9 of the Best American Road Trips
What is it about a US road trip that makes it so appealing? Perhaps it’s the excitement of the open road, the freedom of the freeway, the ability to stop as and when you like or the thrill of driving through vast scenery to the beat of your own soundtrack.
Whatever it is, everyone should try at least one US road trip in their lifetime. So don’t hold back: select your driving playlist, grab a map and your copy of Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road and set off one of these epic adventures:
Pacific Coast Highway
Surely the most dramatic US road trip of them all, California’s Pacific Coast Highway comprises the Dana Point to San Francisco portion of State Route 1, travelling 655 miles along the crashing shoreline of the Pacific Ocean, its twists and turns peppered with beaches, cliffs and vibrant cities. Top stop-offs along the way include the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, the surfing beaches of Malibu, the rugged scenery of the Big Sur and chocolate box houses of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Allow around five days to get a flavour for it; longer to see it all.
HOW TO DO IT? Try our Pacific Coast Highway in Luxury holiday.
The most famous road trip in the world, Route 66 covers the 2,448 miles between Chicago and Los Angeles. Crossing no fewer than eight states and three time zones, this epic adventure takes you from glittering cities to dusty deserts, with plenty of middle-of-nowhere towns scattered in between, so you’ll need to take your time. Two weeks ought to do it; although allow a lot longer if you want to linger in LA at the end or take a diversion or two – the Grand Canyon is a popular choice.
HOW TO DO IT? Follow our Roaming Route 66 itinerary.
Orlando to the Florida Keys
Driving from the theme parks of Orlando to the pristine beaches of the Florida Keys is quite the adventure. Once you leave the bright lights of Miami behind, you’ll hit the Overseas Highway, 113 miles of tarmac linking the Florida mainland to the 1,700 islands of the Florida Keys, traversing vast expanses of turquoise water as it goes. The route passes through 40 islands on its way to Key West, with popular choices for a night or two’s stay along the way including the water sports paradise Duck Key, colonial-style Key West, and Islamorada, where you might be lucky enough to spot bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the surf.
HOW TO DO IT? Go from theme parks to paradise on our Orlando to the Keys Journey.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is less of a road trip and more an extended scenic drive, but it’s truly spectacular so we just had to include it in this list. Stretching 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, this tree-lined route is especially impressive in autumn when the leaves are golden and the skies are blue. Allow at least three days, if not longer, as you’ll no doubt stop for plenty of photos of the waterfalls, rock formations, forests and mountain viewpoints.
HOW TO DO IT? Embark on the Blue Ridge Parkway drive as part of my Virginia Explorer holiday.
New York to Boston
The 217 miles between New York and Boston is a good road trip option if you’re short on time, or just want a taster of a US road trip without the commitment of a cross-continent extravaganza. You can easily bulk it out with extended stays in both New York and Boston, and stopovers at the seaside city of Newport, Rhode Island, and the town of Mystic, Connecticut, famous for being the inspiration and filming location for 1988 film Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts.
The Grand Circle
The most famous national park road trip in the USA, this circular tour takes you from the roulette wheels of Las Vegas to no less than six national parks, which are, wait for it: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, and Grand Canyon, before returning to Sin City once more. Of course there’s always the option to continue on to Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco at the end, or even go the whole hog and add in a stop at Yosemite. You’ll need at least two weeks to do this one justice, longer to explore the parks in detail.
Alaska’s Parks Highway
The George Parks Highway, usually shortened to the Parks Highway, runs 358 miles from Anchorage to Fairbanks, parallel to the Alaska Railroad, passing Denali National Park and crossing over 40 bridges. The terrain here is rugged and wild, with snow-covered mountains constantly looming above, and with the 6,190m peak of Denali, North America’s highest mountain, visible throughout the route. Driven in one go, the highway takes about seven hours, but who wants to drive it all at once? Add in a few days at either end plus a stopover in Denali National Park to really make the most of your time.
HOW TO DO IT? Discover the Parks Highway and the state’s other best bits on our Alaska Highlights Journey.
Hawaii’s Road to Hana
Along the northern shore of Maui, among lush tropical forests and glinting waterfalls, lies the much-travelled Road to Hana, a 64.4-mile highway linking Kahului, in the north, to Hana, in the south. But the destination is not important here; what matters is the long, winding journey crossing more than 50 bridges, numerous waterfalls, plunging cliffs, and passing the occasional black sand beach. Take your time, stop for photos, hike the forests and dive into the swimming holes you pass along the way. You’ll need a full day to do this one justice.
Coast to coast
Well if you’re going to go on a road trip across America, you might as well do it properly, right? Coast to coast can be anything you like – popular choices include New York to LA, trying to fit in every state (you’ll need about two months for this) or as data scientist Randy Olson worked out, some kind of convoluted loop linking all 47 national parks in the continental USA (excluding Alaska, Hawaii and the overseas territories) in the shortest way possible, a 14,498-mile journey that takes a minimum of two months.
HOW TO DO IT? Blaze your own trail on our aptly named Coast to Coast itinerary.