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Sometimes the journey itself is just as stunning as the destination. Miles of scenery outside your window and your favorite songs on the stereo are just some of the many reasons why you might want to consider ditching the plane tickets and filling up your tank for a journey out on the open road for your next vacation. Need inspiration? Check out these eight essential American road trips from coast to coast.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway wind through some of the most beautiful scenery on the East Coast. Spanning Virginia and North Carolina, the parkway cuts through the Appalachians with mountain and forest views for miles. Stop along the way for camping and hiking or enjoy the scenery from your car. Come back in different seasons for an entirely new visual experience as the foliage changes. In autumn, the region has some of the most stunning colors and best weather in the country, but it’s hard to beat the Blue Ridge beauty any time of year.
Loneliest Road in America
Many describe this route as desolate, but for some, that barren beauty is part of this road trip’s allure. U.S. Route 50 crosses the entire country from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California. It’s the 408-mile stretch across Nevada, however, that has earned the road the title of Loneliest Road in America. Expect open skies with little more than sagebrush along the roadside and mountains on the horizon. Take a detour near the state’s eastern border into Great Basin National Park, one of the least-visited parks in the country. Pass through towns with stagecoach stations like Ely or Middlegate and enjoy plenty of solitude, starry night skies, and a straight drive for nearly the entire route.
The southernmost stretch of U.S. Route 1, Florida’s Overseas Highway runs for approximately 106 miles over the shimmering turquoise water of the Florida Keys. Drive from Miami on the mainland all the way to Key West in the south, while crossing 42 bridges (including the most famous Seven Mile Bridge) along the way. Though the drive itself isn’t that long, it’s worth taking the time to do it properly. The geography of the area means that you can catch both incredible sunsets and sunrises over the water amid the coral cays that make up the Keys. Try your luck at the sport-fishing capital of the world in Islamorada, go diving in Key Largo, or take in the unexpected land-based wildlife at Big Pine Key.
Richardson Highway is the oldest highway in Alaska and dates back to the state’s gold rush in the early 1900s. Today, the highway covers 368 miles from Valdez in the south all the way to Fairbanks. The drive takes you through some of the wildest, most untouched terrain in the United States including Chugach National Forest and glaciers, mountains, and more. View the salmon in Crooked Creek during late summer or take in the multicolored views of Rainbow Ridge farther north. At the southern end of the route, spend some time around Valdez Glacier Lake with its crystalline beauty and floating icebergs.
The Road to Hana
One of Hawaii’s most famous attractions, the Road to Hana takes you around the coast of Maui. While its roughly 50 miles of road might hardly seem long enough to constitute a proper road trip, we promise you that the drive is a truly adventurous undertaking and not for the faint of heart. Most of the Hana “Highway” is a narrow, twisting road that is often reduced to a single lane across its 59 bridges.
If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with incredible island scenery from lush, verdant rainforests to waterfalls and panoramic ocean views. When you arrive in Hana, take in the peaceful, relaxing atmosphere of the historic town, swim at the local beaches, or continue on to Haleakala National Park for even more island beauty.
San Juan Skyway
The 233-mile loop of the San Juan Skyway is a must for any mountain lover. Carved into the side of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the road takes you through winding ascents, intimidating hairpin turns, and jaw-dropping vistas. Learn about the history of the state’s old west towns including Durango, Ouray, and Telluride and stretch your legs on stunning and challenging hiking trails.
Make a pit stop in Mesa Verde National Park for a glimpse of the area’s ancient Pueblo heritage. From Ouray to Silverton, drive along the segment known as the Million Dollar Highway with its alpine scenes and colorful valley views. Just be sure to check the weather in advance so that you don’t get caught in snow on the passes.
Pacific Coast Highway
For a road trip along some of the country’s most beautiful coastline territory, head up or down the Pacific Coast Highway. This iconic route stretches over 600 miles from San Diego to Mendocino County north of San Francisco, although you can continue driving north along the 101 into Oregon and Washington. Catch some rays at the beaches in Malibu, take in the cliffside views of Big Sur, and wind your way through the scenic 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach. In San Francisco, the road takes you past Golden Gate Park and across its namesake bridge for truly spectacular views of the city and harbor.
Finally, you can’t have a list of American road trips without including the famed Route 66. It’s the Main Street of America, after all, and when it comes to classic Americana, small-town sights, and kitschy roadside attractions, the approximately 2,400 miles of road through the nation’s heartland can’t be beat. Start in Chicago and continue all the way to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles for the road trip of a lifetime.
While there is plenty to see and do in the bigger cities along the route like St. Louis, Oklahoma City, and Albuquerque, Route 66 really isn’t about urban life. It’s about places like Tucumcari, New Mexico with its wealth of neon and curios or Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park in Oklahoma. It’s about making detours for local favorites like Cadillac Ranch and the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle. You might not travel this road quickly, but we guarantee you’ll enjoy the journey.