While plane rides and touristy spots garner a lot of attention when traveling, avid travelers will tell you that going on an epic road trip is actually the best and really the only way to truly experience a destination. And after 2 years of intense lockdowns and travel restrictions, summer travels are back, and how!
So this year, let’s take some much-deserved break and go for an epic road trip. In the US alone, you can venture on some of the best road trips and discover the country like never before with open roads, roadside attractions, and plenty of roadside diners to choose from.
There is a lot that goes into planning a road trip. But the most exciting part about it is choosing from the million routes to start your adventure from.
I’ve assembled a list of some of the best and most classic road trips in the country. From the East to the West Coast, through the deserts and mountains, we’ve rounded up 6 of the greatest American road trips you can take.
1. Pacific Coast Highway
Also known as the road trip to take before you die, the Pacific Coast Highway is a trip that every true traveler would want to take at least once in their life because what’s a trip to California if you don’t visit the coast or the beach? Not to forget, bumping to your favorite tunes along the coastline with superlative stops like Malibu, San Luis Obispo, and Point Reyes.
The entire stretch of the Pacific Route, which usually takes at least a week, pulls out all the stops. Gorgeous coastlines, bustling metropolises – like San Francisco and Los Angeles – and more than enough burger joints all combine to make the perfect road trip itinerary. With a total distance of 656 miles, you’ll start your adventure in San Diego and end in Mendocino with the chance to camp in Big Sur. What better way to start your summer travel?
2. Route 66
Route 66 is probably the first thing that springs to people’s minds when they think of a “Great American Road Trip.” Over the years, Route 66 has been almost immortalized by movies, music, and novels, so much so that it is practically synonymous with the very idea of going on a road trip around the USA.
Taking you through eight different states and four different regions, Route 66 offers roadside attractions, antique gas stations, and eccentric diners — all staples of the American culture.
One of the best parts of Route 66? Watching the landscape shift from the Great Plains and Mississippi wetlands to the deserts and mountains of the West Coast’s roadside landscapes. Entering Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona is a particularly surreal experience, as there is nowhere else quite like the American Southwest. If you have time, be sure to stop by Monument Valley for an iconic American backdrop. Starting your trip in Chicago, Illinois, and ending it in Santa Monica, California, you’ll cover a distance of 2448 miles and travel through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
3. Skyline Drive
One of the most famous day trips for those visiting Washington DC is Skyline Drive — an easy and scenic accessible mountain drive in the USA. In just over an hour, one could easily escape from the actions of the nation’s capital and be in the heart of the Appalachian region. For those who like long-winding mountain roads, this road trip will be one for the books.
The Skyline Drive traverses the entirety of Shenandoah National Park. This means that besides offering breathtaking views, the route also provides access to many local trails. The epic and grueling Appalachian Trail runs parallel to Skyline Drive. Those who’ve dreamed of hiking a section of the thru-hike can do so at several points of the journey. For those looking for a more docile couple of days in Shenandoah, there are lots of campsites and little towns around worth visiting.
Starting your trip at Front Royal and ending it in Rockfish Gap, you’ll cover a cool 105 miles with opportunities for quick hikes in Virginia.
4. Going-to-the-Sun Road
Glacier is one of the best national parks in the USA. It’s the kind of place that once you’ve visited, you’re going to want to pack up your bags and move there.
The main road that traverses Glacier is called the Going-to-the-Sun Road and it is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful roads in the US. It passes right next to the stunning Saint Mary Lake, which is one of the highlights of the park. It also provides quick access to some very good trails in the park, like Hidden Lake Lookout. This 3-mile round-trip hike starts at Logan’s Pass and offers views of the uniquely-shaped Bearhat Mountain.
It should be noted that the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens late in the season and closes early due to heavy snow. The road is closed for 7-8 months and is crazy busy the rest of the year. There are quite a few hairpins turns as well so remember to keep your cool out there when driving. You’ll cover a total distance of 50 miles staring at the West Glacier and ending at Saint Mary.
5. Olympic Peninsula Loop
Very few places in the USA are as geographically unique as the Olympic Peninsula. Here, you’ll find a huge diversity of landscapes, from glaciers to rainforests to rugged coastlines. This is a paradise for outdoor adventure lovers.
There are quite a few cool spots while on the Olympic Peninsula trip to explore. Hurricane Ridge offers the most spectacular views of the surrounding mountains as well as skiing opportunities in the winter. Rialto Beach is famous for its sea stacks that resemble those found in Iceland. The Enchanted Valley is a relatively more remote portion of the trip that requires an overnight hike but the reward of almost 10,000 waterfalls is well worth it.
The best part about the Olympic Peninsula is exploring the Hoh Rain Forest. Thanks to constant rain, the woods of the peninsula are overgrown, towering, and constantly lush. Venture on a walk here and you’ll see more shades of green than you ever thought existed.
Start and end your trip in Port Angeles covering a distance of 330 miles and exploring rainforests, glaciers, and beaches in a loop.
6. San Juan Skyway
The San Juan Skyway is the best road trip in Colorado! Nestled in the far southwestern corner of the state, this route offers some of the finest Rocky Mountain views you could hope for. The road twists and turns through the valleys of the San Juan Mountains, arguably the prettiest part of the Colorado Rockies, and visits many historical towns and viewpoints along the way.
This itinerary begins and ends in the former mining town of Durango. There’s not much to do here besides ride the old gauge railroad, which is admittedly pretty damn cool if you like old-school trains. However, as you head north from Durango to Silverton, the scenery really starts to unfold. To the east, the rugged Weminuche Wilderness area witnesses avid climbers and hikers. To get the best views of this area, stop at Molas Pass for a break.
For photography enthusiasts, the Dallas Divide, which overlooks the Sneffels, is very popular for its leaves changing color, especially in autumn. After the Dallas Divide, it’s straight onto one of the most famous mountain towns in Colorado: Telluride. If you’re staying in Telluride during the summer, be sure to check for local festivals. During this time, there’s one almost every weekend.
This gorgeous road trip starts and ends in Durango with 233 miles in between. So there you have it! 6 amazing road trips you can take this year in the USA. With options for all kinds of travelers, it’s time to pack your bags, load up your vehicle, and lather on the sunscreen. Don’t forget to check on your car and make sure it’s road trip ready. And if you don’t know where to start, take a look at our car road trip checklist here.