Six Iconic and Essential American Road Trip Ideas

by Itamar Danison

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Although you can set out on a road trip nearly anywhere on earth, road trips have evolved into an enduring American tradition that’s here to stay. Driving long distances and exploring the sites along the way is an authentic American pastime, and there’s simply no better to see wide-open skies and charming towns from coast to coast. There are so many amazing trip routes in the U.S. that it’s difficult to recommend just a few road trip ideas. But these are some of the most iconic and essential American road trips that are definitely worth the gas money.

Pacific Coast Highway: Southern California to Washington

For many travelers, the Pacific Coast Highway is the epitome of a perfect road trip experience. Although one of the most popular travel routes is the 94-mile stretch between Monterey and San Simeon in California, you’ll only get the full experience if you travel all the way north through Oregon and Washington. Start at whichever end you prefer and take your time to soak up the scenery changes and peer across the glistening Pacific Ocean. Some of the most spectacular views in Oregon are between Florence and Lincoln City, and Long Beach Peninsula in Washington offers 28 miles of public beach to relax on before venturing into Olympic National Park.

Pacific Coast Highway PhotoPhoto credit: Alan Stark via Flickr

Historic Route 1: Maine to Florida

Historic Route 1 runs 2,450 miles along the eastern coast of the United States, so start at the top to soak in the quintessential New England scenery in Maine. Your journey will begin with picturesque views of lighthouses dotting the rocky shoreline and the “Million Dollar View” between Danforth and Orient. Ditch the interstate and roll down the windows to explore New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and finally Florida. Some of the most popular stops along the way are the Bronx Zoo, the FBI Headquarters, and the Okefenokee Swamp.

Route 66: Chicago to Los Angeles

Nostalgia and old-time charm run through the veins of Route 66, which spans 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. This road trip route passes through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, passing everything from farms to forests and deserts along the way. But perhaps the biggest draws of this road trip are the obscure towns and kitschy mom-and-pop shops and that appear along the way. If roadside attractions are what you crave to break up the drive, make sure not to miss the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois, the 66 Drive-In Theater in Carthage, Missouri, and Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Million Dollar Highway: Colorado

The state of Colorado boasts some of the most awe-inspiring natural scenery anywhere in America, and its Million Dollar Highway certainly lives up to its name. This is a two-lane road that winds through the San Juan Mountains and passes some of the most rugged and beautiful peaks of the Colorado Rockies. The highway was built for Wild West mining expeditions, and every turn is steeped in history and legend. One of the best reasons to drive this route is to explore the ghost towns that pop up along the way. Many of these former mining towns have been abandoned, but visitors can explore them by walking through the buildings and structural remains. Some of the best ghost town stops are Howardsville, Eureka, and Animas Forks.

Blue Ridge Parkway: North Carolina and Virginia

Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 miles through the Appalachian Mountains between North Carolina and Virginia, and it’s one of the most popular drives in America. There are lots of places to pull off the road to have a picnic or take a hike, and Looing Glass Rock near Brevard, North Carolina is one of the best roadside landmarks. If you still have some gas in the tank, continue onto Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park and stop by the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, Virginia to catch a live local performance.

Blue Ridge Parkway Photo credit: Kevin Dooley via Flickr

Dalton Highway: Alaska

Many travelers forget about the far north state of Alaska when planning a road trip, but it is by far one of the most beautiful places to take a long drive. Drive the 414-mile Dalton Highway from Livengood to Prudhoe Bay for up-close views of the forests, tundra, Yukon River, Brooks Range, and the Arctic Ocean. But keep in mind that a good portion of this drive is on gravel road with few services and a definite possibility of avalanches. Although this road trip is not for the faint of heart, it offers unparalleled landscape views and an unforgettable sense of adventure.

Whether it’s Memorial Day, 4th of July, of any other weekend of the year, get inspired by our one-tank road trip suggestions around New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and Jacksonville. By venturing just an hour or two outside the city limits, you can learn a lot about local traditions and experience the region’s spirit of relaxation.

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