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The 14 Best Road Trips in the U.S.

By Ciera Velarde

Aug 20, 2020

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Glacier National Park is packed with stunning roadside vistas.

Photo by Zack Frank / Shutterstock

Glacier National Park is packed with stunning roadside vistas.

Whether you’re looking for sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean or a multiday adventure through national parks, these road trips provide plenty of opportunities for every kind of traveler to properly explore the United States.

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This year, with the coronavirus pandemic still looming, many of us have had to cancel international trips or any journey that requires a plane ride. That doesn’t mean that travel is completely canceled—in fact, it’s an opportunity to hop in the car and explore America from its major highways and backroads.

(Of course, you’ll have to make sure you’ve got plenty of masks and practice social distancing, adhere to considerate travel etiquette, and check local parks and attractions for opening times and guidelines.)

From coastal routes to adventures through national parks, these scenic road trips allow you to enjoy the detours as much as the final destination. Whether you’re traveling by van, RV, motorcycle, or four-door sedan, these are the best road trips in the United States for every kind of traveler.

Cross-country road trips in the U.S.

There are many ways to do a cross-country road trip in the U.S., but these two will take you through some truly iconic American places.

1. Bangor, Maine, to Seattle, Washington: The Great Northern on U.S. Route 2

Missing out on the vast diversity and expansiveness of U.S. 2 would be a shame. This drive runs the entire top border of the United States and showcases otherworldly natural wonders like the Columbia Plateau and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. You’ll also get to explore Glacier National Park toward the end of the cross-country trip. Note: You’ll have to skip the part of this journey that goes through Canada for now because of the ban on nonessential travel.

2. Chicago to Los Angeles: A Whiskey Road Trip on Route 66

It doesn’t get more American than a 2,000-mile road trip along the entirety of Route 66. And to take your cross-country road trip to the next level, we recommend exploring another American pastime—whiskey.

Starting in Chicago and ending in L.A., you’ll stop by some of the leading craft distilleries in the United States, like Few Spirits in Chicago, Still 630 in St. Louis, and Red Fork Distillery in Tulsa. Just remember to drink responsibly—this is a road trip after all.

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Morro Bay, about 45 minutes south of Hearst Castle, is yet another great place to stop along the California coast.

Western U.S. Road Trips

From classic California itineraries to unique ways to experience the American Southwest, the west coast is a popular spot for road trippers.

3. Dana Point to San Francisco: A Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

The seemingly endless views of the Pacific Ocean along Highway 1 are what road trip dreams are made of, and with so many stops along the 655-mile stretch, we thought it best to highlight the ones that are well worth pulling over for.

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Don’t miss the perfect surfing waves for all abilities at Pismo Beach or Hearst Castle, a 165-room national historic landmark that was developed by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.

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4. Big Sur to Mono County: A Literary Road Trip Through Northern California

Yes, this requires that you actually put down your book to drive, but seeing some of the pivotal places that shaped American authors will be so worth it. Follow in the footsteps of writers like Jack Kerouac, Maya Angelou, and Amy Tan on this road trip that takes you through literary landmarks in Northern California, such as Caffe Trieste, a meeting place for Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts, and other bohemian writers and thinkers. This 12-stop itinerary is perfect if you live in the Bay Area because you’ll be able to stay relatively close to home.

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5. Phoenix to the Grand Canyon: The Ideal Arizona Road Trip

This 240-mile road trip provides plenty of opportunities for scenery, hiking, and biking. Try conquering the 2,704-foot elevation of Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale or take in the beautiful red rocks of Sedona on a hike to Cathedral Rock.

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6. Zion National Park to Grand Canyon National Park: A Nature Lover’s Perfect Road Trip

If you’re looking to hit as many national parks as possible in one road trip, this itinerary is for you. This journey through the southwestern United States lets you hike Angel’s Landing in Zion, feel tiny under Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, and, of course, raft down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Most visitors to the Grand Canyon remain on the rim, but we recommend staying at least four days to venture within the canyon and take advantage of the trails and river rafting.

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7. San Juan Scenic Skyway Road Trip: An Adventure Through Southwestern Colorado

This trip takes you along the 232-mile loop of the San Juan Scenic Skyway, where you will see plenty of alpine forests, mining towns, and craggy peaks. And for anyone looking to enjoy refreshments after a long day of driving, this route features many opportunities to stop at some of the best breweries in Colorado, such as Ska Brewing Co. in Durango.

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8. Denver to Montrose: A 420-Mile-Long Road Trip Through Colorado

Want to explore even more of the Centennial State? Head out on this weeklong trip where you can fish for salmon in Colorado’s largest reservoir, visit numerous small towns like Paonia and Crawford with thriving art scenes along the Colorado Creative Corridor, and explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, one of the least visited national parks.

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The State Capitol Building in Nashville marks the end of this road (trip).

Eastern U.S. Road Trips

Whether it's history or a scenic drive you're after, the east coast has a variety of road trip options. Below are two of our favorites.

9. Seneca Falls, New York, to Nashville, Tennessee: Follow the Path of the Women’s Suffrage Movement

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Starting in New York’s Finger Lakes region and ending at the State Capitol Building in Nashville, this road trip traces the route of the national women’s suffrage movement. Highlights include stops at the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House; Union Square in New York City, which was the site of the first suffrage march; and the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C.

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10. Charlottesville to Asheville: A Scenic Road Trip Through Virginia and North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway curves along and within the Blue Ridge Mountains, so you’ll have to take this five-day trip at a slower pace, which is perfect for admiring the dramatic outlooks and green plateaus. This eclectic itinerary features stops at an art museum, a dairy farm, and plenty of hiking trails.

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Southern U.S. Road Trips

Get off the beaten path with these two road trip routes.

11. Albuquerque to Las Cruces: Discover New Mexico on This Three-Day Road Trip

This route steers you away from New Mexican tourist hot spots like Taos and Santa Fe and instead takes you on a three-day adventure with places that teach you about Pueblo history. You’ll stop at Pueblo Harvest, a restaurant inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, that serves authentic New Mexican dishes like amaranth pancakes and green-chile-and-cheese biscuits, and you’ll get to see flamenco performances at several famous institutions in Albuquerque.

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12. A Five-Day Scenic Road Trip Through Texas Hill Country

Starting and ending in San Antonio with stops in small Texas towns like Bandera, Boerne, and Sabinal, you’ll meander through Uvalde and Bandera Counties and find opportunities to stroll in a Japanese tea garden in San Antonio, relax along the Sabinal and Frio Rivers by inner tube, and eat as many tacos you want. Seriously: You could eat tacos for every meal on this road trip and still not get tired of them.

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Northern U.S. Road Trips

These two road trips in Alaska and Idaho (respectively) will take you through some incredible natural wonders in the U.S.

13. A Weeklong Road Trip Through Alaska’s Most Majestic Sites

Good news: If you can provide a negative COVID-19 test result upon landing in Alaska, you can avoid a mandatory 14 days of self-isolation. After that, the last frontier is waiting for you to be explored on this week-long excursion that starts and ends in Anchorage. You travel along four scenic byways; explore Wrangell–St. Elias wilderness, the largest U.S. national park; and enjoy the surprisingly stellar food scene of McCarthy, a one-road town with only 27 residents.

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14. Boise to Sun Valley: Explore Idaho Along Scenic Byways

Even a short road trip can be packed with adventure, good food, and scenic routes, which is exactly what this six-hour trip from Boise to Sun Valley offers. One can’t-miss spot is the Kirkham Hot Springs, where you can stand under a waterfall that’ll splash you with 135-degree mineral water year-round.

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>> Next: 15 of the Best Audiobooks for Road Trips

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