The Top 10 Best Road Trips in the US
This one originally came to me as a guest post, but I’ve gone ahead and made it my own to reflect my own experiences on a few of these roads. Hopefully that added personal touch doesn’t detract from the good work done by the original contributor, but I know that you all enjoy the articles about my own travels a bit more than the others.
Of the four highways the original author mentions (Routes 66 & 101 and Interstates 10 and 90), I’ve actually been lucky enough to travel two of them myself. While my memories of Route 66 (I drove along it back in 2009 while exploring the Grand Canyon and Walnut Creek Canyon) are a bit misty, I have very fond recollections of my recent drive along Route 101 and the stunning views I was able to take in.
But four just doesn’t seem like a good number to me, so I’ve gone out and tracked down a few extra road trip worthy highways and interstates as well. Don’t say I never do anything for you.
Best Road Trips in the US
There are few travel stereotypes more enduring than the humble road trip. Whether it’s an all or nothing cross country to save a relationship (such as in the very funny movie, Road Trip) or it’s a simple half day trek to some beautiful beach on the coast for a few days of relaxation, road trips make the journey a big part of the experience.
I’ve spoken with countless travelers and backpackers who have forsaken the comforts of domestic air travel or the convenience of a bus running a set route in favor of buying second hand cars, packing everything into the boot (or trunk, if you’re being American), and just getting out there.
Me? That’s probably my favourite way to travel. Although that would probably change if I ever had to do any of the driving…
The United States is not short of roads worthy of an epic road trip. While there are certainly some breath-taking road trips in all corners of the world, there’s just something quintessential about the US road trip. Is it the fast food laden exits? The scenery that we’ve all grown up with on TV and in movies? The odd little roadside attractions that seek to draw us away from our main objective? I couldn’t say – but haven’t done more than a few lengthy road trips in 2009 and more recently during my trip around the US, I can definitely say a US road trip is a bucket list worthy item.
Any road will do, but I’ll take some of the guess work out of it for you and select a few of the choicest roads the US has to offer. Enjoy!
Route 101, US West Coast
I’m going to lead off with the one that honestly took my breath away. The stretch of coastal highway between Monterey and Big Sur in northern California just needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated. Winding roads hug sheer cliffs that plunge into the blue-grey of the Pacific while green, grassy hills tower overhead.
If the photos above of Bixby Bridge and the cliffs around it don’t sway you, you’re a damned hard person to please. I’ll forever hold pleasant memories of the two hour road trip we took while visiting Monterey. It really was a highlight of the trip.
While it’s no longer technically a route due to reworking of the US highway setup, it’s still very much possible to get your kicks on Route 66 as the song suggests. Joining Chicago and Santa Monica in the south-western corner of the United States, the historic ‘mother road’ covers a hugely diverse landscape and eight states as it takes you across the country.
The list of attractions along the historic stretch reads like a US to do list: from natural wonders to legendary architecture to little slices of Americana that tie things together as a truly memorable trip.
While my own trip along Route 66 doesn’t really stick out in my memory, I did enjoy my visits to picturesque Flagstaff and the Indian cave dwellings at Walnut Creek Canyon. And they barely scrape the surface of what lies on (or just off) Route 66.
Great River Road
Following the bends and curves of the United States’ most famous river, the Mississippi, the Great River Road is not a recognised highway or interstate so much as it is a stretch of scenic road spanning ten states and a whole slew of the south and American Midwest.
I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing the American south myself, but had I known about this road while planning my trip – I might have pushed just a bit harder to include some of the south in my itinerary. It looks like I missed out on a very memorable trip.
Particular highlights for me include the former French colonial regions of the US, the meeting points of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers (the two longest in the US), beautiful St Louis, and the Tri-State area where it all comes to an end.
Route 1, US East Coast
Not to be confused with the aforementioned Route 101, Route 1 on the east coast fills a similar role to its west coast counterpart – stretching from steamy Florida all the way up to the picturesque beaches of Maine in the north. I’ve technically traveled a little of the road myself during my time in Florida, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d done it justice.
It’s a major road and you’re not going to have to deal with too much in the way of rough terrain, so there’s everything from Kia cars to hulking SUVs along the way. Alongside Route 101, this one is probably one of the most driven stretches in the United States.
With the road covering such a huge distance, it also covers the gamut of American terrains. The swamps of Florida, the Carolinas, pretty Maryland, metropolitan New York, Washington DC, and finally the famed beaches of Maine all dot the road – my personal pick being Maine, and not just because it’s the place Stephen King calls home. There’s something about New England beach culture that really speaks to me.
Although jet boating through the Okefenokee Swamp Gator McKlusky style does sound pretty awesome too…
The Seward Highway, Alaska
There’s still a good chunk of the US that I’ve yet to see, but Alaska stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to daydreaming about future US travel. The stark beauty of the icy north made for a grim and beautiful backdrop when Into the Wild (another fantastic road trip film) came to its sad end, but I’ve got no designs on roughing it in the wilds when you can see a snapshot of Alaska’s beauty on this popular stretch that connects Anchorage and Seward.
Fjords, pine forest, lakes, and mountain peaks all combine to make this one of America’s most unique road trips and the one I’d most like to take. Who knows? Maybe I can pull of the road and check off a few bucket list items along the way. Spending a night in an igloo after killing and cleaning my own meal sounds pretty doable, right?
Going to the Sun Road, Montana
With a name like Going to the Sun Road, I was immediately drawn in. Montana’s legendary ‘big sky country’ is exemplified by this – the only road that travels through Glacier National Park. While the rest of the world is heating up, the icy and inexorable giant remnants of the Ice Age remain as silent testament to the way the world used to be.
Much like the above in Alaska, Going to the Sun Road covers a dizzying array of terrains ranging from pine forests to the high mountain passes that are sometimes completely choked with snow. If you’re tired of roadside truck stops and cliched tourist traps, Going to the Sun Road offers you a much more ‘natural’ view of the United States.
The Hana Highway, Hawaii
From the cold and isolated to the tropical. The Hana Highway on Hawaii’s Maui is a relatively short stretch of winding road that clings to the cliffs that overlook the churning Pacific Ocean.
It’s not a drive for the faint of heart, but the Hana Highway takes in some truly unique scenery. Besides, where else in the United States can your road side stop be for fresh mangoes instead of greasy burgers?
US 191, Jackson to Yellowstone
The fact that this road trip’s end point is likely to be the stunning Yellowstone National Park (a US stop that still eludes me) should be all the selling point you need. But if you want a little extra incentive, the Grand Tetons say hello.
If you’re wanting to see US wildlife, there are few drives that can compete. Herds of bison and elk, bears, moose, wolves… it’s been likened to Africa’s Serengeti. And there’s the not-so-small matter of geysers and super volcanoes in Yellowstone to be considered as well. Trips don’t come quite so breath-taking as US 191.
Interstate 40, California to New Mexico
Made famous by the classic Easy Rider, Interstate 40 stretches from California to New Mexico and is widely considered one of the best motorcycle routes in the world. How much of that is drawn from the famed movie remains to be seen, as it’s not a ride I’ve had the pleasure to make myself.
On the Road Jack Kerouac style
The ‘on the Road’ in Aussie on the Road isn’t just an indication of my love of being on the road and away from the humdrum of day to day life, it’s also a tribute to the seminal On the Road by Jack Kerouac. If any piece of literature more perfectly sums up the road trip as a means of self discovery, I’ve yet to find it. And while I’ve never been lucky enough to follow in the man’s footsteps myself, there are sites out there that give you the route to make it happen yourself.
A quick Google turned up this map and itinerary that purports to be the one Kerouac originally put together. Why not take your car, quit your job, and give it a go?
Have you taken part in any of the above road trips? Or do you have one of your own that you think should make the list?
What are the best road trips in your own country?