Are you fond of road trips? Do you prefer domestic travel over international vacations? If yes, here are the best road trips in the USA to satisfy the wanderlust.
However, you’re not alone. Most travelers completely ignore the idea of discovering new places in their own country.
Luckily, the USA is home to stunning national parks, state parks, and winding roads that stretch for miles on end. Why not take advantage of the situation and take a road trip to an unknown place in the US?
Table of Contents
- The Most Scenic & Best Road Trips in the USA
- 1. Columbia River Highway, Oregon
- 2. State Highway 82, Colorado
- 3. The Big Five in Utah
- 4. Pacific Coast Road Trip
- 5. Route 66
- 6. Highway 7, Arkansas
- 7. Hawaii to Hana
- 8. Olympic Peninsula Loop, Washington
- 9. Great River Road
- 10. Ocean City to California
- 11. The Minnesota North Shore Drive
- 12. The I-15 Desert Dash from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
- 13. George Parks Highway & Denali National Park, AK
- 14. Maine Coastal Road Trip
- 15. The Florida Keys
- How to Plan a Road Trip in America
- Tips for Enjoying the Best Road Trips in the USA
- Final Words
The Most Scenic & Best Road Trips in the USA
If you’re unfamiliar with some of the hidden gems in your country, allow me to introduce you to your next cross-country road trip destination from our best road trips in the USA.
1. Columbia River Highway, Oregon
The Columbia River Highway is a 74-mile road trip that begins from Portland and spans the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River Highway is a concurrent winding road route extending to Oregon Route 35 and Route 30.
When you’re on this route, prepare yourself to be fascinated by the wonders of nature and a really fun drive. Waterfalls, bridges, and rivers border the whole road – an incredible gray ribbon of spaghetti winding its way through beautiful Oregon.
It’s a shorter road trip that can be over in a flash if you gun it, but read on and you’ll find why the journey is better broken up into smaller portions, perhaps spread over 2 or 3 days if you really want to dawdle, or you can be selective about which stretches you want to drive.
For instance, you can take the 48-mile route that goes from Portland to Hood River. It will merely take up a few hours of your day to cover this distance.
However, to make things more interesting, stay at a campsite at night. Most campgrounds in the region charge less than $50 for the night, which isn’t too bad. Overall, the Columbia River Highway is among the best family road trips since it has plenty of beautiful sights and wildlife along the way.
The awesomeness of this driver’s road is totally enhanced by your surroundings, as you’ll be traveling among mountains, surrounded by nature on all sides. Also, you can enjoy free attractions, such as Horsetail Falls and numerous hiking trails, to keep the trip budget-friendly.
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2. State Highway 82, Colorado
Colorado is known for everything outdoors, and road-tripping is one of them. During the summer season, the state highway is the perfect spot to travel and discover. While you’re on the road, don’t miss the Independence Pass.
Running across 32 miles of the region’s mountainous terrain, the Independence Pass is a popular spot for tourists and a fantastic stretch of road for people who enjoy driving.
State Highway 82 in Colorado may be one of the best driving roads in the US, with endless twists, turns, rises, sloped corners, and breathtaking scenery for days. There are also tons of places along the way where you can peel off and park up to admire your surroundings.
Since the roads close during winters, your only chances to explore this route are during late spring (weather and conditions permitting) summers, and the fall.
If you’re unsure about the right time to take this road trip, take my advice, and head out in the fall season – there’s little likelihood of severe ice or snow on the roads and the autumnal colors are biblical in their beauty.
There’s just something divine about the leaves changing color against a scenic route of stunning mountain ranges that you just won’t want to miss.
See Related: Colorado Spring Itinerary
3. The Big Five in Utah
If your interest lies in fiery geography, this is among the best road trips in the USA for you. The Southwestern region of the country is a popular attraction for local and international travelers due to an abundance of national parks.
Since the region has five national parks, it’s called ‘The Big Five.’ These include Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, Zion National Park, and Capitol Reef National Parks.
Check out what it looks like driving through Zion NP from the ViaTravelers YouTube channel.
While all these parks are equally stunning and popular, I know some interesting facts about the Arches National Park.
Did you know that the park gets more than 1.5 million visitors every year? Quite obviously, the major attraction in the national park is the Delicate Arch.
It’s such an iconic geographic landmark that you’ll see it pictured on the state’s license plates. Also, if you happen to spend the night on your road trip, you’ll see the most beautiful sky.
Since there’s little light pollution and better air quality in the region, the stars shine much brighter than they do anywhere else.
Keep in mind that the weather can be quite harsh in Utah. Make sure you stay hydrated and bring enough drinks along. Moreover, if you’re camping, keep all your van camping equipment at hand to deal with the fluctuating weather.
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4. Pacific Coast Road Trip
If you’re in love with the ocean, why not spend 655 miles traveling along the vast Pacific? The Pacific Ocean road trip is quite long, so it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
For those of you who’re into reality shows, you must know about Laguna Beach. Yes, it’s an actual beach on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Quite close to the beach is the Laguna Art Museum, which is a perfect chilling spot for art lovers. Today, the museum has over three thousand pieces of art from Californian artists.
Here’s another place to travel for MTV enthusiasts: Malibu. Yes, the same Malibu that Miley Cyrus sang about. You can visit the Malibu Farm or stop there for lunch. Alternatively, the sunsets at Zuma Beach make for a delightful experience. Check out these other amazing California road trips to experience.
See Related: Minnesota to California Road Trip Itinerary
5. Route 66
The chances are that you’ve heard about Route 66 but maybe never tried it. The best stretch of this legendary highway runs from the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River, but since it’s a longer road trip, you can either break it up into smaller parks or take the whole journey if you’re up for an adventure.
The road passes through multiple states. These include Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, and California.
Thus, if you’re searching for the best road trips from Chicago, here’s a quintessential option for you.
If you’re traveling during the winter season, you’re in luck. Chicago holds the Winter Wonderfest during December. The festival offers different kinds of entertainment and seasonal attractions.
Since the event is indoors, you won’t be cold out in the open. Also, you’ll be surrounded by more than five hundred Christmas trees, snow slides, and carnival rides.
Therefore, it’s among the best family road trips, since there will be an attraction for everyone in the Windy City. Plus, if you happen to pass by Olean, Missouri, you may get to experience the Testicle Festival. Yes, you read that right.
As the name indicates, the festival is characterized by the consumption of battered or fried animal testicles.
Yum. However, don’t be too bummed if your taste buds can’t stand the flavor of testicles – although most people who try them can’t get enough of them!
The festival also includes other local non-testicle-based cuisines, family events (that may or may not involve testicles), and music.
Apart from these, there are plenty of other Midwest festivals that you can enjoy while you’re on a road trip on Route 66. Being such a famous and celebrated highway, it’s little surprise that Route 66 has several museums dedicated to it.
What is surprising is that all three of them are in Oklahoma, so if you’re passing through, you should check (at least) one of them out to learn more about one of the most famous roads in the world!
See Related: Best Midwest Road Trips
6. Highway 7, Arkansas
Unfortunately, Arkansas isn’t as often talked about as it should be. The scenic beauty of the area is hard to beat and this is one of the best US road trips out there.
Highway 7 stretches for up to 290 miles and will take you through the state’s hardwood and pine forests. Additionally, you’ll find yourself driving along rolling hills and magnificent rivers.
If the driving exhausts you, stay in the small towns in the region, there are plenty of accommodation options along the way.
You can also visit the Ozark National Forest, which looks like a botanical work of art during the spring season.
For staying the night, you should consider one of the many lodges in the state. While most lodges start above $100, the tent sites prove to be a cheaper option.
Most of them are under $30, even during the weeknights, which is quite a steal. However, if you travel during peak season, which is during the summer months, the price per night may be higher.
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7. Hawaii to Hana
If Adam Sandler and Jason Segel movies have taught us one thing, it’s that Hawaii is the best place to be if you just want to get away from it all, sit back and relax.
The road trip from Hawaii to Hana is definitely one of the most aesthetically pleasing trips you’ll ever take in your life, and worlds apart from anything you can experience in the continental United States.
Worlds apart? Just how different is it? Well, much of the route is flanked by incredible bamboo forests along the winding roads all the way to Maui.
Being a 64-mile road, the trip can take some time. Thus, make sure that you have all your travel essentials, such as water, snacks, travel humidifiers, sunscreen, chargers, and electronic accessories with you.
Also, the route can be a bit tricky, considering the largely unmetalled road gets quite narrow in places and has many blind corners. If you’re not an expert driver, maybe let someone else take over the wheel.
In the meantime, you can marvel at all the sights during the journey. Don’t forget your camera!
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Utah
8. Olympic Peninsula Loop, Washington
Highway 101 forms the Olympic Peninsula Loop, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For that reason alone, even if you can only travel across the region for a short while, it will be worth it. When you’re there, don’t forget to walk through the Hoh Rain Forest.
Also, the Loop has many coastlines and hiking paths that you can enjoy if you like to take on little adventures. However, the most thrilling part of the journey is the scenic drive. The route offers the sight of Washington’s wildlife, massive mountains, and heart-pleasing waterfalls.
Needless to say, you won’t want to blink for a single moment of the trip. If you make it snappy, you can travel across the route in just three days.
But if you want to have a full experience, stay a bit longer and try to visit every attraction along the way.
For instance, you can spend an hour or two at Lake Crescent. The lake is presumably thousands of years old and is crystal clear.
Another popular attraction in the Olympic National Park is the Staircase. You’ll find it in the southeastern corner of the park, covered by giant Douglas firs.
Here, you can either hike up a trail or simply admire the flora.
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9. Great River Road
Along the way, you’ll spot many wildlife resorts, such as the Yazoo Refuge. Additionally, you can eat or spend time in the river towns, such as Rosedale.
Or, you can sleep at Greenville before heading further on the route. If you decide to take the full journey, you’ll soon find yourself in New Orleans, among the pleasing jazz music and interesting local food.
Since it’s a long journey, make sure to take the best cooler for a road trip along. After all, you’re not going to take a sip from the Mississippi, are you?
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10. Ocean City to California
While some routes are considered the best US road trips for the versatile entertainment options on the way, this particular path might have you craving company because of how lonely and quiet it is.
That said, this monster road trip is a real All-American adventure that will show you one of the most diverse cross-sections of the United States!
Stretching from Maryland to Sacramento, California, this road trip is for people who love scenic beauty and are interested in the United States. The road takes you through four state capitals and twelve states in total. Twelve!
For miles upon miles, the constant tableau of the highway will be augmented by ever-changing views of mountains, forests, lakes, prairies, and deserts, and you may go hours before seeing another vehicle on the road.
That’s where the route tends to get a bit quiet. Thus, it’s best to take a buddy along, and a few good driving playlists to really turn a road trip into an expedition. However, the isolation is totally worth it, as this road trip will also introduce you to some of the most beautiful places in the United States.
Among them, the Great Basin National Park tops the list of places to visit on this road trip. Once you reach Nevada, you’ll find yourself glued to your camera since every sight along the way is worth capturing.
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11. The Minnesota North Shore Drive
A North Shore drive in Minnesota is a fantastic way to see some of the northernmost tips of the continental United States, as well as enjoy a healthy dose of Minnesota culture, the outstanding countryside the region is famous for, as well as breathtaking vistas of Lake Superior.
This road trip is best taken at the start of fall when you’ll get to see the leaves turn, and the forests lining the North Shore explode in a celebration of reds, oranges, and yellows.
Starting at the northern port city of Duluth (one of our favorite cities in Minnesota) and ending around Grand Marais (another one of our favorites), pretty much all of this 110+ mile road trip is done on State Highway 61 alongside Lake Superior.
And what a road trip!
Duluth itself is a surprisingly lively town with legions of great restaurants, local landmarks, interesting attractions, and top-notch accommodations. In winter, it is a hub for winter sports such as ice fishing or even dog sledding.
From there, you’ll head north on Highway 61, with the lake to your right, as you wend your way to Two Harbors.
The last big(ish) town on your journey north, Two Harbors is famous for its two lighthouses; the Split Rock Lighthouse, which you’ll see on tons of Minnesota postcards, and Two Harbors Light Station, the last operational lighthouse in Minnesota.
The Lutsen Mountains are also easily reached on this trip so if you’re traveling in winter, think about booking a room at the ski resort there.
Finally, you’ll reach Grand Marais, a darling lakeshore town that feels like it’s on the very edge of the world. Here you can stay in cozy cabins, hike the trails, go fishing, or brave the wilderness and go camping and kayaking along the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway in the Boundary Waters further north!
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12. The I-15 Desert Dash from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Another great road trip for buddies is the desert dash along I-15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. This is a great road trip for a truly American adventure with your buddies, defined by awesome, action-packed starting and finishing cities and haring across the deserts of California and Nevada.
You’re starting in LA the entertainment capital of the world and a great place to go on a friends’ vacation in and of itself.
The journey from start to finish is about 4-5 hours, and it’s a good road trip to be split up over a few days or done in one go with the pedal to the metal, the roof and or windows down, and your vehicle vibrating from the stereo’s bass as you screech across the harsh, barren beauty of the flat desert, possibly without seeing another car for miles, under a scorching sun.
It’s not all flat though, as there are several sections of the stretch that will wind through cacti-encrusted canyons and rocky passes, making for a varied and entertaining drive. If you aren’t planning on doing the dash in one go, there are plenty of things for you and your buds to see and do along the way.
There’s the Calico Ghost Town, one of many abandoned mining towns that sprang up in California in the late 19th Century that existed for less than 20 years – today it now serves as a regional park and fascinating open-air museum. You can also find the world’s largest thermometer in Baker, California.
One of the best last stops on your trip to Sin City is Primm, Nevada, just over the CA/NV border.
Fallout gamers will no doubt recognize this quirky little resort town in the middle of the desert, instantly recognizable from I-15 from the giant Buffalo Bill’s Hotel and Casino and the snaking Desperado roller coaster attached to it.
Finally, your road trip lands you in one of the most incredible party towns on the planet; Las Vegas, where you and your high-roller pals can top off an excellent adventure at the tables, taking in a show or exploring sites like the Hoover Dam!
See Related: Do You Need a Car in Las Vegas? 5 Things to Know
13. George Parks Highway & Denali National Park, AK
That’s not to say getting there is a waste of time either! Much of Alaska’s inherent beauty may be admired from Parks Highway (also known as George Parks Highway), the main road that connects Alaska’s two largest cities Anchorage and Fairbanks.
It’s a long stretch of road, winding through the stunning and largely unblemished wilderness. This is about a 350-mile journey between the two cities, meaning this road trip should be broken up over several days, especially if you want to make the most of Denali Highway and Denali National Park.
If trying to access the park, there are a number of decent turnoffs and access points along George Parks Highway.
Denali National Park is one of the most awe-inspiring parks in the nation and if you have the time, you should spend a few days here losing yourself; just make sure you’re prepared!
Denali Highway is a much shorter stretch of mostly graveled road, above the treeline which affords incredible views of the Denali area and a rewarding if tricky drive.
Although it’s by no means the longest stretch on this list, it is recommended that you spend at least one night in one of the lodges along the way or camp, as the winding gravel road can be taxing.
14. Maine Coastal Road Trip
There are tons of reasons to visit Maine, and a road trip along Maine’s coastline is one of them. One of the most popular routes to take a road trip along the coast of Maine is from Portland to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor.
The drive can be completed in less than 3 hours and a round trip can easily be done in a day, but that’s hardly the way to experience the best of Maine!
We recommend making the most of State Highway 1 and seeing how many Maine lighthouses you can spot on the way, splitting the road trip up over several days.
Starting in the hipster port city of Portland (the one in Maine, not Oregon! *Editor; ain’t it funny how they’re both hipster towns?*) head along the coast to the historic town of Brunswick for lunch and then onto the gorgeous little seaside town of Camden for the night.
The next day, push on to Acadia National Park. In this outstanding area of incredible natural beauty, you can hike, bike, camp, fish, and take some snaps of this breathtaking New England Nirvana.
After you’ve had your fill of nature (although in Maine, I’ll wager that’ll be a while) end your journey in the relaxing historic resort town of Bar Harbor and stuff your face with fresh-caught lobster.
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15. The Florida Keys
From Key Largo to Key West in Florida, there is a stretch of road that certainly deserves a place on the list of best road trips in the USA.
It’s known to locals as the “Road to Paradise”, but you might know this stretch of driving heaven as the Overseas Highway. The mind-boggling Overseas Highway links up the various islands of the Florida Keys and is surrounded by beauty on all sides from the sand and palm trees on the coast on one side and the sparkling blue sea on the other.
One notable section of this amazing road is the Seven Mile Bridge, one of the longest road bridges in the world, which runs low enough over the water that you might forget you’re driving and feel like you are sailing.
This is the ideal road trip for laid-back drivers who enjoy cruising under blue skies. It’s also the ideal road trip for anyone interested in the finer things in life, as the Florida Keys are rife with swanky hotels and fine eateries.
See Related: Best Things To Do In Miami, Florida
How to Plan a Road Trip in America
After you’ve got your ride sorted, next figure out where you’re going and find yourself a great starting point and any major cities, state parks, or scenic byways you want to see.
For example, if you’re thinking of having a trip on a different route? Here’s our guide for taking a famous route in Vermont for your family getaway.
Now calculate how long you’re planning to be on the road; e.g. is it a weekend or weeklong road trip? Once that’s arranged, you’re ready to take on the best road trips in the USA and start mapping your route.
What direction do you want to cover? There’s a lot of ground to cover in the US.
- Do you want to see New York City, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Santa Monica, Big Sur, and The Florida Keys? The list goes on and on.
- Which parks do you want to explore along the way? There are a ton of options like Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, Acadia National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Gunnison National Park, and the list goes on and on.
- What about some of the national parks in the western parts of the US such as Big Bend National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park?
- Will you see old abandoned mining towns? Art galleries? Maybe sand dunes or hot springs?
The possibilities are almost endless, which is why the United States is one of the best places for road trips in the world.
See Related: Best Vacation Spots in the US
Tips for Enjoying the Best Road Trips in the USA
If you’ve never taken a road trip due to the fear of overspending, here are a few tips for driving across the United States successfully without breaking the bank.
- Set a budget for the whole journey. If you’re traveling with family, make sure everyone sticks to the budget limit – it’s really easy for things to start snowballing once you start going over the limit.
- If your relatives or friends live in the states you’ll pass during the road trip, ask them if you can stay the night. Besides helping you save money that you’d otherwise have to spend on a campsite or a lodge, you’ll also learn about new spots to explore from a local’s perspective, as well as have the chance to bond with a normally far-flung friend.
- Instead of taking your kids to expensive entertainment sites like carnivals and amusement parks, keep them busy with road trip books, or travel games.
- For one or two-day trips, pack food from home, preferably stuff that will travel well. You’ll save a lot by not eating out. You might want to check out our article for the best travel coolers you can find right now to help you with your saving. Also if you’re going camping, a lot of the MRE-type camping meals are very low weight, meaning you might be able to carry more.
- Don’t buy equipment if you don’t have to. Instead, ask a friend or family member if they can lend you their tent or camping gear. Likewise, you can also rent stuff.
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Wrapping up, I can confidently say that this guide covers some of the best road trips in the USA for families and solo travelers, including one or two lesser-known ones. There is still a lot more we can suggest like focusing on exploring the Midwest which is fun like any other road trip.
Whether you prefer the bright lights and bustle of big cities, the beating sun, and the frigid nights of the desert, or love the sound of crashing waves against a rocky shore, there’s an option for you on the list.
On that note, Bon voyage!
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