With over 160,000 miles of open highway spread over 50 states, it’s no wonder that the United States is the originator of that mythic rite of passage, the Road Trip. If you’re planning a holiday in the USA, know that whatever destinations you choose, it’s how you get there that matters. There is no better way to take in the diversity of American landscapes than embarking on one of these classic routes. You’ll meet the locals and make discoveries you’d never get a chance to on the more direct routes from city to city. Hire a car, preferably something classic, or a bike if that’s what you’re into, and strike out as so many freedom seekers have before.
Journeying from Chicago to Los Angeles along Route 66 is a staple of American youth mythology. The 2448 miles will take you through three time zones and across eight states, including Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. You’ll recognise the iconic Route 66 sights, like isolated truck stops, neon signs, and miles and miles of open space. And this route is a must for movie fanatics, with cinematic classics like Little Miss Sunshine and Thelma & Louise taking Route 66 as their backdrop.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Managed by the U.S. National Parks System, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile route from the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Among the incredible attractions are the Linn Cove Viaduct, Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park, Linville Gorge and Whitewater Falls. And it’s not just amazing scenery you’ll be taking in on the way. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most culturally significant routes in America, rich in Cherokee traditions, Appalachian crafts and music, and countless historic sites. Choosing autumn for your drive means you’ll enjoy the golden-red hues of the falling leaves.
Pacific Coast Highway
Whether you chose to set off from San Francisco or San Diego, this 655 mile journey across California will leave you wanting to drive back in the other direction. You’ll see views of the Pacific Ocean and iconic sites like Bixby Creek Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. And if you’ve secured your soft-top car for the journey, this is one of the best routes you can pick. California is famous for its road-trip friendly weather.
The Overseas Highway
Island-hopping in a car? Only in America! This unique stretch of highway reaches across the ocean, crossing 42 bridges between Miami and Key West. This is the ultimate windows-down, sun-in-your-eyes kind of trip, with the sparkling Atlantic Ocean spread out on either side. Notable Keys along the way include Ragged Key, Fat Deer Key, Plantation Key, Sugarloaf Key and Tea Table Key. And when you pull up in Key West, make the beach your first stop for that iconic Key lime cocktail. The weather is great for driving all year round, but April and May are the ideal months to head down to the Keys, as you’re sure to avoid hurricanes.
The Oregon Trail
This historic 2,170 mile wagon route across the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains saw the largest migration in American history. From Missouri to Oregon, the trail takes you through six different states. Following the route created by fur trappers and traders in the early 1800’s, you’ll find the Oregon Trail a little faster by car than by foot, wagon or on horseback. That said, the rugged scenery on either side of your rolled-down windows provides a perfect backdrop for imagining the treacherous journeys of these intrepid adventurers.
California features again on this list because a survey of America’s iconic routes would not be complete without Route 395. This is not a trip to be done in a day. You’ll need at least a week to get the most of this epic journey from Lake Tahoe to the Mojave Desert. Your first stop is the stunning Yosemite National Park, which you can reach via the Tioga Pass Road. From there, head to the gorgeous town of Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Bears aside, it’s a beautiful, tranquil place to prepare yourself for the next leg, which takes you to Lone Pine, California’s highest mountain. The last stretch of this epic journey takes you to Death Valley in the northern Mojave Desert. Take note: this is one of world’s hottest places, so if you go in the summer, take more water than you think you’ll need.
Great River Road
This famous route follows the meandering Mississippi River 3000 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Passing through 10 states, the Great River Road would take around 36 hours to drive if you did not stop, but taking breaks along the way will give you plenty of opportunities to take in what this route has to offer. Driving along the Mississippi River takes you on a cultural and historical journey. The music and literature of the South have secured a place for the Mississippi River in the national psyche. Whether your cultural reference point is Mark Twain, Muddy Waters or Bob Dylan, you’ll feel the spirit of the Mississippi as you roll along.
The Loneliest Road
This 3,200-mile section of U.S. Highway 50 is so called because it passes through barren and largely uninhabited parts of Nevada. Following the route of the famous Pony Express on this coast-to-coast journey through the heart of America, you’ll pass through twelve states, each of which boasts iconic American vistas. The vast Great Plains, the Sierra Nevada desert and the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains are just some of the spectacular landscapes you’ll encounter along the way
Coming from Europe, the idea of driving long distances rather than flying can take a little getting used to, but in addition to saving loads of money on travel expenses, hitting the open road really is the most fun you’ll have in America. Whatever part of America calls to you—whether it’s the rugged Wild West, the warm Californian coast or the majestic Mississippi—there’s a highway passing through with your name on it.