10 of the best road trips in the USA

10 of the best road trips in the USA

While a plane may get you there faster, road-tripping across the US is one of the most iconically American things you can do.

Get up close and personal with the country’s most striking landscapes – dense eastern forests, windswept plains, red rock canyons, dramatic Pacific coastlines – and make pit stops at some of its most famous cities all in one go.

Crisscrossed with an extensive network of pretty well-maintained highway systems, the US is remarkably easy to traverse by car. Some distances may be long, but gas, food and accommodations are largely easy to come by (except in some of the most rural locales), and a set of wheels gives you the freedom to do extra side quests along the way.

Here’s a list of our favorite routes across America’s wide open spaces, along with some tips on how to make the most of your journey.

1. Pacific Coast Highway

Best road trip for Pacific views
San Diego–Seattle; 1600 miles; 8–12 days

The Pacific Coast Highway delivers one of the US’ most iconic road trip experiences, linking together the West Coast’s most notable metropolises, quirky California beach towns, ancient redwood forests, and the dramatic capes and pools of the Pacific Northwest. The route includes Hwy 1, Hwy 101 and I-5, starting in San Diego; it winds up the coast through LA, Big Sur, San Francisco and Redwood National & State Parks, eventually terminating in Seattle.

Planning tip: Always check for road closures, particularly in the Big Sur area, where rockslides are common along the sea cliffs.

2. Blue Ridge Parkway

Best Appalachian road trip
Cherokee, NC–Waynesboro, VA; 469 miles; 2–5 days

This spectacular route takes you through the heart of the US’ oldest mountain range, delivering view after view of rolling green mountains chock full of enchanting hiking trails, thundering waterfalls, ancient rock formations and prolific wildlife. The Parkway – part of the NPS system – begins adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and passes through the spectacular Pisgah National Forest, a number of state parks and recreation areas, and Roanoke, VA, before ending at the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park.

Detour: In addition to state and national parks, many one-off hikes originate along the parkway. Consult trail maps to avoid missing some of Appalachia’s top routes.

Roadside attraction along historic Route 66 in Kingman Arizona
Make plenty of time for pitstops at the historic sites along Route 66 © littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock

3. Route 66

Best road trip for American kitsch
Chicago–Los Angeles; 2250 miles; 1–2 weeks

Nicknamed the Mother Road, Route 66 has permanently ingrained itself in the international psyche as the original US road trip. Starting in Chicago, it crosses eight different states and connects travelers to national parks, weird-but-wonderful roadside attractions and tons of vintage Americana.

Planning tip: The route can be driven in pieces or all at once, but we suggest allotting plenty of time to explore – distances are long, and the activities are numerous.

4. Natchez Trace

Best road trip for Southern history
Pasquo, TN–Natchez, MS; 444 miles; 2–3 days

The path for the Natchez Trace was originally carved not by humans, but by buffalo that wandered the region from middle Tennessee to Natchez, MS. Indigenous hunters and traders soon followed, and later the route became a full-fledged thoroughfare for European colonists, soldiers and dignitaries. Today, a trip down the Trace yields gorgeous scenery, historic towns and the experience of traveling one of the most storied roads in the country.

5. Florida Highway 1

Best road trip for Gulf Coast culture
Amelia Island–Key West; 475 miles; 6 days

Florida’s Hwy 1 runs the length of the state’s Atlantic Coast before banking east at Miami and ending in stunning Key West. This sublime multi-day journey takes you through tons of Florida’s most iconic stops: historic St Augustine, windswept Canaveral National Seashore, Nascar-fueled Daytona, laid-back Fort Lauderdale and the glam and glitter of Miami and South Beach.

Planning tip: Hurricane season lasts from June through October – with the most active months being August and September – and has the potential to significantly affect Florida. If you’re visiting during this window, keep your eyes on the forecast.

Cowboys herd American buffalo across an auburn plain
Time your Black Hills Loop for the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup, South Dakota © Laura Grier / robertharding / Getty Images Plus

6. Badlands – Black Hills Loop

Best road trip to experience the Great Plains
Badlands National Park–Badlands National Park; 330 miles; 2 days

If you want to get a taste of how expansive the Great Plains really are, head to South Dakota for this fascinating road trip through a state of huge ecological and cultural importance. Start your trip at the mind-bendingly beautiful Badlands National Park before looping over to the Black Hills, home to the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt Rushmore and Wind Cave National Park. Along the way, take in views of thriving buffalo herds, fascinating rock formations and plenty of rolling hills.

7. San Juan Skyway

Best road trip for Rocky Mountain peaks
Durango–Durango; 236 miles; 1–3 days

The San Juan Skyway delivers some of the Rockies’ biggest views in high definition. This route – which includes the renowned Million Dollar Highway – leapfrogs across central Colorado’s mountainous core connecting Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Telluride and Mesa Verde National Park, known for the cliff dwellings left behind by the Ancestral Puebloans.

Whether you’re a history buff, ski bum, landscape photographer or simply someone who enjoys a thrilling drive, San Juan Skyway has something for you.

Planning tip: A fact that can be deduced by its name, the San Juan Skyway runs through high-altitude terrain, and that makes road conditions somewhat unpredictable, particularly during shoulder season. Always check for closures or local warnings before heading out.

8. Richardson Highway

Best road trip for Alaska outdoors
Fairbanks–Valdez; 364 miles; 2–4 days

No road trip list would be complete without a journey through the country’s largest, northernmost state. The Richardson Highway, Alaska’s oldest highway, connects Fairbanks with Valdez, winding past dramatic mountain peaks and glaciers and giving travelers a front seat to some of the country’s most jaw-dropping natural attractions. Be sure to make pit stops for hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting.

An older couple take a break from hiking to enjoy the view at Utah outlook overlooking a canyon. They are sitting on the cliff's edge and soaking in the scenery. The mountains and canyon are in front of them.
Pause at Bryce Canyon National Park on your drive along Scenic Byway 12 © FatCamera / Getty Images

9. Scenic Byway 12

Best road trip through red rock country
Bryce Canyon National Park–Capitol Reef National Park; 122 miles; 1 day

Southern Utah feels like an entirely different planet, and this backroads route takes you through the best scenery this geologically diverse state has to offer. Start your journey in the town of Panguitch – right outside of Bryce Canyon – and follow the road through red rock canyons, historic towns and pine forests until you finish your journey in Torrey, gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, one of the west’s best-kept secrets.

Detour: From Torrey, it’s an easy 2.5-hour drive to Moab, Canyonlands and Arches, making these routes the best way to see Utah’s Big 5. And the road itself takes you through some amazing lunar-like scenery that contrasts sharply with the red rocks – wild.

10. Coastal New England

Best road trip for Atlantic maritime vibes
New York City–Portland, ME; 430 miles; 3–5 days

Prep yourself for seafood chowder, picturesque oceanside towns and all the lobster you can handle – this coastal New England trip will definitely help you find your sea legs. Start in New York City and make your way north along the coast, stopping to enjoy the lovely beaches in Rhode Island, Massachusetts’ wealth of historical heavy hitters and New Hampshire’s lighthouses before arriving in culinary-minded Portland, ME.

While a plane may get you there faster, road-tripping across the US is one of the most iconically American things you can do. Get up close and personal with the country’s most striking landscapes – dense eastern forests, windswept plains, red rock canyons, dramatic Pacific coastlines – and make pit stops at some of its…

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