Want to experience a classic American road trip? Take your pick from these 8 stunning routes that will let you experience the classic USA road trip with a car or campervan. The deserts of the Wild West, the fabled Californian coast or the red and gold leaves of the Appalachian Mountains – whichever takes your fancy, we can help you plan it.
1. New York to Boston
Start your American adventure with a bang by exploring the ‘Big Apple’. You won’t be driving here, so jump feet-first into exploring Central Park, Greenwich Village, Times Square and the Empire State Building, fuelled by a classic diner breakfast and a street food hot dog or pretzel!
Jutting out in to the Atlantic Ocean like a fisherman’s hook, your drive takes you to Cape Cod – New England’s summer playground. With miles of pristine beaches, colourful lighthouses and quaint fishing villages you’ll soon be moving at a slower pace.
Take a short ferry trip to picture perfect Martha’s Vineyard, hire a bike to discover Nantucket Island or drive the Mid-Cape Highway to Provincetown for a day whale watching.
Wind your way over to another of the east coast’s best cities. Steeped in history, Boston’s position as a key city was cemented when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived on the Mayflower. Walk the city’s ‘Freedom trail’ and soak up the sights before ending the day with the local favourite fish – Clam Chowder!
2. The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway snakes its way through the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia, all the way down to the Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. During the autumn, the golden hued trees hug the edges of the road, which twists and turns through the incredible scenery of the Appalachians. Along the way are hiking trails, waterfalls and panoramic views that are easy to access from the road.
Although there are places of interest along the route, the highlight of his journey is the drive itself. This road was built purely for the joy of driving through the Virginian countryside so make the most of the outstanding scenery passing by your windows. Many people miss out this area of the USA as it is slightly removed from the major cities but it is such a worthwhile area to drive through that will produce some great photos!
Autumn is best – the red and gold leaves make September and October the perfect time to do this drive. The speed limit on the Blue Ridge Parkway is mainly 45 mph (less in some sections). The road is meant to be driven at a leisurely pace so take your time and enjoy the drive.
3. The Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West
This road over the ocean crosses 42 bridges in its journey from Miami to Key West, the final link in the chain of the Florida Keys. The stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean on both sides of the road is a unique experience that is unrivalled by other road trip routes. Jumping from island to island, make sure you check off their unusual names as you pass: Ragged Key, Plantation Key, Fat Deer Key, Tea Table Key and Sugarloaf Key, before finally arriving in Key West and delivering you to the beach for a real Key lime cocktail.
The best part of this spectacular drive comes from the way the road hops from island to island with the option of pulling in at other keys making this a much more adventurous route than simply flying. Windows down, sunglasses on – this unique drive over the ocean is a wonderful way to start an exploration of Florida and the Keys as Jim discovered.
This is a great drive all year round – although it is worth noting that June to November is hurricane season so keep an eye on weather warnings and if you’re worried, try and hit the Keys in April or early May. Winter is high season, so if you want to stay anywhere along the route, make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment.
4. San Francisco –Utah
With a start point in California’s most laid-back city, be sure to explore the city before you pick up the car. Cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge for sparkling views of the bay area, uncover the history of the prison island of Alcatraz and sip the best coffee in a hipster café in the Hayes Valley – this city is achingly cool and will lure you back with its charm!
Driving out of the city, you’ll head towards Lake Tahoe, with a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Stop for a break to kayak, fish, cycle or hike and enjoy the alpine views. Next up is Yosemite, home to towering waterfalls, giant sequoia trees over looked by the mighty peak of El Captain.
Continuing on to America’s hottest and driest park, Death Valley, you’ll likely be reliant on the A/C! Look out for high alpine meadows full of flowers and colourful, rocky scenery – a photographers dream. From here, your journey continues into the desert until you reach ‘Sin City’ aka Las Vegas – the hedonist’s home! If you have time – here are our top 10 recommendations to help you explore Vegas in a few days!
5. Pacific Coast Highway: San Francisco – LA
This drive takes in the highlights of the Pacific Coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco – as George discovered on her road trip. From the small seaside towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea before following the rugged coast of Big Sur and Garrapata State Park where you can look out for the protected sea otters. Stop to enjoy the beaches of Pfeiffer Beach before emerging from the redwoods by Moro Rock and cruising into Los Angeles to relax by the Santa Monica Pier.
It’s so simple to fly from San Francisco to LA but everyone knows that sometimes the easiest option is not the best! This drive takes in some remote areas of the California coast that you’d never be able to reach by public transport and the ability to pull over and stay longer along the way, gives you such a sense of freedom that you’d otherwise be missing out on.
“The Pacific Coast Highway’s views are endless… every corner you turn brings a different aspect. If you journey north to south you’ll be driving on the best side of the road for great views!”
Spring and autumn are the best times; free from the crowds and prices of the summer but with enough warmth to still enjoy your coastal journey. Make sure you drive this route south, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, as you will be driving in the right hand lane and the views will be far superior in this direction.
6. The Las Vegas Loop
The red rock of the American West is the scenery that will guide you through this loop from Las Vegas, round to Monument Valley and Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks – as Chris discovered on his trip. Starting in the bright lights of the Vegas strip, make your way through the open desert of Arizona and Utah into the classic American Wild West. Hike and bike in the national parks and enjoy driving, Thelma and Louise style through the unique scenery, learning about the local Navajo culture as you go.
Seeing the stunning views of the American desert will be all you need to persuade you to take a road trip through this natural phenomenon. The long, straight and empty roads are so classically American that you’ll really get under the skin of this incredible country. Americans have a real love affair with their national parks and after driving through some of the most spectacular ones in the country, you’ll be hard pushed to ask why.
You would best to avoid summer if you don’t want to be burnt to a crisp! Spring and autumn are the best times heat-wise, although the occasional snowfall that winter brings makes the red rock even more beautiful (if that’s possible!)
Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park, not a US National Park so make sure you are respectful of the local customs and traditions. Photography is allowed but when taking pictures of Navajo residents, ask permission first as a contribution is expected.
“See sunrise through Masa Arch in Canyonlands NP, watch a breath-taking sunset over the Delicate Arch in the Arches National park, hike up Angels Landing in Zion National Park, then to top it all off, take a limo ride down the Vegas strip!”
7. Route 66
From Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 is the longest of our classic road trips. Cruise down the long straight roads through the breadbasket of America passing the old fashioned motels and truck stops that make this road so famous. The long history of the road is documented by key sights along the way: museums, restaurants and towns that prospered in the 30s and have now become an important part of American history. If you feel like venturing off the road, you’ll be passing pretty close to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Santa Fe.
The fabled journey down Route 66 is the thing of American legends, the most famous of all road trip routes. The places you’ll pass through are towns you would be unlikely to ever visit otherwise and the link this journey has as the pathway to opportunity and prosperity in the west, is so classically American that this drive is a must if you want to get under the skin of the true American spirit. On Route 66, it is all about the journey.
Avoid the heat of the summer as a lot of this route is in the desert. Similarly the northern section can be snowy in winter – spring and autumn are the best times for driving.
Although the drive can probably be completed in 5 days, it is best to spread out the driving and enjoy the experience by going slower and enjoying side trips like the Grand Canyon. 2 weeks is a more comfortable amount of time to complete this iconic drive.
“Leaving Chicago (one of my favourite cities in the US), you’ll drive through the open plains of the Midwest, mountainous New Mexico and the barren desert of the west before finally arriving on the beautiful pacific coast. Throw the map away, turn off the GPS, follow the signs and enjoy your time along Route 66.”
8. The Deep South: Chicago to New Orleans
This drive traverses the heart of America from top to bottom and takes a musically-themed route through 6 different states. Beginning in Chicago, your route takes you towards Lincoln’s birthplace in St Louis. From here, you’ll head south to Memphis; the cradle of rock’n’roll, blues and jazz and home to Elvis’s ‘Graceland’ mansion.
Feel the southern charm seep in and notice the cuisine take on a distinctly southern creole flavour as you continue to Natchez on the banks of the Mississippi River. From here, it’s a 3 hour drive to finish your mammoth route in the spectacular southern city of New Orleans – a jazz fan and foodie’s paradise as Rowena quickly discovered!