The 15 Best American Road Trips, Ranked

Take the wheel and step on the gas

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It’s basically written in the Constitution that you must, at some point, hit the open road and explore this beautiful country by car. After all, America was built for it. Road trips are something of a rite of passage: two-lane highways, cornfields that stretch for miles, red rocks towering in the distance. (Not included: Fixing a flat tire on the side of said highway or pushing your car to the next gas station.) If you’re envisioning a laid-back vacation à la Cars, look no further. Here, we’ve rounded up 15 of America’s best road trips. That includes the iconic Route 66 (Chicago to L.A., baby), a tour of Utah’s best national parks, and a quick jaunt through Cape Cod. No matter your interests, you’ll have the trip of a lifetime, whether you’re cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway or driving through the Badlands.

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america's best road trips: two motorcycles ride down route 66
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1. Route 66 (Chicago to Santa Monica)

It doesn’t get much more Steinbeck than this 2,400-mile interstate stretching from Illinois to California. It’ll probably take you two weeks to get all the way across, but before you embark, be sure to spend at least a day on the shores of Lake Michigan before heading west. Along the route, you’ll want to explore the Ozarks in Missouri and the Mojave Desert once you cross into the Golden State. One of my favorite unexpected stops was the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The landscape is incredibly varied, with some spots reminiscent of South Dakota’s Badlands. There’s also the pull-out where you can take a photo with the rusting, dilapidated shell of the iconic 1932 Studebaker station wagon. As for lodging and food along the route, a stop at Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, Illinois, offers the chance try the original corn dog, while the Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Arizona lets travelers spend the night in a freestanding tepee.

americas best road trips big sky country
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2. Big Sky Country (Montana and Wyoming)

Give yourself about ten days to drive from Montana to Wyoming while you visit Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton national parks. Honestly, if you’re a scenery person but less athletic (me), you’d be content to simply drive the winding roads and make intermittent stops at the pull-outs to take pictures. Although, when I went to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, there were plenty of easy hikes and I’m glad I did them. The areas are so lush and vibrant and it’s the cleanest air I’ve ever breathed. Lakes here sparkle. The most iconic part of Glacier is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which cuts through the park and leads to a summit at Logan Pass.

americas best road trips pacific coast highway
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3. California State Route 1 (Pacific Coast Highway)

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping part of this 147-mile drive from Monterey to Morro Bay is the 90-mile stretch through Big Sur. “The PCH road trip has forever been on my bucket list because it’s such an amazing way to see California,” says PureWow Executive Managing Editor Catrina Yohay. “There are a few ways you can do it, but I loved starting in SF and ending in L.A., with stops at Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, Santa Barbara, Solvang, Anaheim (Disneyland), L.A. and a few beach towns in Orange County. Big Sur is stunning, so give yourself plenty of time to pull over to take in the views. Some of my favorite spots were Santa Barbara and Carmel-by-the-Sea. I also took a last-minute detour up north to Muir Woods with zero regrets. Word to the wise, Route 1 can at times be a long and windy two-lane highway that gets very dark once the sun goes down (and half the time you can’t even see the ocean). If you’re in a rush to get from point A to point B, hop over to US-101 which is a faster, more direct (and better lit) route.”

america's best road trips: blue ridge parkway Linn Cove Viaduct
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4. Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia And North Carolina)

Extending from Virginia to North Carolina, this 469-mile parkway connects the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks. Visiting in October allows you to catch the dazzling fall foliage. My friend and I only drove a sliver of the road, but it was so peaceful to watch the countryside roll by on a two-lane highway, landscape dotted with cottages and farmhouses, sky stretching for miles. We ended up antiquing in a nearby town before heading home, but I would have loved to go all the way to Asheville, known for its art and architecture.

americas best road trips olympic penninsula loop
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5. Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive, Washington

This 450-mile loop around Olympic Mountain Range swoops past rainforests, snow-capped mountains, cobalt-blue lakes, sprawling beaches---all contained in Olympic National Park. The almost supernatural Hoh Rainforest (think: Twilight saga) and stunning Ruby Beach are just a couple of the places that warrant a daytrip. And don’t forget Cape Flattery, a quiet little cove with sapphire waters and steep cliffs that will dazzle you with their majesty.

america's best road trips: las vegas to dallas, cadillac ranch on i40 near amarillo
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6. Las Vegas to Dallas

I did Las Vegas to Dallas a couple years ago and the Southwest totally blew me away. The Grand Canyon is an easy detour, but we went a little farther up into Zion National Park. Both are great choices and a respite from barreling down a 12-lane interstate. You exchange that for winding, two lane-roads on treacherous cliffs with (maybe literally) killer views of endless canyons. The whole landscape of this area of the country is so unique, with red rocks and mountains at every turn. Once you get into Texas, you think the fun’s over, but then you’re surprised on I-40 when you see everyone trying to exit to take a picture at Cadillac Ranch. It’s exactly how it sounds: A row of Cadillacs buried nose-first in the dirt, surrounded by a cornfield, covered in graffiti. Maybe one of my most favorite pieces of contemporary art.

americas best road trips dallas to los angeles
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7. Dallas to Los Angeles

On the flip side, trek back out West and do a Dallas to Los Angeles road trip. This is an opportunity to hit a different route than I-40’s Las Vegas to Dallas leg. I’ve done this route, and Joshua Tree and Saguaro national parks are a total must. For scheduling reasons, I couldn’t stop in these two places and those are huge regrets. Both locales will offer you the arid desert landscape and cacti for miles. Once you hit Texas, the El Paso Mission Trail, a nine-mile stretch of historical missions on a solitary road. It’s an interesting window into the state’s history and Spanish influence.

americas best road trips natchez trace parkway
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8. Natchez Trace Parkway (Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee)

A Southern odyssey starts in Natchez, Mississippi and ends in Nashville. The 444-mile stretch will take you through the whole of the Magnolia State, with stops at the archeological site Mount Locust and Elvis Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo. I drove on a tiny sliver in Tennessee near Nashville, and got to walk across the bridge, peering at the valley below. Once you arrive in the city, there are a handful of non-negotiables. The Honky Tonk Highway, where country music blares so loudly from the bars your whole being shakes, for starters. Right across from that is the Assembly Food Hall, an emporium of Southern delights, from the hot chicken sandwich to fried pickles. And did I mention the Loveless Café? Best biscuits of my life. It’s also not a visit to the city unless you pop into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry.

america's best road trips: palm springs to san diego. woman riding bike in palm springs
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9. Palm Springs to San Diego

Hit two iconic southern California hotspots in a single road trip from Palm Springs to San Diego. Of course, you’ll want to take a couple days to explore all the mid-century modern architecture of the former (my preferred activity) and ride the aerial tram for sweeping views of the Coachella Valley. In San Diego, the eternally beautiful and varied Balboa Park (one of my favorite spots) offers lush gardens, the San Diego Zoo and plenty of museums. When you need to see the ocean, Torrey Pines is a good spot, known as one of the state’s wildest stretches of beach.

america's best road trips: houston to amarillo
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10. Houston to Amarillo

Amarillo is *kind of* iconic. After all, it’s one of the destinations sung about in the legendary song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” covered innumerable times by everyone from Nat King Cole to John Mayer. It makes sense that several of America’s best road trips will take you through this Texas town. The proposed route here starts in Houston, where you should take the opportunity to see the Space Center before zooming up to Waco, home to Joanna Gaines’s Magnolia Silos empire. Rock ‘n roll fans will want to pull over at Lubbock, which is the birthplace of Buddy Holly, known for pioneering the genre. When you arrive in Amarillo, there’s plenty to see, from the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum to Cadillac Ranch and Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

americas best road trips seattle to new york
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11. Seattle to New York

Craving a true cross-country adventure? Try Seattle to New York, which will take you across the Midwest. Because the drive will take you through Bozeman, you might as well bake in some extra days to explore Yellowstone. Then, take a detour to see Mount Rushmore once you hit South Dakota. Motorcycle fanatics will want to pull over in Milwaukee, home to the Harley-Davidson Museum. (They even have one of Elvis Presley’s on display.) The last leg of the trip will motor you straight through the entire state of Pennsylvania and the historical Dutch Country.

americas best road trips utah national parks
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12. Utah National Parks

Those whose dream is to tour all the country’s national parks should start with Utah. The state is rife with them, and they’re all in a convenient loop. Moab is your starting place, and from there, you can make the circle, starting with Arches National Park and Canyonlands. As you continue counter-clockwise, you’ll hit Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Dark Canyon (which is also part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest). Before you know it, you’re rolling back into Moab, dusty and filled with awe for Mother Nature.

americas best road trips smoky mountains
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13. Smoky Mountains (Charlotte to Asheville, North Carolina)

Yep, you took this road trip to see the legendary Smoky Mountains, so take a pit stop to see Cades Cove, along with the myriad historic buildings and waterfalls. Then, shock yourself back into the man-made with a day at Dollyworld. (Because how could you not?!) The 430-mile loop will take you back into North Carolina and end with Asheville, where a stay at the Biltmore Estate. You’ll feel like literal royalty after having spent a week cruising in your car.

americas best road trips sonoran desert
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14. Southern Arizona (Sonoran Desert)

At less than 100 miles, this itinerary is one of America’s best road trips for those pressed for time. Start in either Phoenix or Tucson and then you’re in closer proximity to several state parks in the famous Sonoran Desert. For maximum fuel efficiency (and to maximize your time outside), start at McFarland State Historic Park if Phoenix if your home base, and at Oracle State Park if Tucson is. Everywhere you turn, you’ll be met with saguaros and sunsets. Seems pretty dreamy, isn’t it?

americas best road trips cape cod
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15. Cape Cod

Do you summer on the Cape? Well, you can now. This easy road trip takes you through a handful of quintessential seaside towns. Start in Martha’s Vineyard and then continue with: Falmouth, Sandwich, Mashpee, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Harwich and end with Chatham. Because everything is close to each other, you have the luxury to linger. We recommending stacking a few days on the Vineyard, and also slotting the JFK museum in Hyannis into the itinerary. Chatham is a charming town to end your road trip, with a windmill, lighthouse and delightful downtown perfect for stretching your legs.

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