10 Essential U.S. Road Trips Canadians Have To Take

There’s really no nation built for the open road quite like the U.S. With a massive network of highways, you’ve got a lot of choice in the land of our American cousins.

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The most celebrated road in all of Hawaii, the famous Hana Highway
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The Road to Hana, Hawaii

The most celebrated road in all of Hawaii, the famous Hana Highway isn’t just scenic or remarkable-although it is both of those things. Passing over 54 bridges and more than 600 hairpin turns, driving the length of it takes you to a whole different world, one that’s definitely a long way from your poolside cabana. From the shining sun of Maui’s beach heartland, the highway passes into the island’s rainforest, passing towering waterfalls and through forests of bamboo and even rainbow eucalyptus trees, skirting the Seven Sacred Pools en route to Hana, a town that’s proud of-and celebrated for-its remote location and hardy locals. Lush, green and rainy, it’s a Hawaii you’ve probably never seen.

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This two-lane road connects Miami with far-flung Key West
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Route 1, Florida Keys

Traversing the length of this beautiful coral cay archipelago, this two-lane road (often known as the Florida Overseas Highway) connects Miami with far-flung Key West, a town with a tropical pace that famously sits just ninety miles from Havana. The further you drive, the water just gets bluer, the sand whiter, the islands smaller and more exotic, as you pass over bridges as long as seven miles (more than 11 kilometres). Stop to snorkel on stunning Bahia Honda Key, but make sure you get to Key West in time for last call at Sloppy Joe’s, Ernest Hemingway’s favourite drinking hole.

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California State Route 1 clings to some of the most scenic coastline in the world
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The Pacific Coast Highway, California

Stretching from Los Angeles to the wild lands north of San Francisco, California State Route 1 clings to some of the most scenic coastline in the world. While both of the bookend cities are worth exploring, the best parts are definitely in the middle. Around Big Sur, the highway hugs coastal cliffs, soars over vertiginous bridges and passes through towering redwood forests, while a little further north, you’ll roll past the world-famous Pebble Beach golf course and the amazing beaches of Monterey Bay.

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Virginia's Skyline Drive has a very special claim to fame
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Skyline Drive, Virginia

Very few roadways in the world actually ride along the ridgeline of a mountain range, so Virginia’s Skyline Drive-part of Shenandoah National Park-has a very special claim to fame. Built in the 1930s as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal, the road has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a National Scenic Byway. And it is indeed scenic-rising through switchbacks, then following a twisting, undulating path for its 169 kilometer length, drivers are rewarded with amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and across the broad Shenandoah Valley from some 75 roadside overlooks.

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Natchez Trace has only a limited number of access points between Nashville, Tennessee
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Natchez Trace Parkway

A scenic parkway that follows more than 700 kilometres of the old Natchez Trace-a footpath that historically connected America’s Mississippi River ports to more settled lands further east and north-this road has only a limited number of access points between its genesis in Nashville, Tennessee, and its finish way down in Natchez, Mississippi. Administered by the National Park Service, there is no advertising along the way, and great efforts have been made to preserve the peace and beauty of the route. It feels like a drive back in time, especially when you reach Natchez, which is home to perhaps the greatest collection of antebellum Southern homes in all of the United States.

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U.S. Route 6 is one of America's great ocean playgrounds
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U.S. Route 6, Massachusetts

One of America’s great ocean playgrounds-a land of sand dunes and Kennedys-Cape Cod is a fantastic place for a drive. U.S. Route 6 traces the curious curl of the Cape, taking drivers all the way from villages like Barnstable-a lovely place settled way back in the 17th century, which still boasts comely historic houses and a placid harbour-to the dunes and beaches and rugged feel of the Cape Cod National Seashore, all the way out to Provincetown, a tourist mecca surrounded on three sides by water on the very tip of the Cape.

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Interstate 75 carries millions of motorists every year
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Interstate 75, Michigan to Florida

Scenic? Well, that depends on your point of view. Carrying millions of motorists every year on its 2,800 kilometres of four-lane blacktop-which stretches from the far reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula all the way down to the swamps of south Florida-“I-75,” as it’s usually known, is both beloved and reviled. On one hand, it is the favourite route of vacation-bound Ontarians (and others), spiriting them into the land of Disney and palm trees. On the other, this route displays American commercialism at its crassest and flashiest, from giant billboards to towering gas station signs. It’s both a superhighway and a circus-and definitely worth driving, at least in part.

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Colorado's Independence Pass is more than 12,000 feet above sea level
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Independence Pass, Colorado

Lifting State Highway 82 more than 12,000 feet above sea level, Independence Pass is a drive that just may leave you short of breath (the air up there is, after all, pretty thin). One of the highest mountain passes in the American Rockies, the road here crosses the Continental Divide and links together two comely Colorado communities-the village of Twin Lakes and Aspen, a ski town of international renown. Motorists can linger at the top, using an overlook to take in a sweep of above-the-tree line Alpine tundra, as well as the snow-capped eminence of Mount Elbert, Colorado’s tallest peak.

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Route 441 runs right through the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Route 441, Tennessee and North Carolina

How many highways can take you from tourist madness into natural bliss, and then back again-all in the span of a couple hours? Linking the towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina-both of which cater to many of the nine million visitors who visit the region every year-Route 441 runs right through the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In a beautiful place boasting range upon range of undulating peaks, the highway climbs to the park’s tallest ridge-which also serves as the state line-before plunging through a perilous series of switchbacks on the other side. Leave plenty of time to stop at the some of stunning roadside overlooks along the way.

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Great River Road
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Great River Road, Minnesota to Louisiana

Tracing the length of America’s mightiest river, this route-which is a series of state and local highways linked together into one massive trip-runs more than 3,200 kilometres. From Wisconsin and Minnesota through the heart of the Midwest, the Deep South, and the bayous of Louisiana, you’ll feel like it’s a journey into the land of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, through the heart of America itself.

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