Aaah, the open road. From coast to coast and border to border, the USA has so much road trip potential—8.66 million lane-miles, to be exact—we can barely handle it. Some of these highways and byways are scenic enough to make you lift that pedal from the metal and just cruise along. There’s no rush; these drives are about the journey, not the destination. Here are seven reasons to make your next vacation a Great American Road Trip.
California Route 1
The Drive: San Diego to San Francisco
The Pacific Coast Highway (also known as Route 1) stretches 655 miles along California’s Pacific Coastline. It runs from Mendocino County in the north all the way to Dana Point in the south, but the heart of Route 1 is found between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The drive will take about 10 hours in all but is best split over a few days so you can do a deep dive into some of Cali’s top spots. Stop in Santa Barbara to admire the elegant Spanish-style architecture, live the surf life on Huntington Beach, and sip some Chardonnay in Santa Ynez Wine Country. During the winter months, you can take advantage of the weather by traveling north to south, cooler to warmer, and you’ll be able to enjoy the cliffside views without looking across lanes of traffic.
The Drive: Chicago to Los Angeles
The mythical route into the American West Route 66 is perhaps the USA’s most iconic highway. One of the original American highways, “the Main Street of America” technically no longer actually exists (it was replaced by five high-speed Interstate freeways), but its legend lives on in the billboards, statues, and roadside attractions that still line what is now referred to as Historic Route 66. Major cities along its path include St. Louis, Oklahoma City, and Albuquerque, but its charm is found in the nostalgic, middle-of-nowhere truck stops, diners, and souvenir shops that still exist along the old “Mother Road.” For a piece of Americana, do as the Bobby Troup song says, and “Get your kicks on Route 66.”
The Drive: Miami to Key West
Florida’s answer to the Pacific Coast Highway is the A1A, a north-south passage that spans the entire length of the Sunshine State along the Atlantic Ocean. The journey starts just south of the Florida-Georgia border in Fernandina Beach. Just 40 miles to the south, Ponte Vedra Beach is a good first stop if you’re looking for golf (the famed TPC Sawgrass), surfing (Mickler’s Landing), or a relaxing walk on the beach. As you continue down the A1A, walk the boardwalk at Daytona Beach, stop and watch cruise ships at Port Canaveral, and take a foodie tour at Miami Beach. The road trip continues to the end of the Florida Keys, home to some of the most exciting parts of the journey. Crossing the Seven Mile Bridge is definitely one of the highlights that leads up to the finale: Southernmost Point Buoy, where other A1A travelers will be lined up to take their picture to celebrate a completed trip.
Great River Road
The Drive: Minnesota to Louisiana
The Mississippi River cuts through 10 American states, starting near the Canadian border in Minnesota and feeding into the Gulf of Mexico past New Orleans, Louisiana. One of the best ways to see America’s Heartland is to venture down Great River Road, which follows the Mississippi in its entirety. When you cruise down GRR, the journey is the destination—so don’t plan to travel quickly. The 3,000-mile drive takes about 36 hours non-stop, so it’s best done over a week. On Great River Road, you’re trading in the conveniences and high speeds of a four-lane highway and its cookie-cutter rest stops and fast food joints. Instead, you’re getting local flavor, wildlife, and a visit to some small towns you may never have otherwise seen.
The Drive: Montana Glacier National Park
The 50-mile, two-lane highway straddling the Continental Divide provides a beautiful summer drive across Montana Glacier National Park. The road can accumulate up to 80 feet of snow during the winter making it impassable, and the snow removal process takes about ten weeks each spring before cars are allowed back onto the blacktop. The drive takes about an hour and a half, so if you have the time it’s worth going in both directions as each offer different views. The highlight (literally) is reaching the 6,646-foot high Logan Pass, the tallest point on the road. Epic views, hiking trails, and even a few mountain goats await.
The Drive: North Adams to Greenfield
One of America’s shorter scenic highways, Mohawk Trail is also one of its first. The trail was originally a trade route for Native Americans to connect with upstate New York and Atlantic tribes (hence the name) and was converted into a gravel road wide enough for one small car in 1912. Nowadays it’s a curvy east-west Massachusetts route best driven in fall when the foliage is finest. Starting in the quaint college town of Williamstown, head east through towns like North Adams, Erving, and Greenfield, take in views of the Berkshire Mountains, and run into bobcats and black bears in Mohawk Trail State Forest.
The Drive: Colorado’s San Juan Mountains
The San Juan Skyway is a 233-mile loop consisting of four highways exploring southwest Colorado’s San Juan National Forest. Over five winding hours spent often driving on steep cliffs with no guardrails, the Skyway rewards you with mountainous landscapes, views of historic towns, and prehistoric ruins. Stops must be made in Ouray, the Victorian mining town referred to as the Switzerland of America, and Telluride, the popular Colorado ski and golf town. The coup de gras is the 25-mile stretch of U.S. Route 550 between Ouray and Silverton referred to as the Million-Dollar Highway in reference to the amount it cost to build it in 1924.