10 Road Trips You Must Take in the United States
By Waleed M | Updated May 17th, 2022
The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world and offers thousands of miles of scenic driving routes to match. From the Pacific Northwest’s craggy shorelines to New England’s fall foliage, you can spend years exploring our nation’s landmarks by car and still have new sights to see. Which road trips should you take? Here are 10 recommendations from an expert road tripper.
If you’re looking for a quintessential American road trip, you can’t go wrong with Route 66. The original Main Street of America begins in Chicago and winds down to Los Angeles, running through eight states along its way. If your dream vacation involves roadside diners, classic cars, kitschy architecture, and beautiful natural vistas, then Route 66 is calling your name.
Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway is, without a doubt, one of America’s most scenic drives. This stretch of road winds along California’s pristine coastline, providing stunning views at every turn. If you have your heart set on driving down it—and I wouldn’t blame you if you did—then pack your bags and prepare for a road trip unlike any other. For many people, there are few things more relaxing than hitting the open road and exploring new destinations. And while all US states offer breathtaking scenery (if not entirely unique experiences), some destinations are just better suited to leisurely weekend getaways than others.
Great River Road
The Great River Road begins at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, and ends at the Gulf of Mexico. This road trip covers 10 states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana). Visitors can take picturesque strolls along riverbanks or use kayaks to explore aquatic landscapes. Along the way, you’ll find communities rich with American history including city museums and unique venues built on water. An ideal road trip for nature lovers and historical seekers alike!
Southwestern Scenic Route
The Southwestern Scenic Route is a classic road trip along Highway 12 from Colorado to Utah. It’s most accessible from May through September, as it takes you through Rocky Mountain National Park and includes many breathtaking views of waterfalls, mountains, and other national parks. The most popular stops are Grand Lake and Boulder; more adventurous travelers can make side trips to climb Longs Peak or even hike parts of The Colorado Trail.
Southern Tier of New York State
New York State’s Southern Tier Region is a hidden gem of local history, independent art, culture, and natural beauty. The region is divided into two counties: Broome County, home to Binghamton; and Tioga County, where you’ll find Owego. Both are small towns with big personalities. Each has its own unique flavor—and each is worth exploring for a day or more. Start your trip by heading south from Binghamton on Route 17 toward Port Crane, NY (home to one of America’s largest working waterfalls). From there, head west on Route 206 toward Delhi (known as The Black Diamond Capital of the World) and then turn north on Route 365 toward Owego.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is best experienced when there’s snow on either side of you. The drive itself is enough to make you feel like an adventurer, but when you start seeing snowy mountain ranges (hello, winter!), it becomes magical. Visiting North Carolina over Christmas or New Year’s? Add a trip down to Cherokee, NC and stop at these magical places along your way. You won’t regret it!
Historic Columbia River Highway
The road trip spans 48 miles of northwestern Oregon and southeastern Washington and stretches from Troutdale to The Dalles. Be sure to stop at numerous viewpoints along Historic Columbia River Highway, including Crown Point State Park—which offers gorgeous views of Portland—and Latourell Falls, a waterfall hike just outside of Corbett. Other stops worth exploring include the Silver Star viewpoint for expansive views of Portland and Cascade Locks, which is home to a nationally designated monument.
The eastern edge of Virginia offers some of America’s best backroads driving. Among them: Route 250, which twists through James River plantations and Civil War battlefields; Route 31, which passes tobacco farms and working communities on its way to Roanoke; and Route 199, which hugs the banks of tiny Jordan Lake on its route from Charlottesville to Lynchburg. Whether you come for history or scenery, there’s something for everyone along these routes.
San Juan Skyway
The San Juan Skyway takes you through some of Colorado’s most jaw-dropping natural scenery. Bypassing major highways, it sticks to two-lane roads and cuts between mountain towns like Telluride and Durango—and it passes through Colorado’s epic mountain terrain and even a national forest. It also passes right by Mesa Verde National Park, which holds hundreds of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.