As a kid, I used to get car sick on road trips. Every time, without fail, I’d feel the dizzying pangs of nausea as we traveled across Texas. I would pray for the universe to spare me on this road trip, just this one time.
Sometimes it worked, other times I would take naps. Sleep took the sickness away, and to this day I always eventually doze off while on the road. It’s a hard habit to break.
But I missed out on so much. Part of the fun of a road trip is the journey, more so than the destination. Now, as I take more road trips on my own, it’s like a whole new world has opened up for me, one that I had literally slept through until now.
If you’re also rediscovering the world of road tripping, of traveling with a cooler full of snacks, a tank full of gas, and eyes set on the endless horizon, then you’ll love this list of the best road trips in the U.S. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely drive through national parks, a close-up look at the country’s natural wonders, or a whirlwind tour that hits all the highlights, there’s a perfect road trip for you.
The Best Road Trips in the U.S.
1. Route 66
Route 66, the Mother Road, or the Main Street of America, depending on who you ask, has served as a symbol of freedom and adventure since it was founded in 1926. This 2,500-mile stretch from Chicago to Los Angeles rolls through the preserved mid-century Americana of the Midwest.
The visions of neon signs glowing against midnight skies, alluring middle-of-nowhere truck stops, and kitschy roadside attractions of Route 66 are forever engraved into the American consciousness. Endless cornfields give way to the red rock surrealism of the Southwest, crossing small towns of the Midwest that disappear in the blink of an eye.
Apart from dynamic cross-country landscapes, you can explore the 4.6-mile-long Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri, a site used by Native Americans and hide out for infamous outlaw Jesse James. The route is also dotted by several leading craft distilleries in America, including FEW Spirits in Chicago and Red Fork Distillery in Tulsa.
2. Going-to-the-Sun Road
With a name like that, this road is undeniably breathtaking. Named after Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, this route winds through Glacier National Park in Montana, one of America’s most famous states for impressive natural scenery.
Glorious mountain vistas blanketed in dark cedar forests fill the eye at every turn. Glacial lakes pool at the bottom of lower valleys and a soft dusting of snow covers the craggy mountain tops. In short, if you’re looking for fairytale scenery more Brothers Grimm than Disney, Glacier National Park is the perfect spot.
Going-to-the-Sun Road can be narrow and winding at times, so if you’re faint-of-heart and prone to motion sickness (like me!), it’s best to leave the driving to a pro.
3. Blue Ridge Parkway
Get lost in dramatic Appalachian landscapes of hardwood forests, mountain meadows, and thickets of rhododendron on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Twisting nearly 500 miles from North Carolina to Virginia, this scenic journey runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains and connects the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks.
Kill some time at local distilleries as the heavy mist lifts from the mountains. This region was once moonshine country, after all. Blue Ridge Distilling in Rutherford County, North Carolina is the jewel of the mountains, with craft whiskeys perfectly complementing the alpine scenery.
Need to stretch your legs? Explore over 100 hiking trails at Blue Ridge Parkway, passing through historic sites, cascading waterfalls, towering forests, and breathtaking lookouts.
4. Acadia National Park
This is on my personal bucket list. Living in central Texas, autumn is denoted by a single week (maybe two) of 70-degree weather – 60, if we’re lucky – and leaves that shrivel and instantly turn brown. Nothing like the blaze of fall colors that sweep Acadia National Park.
Located in Maine, this national park brims with hiking trails weaving throughout picturesque forests, tranquil lakes, and jutting mountains. In the fall, the trees are laden with gorgeous golden and red foliage that is truly breathtaking to behold.
Park Loop is the park’s most popular drive for epic views. Drive up Cadillac Mountain to catch the first rays of daylight spill over the country. April through October is the high peak visitor season, but crowds are light once fall comes around – the perfect time to visit Acadia.
Make Bar Harbor your base for your New England road trip. Famous for mouthwatering Maine seafood, easy access to Acadia, and island-studded bays, Bar Harbor is the ideal Down East retreat that takes you back to nature.
5. Pacific Coast Highway
Ever dream of driving along the coast in a flashy convertible – top down, of course – with the wind in your hair, sunglasses on, and warm sunshine guiding your journey? California’s Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, is the trip for you.
One of the most popular road trips in the U.S., the Pacific Coast Highway runs along the central California coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Driving from north to south sets you right against the ocean, passing through charming beach cities and views of alluring coastal scenery along the cliff-hugging, twisting route.
Make your way through sun-kissed beaches, including the famous Laguna Beach and Zuma Beach in Malibu. Pop in at the local galleries and shops of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a boutique coastal village bright with colorful cottages and pine-fringed beaches. In the town of Cambria, you’ll find Hearst Castle, a beautiful historical property developed by William Randolph Hearst.
As you drive further down the route, the redwood groves of Big Sur begin to dominate the landscape before reaching San Francisco.
6. Route 395
There’s no doubt California is home to some of the U.S.’s most scenic drives. But if you’re more after national parks and rugged terrain than beaches and coastline, then Route 395 is the bucket list trip for you.
Stretching from Lake Tahoe to the U.S.-Canada border in Washington, this drive takes you along the Sierra Nevada mountain range through California’s most extreme biomes. When I say extreme, I mean the full spectrum: from the most beautiful scenery to the oldest trees on Earth, not to mention a stretch across Death Valley – the hottest place on Earth.
Start with a day or two exploring the countless outdoor pursuits in Lake Tahoe, then pass by eerie ghost towns and spectacular limestone formations as you make your way to Mammoth Lakes. Ahead lies Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, home to trees that are nearly 5,000 years old.
Stop at Lone Pine and snag a permit to drive up Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the mainland U.S. Then hit Death Valley and head up Dante’s View to see the U.S.’s highest point, Mt. Whitney, and North America’s lowest point, Badwater Basin, all in one view below you.
7. I-35 to the Grand Canyon
It’s huge, it’s deep, and it’s breathtaking — the Grand Canyon in Arizona is one of the most iconic natural landmarks in America.
The best way to get there is by taking a drive from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City on Highway I-15. This route takes you through spectacular wonders both natural and man-made, from the Hoover Dam to Arizona’s Painted Desert.
Spend a day discovering over 1,000 miles of trails at Zion National Park in Utah, a popular stop along the way. Filled with incredible sandstone cliffs, slot canyons, and arches, Zion is the perfect introduction to the dynamic desert landscape of the Southwest.
As you continue into Arizona, plan ahead to make a stop at Antelope Canyon. This magical spot gets its beautiful rock formations and vibrant colors from millions of years of water erosion into its red sandstone.
It all culminates at the Grand Canyon, topping the list of America’s best road trip destinations. One look below will captivate you with the size and scale of the cliffs, towers, and bridges that dot the landscape. Best of all, there’s something for everyone. You can take a mule tour down from the top, or hike down on your own.
Get on the Road
With roads stretching across the country through national parks, scenic coastline, and otherwordly landscapes, a road trip is the best way to see America up close. I’ve found that frequent stops to get out and stretch my legs are the best way to fight those hours-long naps – and keep car sickness at bay.
So what better way to cure car sickness than with one of these epic road trips in the U.S?
I’m always on the lookout for road trips to add to my wishlist. If you have other must-do drives that should be on this list, let me know in the comments below! And let us know if you pass by any of these weird tourist attractions on your way.