This article will discover the best road trip routes in the US. Road trips are practically synonymous with America – it’s a rite of passage that everyone attempts at some point in their lives. For good reason too, with over 4 million miles of road to discover and plenty of sights to keep you busy. All it takes is good company, plenty of snacks and an energizing playlist.
Whip out your maps (digital or otherwise) because here are the best road trip routes in the US, both short and sweet as well as cross-country. Be ambitious! Try to check-off all the hidden gems you can reach.
- Pacific Coast Highway
With so much distance to cover, you’re going to want open landscapes and fresh air – exactly what the Pacific Coast Highway delivers. Starting from San Francisco and ending in San Diego, this Californian route stretches out 655 miles along the Pacific Ocean rim. Slip your shades on and wind down the windows while ticking off iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Stop by Big Sur National Park for a sun-drenched hike before reaping your rewards at the vineyards of Solvang. Do pack your layers! This trip brings you through the shaded Redwood National Park to near-desert locations. If you don’t want to spend too much time in the San Francisco area, condense your sightseeing in a half-day tour of Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and the Muir Woods.
- Historic Route 66
One of the best road trip routes in the US, is the classic Route 66. Trailing from Lake Michigan (where you’ll want to indulge in some water time first) to the trendy reaches of Los Angeles, this two week travel demands frequent pit stops; we recommend a month-long drive instead. It captures ‘romance’ at its peak – rusty truck stops, crackling neon signs at roadside diners, kitschy Americana. America’s oldest church is worth a brief stop at Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico; Texas’ Cadillac Ranch may tempt engine aficionados. Missouri has, of all things, the world’s largest rocking chair. Those who dream of re-enacting the drifter’s life in movies will love the never-ending loops of diners and motels, rundown as some may be.
- The Loneliest Road
US-50 claims the moniker of ‘the Loneliest Road’ and for good reason; this 3200-mile odyssey begins at Ocean City, Maryland, and passes through 12 states to end at Sacramento, California. It’s also a warning for those with empty hearts as the tumbleweeds of sweeping Nevada will make you wish for company. As stunning as the boundless mountains are, it is an unerringly quiet stretch with an odd town or two. Still, don’t pass up the absolutely amazing views between Nevada Beach and the Great Basin National Park; you’ll want a camera on hand. When you have enough of the dusty roads, stop over at South Lake Tahoe or Dodge City for a change in scenery.
- Park Loop Acadia National Park
Keep it short but rewarding with a 27 mile drive on Park Loop within Acadia National Park. Start with a restful time at Bar Harbor, Maine, before you make your way out to the parklands. Once you’re out there however, you’ll forget about cities completely. Thickly furred trees drape over the oscillating silhouette of mountains, green bristles leading straight toward the rocky waterfront. Try to spot wildlife darting about; at the very least lower the windows for whistling breezes and the sound of flitting birds. Good road trips offer spectacular scenery and this is exactly it.
- Washington-Oregon Coast
For dramatic landscapes on demand, embark on the epic 15 hour drive between San Juan Islands just off-coast Washington and the southern tip of Oregon. What you’ll get is diverse scenery you can delve into, whether you hope to kick at the foaming waves at rocky beaches or challenge dense forests amidst misty vapors. It’s not so much sunshine and sand than moody weather and coast but maybe that’s the aesthetic you’re going for. To make up for the sullen climate, this route seduces foodies with great food the entire journey. If you’re working out some emotional frustrations or simply want to eat your way across states, this is the perfect road trip for you. After dropping off your car in Portland, shake out your legs with a fun tour of its dynamic neighborhoods.
- Great River Road
Great River Road is exactly what you expect it to be – a parallel drive from the tip of Mississippi River in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Not only does that amount to 3000 miles, but also a drive through of some of the country’s most culturally fascinating states. Yes, you’ll get to enjoy a host of natural sceneries and indulgences thanks to wildlife resorts such as the Yazoo Refuge and swanky Theodore Roosevelt Refuge. You’ll also come across quaint towns like Rosedale and Greenville. But then comes along St. Louis, Memphis and jazzy New Orleans, branded with the histories of great musicians.
- High Road to Taos
‘Taking the High Road to Taos’ sounds like an Old Western flick right? That’s because this slinky road trip takes you up, down and around the valleys of the Rio Grande and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As expected of New Mexico, the geography is mostly desert and dry peaks, low-rising roads with coarse shrubbery lining the asphalt. It’s the perfect set-up for any cowboy film. Bask in the Hispanic feel of this adventurous drive and make sure to stop by the characterful villages of Penasco, Truchas and Chimayo for their artisan crafts. Truly one of the more spectacular best road trip routes in the US.
- Big Island Loop Road
Those fortunate enough to enjoy a holiday at Hawaii should do an even sweep from Kailua-Kona to Mauna Kea. The Big Island Loop Road passes by every conceivable landscape you expect from the area, from the heated sand of bay beaches, forested mountains and active volcanos. You’ll see lava fields and the unusual black sand beaches; holiday resorts are also available with heated swimming pools. Don’t miss out on the chance to escape from urban noise and immerse yourself in nature.
- Southwest National Parks Road Trip
A necklace of five national parks make up this sweet 11-hour road trip: the Grand Canyon, Zions’, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Arches National Park. Start your journey at the northern rim of Grand Canyon, Arizona; shout your promise into the echoing depths of the massive quarry. From there, it is brilliant red-hued rock welded in all sorts of formations and sizes, some forming arches while others have developed into shallow cave systems. Sign up for an off-road 4-wheeler exploration of these stunning national parks and take photos to remember the sheer scale of space.
- Williamsburg – Charlottesville – Washington D.C.
This might not be an officially listed route but it does deliver an epic road trip all the same. Historians and the politically-inclined can turn this 4.5 hour drive into a full-day trip by touring the various historical sites along the way. Start with a lively visit to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown Settlement in Virginia where history is told via reenactments and site tours. Charlottesville houses the former residences of ex-presidents (Thomas Jerfferson and James Monroe), which are open to public. You can even drop by George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon before ending the trip at the capital. Make good use of your time and visit all the major D.C museums too!
- Maine Lobster Trail
Fans of seafood have to experience the Maine Lobster Trail at least once in their lives. Starting from Milbridge, take Coastal Route 1 to enter the 125-mile coastal road. Intense woodlands line one side, the rich greens a juxtaposition to the dark charcoal rocks that mark Maine’s coastal ridges. The expansive sea views are punctuated with random lighthouses and townships, as well as fun local stops that allow clam digging and goat milking. You get to eat your fill too; plenty of lobsters and seafood cuisine is up for grabs so ready your appetite. If you have the time, organize a boating trip for some prime fishing.
- Outer Banks Scenic Byway
North Carolina’s Route 12 is 138-miles of paved road that connects 21 coastal villages. There’s no need to wonder about small town living; make as many stops as you’d like at the lighthouses, quaint houses and interesting museums. Lounge about grassy knolls or hunt down the perfect sandy cove for a relaxing day out, and patronize local diners for fresh seafood. Maybe opt for a ferry ride instead. Looking for something more exotic? Why not sign up for horse riding along the water’s edge? There are plenty of ways to do a beach trip right, you just have to keep your options open.
- Cross Country on the I-90
One of the most ambitious but worthwhile journeys is hands-down the Great American Road Trip down I-90. Bookended by Boston, Massachusetts and Seattle, Washington, this drive amounts to 45 hours at minimum – you definitely want to break up the mileage with frequent stops. Spanning the entire country, there is no shortage of incredible attractions: the thundering Niagara Falls, riveting Chicago, Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, the stunning reach of Yellowstone National Park. It is an amalgamation of America’s bests, combining natural respites and glitzy cities like constellations on the map.
We hope you enjoyed our list of best road trip routes in the US.