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5 Best Road Trips in the US: Explore the Open Road

Best Road Trips in the USA
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The only thing standing between you and your next adventure is choosing the destination. That’s right! We’re talking road trips.

Imagine embarking on your next great adventure from the comfort of your car. The only thing standing between you and those curving scenic byways is the time it takes to gather your keys, a map, and car snacks — oh, and choosing your route, of course! That’s where we come in.

We’ve selected the five best road trips in the U.S. to make hitting the road even easier. Check them out below.

Best Road Trips in America

1. Route 1 to Big Sur

Route 1 to Big Sur
Photo credit: J. Philipp Krone
  • Region: West Coast, California
  • Distance: 70-plus miles
  • Highlights: Coastal cliffs, beaches, hiking, hot springs, redwoods, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Be sure to stay hydrated, because this classic, coastal cruise will leave your mouth dry with jaw-dropping sights along the rugged coast of California. The route can be customized to create smaller trips, but the meat of the matter is really between Morro Bay and Monterey.

Drive over the quintessential bridges spanning gaping cracks between the cliffs hewn by glittering streams. Take a walk on the sandy beaches with the steady hum of crashing waves, or get up and above the roadway for a bird’s-eye view of the coastal terrain.

Extending your trip farther north, continue past Monterey to observe the fertile agricultural lands that provide that delicious California produce — and don’t forget to stop at one of the large tents that sell artichokes for a fraction of grocery store prices! Even further north, the majestic Redwood Forests welcome you into their shady arms.

Past Morro Bay to the south, the highway meanders further inland, up and over the rolling hills of oak woodlands. Here, where distant salt spray mixes with warm, dry air, you’ll want to keep your windows down to take in the delectable aromas.

2. Anchorage to Valdez

Anchorage to Valdez
Photo credit: Frank Kovalchek
  • Region: Alaska
  • Distance: 300 miles
  • Highlights: Thompson Pass, Matanuska Glacier, Eklutna Village

Whether you’re heading to Valdez to take part in the infamous ice climbing of the area or just traipsing through Alaska to revel in the dramatic landscapes, the route between Anchorage and Valdez is undoubtedly one of the best road trips in the U.S. Passing along massive glaciers and towering peaks, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife that thrives in this cold, rugged landscape.

If the 14,000-foot peaks tumbling into Prince William Sound aren’t enough to take your breath away, imagine what life would have been like in this remote frontier hundreds of years ago. At Eklutna Village, you can take a glimpse into the oldest continuously inhabited Athabascan tribe settlement in the area.

With countless opportunities to get out and stretch your legs, it can be hard to choose where to pull over. If you can’t do them all, opt for a short 2-mile hike on Valdez Goat Trail toward Bridal Veil Falls: the beginning of the first glacier-free route from Valdez to Alaska’s interior.

3. Natchez Trace Parkway

Natchez Trace Parkway
Photo credit: formulanone
  • Region: Southeast, Tennessee
  • Distance: 440 miles
  • Highlights: Emerald Mound, Cypress Swamp, Battlefields

For lifelong learners who value a scenic route steeped in cultural history, the Natchez Trace Parkway was paved for you! This meandering route from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, has been used by Native Americans, European settlers, slave traders, and soldiers. These days, however, the corridor is mostly used by motorists like you.

If Civil War history interests you, check out the Tupelo National Battlefield or Brices Cross-National Battlefield. If ancient history has you hinged, don’t miss Emerald Mound, the second-largest Mississippian Period ceremonial mound in the United States, dating between 1,200 and 1,730 CE. For a refreshing mist and a chance to wander, check out Jackson Falls or Fall Hollow Waterfall.

No one ever said that the road trip in the U.S. has to be made on four wheels, however! The entire length of the Natchez Trace Parkway is designated as a bicycle route. Commercial traffic is prohibited on the Parkway, so if pedal power is your M.O., hop in the saddle and wind your way up and down the rolling hills of this historic route.

4. Blue Ridge Parkway

Best Road Trips USA Blue Ridge Parkway

  • Region: Mid-Atlantic
  • Distance: 469 miles
  • Highlights: Fall foliage, national parks, birding, hiking

You don’t have to be a thru-hiker to experience the wonder of Appalachia. The Blue Ridge Parkway weaves through this historic mountain range, offering motorists many stunning views and overlooks, albeit captured within a few days’ drive. The Parkway travels along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a range within one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges: the Appalachians.

Although eroded past their former glory in elevation, this region boasts rich biodiversity and interesting geologic formations. Not to mention countless opportunities to park and hike, as both sides of the parkway are bordered by national parkland and often contiguous to U.S. Forest Service land beyond.

This route restricts commercial vehicle access, making it even more peaceful for casual motorists or cyclists to revel in the scenery of rolling mountains, distant views, and pastoral landscapes.

Traveling from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia south to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, this is the perfect route to see the magnificent fall foliage of eastern hardwood forests or seasonal wildflower blooms. However, be aware that portions of the parkway are often closed during the winter season.

5. Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

  • Region: Southwest, Texas
  • Distance: 400 miles
  • Highlights: Chisos Mountains, Rio Grande, deserts, stars

Thoughts of Texas may conjure up wide-open, dry, and desolate landscapes. But driving through Big Bend National Park may be enough to change your perceptions of the Lone Star State!

Not only that, but the expansiveness on the ground is only a fraction of what can be witnessed overhead — this area of West Texas has the darkest skies, putting the “lone star” moniker into question with the clearest views of hundreds of stars.

Winding through the park, take in views of unique geologic formations that compare with the more famous features further west. Or peer into the (at-times) monochromatic landscape to spot a squadron of javelina, a small wild boar-looking creature. Hikes, hot springs, and history can all be found along this desert route.

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