There are as many articles about the best road trips in the USA as there are contenders for the accolade. From sea to shining sea, and in the deserts far from any ocean, you can find a stretch of highway steeped in timeless scenery or kitschy Americana — and, in many cases, both.
Whether you’re looking for long drives where the journey is the destination or shorter jaunts where you can camp out (or glamp out, as it were) for a few days at either end, this list speaks to every traveler. The hard part is choosing which one to tackle first. To tempt you further, Skyscanner has teamed up with RVshare to offer one lucky winner $500 towards their next trip! You can find more details at the end of this article.
Your ultimate USA road trip bucket list
- Big Bend to White Sands, Southwest
- Blue Ridge Parkway, Mid-Atlantic
- California Highway 1, West Coast
- Grand Teton to Glacier, Rocky Mountains
- Great Lakes Circle Road, Upper Midwest
- Hana Highway, Hawaii
- Historic Route 66, Midwest/Southwest
- Las Vegas Loop, Southwest
- Las Vegas to San Francisco, Southwest/West Coast
- Maine Route 1, New England
- New Orleans to Nashville, Deep South
- Oregon Coast, Pacific Northwest
- Overseas Highway, Florida
Big Bend to White Sands, Southwest
Start here: Big Bend National Park, TX
End here: White Sands National Park, NM
Distance: 387 mi
Driving time: 6 hours
If you’re looking for a USA road trip that combines the rugged (and often otherworldly) scenery of the American West with landscapes that often seem to be of another world, this is the one for you! After exploring Big Bend National Park for at least a couple of days, you’ll hit the open road, passing through the city of El Paso en route to New Mexico’s White Sands National Park, which is more or less a one-day affair.
Key attractions: In Big Bend, highlights include Santa Elena Canyon, South Rim Trail, and the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive; upon arrival at the gates to White Sands, you walk almost immediately onto the fine, gypsum sand, which looks like snow — and is cool to the touch, even in summer.
Places to sleep: Assuming you don’t camp somewhere in the park, most travelers to Big Bend sleep in the town of Terlingua. After your day at White Sands, you can drive back to El Paso or on to Sante Fe, or sleep in nearby Alamogordo.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Mid-Atlantic
Start here: Rockfish Gap, VA
End here: Cherokee, NC
Distance: 469 mi
Driving time: 7 hours
It’ll take you mere minutes to realize why this is one of the best road trips in the USA. Although the mountains ridges you see on either side aren’t actually blue (this is a matter of optical distortion as you look toward the horizon — you haven’t entered the world of Dr. Seuss), the scenery is only the beginning. This iconic American journey is just as much about the music, art, and cuisine as it is about ridges of any color!
Key attractions: Before crossing from Virginia into North Carolina, stop at the Blue Ridge Music Center to watch a folk band play. The best view of the mountains, meanwhile, is from Thunderstruck Ridge overlook at Milepost 455 deep into North Carolina.
Places to sleep: Countless charming motels dot the road (assuming you don’t do it all in one go), but the city of Asheville near its southern terminus is definitely worth an overnight stay!
California Highway 1, West Coast
Start here: Los Angeles, CA
End here: San Francisco, CA
Distance: 470 mi
Driving time: 9 hours
Any US road trip map worth visiting is going to have California’s famous Highway 101 on it. Although many travelers drive this route specifically to visit one place — namely, scenic Big Sur — there are literally dozens of natural attractions, towns, and other spots worth visiting. It’s very likely that you’ll spend several days driving the coast of California, even though you can technically complete the LA-SF section in nine or 10 hours.
Key attractions: The towns of Pismo Beach and Morro Bay combine charming coastal culture with stunning scenery, while iconic Bixby Creek Bridge means you’re nearly at Big Sur. Here, make sure to look down onto McWay Falls as it splatters onto the beach; en route to San Francisco, the towns of Monterrey (Big Little Lies fans take note!) are worthwhile stops.
Places to sleep: Assuming you don’t decide to camp or glamp in Big Sur, any of the towns mentioned in the preceding paragraph make great stopping off points.
Grand Teton to Glacier, Rocky Mountains
Start here: Grand Teton National Park, WY
End here: Glacier National Park, MT
Distance: 467 mi
Driving time: 9 hours
This might just be the wildest road trip the USA has to offer! We mean this in a literal sense. Among the wildlife, you can expect to see on the way between America’s most iconic national parks are majestic moose, towering elk, imposing bison, and literally dozens of species of birds. This is to say nothing of the scenery, which might very well give you the impression that you’re on another planet.
Key attractions: Hit the road after hiking toward the namesake peaks of Grand Teton Park, stopping in Yellowstone National Park (make sure not to miss the Great Prismatic Spring, the kaleidoscopic largest hot spring in America) before arriving in Glacier National Park, where you can hike around Lake McDonald or through the Logan Pass.
Places to sleep: Plenty of camping, glamping and hotel lodging exists in the vicinity of all three of these national parks. Alternatively, cities in Montana like Butte and Helena make great stopping points.
Great Lakes Circle Road, Upper Midwest
Start here: Duluth, MN
End here: Duluth, MN (or not — more on that in a second!)
Distance: 1,747 mi
Driving time: 28 hours
In addition to being one of the best road trips in the USA, this is also one of the longest, although you can break it up. The “Circle Road,” to be sure, assumes that you will start and end in Duluth, but there are many variations on this theme. This could involve ending in another city, like Detroit, Chicago, or Cleveland, or starting and ending in other places entirely. Remember that the Great Lakes themselves — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario — are the highlights here.
Key attractions: Natural attractions like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior (and Niagara Falls, assuming you cross into Canada) are the highlight of this trip, but they’re not the only thing to see. Make a diversion from Toledo, OH to Sandusky, where you find Cedar Point Amusement Park, or stop in Detroit and visit the Henry Ford Museum.
Places to sleep: Assuming you don’t camp in the many scenic areas along your way (others include Minnesota’s Split Rock Lighthouse and Porcupine Wilderness in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), large cities like Detroit and Chicago might give off a new novelty after driving such a rustic route.
Hana Highway, Hawaii
Start here: Kahului, HI
End here: Kaupo, HI
Distance: 69 mi
Driving time: 3 hours
No USA road trip planner worth their salt leaves off America’s 50th state, let alone its most beautiful drive. Starting in Maui’s largest city and makings its way clockwise around the island (including to the namesake town of Hana), this drive is one beautiful place after another, whether these take the form of beaches with strangely colored sand or craters that look like they belong more on Mars than Earth.
Key attractions: Before reaching vermillion Kaihalulu Beach in Hana itself, stop at waterfalls like Twin Falls and the otherworldly (and aptly-named) Lava Tube. Once you pass Hana, Haleakala Crater and its famous Red Hill are must-visits.
Places to sleep: Although packed with attractions, this drive isn’t very long — many travelers return to Kahului, whether by turning back or “completing the loop” by heading inland. With this being said, Hana itself is home to a number of hotels.
Historic Route 66, Midwest/Southwest
Start here: Chicago, IL
End here: Santa Monica, CA
Distance: 2,169 mi
Driving time: 32 hours
If you’re looking to take a road trip across the US (well, halfway across the country), you should “get your kicks on Route 66,” as the old saying goes. Driving the entire Mother Road, as its called, will take you a few days—if you’ve only got one or two, you can explore just a section of it, such as the scenic one between Amarillo, TX and Albuquerque, NM. Whether for a couple of days or an entire week, however, souvenir shops, vintage motels, and quirky cafes make Route 66 an Americana lover’s dream!
Key attractions: Too many to name! But some of our favorites include the Instagram-worthy Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX, the “corner in Winslow, Arizona” immortalized in the classic Eagles song and the end-of-the-road marker in Santa Monica, CA.
Places to sleep: In the days before the internet, people would simply drive until they were tired, and stop at the first motel that caught their eye. If this isn’t your style, consider stopping off in cities and towns like St. Louis, Tulsa, Santa Fe, and Kingman, AZ.
Las Vegas Loop, Southwest
Start here: Las Vegas, NV
End here: Las Vegas, NV
Distance: 1,174 mi
Driving time: 20 hours
If the Las Vegas loop is not one of the best road trips in the USA, it certainly strings together some of America’s best destinations. Even if you’re not a gambler, you’ll feel like you’re on a winning streak at the roulette table. Every place you stop is more beautiful than the last — you’ll follow up a trio of outstanding national parks in Utah with a stop at the Grand Canyon, which is incredible even all on its own.
Key attractions: After leaving Las Vegas, your first stop is Zion National Park, where evergreen vegetation contrasts with the terra cotta desert landscape. You’ll continue on to Bryce Canyon and Arches National Parks, stopping at iconic Monument Valley as you cross into Arizona, where the Grand Canyon beckons on your way back to Sin City.
Places to sleep: Ideally, you would devote a day to each national park and the Grand Canyon; you would camp (or glamp) at Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and near the Grand Canyon, in that order.
Las Vegas to San Francisco, Southwest/West Coast
Start here: Las Vegas, NV
End here: San Francisco, CA
Distance: 601 mi
Driving time: 11 hours
Another of my favorite US road trip ideas that starts from Vegas heads in the other direction — but don’t worry, driving west is just as amazing a journey as those eastward-bound enjoy. Initially, the scenery in California will closely resemble what you observe in Nevada, but heading north toward San Francisco, a sudden lushness overtakes you. Among its other qualities, this trip is a testament to the geographical diversity of the United States.
Key attractions: After leaving Vegas behind, set your GPS for Death Valley, with optional stops in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on your way up to Yosemite, where famous Half Dome is only the beginning.
Places to sleep: You’ll certainly stay the night in Yosemite, probably in a park cabin (where you should definitely heed any anti-bear warnings you see. If you want to stop before reaching Yosemite but don’t want to camp near Death Valley, the city of Visalia in central California has many hotels and motels.
Maine Route 1, New England
Start here: Portsmouth, NA
End here: Lubec, ME
Distance: 281 mi
Driving time: 6 hours
Not everyone has the time or energy for a road trip across America — so why not drive the coastline of one of America’s most beautiful states? From the moment you cross the border from the New Hampshire to the Canadian frontier appearing on the horizon, Maine’s maritime reaches will delight and amaze you. If picturesque lighthouses over rocky shores don’t move you, delectable places of the state’s famous lobster should do the trick.
Key attractions: The beauty begins almost immediately, whether in the storied town of Kennebunkport or beneath the lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth. As you wind your way toward Canada, make sure to turn off into Acadia National Park.
Places to sleep: If you don’t stay in any of the aforementioned towns or in the national park, consider sleeping in the hip city of Portland or in picturesque Bar Harbor.
New Orleans to Nashville, Deep South
Start here: New Orleans, LA
End here: Nashville, TN
Distance: 603 mi
Driving time: 9 hours
Next up on this list of best road trips in the USA is one of the best ways to explore the American South. After a couple of nights (hopefully, not extremely wild ones) in New Orleans, hit the road and head north through Louisiana and Mississippi, winding through scenic swamps and past picturesque Antebellum-era mansions before arriving in Nashville, a city famous for country music (but that you don’t need to be a country fan to appreciate!).
Key attractions: A variety of swamp tours and post-Civil War estates line the road to Natchez, Mississippi. From here, you can either drive straight to Nashville or make a diversion to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s former home, which is closer to Memphis.
Places to sleep: Assuming you don’t stop at Graceland (which, yes, is home to its own guest house for the “Elvis experience”), aforementioned Natchez makes a good place to sleep and break up your journey.
Oregon Coast, Pacific Northwest
Start here: Brookings, OR
End here: Astoria, OR
Distance: 343 mi
Driving time: 7 hours
As you read through this article, don’t fret too much about the mechanics of how to plan a USA road trip. Instead, set up from your origin point (in the case of the Oregon Coast that would be the town of Brookings, near the California border) and go where the road takes you, stopping where you feel compelled to do so. Note, of course, that this philosophy can be dangerous in Oregon: There’s so much beautiful scenery everywhere you might not get any driving done!
Key attractions: Nature is the main attraction here, but as beautiful as Cannon Beach and the Oregon Dunes are, they’re not the alpha and omega. A delicious stop is at the Tillamook Cheese Factory near the town of the same name, while the charming town of Bandon is a great place to stop for a seafood lunch.
Places to sleep: The city of Coos Bay (which is “large,” but only in relation to anywhere else along the road) has the best selection of lodging.
Overseas Highway, Florida
Start here: Miami, FL
End here: Key West, FL
Distance: 159 mi
Driving time: 4 hours
It’s not every day — or in every part of the world — that you can feel like you’re driving on water. Of course, the fluorescent waters of the Gulf of Mexico aren’t all the make Flordia’s Overseas Highway one of the best road trips. You’ve got iconic cities — Miami and Key West — at either end, not to mention plenty of interesting stops (I’ll get to those in a minute) along the way. Seafood lovers are literally going to be in heaven!
Key attractions: Stop at dolphin and turtle conservation centers in the mainland city of Marathon, go fishing in Islamorada, or dive in Key Largo before arriving on Key West.
Places to sleep: Most travelers do this as a one-day drive, embarking from Miami and ending at one of the hotels in Key West. However, there are plenty of great hotels in Key Largo, in case you want to protract your journey.
These aren’t all of the best road trips in the USA, but they cover a wide swath of geography, not to mention the vast array of scenery and culture they represent. Whether you want to explore regional heritage in the Deep South or Desert Southwest or marvel at the landscapes of the Rocky Mountains or the Florida Keys, there’s no better way to burrow your way into Americana than by taking to the open road. In the vastness of the United States as in the pages of Tolkien, the journey is the destination. For which of these journeys are you destined?
$500 RVshare Giveaway
Sold on the idea of a road trip? Now you know all the best spots to go, you’re pretty much out of reasons not to drive off into the sunset right now! But just in case you need a little more temptation, Skyscanner has teamed up with RVshare to give one lucky winner a $500 voucher towards their trip. All you need to do is head over to Facebook and give this post a ‘like’ and a comment to be entered into the prize draw and…well, that’s it! The lucky winner will be notified on social media around the 7th of August. It’s official, you’re all out of excuses. Good luck folks and drive safe!
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