The top ten best road trips in the usa
Road trips are a classic American pastime, and for a good reason. The United States is home to some of the world’s most diverse and breathtaking landscapes, making it the perfect destination for a road trip. From the deserts of the Southwest to the rugged coastlines of the Pacific Northwest, there is something for everyone. In this post, we will explore the top 10 best road trips in the USA and explain why each one is worth considering for your next adventure.
1. The Pacific Coast Highway, California.
The Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California State Route 1, is a must-see for any road tripper. This iconic stretch of road runs along the California coastline, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged cliffs of Big Sur. Some highlights along the way include the Hearst Castle, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Bixby Bridge. The Pacific Coast Highway is also home to some of the best surf spots in the world, making it a popular destination for surfers.
This beautiful coastline road trip is 725 miles and will take 15 hours of driving time, not including detours and rest stops. If I had the time to go this whole route, I would get my car set up for some car camping and not plan any stops at hotels. When we drove a section of this road in 2019, we stopped at different beaches as we passed them. We started at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and drove for a few hours south. We had no plans and had done very little research, and we had the best time. I wish we had gotten down to Big Sur National Park, but we will get there eventually.
2. Route 66, Illinois to california
Route 66, also known as the Mother Road, is one of the most famous roads in the United States. The 2,448-mile stretch of road runs from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, passing through eight states and several iconic American landmarks. You’ll also see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Route 66 is also known for its vintage motels, diners, and gas stations, giving the trip a nostalgic feel.
This is a long road trip, and you do not have to drive the whole thing to get the Route 66 nostalgic feel. If you are already going from the midwest to California, you should take this historic route. However, if you want to experience Route 66, a chunk in New Mexico or Arizona will do the trick.
When I think of Route 66, I think of Radiator Springs and the Disney Cars movie. Those classic rock structures featured in the movie can be found in New Mexico. One time for work, we accidentally stayed in this classic Route 66 Town in New Mexico called Santa Rosa. This city has an attraction called the Blue Hole. It is a popular scuba diving location, but you can also swim here. It is a super deep circular pond. Right next to this place is also a super fun water park. This is one example of the fun places you can stay along Route 66.
Check out the US National Park Service website about Route 66. Did you know that there are over 250 buildings and bridges on Route 66 listed as historic sites?
3. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile-long road that runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina. The route offers breathtaking views of the mountains, forests, and waterfalls, making it one of the most scenic roads in the United States. Some of the highlights along the way include Mount Mitchell, the Peaks of Otter, and the Linville Gorge. The Blue Ridge Parkway is also home to several hiking trails and campgrounds, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
The Blue Ridge Parkway website says that service and GPS are unreliable. Luckily they have an app that works without service that you can download for your trip. Get ready to lose service and pull out a paper map on this one. I have not personally driven this road, but it is definitely a bucket list item.
4. The Great River Road, Minnesota to Louisiana
The Great River Road is a 3,000-mile stretch of road that runs along the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana. The route offers a diverse array of landscapes, from the bluffs of Minnesota to the swamps of Louisiana. You’ll also see historic towns, state parks, and wildlife refuges. Some highlights of the Great River Road include the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Natchez Trace Parkway, and the Vicksburg National Military Park.
This 36-hour drive is beautiful at all times of the year. We drove the chunk in Wisconsin during winter, and the Mississippi River looked beautiful next to the snow-covered trees. No matter when you drive along this route, you will be amazed by how long and wide this river is. Pictures do not do justice to the size of this natural feature. They also have an App you can download to guide your adventure.
5. The Overseas Highway, Florida
The Overseas Highway is a 113-mile road from Key Largo to Key West in Florida. The road is known for its scenic views of the ocean and the Florida Keys, as well as its historic sites and wildlife. Some of the highlights of the Overseas Highway include the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the Seven Mile Bridge, and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. The Overseas Highway is also a popular destination for fishing and boating, making it a great road trip for water sports enthusiasts.
This is such a fun way to get to the Florida keys. It is unreal when you drive over the ocean, but unreal in a good way. If you are going there on vacation, consider flying into the Miami airport and driving into the Florida keys with a rental car.
6. The Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming
The Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile road from Red Lodge, Montana, to Cooke City, Wyoming. The road is known for its scenic views of the Rocky Mountains, as well as its wildlife and outdoor activities. This is a much shorter road trip than the others listed, making it more critical. In fact, if I could recommend any road trip, it would be this one. The Beartooth Highway has one-of-a-kind views and is so isolated that you feel like you are all alone with the great outdoors at your fingertips.
I recommend starting your trip in Billings, Montana, driving on I-90 to Livingston, MT, and dropping south into the Gardiner Montana North Yellowstone entrance. This way, you can explore Yellowstone National Park and Tetons National Park. Then whenever you are done, I would exit the park at the Northeast entrance and head to Cooke City. This will take you up the Beartooth and shoot you out in the cute town of Red Lodge, MT. Then you can end your trip back in Billings, Montana.
Note that this pass is at such a high altitude and has such tight roads that it is only open in the summer. Avoid planning a road trip here in the winter because you cannot get up the mountain. Winter hits the Beartooth early and hard. However, you can walk up the snow-covered streets, but that would not be a road trip, so we will discuss that at a different time.
7. The Million Dollar Highway, Colorado
The Million Dollar Highway is a 25-mile road from Ouray to Silverton in Colorado. The road is known for its scenic views of the Rocky Mountains, including the San Juan and Red Mountains. Along the way, you’ll also pass by several ghost towns and mining towns, giving the trip a unique historical aspect.
The Million Dollar Highway is just a tiny section of the Colorado scenic byway: San Juan Skyway. One really unique thing you can do here is take a train ride alongside the mountains. This will give you the most unique, up close, and personal view of the San Juan Mountain ranges. You can ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad all year. They even do a Polar Express-themed event during the winter. Take a traditional steam train through the mountains of Colorado. This is the best way to make a road trip because no one has to drive!
8. The Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi to Tennessee
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile road from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. The road is known for its scenic views of the southern landscape and historic sites and landmarks. Along the way, you’ll pass several Civil War battle sites, Native American historic sites, and historic towns.
A waterfall makes a trip a success. You should plan to stop at Jackson Falls, one of the two waterfalls along the route. This waterfall is accessible by a paved path. Check out this link to see all the sites on the way that you can see.
Check out this blog post all about things to do and see in Natchez Mississippi during your road trip.
9. The Hana Highway, Maui, Hawaii
The Hana Highway is a 64-mile stretch of road that runs from Kahului to Hana on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The road is known for its scenic views of the Pacific Ocean and its waterfalls, beaches, and rainforests. You’ll also pass by several historic sites and landmarks, including the Keanae Peninsula and the Wailua Valley. Some highlights of the Hana Highway include the Waianapanapa State Park, the Hana Botanical Garden, and the Seven Sacred Pools.
I recommend taking the first day of your trip to Hawaii and driving around the island. The Hawaii islands all have loops that go right around the whole thing, so no matter what island you are on, you need to save a day for driving around. When we were in Hawaii, we found the perfect snorkeling beach only because we drove past it, not because it was anywhere on the maps. You just do not know what a place has if you have never been, and driving around with no plans is the best way to jump into the new location and find hidden gems.
10. The Denali Highway, Alaska
The Denali Highway is a 135-mile stretch of mostly dirt roads from Paxson to Cantwell in Alaska. The road is known for its scenic views of the Alaskan wilderness, including the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and the Denali National Park. Along the way, you’ll also pass by several glaciers, rivers, and lakes, making it a popular destination for fishing and camping.
This route is the most unique on our list. After all, you must rent a particular off-road vehicle to drive this road because most of the road is gravel. This is also the most isolated road trip on our list. For those interested, you can bike this road in the summer months for 4-7 days. There are 4 lodges you can stay at along the route.
Bonus Road Trip:
Wherever you are! All these places are unique, but you do not have to look far for an adventure. If you do not have time to fly somewhere for a road trip or the time to drive from Chicago to LA, just start where you are and see where you end up. I promise there are many things around you that you will only know about if you get out and explore.
In conclusion, the United States is home to some of the world’s most diverse and breathtaking landscapes, making it the perfect destination for a road trip. From the Pacific Coast Highway in California to the Denali Highway in Alaska, there is something for everyone. Each road trip offers a unique experience, whether it be scenic views, historic sites, or outdoor activities. So grab your keys, pack your bags, and hit the road for an adventure of a lifetime.
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