roams free in the area, including deer, elk, and even bighorn sheep. The route takes you through the most beautiful areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, and seems almost more like driving through Alaska than through Colorado.
Forget road tripping with billboards, cheap motels, and gimmicky tourist traps littering the scenery; the 3000 mile long Alaskan Highway is remote enough for you to swear you’re discovering the Yukon alongside the likes of Jack London. You’re more likely to see numbers of bison, elk, moose, and bear outnumber the amount of cars you’ll pass on the road, and you can easily drive for miles through untouched wilderness without a house is sight. The highway was first built in WWII as a way to connect Alaska, Canada, and the continental United States through one continues highway.
While you can now travel the entire length in paved comfort and relative safety, not too long ago the road boasted such treacherous conditions that the only people insane enough to cross it often did with a truckload of spare tires, several guns and a full outfit of camping gear. If you’re brave enough to drive it, you’ll be rewarded with mountain peaks, plenty of wildlife, miles of untouched tundra, and a true Alaskan adventure you won’t forget.
16Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Route 101 loops around the entire Olympic Peninsula, and driving it in its entirety is the best way to truly enjoy the lush rainforests, black sand beaches, and snow covered mountain peaks that compose the peninsula’s landscape. The incredible scenery is also one of the most untouched areas in the country, and is the largest road free area in the United States. The peninsula wasn’t explored by white settlers until just before the turn of the 20th century; its remoteness makes it one of the best drives to get away from it all and dive head first into the peninsula’s beautiful nature. There’s great surfing, hot springs, breathtaking views of Puget Sound, and plenty of great camping spots to easily keep you on the 300 mile+ loop for several days.
17North Shore Drive, Minnesota
Minnesota’s North Shore Drive follows the shoreline of Lake Superior from Duluth all the way north to Grand Portage. For over 140 miles, you can drive along the edges of one of the largest lakes in the world and see firsthand spectacular, weather beaten lighthouses, huge ocean worthy sea vessels, and miles of forested cliffs and shoreline. The beautiful rolling Sawtooth Mountains jut up right against the lakeshore, and the road twists and turns among the cliffs for some breathtaking views of the lake below.
There are plenty of waterfalls, rivers and streams that intersect the road on their way to the lake, as well as plenty of tiny lakeside towns to explore. It’s the Coastal Highway of the Midwest, and a great drive to explore in the spring and fall, when tourist traffic is low and natural beauty is high.
18Bluebonnet Trail, Texas
You’ll want to road trip Texas’ Bluebonnet Trail in the spring, when the wild bluebonnets that line the road take bloom in all their splendor. The bright blue color of the flowers spreads for miles, and is continued through the chain of seven lakes that the road follows.
Stop by the Ennis Tourist center for a map of the route; the road, which stretches out for miles, can be hard to find and is wonderfully off the beaten path of the rest of the traffic heading in between Austin and Houston. Make sure to bring your camera and be prepared for plenty of stops for the vast amount of photo opportunities along the way.
19Blue Ridge Parkway
For just under 500 miles and through two states, you can road trip through parks, among mountains, and soak up some of the best views the South has to offer. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through North Carolina and Virginia, and traverses across both the Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The result is several days worth of mountain vistas, rolling valleys, and plenty of wildlife; in fact, there’s such a wide variety of wildlife that the road has a more diverse bird population along the highway than in all of the European countries combined. The road is immensely popular, and has been the most visited national park place for over the last 60 years. It’s a great trip no matter what time of year you drive; in the winter there is plenty of opportunities for skiing and sledding, while the fall provides a haven of beautiful colors.
20Tail of the Dragon
Sit in the passenger’s seat if you want to enjoy the beautiful Tennessee and North Carolina landscape; the 11 mile Tail of the Dragon route may be the shortest on the list, but it’s also one of the most dangerous roads to road trip, with over 300 sharp curves in just those few miles alone.
It’s America’s top sports car and motorcycle enthusiast’s route, thanks to the challenging path it carves through both the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest. The road’s name is in part thanks to all the turns, which make the road look like a dragon’s tail from the sky. Luckily there are no intersecting roads or ramps, so you can really lock in your spot and enjoy the thrilling ride without worrying about crossing traffic.
Before you get in your car and drive, head over to Trekeffect to find places to stay along the road, things to do, and other epic drives across the country!