Americans are the most road-tripping country in the world. We take more vacations than any other Western nation, and we spend some of them on buses, airplanes, boats or trains. But there’s something about driving that Americans can’t get enough of. With all those miles in between our homes and our destinations, we see more sky than anybody else – which is why America has so many great options for road tripping.
1. The Pacific Coast Highway in California
“The only thing constant in life is change.” This is what you should be thinking about when you’re driving along the picturesque, curvy corridor of California’s Highway 1 – a drive that takes you by scenic viewpoints, hotels and campgrounds. Along the way, stop at Topanga State Park for a hike up West Ridge Trail to an expansive view of Los Angeles Basin. It’s a 5.5-mile round trip hike that ends at a picnic table with a view overlooking the city. When the hike is done, keep driving east along Highway 1 to Seagull Point, which showcases views of the Pacific Ocean and comes complete with fire pits and grills for plenty of successful sunset picnics.
2. The Railroad in New England/The Northeast (not on rails)
Although railroads are a dying breed these days, there are still plenty of grand train stations and rail lines across the country that tourists can visit with their own vehicle. Some of the most scenic routes for rails are in New England, where train tracks run along rivers and mountain ridges. Start in Boston, where you’ll find a rich rail history that includes the oldest railroad station in America, and then head north on the Downeaster to reach the Maine coast.
3. The Great River Road in Minnesota/Wisconsin/Iowa/Illinois
The Great River Road was designed by Lewis and Clark during their expedition through these states in 1804. It was a way to travel throughout the states without having to go through major cities. Although the Great River Road isn’t a true road trip, it is definitely worth the detour on your route. The road provides amazing scenery, and there are plenty of places to make pit stops along the way for breakfasts, dinners and snacks.
4. The Old Spanish Trail in Arizona
The Old Spanish Trail makes sense if you think about it – you could travel from Mississippi to California on this narrow trail through the desert Southwest. In fact, this is what an early explorer named Antonio Armijo did when he followed westward from New Mexico to Southern California during the mid 1700s. The trail is still in use today, although it has been updated to include modern structures like a gas station and small restaurant.
5. The Great American Road Trip
After you’ve traveled along the Great River Road and the Skyline Drive, you should get yourself a car and set out on this road trip, which features routes through parts of nine different states. Besides being a road trip that will take you all around the country, it’s also an economical option – you could drive in one car for up to 8,000 miles without having to fuel up.
6. The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia/North Carolina
When most people think about road tripping, they think about high-speed drives on open highways. But the Blue Ridge Parkway is anything but high-speed. It’s a scenic, slow-moving loop that’s full of vistas and areas to stop and stretch your legs. Make sure you take at least one stroll through Grandfather Mountain’s Grandview Trail, which will lead you to a stunning overlook of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you want to slow down even more, check out the Mile High Swinging Bridge, which hangs from a 100-foot support cable over the rushing waters below.
7. The California Coast
California’s coastline is the longest in America, and its most scenic portions of shoreline are along Highway 1 and the Pacific Coast Highway. But the route isn’t all about the beaches. After you’ve hiked around Big Sur or visited Hearst Castle, drive down to Monterey for your next stop – and make sure to plan plenty of time for stops along the way.
8. The Great Circle Route in Massachusetts/Connecticut/New York
America is big, but so are the states. Long before most people ventured off the beaten path, there were adventurers who were braving some of the most remote places in America – and their stories have been preserved in travel accounts like Daniel Boone’s journals. The Great Circle Route takes you on a journey through eastern Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York State based on these accounts. Along the way, you’ll wind past quaint towns and overlooks along winding mountain roads.
9. The Black Hills in South Dakota/Wyoming and the Wind River Mountain Range in Wyoming/Montana
The Black Hills are considered sacred by many Native American tribes, who believe they were once covered by a great flood and then turned black from all the ash that was left behind. These hills make up part of what is now called Mt. Rushmore, but they also mark the border of South Dakota and Wyoming. The Wind River Mountains are one of the most famous mountain ranges in America thanks to the first ascent of Mt. Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
10. The Coast of Alaska in One Long and Winding Drive
Alaska is home to some of the most amazing landscapes in America – from glaciers to waterfalls to panoramic views – and it can be seen all at once during a single road trip. But remember, not all drives will go smoothly – the weather can change faster then you think, so pack a few things with you just in case you need them (like rain gear).
11. The New France Section of the Erie Canal
The Erie Canal is another one of our great American road trips, but it isn’t just about driving. You’ll want to spend time learning about America’s first waterway and listening to stories from local historical societies as you travel along. And if you really want to soak up the history, make sure to stop in Rochester, New York – a city once called “Little Washington” thanks to its bustling canal trade.
12. The East Coast Greenway in New York/Connecticut/Massachusetts
This famous trail was once a railroad line. It’s the longest and oldest continuous rail trail in North America and stretches from Maine to Florida along the edge of Great Lakes, through marshes, swamps and forests. It’s also a hiking trail too, so you could travel this by foot too if you like. If you prefer to stay on the road but still get your dose of green space, there are other regions to explore – check out Vermont, which has some of the most beautiful scenery along its winding mountain roads.