It’s no surprise that nearly 80% of Americans plan to take a road trip in 2023. After all, who doesn’t love the freedom and promise of a road trip? You can roll the windows down, crank your favorite music and take your time as you explore new terrain and take in new sights. But before the exploration begins, the only thing left to figure out is: where are the best places to drive to?
No road trip is complete without a visit to your favorite stunning state park or peaceful ocean views. Below is your guide to the best road trips in the US.
Best road trips in the western U.S.
California: 17-Mile Drive
As the second largest state in the country, California is full of sights and entertainment for travelers. But rather than navigating the high-traffic streets of Los Angeles or trekking hundreds of miles east to Tahoe, head to the central coast and enjoy the 17-Mile Drive spanning the Monterey Peninsula through Pebble Beach. In this short drive, you’ll see pristine beaches, dramatic cliffs, multiple world-class golf courses and the magical Del Monte Forest. Visitors must pay a small admission fee, but it’s complimentary for guests at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay and Casa Palmero.
California: Pacific Coast Highway
Taking a road trip down California’s Pacific Coast Highway is a must-do experience for any traveler. The scenic drive along the coastline provides breathtaking views of the ocean and stunning landscapes. The route passes through charming seaside towns, including Santa Barbara, Monterey, and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore some of the most iconic landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Big Sur, and Hearst Castle.
Colorado: Trail Ridge Road
In Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road links Estes Park and Grand Lake, passing numerous 12,000-foot peaks and spectacular views. As the highest continuous paved road in the country, it’s known as the “Highway to the Sky” and crosses the Continental Divide at over 12,000 feet. Amongst the mountains and valleys, you’ll find elk, deer and bighorn sheep. You must have a reservation in advance to drive the route, but you won’t be disappointed.
Oregon: Highway 101
Highway 101 runs the entire west coast of Oregon along the Pacific Ocean, totaling approximately 360 miles. Whether you head north toward Canada or south toward California (the latter is recommended), you’ll get unobstructed views of steep cliffs, charming towns and deserted beaches. There are many stopping points to hike, camp, check out caves and lighthouses or simply get some fresh air. One unique roadside attraction is in Port Orford—called the Prehistoric Gardens. There you’ll find life-sized replicas of 23 dinosaurs scattered throughout an ancient Oregon rainforest.
Utah: Route 12
Scenic Byway 12, also called ‘A Journey Through Time,’ stretches about 124 miles from south-central to northeastern Utah. Wind along the road to get a front-row seat to some of the most beautiful natural structures in the United States, including Dixie National Forest, Capitol Reef National Park, Lower Calf Creek Falls and more. While you can complete the route in one day, you may want to break it up—not only to check out all the beautiful scenery along the way but also to ensure you’re well-rested to drive some of the narrow cliff ridgeline roads!
Best road trips in the Midwest
Illinois: Lake Shore Drive
You may not realize there are coastal drives in the middle of the country, but Lake Shore Drive takes you along the west coast of Lake Michigan through Chicago, starting north at Hollywood down to Jackson Park. On top of the scenic lakeside view, you will get an unparalleled look at the city’s impressive skyline and architecture. The most iconic buildings include the Rookery Building, Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), 875 N. Michigan Ave, (formerly the John Hancock Center) and Acqua Tower. Stop for a walk through Millennium Park to see the Cloud Gate sculpture and Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Michigan: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
Looking for a quick road trip to take on a Sunday afternoon? Head to Lake Michigan’s eastern shore for this 7.4-mile route. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive loops through the Beech-Maple forest to reveal tree canopies and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Pack a picnic at one of the scenic overlooks or hike through the park’s steep terrain. A Park pass or entry fee is required to drive the route.
Minnesota: North Shore Drive
To get a wholly different lakeside road trip, take the drive from Duluth toward Two Harbors, Minnesota on Lake Superior. This 150+ mile is ideal for nature lovers, with the 31,700-square-mile Great Lake on one side and lush forest on the other. And it’s not just the drive that will wow you; there are many activities to partake in along the way, from hiking the Superior Hiking Trail, Grand Portage and Tettegouche State Park to Split Rock Lighthouse, golf courses, museums, art centers and so much more.
Best road trips in the eastern U.S.
Massachusetts: Route 6
Also part of a cross-country route, Route 6, or the Mid-Cape Highway, winds through Wareham, Mattapoisett, New Bedford, Fall River and Seekonk in Massachusetts. Get unrivaled views of all Cape Cod offers, including sand dunes, beaches, tidal ponds and marshes. Pull over to experience a wine tasting at one of the vineyards, explore a charming fishing town and hop on a whale-watching boat tour to spot a humpback whale.
Rhode Island: Ocean Drive
This 10-mile coastal route through Newport is a calm one. The recommended route of Ocean Drive is to start at Thames Street, going north to end at Bellevue Avenue (part of a historic district of the same name). You’ll pass Gilded Age mansions and charming cottages, Brenton Point and Fort Adams State Parks and Gooseberry Beach along the coast. The East Passage of Narragansett Bay features Castle Hill and its famous lighthouse, as well as Hammersmith Farm, the childhood home of Jackie Kennedy.
Best road trips in the south
The Carolinas & Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway
At nearly 500 miles, Blue Ridge Parkway is world-renowned for its biodiversity. As you travel through North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, you have access to over 50 animal species, including deer, falcons, river otters, wild turkeys and black bears, along with various wildflowers. You’ll also discover many natural landmarks like Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain peak in the eastern United States; New River, the oldest river in North America; Linville Gorge, the deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon; and Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Rockies.
Florida: US 1
US Highway 1 runs 545 miles along the east coast of the state. The southernmost leg of the highway is the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, taking travelers 113 miles from Key Largo to Key West. Cross Moser Sound via the Seven Mile Bridge, once one of the longest bridges in the world. Along the route, there’s no shortage of charming towns filled with beach bars and restaurants, water sports and, of course, stunning ocean views.
Kentucky: The Bourbon Trail
Kentucky is known for its bourbon distilleries, and thousands of whiskey lovers flock to the Louisville area every year to get a taste of the local concoctions. The Bourbon Trail, sponsored by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, spans about 80 miles and offers a bourbon-filled cocktail and culinary experience. If partaking in the bourbon tasting, you’ll want a designated driver for this one! There are also plenty of tours available so your entire group can enjoy themselves safely.
Mississippi: Great River Road
Follow along the mighty Mississippi River on the Great River Road. The full route travels through 10 states, including Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. Natchez, Mississippi is the oldest settlement on the river and is home to the National Historical Park of the same name. In addition to the river vista, the drive will take you through Civil War history and past many mansions and estates from the era.
Texas: Bluebonnet Trail
From March to May, wild bluebonnets take over areas of the Lone Star State, which can be seen up close and personal along the bluebonnet trail. Follow the beautiful flowers, native to Texas, between Austin and Houston and you’ll also pass seven interconnected lakes along the Colorado River. This scenic route provides plenty of photo opportunities, as well as stops for fishing, camping, hiking and more.
Best road trips outside the continental U.S.
Alaska: Anchorage to Valdez
Alaska is known for its diverse terrain and wildlife, and the 300-mile drive from Anchorage to Valdez provides visitors with an exciting representation of that. Drive past prehistoric glaciers, through mountain ranges with many 14,000+-foot peaks and through the waterfalls of Keystone Canyon. Rather than taking the full six to seven hours in one day, split it up across a few days to take full advantage of all the area has to offer: Dall sheep viewing at Sheep Mountain, camping at King Mountain Campground, fishing at Eklutna Lake, stepping back in time at the Eklutna Historical Park and—for the daredevils—glacier trekking and ice climbing through MICA Guides.
Hawaii: Hana Highway
Hawaii’s stunning scenery attracts thousands of visitors each year, but there is much more to do than just soaking up the sun. These islands are one of the best places to drive outside the continental US. The Hana Highway on the northeast coastline of Maui is the tropical road trip of your dreams. The 52-mile-long drive takes you through rainforests, waterfalls, pools and seascapes from Kahului to the town of Hana. But beware: while the trip is less than 60 miles, it can take between two and four hours due to challenging curves and narrow, single-lane bridges. Be cautious, take your time and soak up the scenery. Tours are also available to avoid the stress of making the drive yourself.
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