6 of the Best U.S. Road Trip Routes You Can Take
There is nothing quite like the freedom of a road trip. Worries remain where you left them and there is nothing you have to do or anywhere you have to be. Feel like heading north? There’s nothing stopping you. Want to spend an extra few nights at the beach? Go for it. Planning the perfect road trip requires little more than a full tank of gas, good company (whether in human or music form), and plenty of snacks should the munchies hit in the middle of nowhere.
Sure, you could head to Europe, rent a car and travel around or even do a drive through Canada’s Rocky Mountains, but why go to the trouble of flights, passports, and rental cars when you live in one of the largest and most environmentally diverse countries in the world? Within its boundaries, the United States has stunning mountain ranges, barren desserts, dramatic coastline, and thick forests. Not sure where to start? Take our advice and plan your own road trip around these tried and true routes.
1. Route 1 and the Pacific Coast Highway
This may be one of the most beautiful road trips of all time. Encompassing the beauty of California, Oregon, and Washington, this journey on Route 1 includes the 123 miles of the famed Pacific Coast Highway that hugs the coastal mountain on one side and offers travelers constant Pacific Ocean views on the other. You can tailor this trip to either start south in Santa Barbara or San Diego and head north or start up in Northern Washington and head south. Expect lots of wildlife, plenty of picturesque sunsets, and extensive mountain views. You’ll cruise by California’s Monterey Peninsula, Pebble Beach, the stunning Oregon coast, and heavily wooded Washington on this bucket list worthy journey.
2. Blue Ridge Parkway
If you’ve always been fascinated by the Great Smoky Mountains, a road trip down south may be in order. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through Virginia, North Carolina, and into Tennessee. At 469 miles long, the drive connects the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee with the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. To keep your blood flowing, make sure to pull over so you can take advantage of the route’s not-to-be-missed detours including hikes on the Humpback Rocks and the James River, and meandering around the historical Biltmore Estate.
3. Southern Colorado
If you’re looking for a road trip where you spend just as much time outside as you do in your car, head to Southern Colorado. The southern part of this great state goes from epic mountains to dessert in a matter of miles and is chock full of outdoor excursions. This road trip loop has you starting in the mountain town of Durango where you can experience the Animas River Whitewater Park before soaking in nearby Pagosa Spring’s natural hot spring pools. Take a detour to hike or mountain bike the Continental Divide and go sand boarding at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. If you’re into rafting, stop off in Salida to raft the 20 miles of Class III-plus rapids. You’ll pass through Gunnison where 44 miles of singletrack trails and plenty of fly-fishing may keep you around a few days. Complete the loop by passing through the quaint town of Ouray and over the scenic Red Mountain Pass where you’ll quickly find yourself back where it all began, in Durango.
4. The Florida Keys
Not every road trip needs to include great distances. In fact, sometimes the best road trips are short, allowing for plenty of time pulled over and on your feet experiencing what that part of the country has to offer. The 120-mile long island chain that makes up the Florida Keys quickly melts away any stresses as it fully immerses you into island life. Expect plenty of beach bars, white sand, water sports, and odes to Jimmy Buffett. The overseas highway route strings each island together as you zoom past lighthouses, underwater coral-reef parks, and over one of the longest bridges in the world, the 7 Mile Bridge. Pack your sunscreen and get ready to become addicted to the slow island way of life.
5. Vermont’s Route 100
When fall hits, there is no better place to be than Vermont. The state is thick with trees that turn stunning shades of yellow, orange, and red in the fall. Route 100 takes you through the lush Green Mountains as you follow the winding country roads that lead from Stowe, Vermont and head south toward the Massachusetts border. Make sure to factor in plenty of ice cream stops, at least one visit to a year-round sugarhouse to taste the state’s famed maple syrup, and a stop off in Gifford Woods State Park where you’ll be able to see some of Vermont’s most beautifully preserved forest.
6. Lincoln Highway
If you’ve got some extra time on your hands and really want see it all, a cross-country road trip on the historic Lincoln Highway may be in order. Completed in 1913, this was the first coast-to-coast highway that linked as far east as New York’s Times Square with San Francisco in the west. This route runs 3,142 miles and provides travelers with access to an impressive number of historic sites, varied landscapes, and some the country’s best national parks. The route crosses Philadelphia’s Valley Forge National Historic Park, passes by the Lincoln Monument in Dixon, Illinois, and gives you a chance to spy elk and bison in west Wyoming’s Bear River State Park.