The 25 Best Road Trips in the USA
Nothing beats packing up the car, making some new playlists, downloading a few podcast series, and heading off for a road trip. Here are 25 of our favourites from sea to shining sea.
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, 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, 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 (four-kilometres away) that you may want to make this two-four hour trek multiple times because it's truly spectacular and unlike any other 80-kilometre stretch of asphalt in America.
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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 okay, 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 a minivan, 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.
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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 family 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.
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Million Dollar Highway
Toeing the line between dangerous and thrilling, this 40-kilometre 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.
Good thing you already have 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 are car rentals 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.
Discover the best country in the world for a road trip!
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 Cod road trip from Mashpee to Provincetown.
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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 186-kilometre 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 768-kilometre 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.
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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 288-kilometres 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.
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Starting in the east, in Knoxville, this "640-kilometre 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.
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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 96-kilometre 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 750-kilometre 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 colours 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—although if you're up for the challenge, start with these stunning fall foliage in Canada.
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 were 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.
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 centre 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 Centre 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 Institute along the way.
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 1524 metre of shoreline, after a pleasant one-kilometre 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 43-kilometre 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, 221-driving kilometres and 40-ferry kilometres 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.
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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."
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