Best road trips in the US


Few things say summer in the U.S. like the great American road trip. It’s almost a national rite of passage dating back to Model T days, with Americans hitting the wide-open road across the 3,000 miles stretching from sea to shining sea.

From mountain roads to stunning seaside escapes, there’s no shortage of fantastic road trip-worthy routes across the U.S.

Here are 10 road trips through Florida, Oregon, California and many other beautiful destinations that you can take any time of year.

If you start in the South

Overseas Highway: Florida

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This aptly titled highway crosses over the turquoise waters separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico via a series of 42 bridges, including the iconic Seven Mile Bridge, Florida’s longest. The 100-mile journey, lined with palms and native flora, hosts retro motels, shell shops and an impressive array of fauna.

The drive takes about four hours round trip, starting from Florida City. However, you can easily extend it by starting in Miami, heading 40 miles south to Homestead for a trip to Everglades National Park, Knaus Berry Farm for cinnamon rolls and the Robert Is Here Fruit Stand for tropical provisions and smoothies before meandering down the coral cay archipelago to Key West. Note that Knaus Berry Farm is open from November through mid-April during the area’s farming season.

Related: Battle of the Key Largo beachfront hotels: Baker’s Cay and Playa Largo

Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia to North Carolina

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Spanning 469 miles from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, the Blue Ridge Parkway is home to some of the oldest mountains in the world.

The area is lush and green from spring through summer and equally beautiful in autumn (especially from late October to mid-November) when the landscape is painted with fiery shades of red, yellow and orange.

Consider a stop in Asheville, North Carolina, a mountain town known for some of the best food and craft beer in the Southeast, along the way.

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Related: Upscale stay but missing amenities: My time at The Foundry Hotel in Asheville

If you start in the Midwest

Route 66: Illinois to California

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Dating back to 1926, Route 66 is one of America’s original highways, with well-preserved historic sites and wide-open landscapes, where you’ll find distinctive landmarks at each stop along the way.

In the 1940s and ’50s, the 2,500-mile stretch of road from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, was the American road trip. Though it’s changed since then, you’ll still find plenty of Americana stops during your drive, including the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois.

The section of road lying next to Interstate 40 through New Mexico and Arizona is particularly picturesque and features several notable landmarks, including Arizona’s Jack Rabbit Trading Post, a popular pitstop for travelers for more than a half-century. New Mexico’s 400-mile section is lined with Native American monuments and centuries-old ruins like Laguna Pueblo, and in Amarillo, Texas, the famous Cadillac Ranch art installation features rows of graffiti-painted Cadillacs sticking end-first out of the ground. Just a 12-minute drive from the Cadillacs, you’ll find killer brisket at Tyler’s Barbecue.

In general, spring through fall is the best time to travel Route 66. Keep in mind that while many of the road trips listed are clearly delineated from start to finish, Route 66 isn’t indicated as a single route on contemporary maps, so you’ll want to use a resource like Historic 66 to get turn-by-turn directions.

Related: Here’s how you can see the spectacular California superbloom

Great River Road National Scenic Byway: Minnesota to Louisiana

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What the Pacific Coast Highway is to the Pacific Ocean the Great River Road is to the Mississippi River. Starting in northern Minnesota, the Great River Road nearly spans the width of the U.S., stretching more than 2,000 miles and ending around New Orleans.

Like Route 66, it’s not just one road but rather a series of roads that follows the eastern and western sides of the Mississippi River through Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.

Each state along the Great River Road has its own interpretative center educating travelers about the route’s history: In Mississippi, you’ll find the Vicksburg National Military Park Visitor Center; Missouri is where you can check out the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum; and in Iowa, there’s the 200-mound-strong, prehistoric Effigy Mounds National Monument.

Consider a fall or spring road trip for the best weather.

If you start out West

Pacific Coast Highway: California to Washington

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Though there’s some debate, the California Department of Transportation says the Pacific Coast Highway officially starts at Dana Point in Orange County and stops 150 miles later in Oxnard. However, we’d argue that the 1,650 miles from San Diego to Olympic National Park in Washington is worth driving.

Sweeping views from high above the blue-green Pacific Ocean make the PCH one of the most beautiful road trips, with a few state parks along the way. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is known for viewings of sea otters, seals and whales, while Garrapata State Park is renowned for its redwood groves. Just south of Garrapata is the most photographed icon of the PCH: Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the world’s tallest single-span concrete arch bridges.

From there, the largest concentration of stops is in and around the coastal area of Big Sur. Enjoy a glass of wine, lunch or both at the European-style Nepenthe restaurant, where spectacular views of over 60 miles of coastline await patrons. Grab a quick nosh at Big Sur Bakery before pausing at the McWay Falls overlook or taking a peek at the sunset through Keyhole Arch on Pfeiffer Beach.

Just past the southern end of Big Sur is Hearst Castle, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s 1920s-style Spanish Colonial Revival property that’s open to the public.

Related: 12 stops to make on your Southern California family road trip

Historic Columbia River Highway: Oregon

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Dating back to 1913, the Historic Columbia River Highway was the first designated scenic highway in the U.S. This 75-mile route, beginning east of Portland, Oregon, in Troutdale and continuing on to The Dalles, can be driven in a day.

Must-see features of this stunning thoroughfare include its numerous waterfalls, such as Shepperd’s Dell and the 620-foot-tall Multnomah Falls, plus scenic vistas like Chanticleer Point (one of the first overlooks you’ll encounter traveling east) and Crown Point (one of the most photographed spots along the Columbia River). If time permits, stop at some of the historical landmarks along Lewis and Clark’s journey, such as Rooster Rock State Park, Cascade Locks and the Rock Fort Campsite in The Dalles.

Spring through fall is the best time to visit this heavily forested area, though fall will afford you the most colorful views.

US Route 89: Through Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Montana

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Though no longer an official U.S. national park road, U.S. Route 89 (formerly known as the National Park to Park Highway) is ripe for those wishing to take the road less traveled. Start this journey in Arizona, moving through Utah and up to Wyoming until you get to Montana.

As you travel U.S. Route 89, you’ll pass 150 towns, cities and reservations, as well as seven national parks (including the Grand Canyon, Glacier and Yellowstone) and three geographic regions (Basin and Range National Monument, the Colorado Plateau and the Rocky Mountains).

While going from border to border is an option, those looking for a quicker route can consider a shorter stretch that takes you from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Glacier National Park.

Related: A family adventure: Rafting, horseback riding and hotel hopping 1,000 miles from Jackson Hole to Glacier

Going-to-the-Sun Road: Glacier National Park, Montana

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The 53-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road through Glacier National Park. It’s also one of the most narrow and winding thoroughfares on this list, rewarding travelers with some of the most epic natural landscapes in the country.

From the Jackson Glacier Overlook and the route’s highest point, the 6,646-foot-tall Logan Pass, you might even spot some mountain goats. The road also runs by several lakes, including Lake McDonald and St. Mary Lake, and majestic waterfalls like McDonald Falls and Bird Woman Falls.

The road’s accessibility is dependent on the amount of snow from the previous winter. It usually opens by the first of June and stays open until October. The busiest traffic times are from late June through late August.

If you start in Maine

US Route 1: Maine to Florida

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Beginning near the Canadian border at Fort Kent, Maine, historic U.S. Route 1 spans nearly 2,500 miles along the Atlantic coast of New England, passing through a slew of East Coast destinations — including New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. — before ending in Key West, Florida.

In New Hampshire, you’ll find Colonial towns such as 400-year-old Portsmouth, a harborside locale full of charming restaurants, inns and shops. There’s also Salem, Massachusetts, famous for its witch trials (and home to the Salem Witch Museum). Additionally, drivers can check out Newport, Rhode Island, which is known for historical mansions like The Breakers, the lavish summer “cottage” of Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

Farther south, U.S. Route 1’s highlights include northern Virginia’s Mount Vernon, the one-time home of former President George Washington, and South Carolina’s more than 45,000-acre Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge.

If you’re starting this route in New England, consider driving in late September or early October. You’ll not only enjoy the spectacular fall colors but will also avoid worrying about getting snowed in.

Acadia All-American Road: Maine

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Though you could complete the Acadia All-American Road in half a day, there’s a lot to see in its 40 miles through Acadia National Park. The scenic byway starts at U.S. Route 3 just south of Trenton, crossing the bridge onto the 108-square-mile Mount Desert Island.

Highlights of the Acadia All-American Road include Bass Harbor Head Light Station, a lighthouse that dates back to the mid-1800s, and Cadillac Mountain, the park’s highest point. The latter includes interconnected carriage roads and old stone bridges, most of which are closed off to cars.

To explore these areas, bring your bicycles or rent them in the island’s seaside community of Bar Harbor. For food, there’s nothing better than fresh seafood at Bar Harbor’s Thirsty Whale Tavern.

During the summer months, the scenic byway can be very crowded. The colorful foliage of late fall (rather than earlier in the season) can offer gorgeous scenery with fewer tourists.

Related: A daytrip to Maine: The fun way we used the elusive Delta companion certificate

Bottom line

Whether you are road-tripping this summer or prefer to hit the road this fall, remember these trips. No matter which routes you choose to traverse, keep in mind that the journey isn’t solely about the main highlights; the lesser-known destinations you find along the way are an equally important part of the road trip experience.

Related reading:

Spencer Spellman and Sara Ventiera previously contributed reporting.

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