The 55 Best Road Trips in America
Nothing beats packing up the car, making some new playlists, downloading a few podcast series, and heading off for a road trip. Here are 55 of our favorites from sea to shining sea.
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Hit the road!
While we’re all more than ready to travel again, booking a trip isn’t quite as easy as it used to be. Many European countries have closed their borders to Americans, and coronavirus concerns and restrictions dominate nearly every aspect of vacation planning. According to research from the International Air Transport Association, roughly 55 percent of Americans still don’t feel comfortable on planes, so your choices may feel even more limited. But we have some good news for you: Not only can road trips be a safe, socially distanced option—they can also be fun and memorable. As the saying goes, getting there is half the fun, as you’ll see with these 55 amazing road trip destinations. However, if you are looking for an ideal roadtrip, experts estimate that getaways within 3 hours of your home are the best bet. Make sure you also read up on these new hotel trends before booking a place to stay.
Great River Road
Drive down Great River Road along the mighty Mississippi River and check a whopping 10 states off your bucket list in the process! Nature lovers will particularly love this north-south route because of the many wildlife resorts along the way. Stay at the Yazoo Refuge and the Theodore Roosevelt Refuge, and make pit stops to wander around quaint river towns, like Greenville and Rosedale. The finish line of this awesome U.S. road trip is a thrill, too: You’ll turn off your engine in New Orleans for jazz, beignets, and a celebratory toast with a hurricane, mint julep, or whatever else you fancy. Before you pack the car, download these essential road trip planner apps for your best adventure yet.
Accomplish the life-affirming, photographic-buffet goal of taking in Monterey, Pebble Beach, Carmel, and Big Sur along Highway 1 all in one day, as travel photographer Kirsten Alana has done. During her road trip, Alana enjoyed a private tour of the wine cellar at Casanovas in Carmel, marveled at the work of famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, and gazed at the wondrous Lone Cypress on the famed 17-mile drive. It has been said that the 250-year-old tree, one of California’s most magical road trip destinations, is the Monterey Peninsula’s answer to the pyramids in Egypt and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The Loneliest Road
One is the loneliest number, and while traveling on this transcontinental highway, there will be moments when you will feel as if you are the only one left on Earth. The isolation and remoteness of this 3,000-mile road trip, stretching from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, California, is what gives US-50 its memorable moniker. But you won’t truly be alone because there are hundreds of small old towns dotting this road that Time magazine has called the “Backbone of America.” While we’re on the subject, these are the most charming small towns in every state.
The most famous site in Wyoming is Yellowstone National Park, but Travel Wyoming reminds us that there’s a lot more going on in the state than the famous home of Old Geyser and snow-faced bison. This thrilling route ends at the east entrance to Yellowstone, but before you arrive, you’ll have fun in and vow to return to the underrated capital city of Cheyenne, hand-feed bison at Terry Bison Ranch, have a fresh-brewed craft root beer at Danielmark’s, wander around the Fort Laramie National Historic Site, taste local wine, and discover the legend of the jackalope. And that’s not all—you’ll also get to play in water beneath a natural bridge, find your perfect pair of cowboy boots in Casper at a store selling western ware since 1919, go back in time with dinosaurs unearthed in the state, and have Wild West adventures before culminating with the glory that is Yellowstone. Talk about the ultimate road trip destination.
Glacier National Park
This day trip is available for only a few months each year when the snow is plowed and finally melts away in mid-June, but when that window opens, jump through it to take a road trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park and its famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. You may see a family of bears crossing the street or a mountain goat or two hanging out in their natural habitat, and you definitely will see a slew of epic waterfalls (including the most beautiful ones in the state), sweeping vistas made for your smartphone’s pano mode, and massive conifers along this showstopper of a road. If you stay at the magnificent West Glacier KOA, the start of Going-to-the-Sun Road is close enough (three miles away) that you may want to make this two- to four-hour trek multiple times. It’s truly spectacular and unlike any other 50-mile stretch of asphalt in America. Glacier Park is also part of the Highway 2 road trip—a great trip to take if you want to travel across the northern United States.
Door County, Wisconsin
This thumb of a peninsula, surrounded by Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, features dozens of worthy road trip destinations, whether you’re into sea-cave kayaking, ziplining, eating half-pound pecan rolls at Grandma’s Swedish Bakery, or bellying up to one of the many tasty fish boils hearkening back to this area’s Scandinavian heritage. The area also boasts a bevy of lighthouses. Since 1836, the Pottawatomie Lighthouse, the oldest of Door County’s lighthouses, has been guarding the passage that acted as the early gateway to Green Bay from Lake Michigan.
You’ll drive north on beautiful Highway 42, along the county’s western shore, passing through quaint communities, to its end at the Northport Ferry pier. Drive onto the Washington Island Ferry Line car ferry for the 30-minute crossing to the island, where you’ll pass a wooden stavkirke (church) and two lavender farms before reaching your next car ferry to Rock Island State Park. That’s where Pottawatomie Lighthouse awaits, on 5,000 feet of shoreline, after a pleasant one-mile hike. On the return leg of this Wisconsin road trip, stop off at Door County’s 10 other lighthouses.
The National Coal Heritage Trail
Sure, solar power may be the future, but to our knowledge, there isn’t a solar-themed road trip (unless you count Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park). In West Virginia, the National Coal Heritage Trail will weave you through coal-mining history as you visit reconstructed mines and railway lines, as well as old mining towns and even an underground mine tour. Better still, this National Scenic Byway that crisscrosses the state delivers spectacular scenery to accompany your tour through U.S. history.
Gilmore Girls trip
You might not immediately think of Connecticut as a worthwhile road trip destination, but fans of Gilmore Girls will love the chance to visit the real-life inspiration for Stars Hollow. The quaint towns of Kent and Washington Depot, which served as creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s inspiration for the show’s setting, are as close as you can get to the fictional town…and close enough to New York City (about 2.5 hours without traffic) to make a fun long weekend out of it. Thrillist suggests that you channel Rory Gilmore and browse for paperbacks at House of Books and stay at the five-star Mayflower Inn, the real-life version of the Dragonfly Inn. In Connecticut, you’ll also find one of the 15 most underrated American cities worth a visit.
Shenandoah National Park
As you make your way along Skyline Drive, think about how the lush hardwood forest that makes up Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park was all but left for dead just 100 years ago in the 1920s by the logging industry and, later, the Great Depression, which saw farmers and families flee the depleted soil. Today, in addition to 300 square miles of stunning trees, the park also features waterfalls and wildflower meadows. While driving Skyline Drive through Shenandoah is one of the loveliest fall road trip destinations in America, the azaleas and mountain laurels that also grow here encourage late-spring road trips, too. If you’re looking to travel in the fall, these are the best places to spot fall foliage in America.
Georgia Sea Islands
This 915-mile road trip that traverses a national seashore, beach towns, and a massive state park will have you hopping from St. Simons Island to Sea Island, as well as visiting Jekyll Island and Cumberland Island, according to Two Wandering Soles. Highlights include visiting the lighthouse in St. Simons, indulging in some finger-licking-good BBQ, finding driftwood on the beach, and, while on the island owned by the Carnegie family, touring the ruins of Dungeness Mansion, which was destroyed by fire in 1959. If you love magnificent homes, you may want to take a detour to the most beautiful mansion in Georgia.
Austin to New Orleans
The Big Easy might be the best of all possible road trip destinations to cap a U.S. road trip, but making this journey from Austin, Texas, is extra special because, as GapYear.com explains, you will probably come across some unusual roadkill (like alligators and possums), taste incredible Cajun cuisine, and drive by Insta-worthy sights such as bridges over enormous swamps, farms in the middle of nowhere, and stunning forests. Driving straight through is roughly nine hours, but we recommend allotting more time for an out-of-this-world NASA day in Houston, a tasty crawfish boil in Lake Charles, and the chance to better understand race in America at various plantations and antebellum estates. To explore more of our country’s history, check out these 12 American landmarks that celebrate Black culture.
A thousand miles through Arizona
Michael Moebes of Dadcation knows his way around a road trip. He and his family have seen and done it all, all over the world, so when they pack up an SUV and drive a thousand miles through Arizona, it makes a fellow traveler wonder what is on offer in the state. As it turns out, pretty much everything! Moebes points out that there’s the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, Meteor Crater and Monument Valley, and, of course, the Grand Canyon. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and if you make this a family road trip, you’ll make memories your kids will likely want to replicate with their own children in a few decades’ time. Before you hit the road, though, make sure you determine the road trip cost.
A Southwest sampler
According to Ramona Cruz-Peters of Fab Everyday, a five-state, 3,000-mile road trip through the Southwest can touch on everything from the grave of the Wild West’s number one killer (John Wesley Hardin) in El Paso, Texas, and the world’s largest chile pepper in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to the Continental Divide, a dash of Route 66, and a heaping of the otherworldly, photogenic masterpiece that is Antelope Canyon in Arizona. This road trip can be broken up into pieces or done as one long vacation, focused solely on national parks or incorporating roadside American attractions. You can basically tailor it to whatever it is you and your favorite people prefer. Is camping also part of your road trip plans? These are the 15 best places to camp in national parks.
This coastal road trip starts with the Red Arrow Highway from New Buffalo to St. Joseph. With the waters of Lake Michigan on your left, head north through the quaint villages of Union Pier, Lakeside, and Harbert before arriving in St. Joseph, where you’ll want to stretch your legs on streets dotted with art galleries and antique shops. As your designated driver navigates the coastal roads, sample wines from vineyards on the Lake Michigan Wine Trail before finding food and fun in South Haven and Holland, where, finally, you will reach the tulips and windmills of this Netherlands-inspired gem of a town. If you want to head here but need to stay on a bugdet, here’s how to find cheap places to stay on your road trip.
Highland Scenic Highway
If the idea of spending a day driving through dense forests and experiencing a 100 percent increase in elevation in the process sounds appealing, traverse the Highland Scene Highway while cutting through the Monongahela National Forest. Be sure to stop at the four overlooks and photograph the spectacular and expansive views of the Allegheny Mountains, all while covering a mere 43 miles of hardwood forest and rising up to 4,500 feet.
The Southern Riviera
This drive along Florida’s Gulf Coast is an idyllic way to explore the beach towns and emerald sand of the panhandle. While on scenic 30A, you’ll pass through long-leaf pine flatwoods and drive along white-sand beaches, sand dunes, freshwater lakes, and saltwater inlets, and wetlands and marshes. This stretch of American byway is not only one of the more unique and pleasurable drives in all of Florida, but it’s also one of the most breathtaking coastal town road trips in the United States.
Starting with a drive across the iconic Mackinac Bridge and onto Mackinac Island, take a one-day, east-to-west scenic shoreline road trip along the southern edge of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on US-2. You’ll find plenty of pleasant road trip destinations to visit along the way, including sand-dune picnic spots, authentic local pastries famous to the UP, breathtaking overlooks, great hiking trails, and beach-time fun in the chilly waters of Lake Michigan. Pure Michigan reminds road trippers not to miss Cut River Bridge Overlook Park at the scenic turnout about 25 miles west of St. Ignace; you’ll get an amazing view of Lake Michigan and the Cut River, which is 150 feet below your feet. While researching this destination, don’t forget to bookmark these mini vacation ideas that won’t break the bank.
The Outer Banks
You might be drawn to North Carolina’s Outer Banks because of the Netflix show or maybe simply to chill out in a massive rental home, but this sliver of vacation perfection is one of America’s best road trip destinations in its own right. Hit the Outer Banks Scenic Byway for 138 driving miles and 25 ferry miles that will wind you through 21 scenic coastal villages, past photogenic lighthouses, and along beaches dotted with wild horses and one massive national seashore, and still have you back at your Outer Banks rental home for a family cookout at sunset. For more details, see our guide to an Outer Banks road trip. You can also take a drive along the Tail of the Dragon and head into Tennessee!
Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive
At just 115 miles, this one-day road trip through both the southern and northern units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest gives travelers to Wisconsin an easy glimpse into the state’s geological landscape and rich history. Enjoy a stay at either the Siebkens or Osthoff resorts (they’re across the street from each other, both tucked in along Elkhart Lake), and have a meal at the marvelous Paddock Club before driving down to Whitewater Lake using a pleasant mix of local roads and county highways. Just FYI, turns for the scenic byway are marked with green acorn signs. Along the way, enjoy photographic panoramas, historic sites, and recreation areas.
Real magic in Northeast Florida
The Sunshine State is far more than just beaches, theme parks, retirement communities, and weird “Florida man” news stories. The northeast portion of Florida offers a road trip focusing on U.S. history, a French ball game, and luxurious R&R. Just two hours from Disney World is St. Augustine, the oldest city in America, where you can travel back in time with visits to the Castillo de San Marcos fortress and the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the United States. Before you drive away, pull the driver out of your bag and stop at the World Golf Hall of Fame. Driving north past Jacksonville, arrive on Amelia Island for a game of pétanque and a walk around Fort Clinch State Park on the Florida-Georgia Line, and enjoy a beach stay at the glamorous Ritz-Carlton.
West Virginia’s Route 32 through Canaan Valley
The shortest of the best U.S. road trips on our list will take you from Harman to Thomas along Route 32 in West Virginia. This 20-mile stretch is mountain driving at its best, on twisty roads with significant elevation changes as you traverse the stunning Canaan Valley State Park, Blackwater Falls, and Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which is described by the state’s tourism site as “a 16,000-acre refuge conserving the largest high elevation valley east of the Rockies.” Instead of encountering a bevy of fellow road trippers out here, you’re more likely to share your day with wildlife in the forest lands and friendly locals in a couple of charming small towns. Ready to hit the road? Not so fast! First, memorize (and utilize) these 50 packing tips.
California’s giant sequoias
You can’t talk about California road trips without mentioning the giant sequoias. When you think of California’s giant redwood trees, you likely imagine coastal redwoods. Those are the tall ones dotting the rugged northern California coastline, and a road trip to see them is a must-do. But the giant sequoias are no slouches themselves! Valerie Stimac of Valerie & Valise notes that the giant sequoias you’ll see on this road trip are only known to exist in 75 specific groves, along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas. What makes these giants unique is that they grow incredibly large around their bases, which differentiates them from coastal redwoods, which are typically measured in height.
This specific journey north from San Francisco spans 900 miles, and it will take you to the Discovery Tree, the first redwood noted by naturalists in the 1850s, and should the weather permit, give you a sunset in the famed Yosemite Valley. Have your camera charged and ready to capture the magic of this road trip destination as Ansel Adams once saw it.
No one can argue that Yellowstone isn’t the glittering diamond on Wyoming’s finger, but as Cheyenne Tourism acknowledges, you don’t need to drive all the way to Yellowstone to see diverse geology and paleontology—”the southeast corner of Wyoming also tells the Earth’s history in its stones and artifacts.” The first stop on this five-hour round-trip road trip is Vedauwoo, a collection of otherworldly rock formations that are a dream to climb and include some 1.4-billion-year-old granite. Next, you’ll be in awe of the fossils at the free-to-enter University of Wyoming Geological Museum, and gasp at the views as you wind through the Snowy Range on Highway 130.
Of course, no prehistoric road trip would be complete without a dip into a hot spring. At Hobo Hot Springs, there are several thermal seeps, where primitive rock formations trap runoff and create hot pools ranging from 101 to 110 degrees…and those are also free to enter! Load up the car with gas, the trunk with bags, and your brain with these travel puns and dad jokes before your next road trip.
Grand Teton National Park
Since Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone are so close to each other (about an hour’s drive), most road trips to one will likely also involve the other. But for something shorter, there’s the Grand Teton Loop. This gorgeous 42-mile loop will take you to the scenic Snake River Overlook, where you can do your best Ansel Adams impression with your smartphone camera or DSLR. As far as road trip destinations go, it’s hard to beat Signal Mountain along this loop drive. At 1,000 feet above the valley, this stunning summit gives travelers panoramic views of the Tetons, Jackson Hole, and Yellowstone National Park. While on your road trip, you will also encounter some remarkable wildflowers to gaze upon and use for a pop of color as you frame your Teton photos. If you’re looking to camp in an RV, check out the best RV parks in every state.
Take a 14-hour journey through Nebraska, including to the lovely town of Valentine and Niobrara State Park, in search of ghosts haunting old theaters, hotels, and battlegrounds, as well as an old schoolhouse where a young girl is said to be still playing her clarinet. Only in Your State’s haunted Nebraska road trip ends with a meal at a restaurant called Speakeasy, where an unfortunate soul named Faceless Fred bangs pots and pans around in the kitchen because the restaurant was built upon the well where Fred’s wife disposed of her cheating hubby’s body. Don’t worry—he’s harmless! To break up the driving, get some fresh air as you bike the longest rails-to-trails route in America or have an airboat adventure to spot bald eagles in the trees.
Oklahoma Pioneer Woman road trip
Here’s a road trip from the Oklahoma Tourism Department dedicated to Food Network TV star and Osage County resident Ree Drummond (aka the Pioneer Woman) and the county itself, which is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island! Not only will this historic route take you through the delicious sites important to Drummond (like the Mercantile), but you will also drive through 40,000 acres of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and possibly spot free-ranging American bison, stop in Bartlesville to see the home of and museum dedicated to Phillips Petroleum, and ride the amusements at Kiddie Park for just 50 cents each. Now that’s some historic pricing! Check out these 10 travel tricks that may just change your life.
Lake Superior’s North Shore
Explore Minnesota’s website tempts road trippers with the promise of a 145-mile scenic stretch that “hugs the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to Grand Portage, and is dotted with small towns, state parks, scenic trails, historic sites and untouched wilderness.” And that doesn’t even mention the amazing road trip destinations like the 19th-century lighthouse and tugboat, museums, and art galleries on offer along this route. This is the kind of road trip where you’ll spend as much time in the car listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks, as you will outside of it, canoeing the many lakes of Minnesota, hiking, and gawking at waterfalls tucked inside a national forest…which is ideal because you’ll be indulging in all kinds of delicious food during this North Shore Minnesota road trip!
The ultimate Alaska road trip
For many, Alaska seems reachable only by cruise ship. While an all-inclusive cruise is a great starting point to see this vast, magical state, accessing Alaska from cruise ports just scratches the surface of what you can see, do, and experience way up here. A weeklong road trip from Afar.com will carry you over four scenic byways and juxtaposes the popular Denali National Park with the underrated Wrangell–St. Elias.
This 954-mile trek begins in Anchorage and gives you access to Denali, North America’s highest mountain peak, while also venturing into a few less-trafficked corners of the state. That includes McCarthy, a tiny one-road town with just 27 permanent residents that somehow also possesses a notable food scene, thus giving you something familiar to post on Instagram as well as something unique and aspirational for your friends and family to be jealous about back at home.
Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive
It’s only 26 miles, but my goodness, is it stunning. The Travel Channel calls this patch of asphalt the prettiest extended stretch of urban parkway in America, and within minutes, you’ll understand why. Starting at the southernmost point of the drive, head north toward downtown for a dramatic finish line. You’ll see parks and green spaces, sandy beaches and grand museums, towering skyscrapers featuring some of the most impressive urban architecture in the country, pass Soldier Field (a legendary NFL stadium that looks like a spaceship landed inside the Parthenon), and Navy Pier—all while keeping the glittering blue waters of Lake Michigan tucked in close on your right. As entrances into big cities go, nothing beats Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.
New Hampshire’s White Mountains
Enjoyable in the summertime but world-renowned in the fall, a 34.5-mile drive on Kancamagus Highway, through the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, is a recognized National Scenic Byway and is considered one of the best fall foliage road trip destinations on planet Earth. With many jaw-dropping vistas and photographic overlooks dotting the route—which offers up views of the White Mountains, the Swift River, Lower Falls, Sabbaday Falls, and the Rocky Gorge—there is hardly a better way to spend a single autumnal day on the road in America. For more on what to do in the area, see our guide to a White Mountains road trip.
Kentucky bourbon trail (with a designated driver)
Traveling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail can take three days or three weeks, says travel writer Jason Greene. It is whatever you make of it, so stop by the gift shops, take distillery tours, and soak up the history lessons and the tasty beverages. Having a designated driver each day of your road trip makes all of this possible and safe. For a luxurious, Instagram-worthy place to stay during your bourbon trail road trip, check into the Kentucky Castle in, appropriately enough, the city of Versailles.
Oregon’s splendor and the California redwoods
Start in Portland with more Pip’s mini artisan doughnuts than seems wise. (It’s OK—they’re so small!) Then head east on the Historic Columbia River Highway for a bevy of cascades, including the legendary Multnomah Falls. Bring your swimsuits and towels because many of the waterfalls have wading pools to cool off and pose for photos with the rushing water overhead. Next, hang a right on Route 35 to start south toward Mt. Hood for a hike and to the city of Bend for a great meal at McKay Cottage. Continue to Crater Lake, for a drive along the rim road and maybe a hike down to the water.
You’ll soon reach the majestic California redwoods, and Star Wars fans should take note: This park was the stand-in for the home of Ewoks, the forest moon Endor. Go as far south as Fern Canyon for a mystical short hike and an afternoon spent on the wild Pacific beaches there. Start driving north again, but this time, hug the rugged Oregon coastline and its massive sand dunes until you reach Tillamook Creamery back up near Portland. Along the way, you will have experienced a diverse array of nature, city life, sports, and tasty cheeses.
Cross-country one way: Northern route
It’s both the classic American road trip and one of the best road trips you can take, especially with kids in tow. From personal experience, we recommend taking a one-way cross-country trek in a minivan. Make this journey in two weeks, in either a Kia Sedona or Toyota Sienna, because a minivan provides ample room for all your people and all the stuff your people will accumulate, and yet is still capable of navigating city streets with ease, unlike a camper van or RV. If you don’t own a minivan, consider renting one for your road trip.
The best northern route starts in Seattle and travels east with a heavy dose of national parks to start (Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons) before making your way to Minneapolis for some charming Midwestern city life. Next, pay a visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Usonian home, Jacobs I, in Madison, Wisconsin, before moving on to a big-city adventure in Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. Proceed to loop around the lake to spend time among Holland, Michigan’s tulips and windmills, then rock out at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland before finishing in either historic Philadelphia or New York’s Coney Island.
Cross-country one way: Southern route
Starting on the East coast this time, from maybe Atlanta or Washington, D.C., travel through Memphis for barbecue and the National Civil Rights Museum. Then spend a night or two in St. Louis at the elegant Union Station Hotel, specifically so you and the fam can visit the City Museum, which remains the best place in America to be a child (of any age), and take a fun trip up into the Gateway Arch.
Make the famously flat and tedious trek across Kansas (if only to be able to expertly make the “this is as boring as driving across Kansas” joke) to reach Denver for a night of vintage amusements at Lakeside and to see a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. From there, pass through Aspen before dipping down into southern Utah for a bevy of stunning national parks (Bryce Canyon, Arches, Zion), then make the toasty crossing through Death Valley, spend a clear night gazing at the stars in Joshua Tree, and finish up with a ride on the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier.
Midwest baseball road trip
Many of America’s best ballparks are situated within easy drives of one another in the Midwest, making a baseball road trip easy and amazing, anytime from late March to early October. Start at PNC Park in Pittsburgh to cheer on the Pirates, then make your way through Cleveland and Detroit, before finding your way to Chicago to experience the magic of Wrigley Field and the Cubs before tasting a bratwurst in Milwaukee and heading up north to Minneapolis to see the Twins. If the schedules for the MLB teams don’t align perfectly (in non-COVID times, when you can attend games), fill in the gaps with minor league baseball games to score better value on ticket prices and concessions while watching the stars of tomorrow play ball. There are many teams scattered across the Midwest (making it a perfect vacation spot), in Indianapolis, Toledo, Columbus, St. Paul, and beyond.
Along the way, root, root, root for the home teams, enjoy adult beverages of your choice and let your kiddos turn their tongues pink with cotton candy as you partake in America’s favorite pastime. Before you visit these Midwest road trip destinations, find out how 25 MLB teams got their names.
Million Dollar Highway
Toeing the line between dangerous and thrilling, this 25-mile stretch of winding road spanning parts of southwest Colorado and New Mexico is lined with ghost towns, hot springs, national forests, mountains, and the city of Durango, one of the prettiest small towns in America and the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed. The Million Dollar Highway road trip can be done in a single day, providing that day is in season, because you will be traveling from an elevation of 6,200 feet near Durango to more than 11,000 feet when crossing Red Mountain Pass.
Pack your passport for this great northern adventure because while most of this road trip occurs in the United States, you will cross over into the wild west of Canada’s Yukon Territory when you drive north from Skagway on the stunningly panoramic Klondike Highway. This choose-your-own-adventure, out-and-back road trip can be completed in a day (even during a Carnival cruise to Alaska because there’s an Avis within walking distance of the port) and will provide you with unique memories and photo ops. You’ll pass the curious Carcross Desert and reach the marvelously glowing green Emerald Lake before making the return drive back to Skagway for a tasty fresh-caught local halibut during lunch at Olivia’s restaurant at the Historic Skagway Inn.
With the smell of salt air blowing through your car windows from all directions, a leisurely road trip on the Cape provides you with true rest and relaxation—and a glimpse into what Cape Cod looked like before all the tourists arrived. Many of the homes and churches along this tree-shaded road are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, giving you the chance to visit and spend time in some of the oldest towns, along with the quaintest shops and restaurants in America, during a Cape Cod road trip from Mashpee to Provincetown, Massachusetts.
The Overseas Highway
The Overseas Highway, built atop a former railroad more than a century ago, crosses 42 bridges, including the Seven-Mile bridge over Pigeon Key, as it goes south from Miami to Key West. Road trippers traveling this southernmost leg of Route 1 should plan to exit the highway frequently to experience island life and stretch this easy one day drive out over several. Visiting the Florida Keys via the Overseas Highway is more about the journey than the destination, with the natural beauty of the sea taking turns with the wilderness to border your car, and magnificent sunrises and sunsets on either side of you on the Overseas Highway. Before you tackle this sun-kissed road trip destination (or any other), consult this road trip checklist for your car.
The Trail of the Ancients and the Moki Dugway
The 116-mile Trail of the Ancients, which traverses Colorado and Utah, is America’s only national scenic byway dedicated solely to archaeology and will take you to some of the most famous sights in the country, including Four Corners and Monument Valley. You could make this 480-mile drive straight through in one long day, but following a six-day itinerary allows you to truly experience the Native American history along the route. The Trail of Ancients is paved, save for a harrowing three-mile, switchback-laden stretch known as the Moki Dugway, and offers unrivaled panoramic views of this otherworldly landscape. Thrill-seekers will also want to check out these most dangerous roads around the world.
Route 66: Texas edition
No collection of best U.S. road trips would be complete without at least one mention of famed Route 66. After all, that is where travelers can get their kicks. Instead of the expansive road, let’s focus solely on one particularly grand stretch of Route 66 through the Texas panhandle. A Travel Texas representative admits that this piece of Route 66 is relatively small (only about 180 miles in total) but notes that the pit stops are iconic. In fact, this stretch is even known to be the inspiration for the animated film Cars.
The ’50s-style pit stop Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas, is the halfway point between Chicago and Santa Monica and has a “Lick the Plate Club” for hard-core pie lovers. The city of Shamrock is arguably the most historic road trip destination on this route with its Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café, which was built in 1936 to serve weary travelers along Route 66, but the star attraction is in Amarillo. Cadillac Ranch is legendary for the unique 1974 art installation featuring 10 Cadillac cars half-buried in a single-file line that visitors are allowed to spray-paint, meaning that all road trippers can have the exact same experience at the Ranch.
To play at Dollywood, NASCAR SpeedPark, Titanic Museum, and the Alpine Coaster, start in Tennessee’s Pigeon Forge and take a 400-plus-mile road trip spans the Great Smoky Mountains in the east to the Mississippi River in the west. Early in the route, you will come upon the “secret city” of Oak Ridge, constructed in 1943 to house some of the workers helping build the world’s first atomic bomb; today, it features a section of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
By the time you make it to Nashville, you’ll be ready to splash around at the remarkably cool watery playground that is SoundWaves at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. Then head out at night for some bar-hopping and live music. (Check to see who’s playing at the legendary Ryman Auditorium.) Finish up along the Mississippi in Memphis with an important dose of American history at the National Civil Rights Museum and authentic dry-rub BBQ at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous. Speaking of great food, don’t miss these 10 epic summer road trips for foodies.
The Pacific Coast Highway
Ideally, you’d be in a convertible as you cruise up the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California 1, from Los Angeles. Before you get all that far along, pull off to the right for a scrumptious freshly caught taco at Malibu Seafood, which boasts multimillion-dollar views. Continue north to Big Sur and Monterey, stopping at beaches and overlooks as you go. Eventually, you’ll hit a sweet spot of San Francisco’s Museum of Ice Cream, but once you’ve had your fill, make sure to go up just a bit more, over the Golden Gate Bridge, to Muir Woods National Monument. You could pick up Route 101 and drive all the way up to Oregon to see the redwoods, but we recommend an entirely separate road trip for those natural wonders. If you can’t get enough of Oregon, you can always go there to start the Oregon Trail road trip—talk about a road trip for the ages!
The Hana coastline
According to Wanderlust Crew, the most popular drive in the Hawaiian islands takes you 60 miles along the eastern coast of Maui, where you will experience beautiful ocean views and drive through jungles teeming with waterfalls. All in all, this Hawaii highway will wrap you around about 600 curves and cross a staggering 59 bridges, so the next time you visit Maui, take a break from getting sunburned on the beach to make a picturesque road trip along the Hana coast. Check out these other reasons that Maui is arguably the best Hawaiian island.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile drive connecting two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina—and it is the most visited road controlled by the U.S. National Parks System. This journey is epic at any time of year, but in autumn, when the colors begin to change and the trees glow with vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows, you’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier drive and road trip destination in the continental United States.
South Dakota is so much more than Mount Rushmore and rolling hills. Start this action-packed road trip at Harrison, Nebraska, and after enjoying lunch at the distinctive Village Barn Cafe, head to Custer State Park. With any luck, you will get stuck in one of the legendary bison traffic jams—the best kind of traffic in the world. Then you should swing past Mount Rushmore, which is just one (admittedly memorable) part of a Mount Rushmore road trip. Stay nearby in one of the cottages at Whispering Winds in Hill City, and then wake up refreshed for a thoroughly magical mystery drive through the Badlands, which just may be the most wondrous site in the state.
Binghamton carousel circuit
Head to Binghamton, New York, in the summertime to ride the circuit in the “Carousel Capital of the World.” Drive to each of the six historic carousels located in this Upstate New York town for a spin on a carved wooden “jumping” horse or a stationary chariot that was crafted nearly a century ago. Best of all, every one of the historic carousels is free to ride. Complete the circuit and earn an exclusive button as a memento from this unique American small-town experience. If you are feeling bullish on history and on carousels, take this road trip farther north to North Tonawanda, New York, just above Buffalo, to revel in the glory that is the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum. Consult our road trip survival guide before hopping in the car to visit the road trip destinations of your choice.
Hamilton-inspired New York State drive
Start at the dueling grounds where Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, just across the Hudson River in Weehawken, New Jersey, then drive through the Lincoln Tunnel to reach Manhattan. On West 141st Street, you’ll find the only house A. Ham ever owned, now the beautiful Hamilton Grange National Memorial. While in the city, drive to the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Manhattan’s oldest surviving house. As NYC Parks tells us, “When Lin-Manuel Miranda sought inspiration for Hamilton the musical, he did so by writing portions of it at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Miranda wrote the songs ‘Wait for It’ and ‘The Room Where It Happens’ in Aaron Burr’s bedroom at the Morris-Jumel Mansion.” Finally, drive out into the New York State countryside to the capital city of Albany to tour the Schuyler Mansion, the site where Elizabeth Schuyler wed Alexander Hamilton in 1780. Find out which Alexander Hamilton facts the musical left out.
Whether you reach the peninsula by car ferry from Seattle or the long way by road from Olympia (the easier path if coming straight from the airport), spending a few days driving the Olympic Peninsula is like going back in time to when dinosaurs roamed and lush vegetation ruled the land. The travel site Valerie and Valise recommends that you take three days to fully enjoy one of the Pacific Northwest’s wildest road trip destinations, with ample time out of the car to hike Hurricane Ridge, explore the Hoh rainforest, and soak in the hot springs. Of course, Twilight fans will want to stop in Forks while in the area, but you won’t find much there except a town sign ready for your selfie. The real star out here is Mother Nature. Read about the most iconic book set in every state.
Road trippers who seek both beauty in the natural world and in the unusual will love this drive through West Texas. This trek can be just a day, a weekend, or even longer, but making it in springtime will deliver the everything’s-bigger-in-Texas wildflower show blooming on the rolling hills of Big Bend National Park. About six hours from San Antonio, it’s a stunning scene that should be capped off with a stop in one of the weirdest and most wonderful road trip destinations in the American South: Marfa, Texas. Its famed “Prada Boutique” (which isn’t a Prada boutique at all) makes a statement about the state of U.S. culture, but Marfa is more than just a place—it’s a state of mind. In this tiny town, an hour west from Big Bend on Route 90, you’ll find everything from tortillas to teepees and Andy Warhol to beer gardens. Anthony Bourdain wrote about it, movies have been filmed here (including Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood), and the stars shine just a little brighter in this unique part of the country. If you want to see more of the Lone Star State, read up on these incredible Texas road trips.
A civil rights tour through the South
Travel writer Jason Greene spent more than three weeks in the South with his kids on a road trip along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, but you can do it in a fraction of the time if need be. Start in Atlanta for a slew of MLK and civil rights sights and museums, including the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Greene recommends starting at the visitor center to receive an intense history lesson on the civil rights movement. From there, head to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, then continue on to Tuskegee, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma in Alabama to go deep into the crucial civil rights history of the United States. Along the way, make sure to stop at the 16th Street Baptist Church, Freedom Rides Museum, and National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. Here are more of the top cities for American history buffs.
Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine
One of the shorter road trips on our list, and the only loop drive, delivers a day jam-packed with remarkable views, dense forests, mountaintops, and a picturesque rocky coastline perfect for climbing and staging dramatic photos. There’s truly nothing like Acadia National Park’s 110 feet of pink granite at Otter Cliff or Thunder Hole, a boisterous natural site that has to be seen (and heard!) to be believed. A 27-mile drive through this Maine gem is made complete by a meal in Bar Harbor at the Side Street Cafe and topped off with some fresh blueberry soft-serve at CJ’s Big Dipper.
Speaking of that darling small town on Maine’s rugged coast, Bar Harbor is one of New England’s premier road trip destinations in and of itself—ideal for enjoying pleasant hand-in-hand strolls and all things lobster. While you’re there, be sure to catch the town’s improv comedy troupe, and when you need to stretch your legs (and work off those lobster rolls), take a walk along the stunning Shore Path.
A deep bayou drive from NOLA
You should start this road trip with a rollicking good time in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Enjoy a few late NOLA nights, too many Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, and some jazz at Preservation Hall, then sleep all that off before heading west to begin a deep bayou road trip adventure. The best road to drive is Highway 31, says Travel + Leisure, which will take you along Bayou Teche from New Iberia to Breaux Bridge, a scenic route with evocative “garlands of moody Spanish moss [that] dangle from mighty oaks and cypress trees, while alligators and herons splash about in the swampy lagoons.” Take a detour along the way to check out the strangest roadside attraction in Louisiana.
There are three glass chapels tucked into the Arkansas woods, and your Ozark Mountains road trip should include a stop at one of them. Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs is a work of art, whether or not you’re the praying type. Forest churches aren’t the only reason the Ozarks are among the coolest road trip destinations—there’s also an underground waterfall called the Glory Hole and an epic crag that juts out over top of an ocean of trees. To get out there, take an easy 5K loop hike to the spectacular Whitaker Point. It’s a momentous spot to propose marriage or simply take in sweeping photos of waterfalls, wildflowers, and fall foliage.
Starved Rock State Park
There are many fantastic unknown road trip destinations worth visiting in the United States, and this time of renewed interest in road trips is the perfect time to visit places like Starved Rock State Park. This National Historic Landmark features 13 miles of trails and 18 canyons that you can explore safely. Located just about 90 minutes from Chicago and two-and-a-half hours from Milwaukee, Starved Rock is the number one attraction in Illinois, thanks to vertical walls of moss-covered stone formed by glacial melt that slice through tree-covered sandstone bluffs. It also has more than 130 premium campsites with electricity. Never camped before? Try it! Just avoid these 13 camping mistakes most first-timers make.
Some sites listed here may not be open or may have limited hours or other restrictions due to COVID-19. Please check with them before you go.