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The best road trips in the US

Discover the very the best road trips in the US – from beautiful oceanside drives to bucolic routes

Written by
Anna Rahmanan
&
Ian Centrone
Contributor
Scott Snowden
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Here's the thing: The United States of America is unique in that the country can be explored so easily by car. It's the same size as Australia and it's the same size as Europe. And you'll find as many incredible locations and experiences in the USA as can be found on those other continents. And you'd be amazed at how much one country can change as you explore first one coast, then another and then head north or south on the best road trips in the US. 

Road trips can be at the very heart of a holiday: Exploring new territory, taking in as much of the scenery as you can, cranking up the music to match the landscape and even fueling up on gas station snacks, should you be so inclined. Road trips have been immortalized in classic novels, essential movies and legendary songs. If you’re ready to hit the road, here are the best US road trips to take.

The great thing about road trips is that they can be enjoyed at any time of year. Maybe you want to load up the car in the summer and build a trip around awesome beaches and stunning national parks, or perhaps you’re more of a winter person looking to hit the road and check out some of the country’s best skiing and snowboarding destinations. 

Plan your ultimate automobile getaway by perusing our list of the very best U.S. road trips, which boast incredible views and amazing experiences. These road trips will cover a lot of ground, checking off boxes on your bucket list of adventures. So read on and hit the road like a pro. And as always, drive responsibly.

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Best road trips in the US

Route 66 | CA to IL
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1. Route 66 | CA to IL

It would be blasphemous not to include Route 66 at the top of any road-trip roundup. The iconic 'Mother Road' is one of the US Highway System’s original routes, starting in downtown Chicago and winding its way across the country to the Santa Monica pier. Covering eight states and approximately 2,500 miles, the historic highway is punctuated with pops of kitsch and classic Americana from a bygone era. 

Can’t-miss pit stop: Join a guided tour of the 400-million-year-old Meramec Caverns in Missouri. Jesse James famously used it as a hideout, and the Jesse James Wax Museum is just minutes away.

Highway 1 to Big Sur | CA
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2. Highway 1 to Big Sur | CA

This show-stealing drive may have recently shot to fame after its cameo in the Big Little Lies opening credits montage, but it’s been a beloved route for in-the-know motorists for years. This California coastal classic is chock-full of stomach drops and treacherous turns, but it’s all worth it for the world-class panoramas along the way. Be prepared: Some stretches can last 40 miles without a single bathroom break or gas station.

Can’t-miss pit stop: Sure, you’ve seen it in a million car commercials, but did you even drive along Highway 1 if you don’t have a picture of Bixby Bridge to prove it? Big Sur’s answer to the Golden Gate in San Francisco, this impressive open-spandrel arch bridge soars 260ft above cliffs and a steep canyon.

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Blue Ridge Parkway | VA to NC
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3. Blue Ridge Parkway | VA to NC

In the mood for a leisurely, legendary drive? If so, head for the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the speed limit sits at a comfortable 45mph and commercial vehicles are strictly prohibited. Snaking through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, the 469-mile route connects the Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains national parks. For prime leaf-peeping, visit in autumn when foliage explodes in a brilliant display of crimson, auburn and golden leaves. 

Can’t-miss pit stop: Spend some time at Mount Pisgah in North Carolina, famous for its extensive network of hiking trails and the storied Pisgah Inn, which daties back to 1919.

Overseas Highway | FL
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4. Overseas Highway | FL

For a tropical escape, blast some Jimmy Buffett and hit the Overseas Highway. The route follows US-1, connecting the Florida Keys during a 113-mile, sun-drenched drive. Originally constructed in 1928 and rebuilt in the 1980s, the continuous road connects Key Largo down to laid-back Key West. Cruise over Seven Mile Bridge (one of the longest in the world) while soaking in towering lighthouses, colorful coral reef parks and strips of white-sand beaches.

Can’t-miss pit stop: At Islamorada, which encompassing six of the Florida Keys, visitors can swim with dolphins at the Theater of the Sea and explore ruins from the 1800s in Indian Key Historic State Park.

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Going-to-the-Sun Road | MT
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5. Going-to-the-Sun Road | MT

Originally constructed to promote tourism and encourage people to visit America’s national parks, this remarkable road has been achieving its purpose since its completion in 1932. The 50-mile artery carves through Montana’s Glacier National Park, shooting through the Rockies up and over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. Be sure to watch out for blind curves and dramatic drop-offs, and avoid this one in the winter months, when snowbanks can reach 80ft in depth.

Can’t-miss pit stop: In the summertime, plan to pause at Logan Pass. Soaring to an elevation of 6,646ft, it has expansive overlooks, grazing mountain goats and blankets of rainbow-hued wildflower meadows.

Santa Fe to Taos Loop | NM
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6. Santa Fe to Taos Loop | NM

Pack a pair of cowboy boots and set course for the Santa Fe Loop, woven between the valleys of the Rio Grande and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico. This all-American road trip adventure looks straight out of a classic Western movie, tumbleweeds and all. Rambling desertscapes and the pueblo communities of Ojo Caliente make this drive a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Can’t-miss pit stop: Take a breather in the town of Taos, located in northern New Mexico’s high desert. Known for its historic adobe architecture, the spot has numerous museums (like the Taos Art Museum), racecourse rafting along the Rio Grande and the Wild Rivers Recreation Area.

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Texas Hill Country | TX
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7. Texas Hill Country | TX

The best way to witness the Lone Star State’s boundless beauty is by car. Hill Country is sandwiched between San Antonio and Austin and is known for its undulating hills and postcard-worthy bluebonnet blooms. The spellbinding expanse is dotted with charming farmland roads, award-winning wineries and orchards that churn out bushels of mouth-watering apples, peaches and pomegranates every year. For meat-lovers, Hill Country is also bursting at the seams with mom-and-pop barbecue joints. 

Can’t-miss pit stop: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area has long attracted history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts. Located just outside of Fredericksburg, the climbable pink granite mountain shows signs of human settlement that date back more than 10,000 years.

Anchorage to Valdez | AK
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8. Anchorage to Valdez | AK

Witness firsthand the stunning sites of Alaska on this short-but-sweet drive. The 300-mile route connects the Glenn and Richardson highways, allowing you to cruise past gleaming glaciers and mountain ranges that boast so many sky-high peaks, many of them yet to be named. The seven-hour trek can easily be drawn out to appreciate the natural wonders of the Last Frontier, including the colorful Spirit Houses of Eklutna Village and the Matanuska Glacier Scenic Turnout.

Can’t-miss pit stop: The easy hike along Thunderbird Fall Trail is a popular excursion that leads to an impressive 200ft waterfall. More intrepid explorers should consider ice climbing on the Matanuska Glacier, about 100 miles northeast of Anchorage.

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Route 101 | CA to WA
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9. Route 101 | CA to WA

Like many classic road trip routes across the US this one is made up of sections of road that form a continuous experience. By following Route 101—which becomes Claifornia State Route 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH, which then briefly returns to Route 101 once again—you can, to all intents and purposes, drive from the American/Canadian border, just north of Seattle... all the way down the entire West Coast of the US all the way to the American/Mexican border, just south of San Diego. And that my friends, is the mother of all road trips. 

Can’t-miss pit stop: This road trip incorporates arguably some of the very best views the country has to offer. From the amazing coastline of Astoria to the Redwood Forest National Park, plus Napa, Sonoma...the list goes on.

Hana Highway | HI
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10. Hana Highway | HI

Hawaii is best known for its lush landscapes and aquatic adventures, but America’s 50th state is also home to one of the top road trips in the US. This drive through paradise links Kahului to Hana during 60 miles of jaw-dropping turns. Most can complete the journey in about three hours, but midday bumper-to-bumper traffic can seriously inflate travel time. Along the way, look out for swaying mango trees, dramatic sea cliffs and colonies of monk seals soaking in the sun. 

Can’t-miss pit stop: Exit at mile marker 32 to explore Waianapanapa State Park, where undulating emerald jungles meet the rugged, black basalt lava coastlines.

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Olympic Peninsula Loop | WA
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11. Olympic Peninsula Loop | WA

The Olympic Peninsula Loop is another West Coast wonder, encircling Washington’s Olympic National Park. Swerving, dipping and diving, this 330-mile drive stands out because of the striking diversity of its terrain. Boulder-speckled Pacific coastlines, verdant temperate rainforests and the snow-capped Cascade Range can all be witnessed during a single day trip. Be sure to sample local oysters and fresh clams, another regional specialty.

Can’t-miss pit stop: Swing by Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, tucked away in Port Angeles, for a restorative soak in the natural mineral springs. No swimsuit? No worries: The springs welcome bathers in the buff.

Great River Road | MN to MS
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12. Great River Road | MN to MS

One of the longest scenic byways in America, the Great River Road traverses roughly 3,000 miles along the mighty Mississippi River. Stretching from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the breathtaking drive intersects 10 states and takes about 10 days to complete. The well-marked route is easily identifiable, thanks to its iconic green pilot’s wheel road signs. It’s also celebrated for its diverse array of natural, cultural, historical and recreational sites along the way.

Can’t-miss pit stop: If the Great River Road was a meal, then New Orleans would be its dessert course. The last stop on the epic route, the Big Easy has an incredible culinary, jazz and cultural scenes. 

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Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway | CA to OR
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13. Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway | CA to OR

For truly unusual and spectacular views, pack up the car and head for the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, connecting California’s Lassen National Park with Crater Lake in Oregon. The north-to-south route covers about 500 miles, tracing along geological formations created by volcanic activity of the Cascade Mountain Range. The drive ventures through the majestic Shasta Valley and offers unobstructed vistas of Mount Shasta, the second tallest volcano in the country. 

Can’t-miss pit stop: There are countless things to see and do during a visit, but don’t miss Petroglyph Point, one of the country’s largest and most accessible panels of Native American rock art.

Beartooth Highway | MT to WY
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14. Beartooth Highway | MT to WY

This 68-mile route is a National Scenic Byways All-American Road and brings drivers from southwest Montana through northwest Wyoming right into Yellowstone National Park. First opened in 1937, this eclectic drive has been called one of the most beautiful America has to offer. Highlights along the route include incredible alpine plateaus, forested valleys, sparkling glacial lakes and unforgettable wildlife. Open exclusively in the summer months, the route also climbs Beartooth Pass, a scenic stretch between Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana.

Can’t-miss pit stop: Check out Beartooth Corridor, where visitors can hike through the highlands and spot moose, elk, black bears, wolves and more.

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Lincoln Highway | NY to CA
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15. Lincoln Highway | NY to CA

The little-known Lincoln Highway was the first road for automobiles across the whole of the US. It was conceived in 1912 by Indiana entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher and formally opened a year later. It runs coast-to-coast from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco originally traveling through 13 states. However, in 1928, a realignment relocated the Highway through the northern tip of West Virginia, thus bringing the total to 14 states, 128 counties, and more than 700 cities, towns and villages, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Since then, the Highway has been gradually replaced with numbered designations after the establishment of the Numbered Highway System, with most of the route becoming U.S. Route 30 from Pennsylvania to Wyoming. But, like other classic cross-country road trips, with just a little research, you can easily navigate along the entire length of the original route.

Can’t-miss pit stop: The Lincoln Highway passes very close to Cheyanne Mountain, the home of North American Aerospace Defense Command, otherwise known as NORAD. While public tours are not available, this location has appeared in a number of movies and TV shows, including War Games and of course, Stargate SG1.

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