Road Trips In America: Top 18 Spots For Your Travel Diary | Stanton House Inn
Bixby Bridge along the PCH, one of America's most scenic drives

Road Trips in America: Top 18 Spots for Your Travel Diary

Tunnel along the Blue Ridge, one of the best drives in the US

Ever since reading Travels with Charley as a teenager, I’ve always had an itch to hit the road and explore the best road trips in America. Let’s face it, the U.S. is like a never-ending buffet of eye-candy drives – a true feast for the wanderlust soul.

Kick things off with the Blue Ridge Parkway. It stretches a whopping 469 miles of pure Appalachian beauty. The route is peppered with limestone caverns and bubbling mountain springs.

And if you’ve got an appetite for architecture, Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive serves up a skyline that’ll have your jaw dropping.

Don’t even get me started on the Seven-Mile Bridge – it’s like Mother Nature decided to throw a highway party and invited the ocean as the guest of honor. Colorado’s Trail Ridge Road? That’s where the Rocky Mountains strut their stuff in full panoramic glory.

If autumn leaves changing faster than a chameleon on a rainbow gets you going, then the Kancamagus Highway and the Blue Ridge Parkway in fall are your haven.

The American road trip is like the peanut butter to the jelly of our culture. It’s an iconic duo that’s been celebrated in tales and tunes, a rite of passage as American as apple pie.

Are you revved up to cruise through the best road trips in America? Let’s get into it:

Quick hits

  • The U.S. is a continent of potential road trips, with each route serving up its own flavor of adventure. The sun-kissed California’s Pacific Coast Highway and sea-sprayed charm of Florida’s Overseas Highway are great picks. The mountain majesty of Colorado’s Trail Ridge Road or the rugged allure of Montana’s Going-to-the-Sun Road are great options, too.

  • If you’re hungry for a slice of Americana, the heartland is your buffet. Feast your eyes on Texas Hill Country’s rolling landscapes or take a bite out of the vast Great Plains along Highway 2. South Dakota’s Great 8 is like a full-course meal of historical sites and surreal natural wonders that’ll leave you stuffed with awe.

  • The quintessential American spirit of freedom is bottled up and served on the rocks along the storied stretches of Route 66. Contrast that with the East’s scenic drives like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, or the desert highways through Arizona and Utah. You’ve got a cocktail of the nation’s varied natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage that’s as diverse as a potluck at a family reunion.

Route 1

Route 1, locally called the Boston Post Road, going through Greenwich, Connecticut

Route 1, affectionately known as the Boston Post Road, is a trove of coastal charm and historic sites. I-95 was built to mirror it, but this road has more charm in its pinky than the interstate has in its entire concrete body. This top pick of the best road trips from NYC unfurls across nearly 2,000 miles, inviting travelers on an enchanting journey stretching from Maine to:

Take a stroll down Atlantic City’s legendary pleasure pier. The salty breeze whispers tales of yesteryears and the saltwater taffy will tickle your taste buds. In Atlantic City, NJ, the boardwalk beckons like a siren’s call, luring you into its timeless allure.

Venture to Assateague Island, VA, where wild ponies frolic in the surf with unabashed freedom. Nearby, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge offers a sanctuary for wildlife enthusiasts.

As you reach St. Augustine, FL, the echoes of history resonate through its ancient streets. Here, tales of explorers and eternal fountains mingle with the inviting sands of its beaches.

Route 1 is a journey through the region that fostered Americana.

More New England Road Trips

Driving the Kancamagus Highway as the leaves change for the season is a classic dodge in New Hampshire

Our tiny little corner of America has plenty more than one scenic byway to explore, though. Check out our list of the most scenic driving routes for fall foliage in CT for more in Connecticut. In other parts of New England:

  • The Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire showcases autumn foliage and an autumnal catwalk display.

  • Ocean Drive in Newport, Rhode Island, offers ocean spray and glimpses of America’s military past.

  • Maine’s Park Loop Road offers a front-row seat to nature’s rugged beauty, with the Atlantic Ocean as a magnificent backdrop. The 27-mile loop through Acadia National Park is a journey to savor, with high ridgelines and dramatic ocean performances.

  • Route 6 in Massachusetts connects the sandy time capsules of Cape Cod to the tip of Provincetown, MA. Between May and October, whale-watching boat tours are a must. Glimpses of humpback whale flukes in Cape Cod waters is nothing short of impressive.

Need more? You could easily continue on north from here to explore some of the best road trips in Canada.

Appalachian Trail

Morning sunrise at Carvers Gap along the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

The Appalachian Trail is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure. It unfolds across 14 states with stunning wilderness and slices of rugged Americana. It’s a patchwork, from swanky resorts to the echoes of bustling mill towns now silent. And while it’s most famous as a walking trail, you can follow a line of country roads and highways that mimic it.

In Vermont, the Green Mountains rise like emerald waves, and New England’s rural areas have a charm in and of themselves. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park and Georgia’s Chattooga River are prized exhibitions. And the Chattooga River’s rapids rival the thrill of a morning espresso.

The trail is more than a mere walk in the woods—it’s a journey through areas that settled the rest of America. So, tie your boots (or hop in the car), grab your sense of wonder, and embark on an adventure that promises richness and unpredictability with every mile.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway

With over 200 scenic overlooks, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides amazing views of the Appalachian highlands. These ‘balconies’ offer unique vistas of the landscape. Notable among them are:

  • The Cowee Mountain Overlook, which sits over 6,000 feet above sea level

  • And the Twenty Minute Cliff Overlook

Both offer their own stunning panoramas.

Next to several overlooks are hiking trails, such as the loop trail at Graveyard Fields, which leads to scenic waterfalls. These trails allow visitors to delve deeper into the natural surroundings.

Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive stretches for 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. Gazing out over the Piedmont region and the Shenandoah Valley, it connects with the Appalachian Trail. As you go, you’ll encounter the park’s mesmerizing features. Awesome views include valleys filled with fog and trails that lead to hidden waterfalls and wilderness areas.

Florida’s Overseas Highway: A Tropical Escape

Bahia Honda State Park, along the Overseas Highway, Florida

The Overseas Highway is like a magic carpet ride, except no flying over Agrabah. Instead, you’re cruising over the crystal-clear waters of the Florida Keys, the sun playing peek-a-boo through the palm fronds. This 113-mile island-hopping extravaganza stretches from busy Miami to the laid-back vibe of Key West. The route connects a string of tropical pearls with 42 bridges that make you feel like an honorary pirate on a treasure hunt.

Postcard-perfect scenes pepper the scenic byway that’ll have you pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. From:

  • The iconic Seven Mile Bridge—where it feels like you’re gliding on the back of a giant, friendly sea monster

  • To the lush landscapes of Bahia Honda State Park

It’s a full-blown sensory extravaganza. Don’t miss the Old Seven Mile Bridge, a grand old dame of engineering, standing since 1912. It’s a a yellow brick road through an oceanic Oz, minus the flying monkeys and with a much better tan.

Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive: Urban Skylines and Lake Michigan

Scenic drive along Chicago's Lake Shore Drive with urban skyline

Stretching for 26 miles along Chicago’s waterfront, Lake Shore Drive is a scenic route that doubles as both major thoroughfare and tourist attraction. It provides access to some of Chicago’s top cultural and leisure spots. Top Chicago attractions nearby include:

  • Navy Pier

  • The iconic Cloud Gate sculpture at Millennium Park

  • And Lincoln Park

Lake Shore Drive also accesses several beaches, such as North Avenue Beach. And the trails along Lake Michigan for pedestrians and cyclists are perfect for enjoying the lakefront.

Route 66

Get yours kicks on Route 66

Route 66, also known as the Main Street of America, has long attracted road warriors and dreamers. It starts in the Windy City and ending in the City of Angels, the iconic highway is what many think of when they imagine Americana. The ‘Mother Road’ is a living museum where kitsch meets culture. Each mile marker showcases a story, from the Dust Bowl exodus to the post-war boom. The route traverses the American countryside, showcasing unique spots like:

  • The Grand Canyon

  • Native American communities

  • And Midwestern small-town life

From the lively streets of St. Louis and Chicago to the tranquil desert, Route 66 is a journey through America’s soul. It’s not only about the destination; it’s about the stories and people along the way. The spirit of Route 66 is to live the legend, as American as apple pie.

Great River Road

Vicksburg Bridge in Mississippi, looking towards Louisiana across the mighty Mississippi River

The Great River Road (GRR) is a 2,069-mile scenic route. This one sprawls through 10 states, from Minnesota’s Lake Itasca State Park to Venice, Louisiana. Created in 1938, it offers more stories, character, and wildlife than any normal interstate could dream of. The route meanders with purpose, changing direction with the river’s whims and crossing it whenever it pleases. The distinctive green pilot’s wheel signs with a steamboat in the middle guide travelers like a North Star for road trippers.

Highlights along the GRR include:

  • Lake Itasca State Park

  • Maiden Rock in Wisconsin

  • The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

  • Memphis, Home of the Blues

  • The Natchez Trace Parkway

And New Orleans, where the river flirts with the sea and the music, culture, and cuisine are a love letter to the senses. Grab a detailed map of the entire GRR and a guide to local happenings from the Mississippi River Parkway Commission.

Texas Hill Country

Vibrant wildflowers in Texas Hill Country

Texas Hill Country is where the wildflowers are so colorful, you’d swear they’ve stolen rainbows from the sky. A sea of wildflowers, with Texas bluebonnets playing a starring role, line the road. And that only scratches the surface. Historic towns are as plentiful as the local wineries, and each one has a story waiting to be told. In towns like:

  • Dripping Springs

  • Driftwood

  • And Fredericksburg

Live music and dancing is the heartbeat of the community. And the wineries? They’re tucked into the scenic rural landscapes like secret treasures. Each sip is a celebration of nature’s bounty and the local vintners’ craft. Here, the grapevines waltz with the wildflowers, and every glass raises a toast to Mother Nature’s artistry. So come on down, kick off your boots, and stay a while. You’ll find that in Texas Hill Country, every sunset is an encore, and every starry night is a standing ovation.

The Great 8 of South Dakota

Entrance sign to Badlands National Park

The Great 8 attractions in South Dakota offer a diverse range of national parks and monuments:

  • Badlands National Park

  • Crazy Horse Memorial

  • Custer State Park

  • Historic Deadwood

  • Jewel Cave National Monument

  • The Missouri River

  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial

  • Wind Cave National Park

The journey through the Badlands and Black Hills is a bleak visual feast. It showcases rock spires, deep canyons, and peculiar formations such as sandstone arches.

Trail Ridge Road

Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is like a ticket to Taylor Swift’s concert for nature lovers. This 48-mile journey is your front-row seat to Mother Nature’s most exclusive concert. Headliner acts such as the Rainbow Curve Overlook await, where rainbows are so frequent they seem to be part of the landscape crew. And the Lava Cliffs – if Mother Nature had an oven, these would be her freshly baked masterpieces, now cooling in the high-altitude breeze. Be sure not to miss Forest Canyon Overlook. It’s akin to having binoculars to the world, offering glimpses of the wildlife that think they’re invisible. The Many Parks Curve is where Mother Nature exhibits her paintings, a full-blown gallery of her best works that change with the seasons.

And the wildlife? It’s a VIP meet-and-greet with the stars of the animal kingdom:

  • Majestic elk strut their stuff

  • Stealthy deer play hide-and-seek

  • And the headstrong bighorn sheep are the rock stars of the park, complete with their own fan following

Come the snowy season, Hidden Valley transforms into the ultimate winter wonderland. It’s a place where every turn in the road is a new verse in the ballad of the wild, and every ascent feels like a crescendo in this symphony of the peaks. Buckle up, folks – this isn’t just a drive; it’s a choose-your-own-adventure story where the road writes the plot, and you’re the main character.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Sunset over Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

Montana’s Glacier National Park is home to the spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Road. This asphalt ribbon dances across the Rockies and tiptoes over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. This 50-mile stretch of road is a nature lover’s fantasy. It’s complete with glaciers that wink in the sunlight and mountain goats that strike poses for your camera. Here’s a taste of the eye-candy you can expect along this scenic catwalk:

  • The Weeping Wall, where Mother Nature’s tears cascade onto the road, giving your car a free wash – no tips required.

  • Big Bend, boasting sunset views so stunning, they’ll your Instagram followers green with envy.

  • Triple Arches, a testament to nature’s architecture, where the rocks look like they’ve been chiseled by the gods themselves.

Each mile is a moving picture of jaw-dropping scenery. And if you’re itching for more than a drive-by, hiking trails invite you to stretch your legs and mingle with the park’s diverse critters and plant life. It’s a drive so epic, you’ll be tempted to send a postcard to your future self, thanking past you for the memories.

US Route 163

Monument Valley

Stretching from Kayenta, Arizona, to Bluff, Utah, US Route 163 captivates travelers with views of the American Southwest. The most famous highlight is Monument Valley. Towering rock formations like The Mittens and Merrick Butte symbolize the American West. Their silhouettes are immortalized in films and photographs.

At the Navajo Tribal Park along US Route 163, visitors can have up-close experiences with the valley’s formations via the Valley Drive. A visitor center is also available, it highlights Navajo culture.

Scenic Byway 12

Bryce Canyon National Park

Scenic Byway 12 offers a journey through the captivating red rock canyons of Utah. It connects Capitol Reef National Park with Bryce Canyon National Park. And along the way, you are treated to views of dramatic cliffs and towering rock formations.

Visits to Kodachrome Basin State Park reveal 67 monolithic stone spires. Meanwhile Escalante Petrified Forest State Park offers hikes with petrified woods and waterfalls.

Near Boulder, the Anasazi State Park and Museum invites visitors to delve into the history of an Ancestral Puebloan village. It thrived from 1050 to 1200 A.D.

The Pacific Coast Highway: California’s Iconic Coastal Route

PCH through Los Angeles

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a popular road trip route. It takes travelers from San Diego to San Francisco, though you can continue on to Napa Valley and Sonoma County. The route offers stunning views of the ocean, wild landscapes, and stunning beaches. This writer started in San Francisco and worked his way south to Los Angeles. That said, the better way is to head north, keeping you in the lane closest to the ocean.

Or take the full Pacific Coast route, which begins at Port Townsend near Olympic National Park. That drive covers 1,650 miles (2,655 km) and includes temperate rainforest to near-desert environments. Most of the Pacific Coast is:

  • In the public domain

  • Accessible

  • And protected from development within national, state, and local parks

Breathtaking coastal views of McWay Falls along the Pacific Coast Highway

The West Coast of California is famous for its natural beauty and well-preserved historic sites. Cool spots include:

  • Spanish colonial missions

  • Russian and English fur-trading outposts

  • Plus the location where Lewis and Clark first sighted the Pacific

The energizing cities of:

  • Seattle

  • Portland

  • San Francisco

  • Los Angeles

  • And San Diego

Offer gateways to the landscapes between and beyond them. The coast also features dozens of small and not-so-small towns that alternate between blue-collar ports and up-scale vacation retreats. Food, drink, and accommodations options are abundant, with local cafés, seafood grills, bijou restaurants, and places to stay.

The Pacific Coast Highway offers ten major sights along the route, including:

  • McWay Falls in Big Sur

  • Olympic National Park in Washington

  • Astoria & Fort Clatsop in Oregon

  • “Dune Country” in Oregon

  • Redwood National Park in California

  • Mendocino in California

  • San Francisco in California

  • Monterey and Pebble Beach in California

  • San Simeon in California

  • San Luis Obispo in California

  • Los Angeles in California

  • And San Diego in California

Highlights of this spectacular route include passing through the redwood forests of Northern California, home to the Avenue of the Giants and remnants of the golden age of car-borne tourism. The coast of Big Sur is rivaled only by the beachfronts of Southern California, which is the land of palm trees, beach boys, and surfer girls.

Tl;dr

From the shimmering coastlines of the Pacific and Atlantic to the majestic peaks of America’s mountain ranges, and from the hidden gems of the heartland to the river roads and waterfront drives, America’s road trips are a tapestry of adventure. The iconic Route 66 adds to this rich mosaic, offering a journey of discovery and the thrill of exploration. Whether you are a seasoned traveler or just beginning your road trip adventures, the open road invites you with the promise of discovery. So pack your bags, start the engine, and embrace the journey as your ultimate destination.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best road trip in the United States?

The best road trip in the United States is arguably Route 66. Known as the Mother Road, it connects Chicago to California and winds through eight states. Along the way, it offers travelers a chance to visit national parks and experience nostalgic Americana.

What is the #1 scenic drive in the US?

The Overseas Highway, also known as U.S. 1, is the #1 scenic drive in the US. It creates a stunning connection from Miami to the Florida Keys, offering breathtaking views along a 110-mile journey across 42 bridges.

How do I plan a road trip across America?

When planning your road trip across America, it’s important to choose your mode of transportation and who will accompany you. Make sure to pick your route ahead of time and plan where you’ll sleep, set a budget, and find ways to save money. And don’t forget to create a fantastic playlist for the journey!

What can I see on the Appalachian Trail?

You can see stunning landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the historic towns of New England while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Happy trails!

What is special about Route 66?

Route 66 is special because it is known as the Main Street of America and offers a glimpse into the country’s history and culture. It’s a must-do road trip for anyone wanting to experience a piece of American history firsthand!

 

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