Dave and I love road trips, we’ve taken them all drives around the world. In fact, when lock down is over, we’re planning on hitting the road again in our new Ford Bronco to take a road trip across America. In our 30 years together, we’ve driven a lot of the United States. It is a huge country and it would take a lifetime to see it all, but we have put quite a dent in the backroads of America and here are some of the best road trips in the US that everyone should drive.
Before hitting the road in America, be sure to pick up your National Parks Entrance Pass. The $80 USD annual fee gives access to United States national parks and national wildlife refuges and national forests. This American Road Trip guide goes through a lot of National Parks and National Forests and you don’t want to always be scrambling for cash.
Great Road Trips in America
While the United States is opening up, things change from state to state and from day to day during COVID-19. Make sure to check the government websites for updates. Additional details are available at www.nps.gov/coronavirus.
Get your road trip playlist ready with our The Ultimate Travel Songs Playlist and let’s explore America.
1. Pacific Coast Highway – Big Sur
The Pacific Coast Highway is probably the most famous of all road trips in America. Running down the California Coast Highway 1 from Monterey to Los Angeles, this is a beautiful stretch of highway. With some of the most scenic views in America, The Pacific Coast Highway road trip usually starts by flying into San Francisco and making your way to Monterey. From here it passes through Carmel by the Sea, Big Sur and Santa Barbara before ending in L.A. There are so many things to see and do along the way with state parks, beautiful beaches, historic monuments and the luxurious life in wine country. To see everything to see and do check out Big Sur Road Trip – The Best Viewpoints
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2. Black Hills of South Dakota
Want to see the best of the mid-west? The Black Hills of South Dakota are filled with national monuments, gorgeous scenery and a storied history and culture. This great American road trip takes you to the ultimate American monument of Mount Rushmore, but that is just the initial attraction to draw tourists to South Dakota. From Mount Rushmore, it’s time to hit the road to see wild bison (buffalo) at Custer State Park and the incredible 14 mile stretch of road through the Needles Highway. With wild mustangs roaming the fields, and the Crazy Horse Monument standing proud, there are so many things to see and do here before you go and explore Badlands National Park.
3. Hana Highway
The world famous Hana Highway is one of the top road trips in America. This 45 mile (72 km) stretch of road runs from to Hana from Paia on Maui in Hawaii. It may be short, but this single lane highway running along the north shore of Maui is an awe-inspiring drive with a twisting coastal road clinging to the rocky shores containing 600 hairpin turns crossing 59 bridges. With 18 waterfalls, the Haleakala National Park, bamboo forests and Banyan trees, this is the drive of a lifetime. See the complete guide to The Best Stops on the Road to Hana, Maui
4. Arizona Road Trip
Arizona is one of the greatest states for road tripping in the United States. From Tucson to The Grand Canyon, this drive takes you through the most beautiful desert and rocky landscape in the country. Explore the Wild West Town of Tombstone Arizona and be awed by the cactus forests of Saguaro National Park West. See the cosmically spiritual city of Sedona for some Native history and marvel at the Montezuma Castle monument.
This road trip route pops on to Route 66 where you’ll get to stand on the corner of Winslow, Arizona before witnessing the incredible monument valley. There are so many things to see and before the trip is over you’ll witness Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon prior to reaching the Grand Canyon National Park. Could this be better? Read the entire Arizona Road Trip, Itinerary to start planning.
5. Route 66
Route 66 is the Mother Road. It was once the greatest roadway through America spanning from Chicago to Los Angeles. Route 66 runs through eight states taking drivers through national parks, quirky roadside attractions and across the Mississippi. This is an amazing way to see America and even if you don’t do the entire route, try turning off the Freeway in one of the states to join the historic Route 66. See all of the top attractions on Route 66 here.
- Recommended Road Trip Length: 1 Day to 1 month (depending on length of route)
6. Overseas Highway
It is truly one of our favourite road trips in America. Driving from Miami to Key West transforms from mainland USA to a little slice of the Caribbean. Once you hop on the Overseas Highway to the Florida Keys you feel as if you have entered a different country. Starting in Key Largo, there are so many things to see and do along the way.
Go diving at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park feed the tarpon at Robbies on Islamorada Key, cross the legendary Seven Mile Bridge and follow the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway when you reach Key West before making it to the Southernmost Point on mainland USA. Now that’s a road trip! Read More: Best Stops on a Florida Keys Road Trip Itinerary
- Recommended Road Trip Length: 5-7 days
- Where to Stay: Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle on Islamorada – This is the most popular place to stay on Islamorada offering cottages and rooms with Marina and Atlantic Ocean views.
- La Concha Crown Plaza is the perfect place to stay in the heart of the action, is located directly on Duval Street.
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7. North Shore Minnesota
Lake Superior is often overlooked when thinking of road trips in the United States, but it shouldn’t be. This stretch of highway. Starting in Minneapolis, drive until you reach highway 35 to drive North to Canada. This American road trip takes you farther north than Toronto Canada to see the wild shores of Lake Superior. The mother of the Great Lakes. Its shores may look like the Caribbean with sandy beaches, but dip your toes in the water and you’ll instantly know you are someplace else.
But the road trip really takes hold in Duluth. This town blew us away! Hip, chic and rugged all at once with lighthouses to explore, waterfalls and the high sea cliffs of silver bay. Don’t forget to stop at Split Rock Lighthouse to walk through the National Forest Dating back to 1910. This is one of the most scenic lighthouses on the route as it is built on a 133-foot (41 m) sheer cliff overlooking Lake Superior. Read more: Lake Superior Circle Tour – Ultimate Two Week Itinerary
8. Oregon Coast Highway 101
Oregon blew our minds. How had we so often overlooked this state? Driving south from the cool town of Portland (make sure to spend a few days checking out the microbrew pubs here) you’ll pass through sandy beaches, sweeping coastlines and historic bays. Newport is just about the half way point to stay overnight. This drive can be done quickly in a day, but instead take your time to sit back and enjoy!
Once you’ve finished up at Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, turn inland to complete the loop back through Bend Oregon, and hike through the lava caves, explore cowboy country and hike up to Misery Ridge at Smith Rock State park before driving back through Mount Hood National Forest to see the Columbia River Gorge. Read more: Smith Rock State Park – Misery Ridge Hike / Exploring the Lava Tubes of Bend, Oregon
- Recommended Trip Length – 5 – 7 days
9. California’s Interior – LA to Yosemite
Most people think of the Pacific Coast Highway 1 through Big Sur on a California road trip, but driving the interior of California is where all the iconic scenery comes to life. California Route 95 is a classic drive stretching from the Mexico border in Arizona all the way to Canada. While this road trip doesn’t spend a lot of time on that highway, it does stop at incredible road trip destinations unto itself.
From Los Angeles drive west to see Joshua Tree National Park and marvel at these strange old twisted trees before driving on to the Mojave National Preserve before popping into the hottest, lowest and driest place you’ll ever encounter. Death Valley National Park is a stark landscape that reaches temperatures of 120 degrees. At 282 feet below sea level, it is also the lowest point in all of North America but it captures a beauty beyond imagination. The trip continues to beautiful Mammoth Lakes and finally ends at Yosemite National Park. Read more at our: California road trip.
- Recommended Trip Length: 7 days to 2 weeks
- Where to Stay: Yosemite Valley Lodge There’s free parking, free Internet and a pool.
10. Scenic Route 100: Wilmington to Stowe, Vermont
Crossing into Vermont is our “Go-To” destination for skiing outside of Quebec. But in the summer, this is a gorgeous road trip that is also famous for its fall colours. Vermont’s longest highway takes you through the New England Villages of the Green Mountains. While this can be driven any time of year, we suggest in autumn when the fall colours are in full swing.
Pop into Lake Whitingham for some paddling before heading to West Dover to do some hiking or mountain biking up the mountain of Mount Snow. Don’t forget to pop into Plymouth Notch to see the birthplace of President Calvin Coolage before driving on to Waterbury to tour the Ben and Jerry’s factory. Mmm, I love ice cream on a road trip. The trip ends at Stowe, our favourite ski resort in Vermont where you can go to the top of Mt. Mansfield for epic views. (you don’t even have to hike this one, you can drive straight to the top!
11. Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon (and Beyond)
We spent one summer driving all around the interior of California, Nevada and Utah, and the place that surprised us the most was Las Vegas. Not the city itself, but the beautiful landscape surrounding it. Make sure to do some hiking at Red Rocks before you leave town. As you leave the city, stop to see Valley of Fire State Park, Hoover Dam, and Lake Mead. It’s only a four hour drive from Vegas to the Grand Canyon but there is a lot going on in this little circle tour through Nevada and Arizona.
For something unique stop at the Grand Canyon West Skywalk Glass Bridge that takes you 4,000 feet above the canyon. Spend a few days to go hiking or whitewater rafting. Make sure to head a little farther south to Flagstaff to hop on Route 66 for a bit. From here you can head back to Vegas, or go north to see the famous Antelope Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument before heading to Zion National Park to do some epic hiking. That can be a lot, but there is so much to see and do in this part of the United States. You may want an entire summer!
12. 17 Mile Drive
Okay, so we haven’t done every route in America so we are focusing a bit too much on California, (Since we’ve done a lot of drives in this state, but it’s just so darn good!) If you happen to find yourself driving to Big Sur, be sure to hop on this famous scenic drive. It’s only 17 miles long, but it takes an entire day to see. With stops at the famous ghost tree and the lone cypress, you’ll also have animal encounters with seals and sea lions as you watch see otters play offshore. This 17 miles drive is epic. Read more: 17 Mile Drive – What to See on the Scenic Drive
- Recommended Trip Length: 1 day
- Where to Stay: The Hideaway we loved our stay here which had gorgeous rooms and was located just a half a mile from the beach
13. Blue Ridge Parkway
Our last trip just before the Pandemic hit was to explore ore of the mountainous forests of Virginia. It didn’t happen, but luckily, we’ve driving this route before when taking the scenic route from Toronto to Florida. This Blue Ridge Parkway takes you through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and North Carolina. This is another amazing road trip in America to see the fall colours.
There are many amazing trails to hike and a few not to miss places are the Mabry Mill, an early 1900s wooden gristmill that is one of the most photographed places on the route. and make sure to hike to Cascade Falls, a thunderous 20 foot waterfall in E.B. Jeffress Park. Linn Cove Viaduct is a sweeping s-bridge you’ll cross before reaching Grandfather Mountain where you can take a walk along the mile high Mile-High Suspension Bridge. There is plenty to see along the way so be sure to get your guide for this epic drive. Read: The Best Things to do in Virginia Beach off the Beach / A Historical Look at Virginia Beach
14. Scenic Byway 12 Utah
Designated an All-American Road this 122 mile stretch of road has some amazing road trip stops. You’ll pass through 2 national parks, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, Plus the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Dixie National Forest. to see the I had heard oWe only popped into this drive while exploring Zion (since we were in this neck of the woods) and can’t wait to go back! Read More: United States National Parks in Photos
15. Loneliest Road in America
Stretching from Sacramento to Maryland, Route 50 has been dubbed the Loneliest Road in America. But how can it be lonely when it passes through so many great destinations? I’ll admit we haven’t driven the entire route, but we have popped on it and we’ve witnessed many of its popular attractions. If you are looking to drive one of the most epic road trips in America, route 50 is the way to go. This 3,000 mile drive takes you through 11 states.
After leaving San Francisco (where you will start your long drive) spend a day or two in Sacramento before heading to Lake Tahoe for a few nights before crossing into Nevada. With National parks along the way, you’ll see some of America’s most iconic scenery at Arches National Park and Canyonlands NP. Take your time going through the Colorado Rockies and then enjoy the midwest hospitality of Kansas City. You’ll even get to explore the monuments of Washington DC. This capital city totally surprised us. Celebrate the end of your drive at Ocean City in Maryland.
And there you have it, you’ve pretty much crossed America from Coast to Coast and from Canada to Mexico. Alaska didn’t make our USA road trips list only because we took a train through the state, but it’s high on our list to drive, especially after we drove the Dempster Highway in the Neighbouring Yukon Territories. Northern North America is spectacular!
Our American Road Trips – Final Thoughts
I know what you are thinking, there are fifty states in America and we only scratched the surface. There are plenty of amazing road trips that we missed! We admit it, we haven’t seen them all yet, but with our new truck and a roof tent on the way, we’re planning on hitting the road when the borders open. Who knows, we may love road tripping America so much, we’ll swap in our truck for an RV! Nah we love staying in hotels too much, but a bit of camping along the way is a must.
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