Blue Ridge Parkway
Photograph: Shutterstock

The best road trips in the U.S. for epic drives

Hit the open road on America's best road trips, from scenic coastal drives to rugged mountain journeys and winding desert loops

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What epitomizes peak Americana? Apple pie, baseball, hamburgers...and road trips. The Great American Road Trip is iconic for a reason. Across the land of the free, open roads beckon, calling you to explore America's countryside, coastlines, forests and mountain ranges. 

On the Western Seaboard, the Pacific Coast Highway will take you along the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts. On the East Coast, Route 6 will charm you as you pass through picturesque New England beach towns. In between, journeys both long and short will also help you explore the heart of the country.

Whether you're looking for a day trip or a week-long, cross-country adventure, our list of the best road trips in the USA has you covered. So grab your snacks, ready your favorite playlist and roll the windows down. It's time to hit the open road. 

Best U.S. road trips

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 U.S. 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 them as a hideout, and the Jesse James Wax Museum is just minutes away.

Trip length: 2,448 miles 

2. Highway 1 to Big Sur | CA

This show-stealing drive may have 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 260-foot above cliffs and a steep canyon.

Trip length: 150 miles from San Francisco to Big Sur

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3. Route 101 | CA to WA

Like many classic road trip routes across the U.S., this one comprises sections of road that form a continuous experience. By following Route 101—which becomes California 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 U.S. 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 arguably incorporates some of the best views the country offers. From the amazing coastline of Astoria to the Redwood Forest National Park, plus Napa, and Sonoma...the list goes on.

Trip length: 1,500 miles from Los Angeles to Olympia, WA

4. 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 dates back to 1919.

Trip length: 470 miles

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5. 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 encompasses 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.

Trip length: 113 miles

6. Going-to-the-Sun Road | MT

Originally constructed to promote tourism and encourage people to visit America’s national parks, this remarkable road has achieved 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 6,646 feet, it has expansive overlooks, grazing mountain goats, and blankets of rainbow-hued wildflower meadows.

Trip length: 50 miles

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7. 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) and racecourse rafting along the Rio Grande and the Wild Rivers Recreation Area.

Trip length: 70 miles

8. Lincoln Highway | NY to CA

The little-known Lincoln Highway was the first road for automobiles across the whole of the U.S. 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 establishing 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 unavailable, this location has appeared in several movies and TV shows, including War Games and Stargate SG1.

Trip length: 3,389 miles

 

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9. Route 12 | Utah

Take in the splendor of the red rocks along Utah's Scenic Byway 12, which connects near Panguitch in the west to Torrey on the northeast side of the state. Climb through the Dixie National Forest, drive through red rock arches, stop at scenic overlooks, and enjoy views of the Henry Mountains and Capitol Reef National Park as you go. Popular Utah destination Bryce Canyon is also close by.  

Can’t-miss pit stop: Witness the natural "stairs" at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Pro tip: the views from Escalante's Kiva Koffeehouse are not to miss. 

Trip length: 122 miles

10. Texas Hill Country | TX

The best way to witness the Lone Star State’s boundless beauty is by car. Hill Country, sandwiched between San Antonio and Austin, 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.

Trip length: 73 miles from Austin to San Antonio

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11. 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 U.S. 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 Waiʻānapanapa State Park, where undulating emerald jungles meet the rugged, black basalt lava coastlines.

Trip length: 64 miles

12. Route 6 | RI to MA

Route 6 spans the entirety of the country, but the segment we most recommend starts in Providence, Rhode Island, and extends to Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the very end of the tip of Massachusetts. Along the way, take in the charming New England towns and beaches, stopping as you please along the way. 

Can’t-miss pit stop: Pull over in Cape Cod to stroll the beach and the town's charming downtown before continuing your journey. 

Trip length: 120 miles
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13. 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 Falls Trail is a popular excursion that leads to an impressive 200-foot waterfall. More intrepid explorers should consider ice climbing on the Matanuska Glacier, about 100 miles northeast of Anchorage.

Trip length: 300 miles

14. 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 incredible culinary, jazz and cultural scenes. 

Trip length: 3,000 miles

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15. 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.

Trip length: 330 miles

16. Park Loop Road | ME

Park Loop Road is the primary route for driving through and exploring Acadia National Park. Without stopping, the drive takes about an hour without traffic. But you're definitely going to want to stop to take in the beauty of one of the most visited national parks in the US. The park features beautiful landscapes and some of the most diverse wildlife on the Eastern Seaboard. Every season brings beauty, but the fall foliage is particularly spectacular.

Can’t-miss pit stop: You'll love stopping for a peek at Thunder Hole, where ocean waves battering a stone cavern cause a repetitive, thunderous boom. 
Trip length: 27 miles
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17. 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, 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.

Trip length: 68 miles

18. Volcanic Legacy 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.

Trip length: 500 miles

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