12 Bucket-List Road Trips To Take in America

There is something about setting off on a road trip in the USA. The excitement of the open road with the horizon before you with windows down, music cranked, eyes peeled for incredible vistas, wildlife, and fun places to check out. With so many roads to travel in this great country, you may never run out of new routes to explore.

USA is made for road trips. The interstates and cities were all designed for cars. The scenery is constantly changing, dramatic, bold, rugged, silent, you’ll never get bored. Do not just fly between major cities on your visit, you’re missing out big time. There are some better than others, however, and the following are must-do, bucket-list road trips you need to take in your lifetime.

Best Road Trips in the USA

Ready to head out? Grab your suitcase, prescription sunglasses, wallet, a co-pilot, and choose your next great adventure!

1. The Pacific Coast Highway

The PCH is not to be missed. With 1,650 ocean-view miles on mostly two-lane roads, Highway 101 takes you all the way from the rainforests of northern Washington to the deserts of southern California, right to the border of Mexico. This drive is a vacation in itself, so leave plenty of time and room in your schedule to explore the big cities, little towns, and the hundreds of public, easily-accessible beaches along the way.

Taking Highway 101, is a scenic albeit slower route. If you’re planning on staying overnight while driving from San Diego to San Francisco, then you might as well take this option. San Luis Obispo is a great midpoint. Pretty much all of San Luis Obispo County is good. The city of San Luis Obispo is the best locale for an overnight stop in that county. It’s a college town with old architecture and cool shops and restaurants.

There are several smaller towns in the county that are good options as well. Pismo Beach is a great beach town, and other towns such as Avila Beach, Paso Robles, Arroyo Grande, and Atascadero are worth considering. Some of them might be a few miles off the main highway, but worth stopping in.

Aside from a more Spanish colonial feel around parts of Southern California and parts of the Bay Area, and the Mexican influence around SoCal, there is more uniformity to the 3 states that make up the West Coast. While there are certainly differences between Seattle and Portland, and even Washington and Oregon, it's nothing like the difference between Maine and South Carolina or Boston and Jacksonville.

The West Coast is slower paced, less crowded. But it counterbalances the East Coast with Hollywood and the Bay Area, the movie and tech capitals, both of which are in California giving the state a cultural heft rivaled by no other. Seattle is also a major tech hub and an information center. Also, the West Coast, from Seattle to San Diego has a spectacular coast line. The Pacific Northwest is beyond gorgeous and has bigger mountains.

Drive along the California coast on Highway 1 (Pacific Highway). You can start in San Francisco and drive south along 1 visiting places likes Pacifica, Halfmoon Bay, Santa Cruz, Capitola, Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, Cambria, Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, Hermosa Beach, Rodando Beach, Palos Verdes Penninsula, Newport Beach, Carlsbad, and then head even further south towards San Diego.

Each of these beach towns sits along the California coast and has amazing views of the coast and beaches. In some places you can see seals and sea lions just chilling on the beach (on Shell beach near Pismo). It will take you much longer than if you take highway 101 south inland but it’s really worth it!

I-5 Freeway is the fastest route. Most of it goes through the west side of the Central Valley. There is nothing interesting to stop and see, but you can drive really fast. You could drive the entire route in 6–7 hours.

Highway 101 is a freeway, but it is much more scenic than I-5. You can stop off at a few Spanish era missions and easily spend a day exploring beautiful Santa Barbara.

Highway 1 is by far the most scenic and slowest route. It follows the rugged coast, with stops in Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur, Hearst Castle (get tickets in advance), lots of beaches and scenic turnoffs. Highway 1 then joins Highway 101 and passes by Santa Barbara. You could easily spend three or four days on this route and not see everything.

Highway 1, often known as the Pacific Coast Highway, runs along the picturesque California coastline from Dana Point to Mendocino. The Pacific Coast Highway, a favorite among tourists and locals alike, thanks to the numerous destinations you'll pass along the route. In addition to the Big Sur coastline and Northern California's redwood woods, many other stunning vistas in San Francisco will also attract your attention.

Highway 1 runs along the magnificent San Diego beaches for 70 miles, from La Jolla to Oceanside, before continuing up the coast toward Los Angeles. You may visit Torrey Pines for a stunning seaside trek or a round of golf at one of California's premier courses. You may continue your magnificent oceanside trip with your canine best friend in Del Mar by visiting the town's dog-friendly beach. With other sights along this roadway for you and your family to see, such as Legoland in Carlsbad, this road trip will be anything but boring.

2. The Blue Ridge Parkway

Stretching from Afton, Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway takes you through the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains with Shenandoah National Park on one end and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park on the other. This drive demands you take it slow, as the speed limit maxes out at 45 in most areas, due to the altitude, looping roads, and heavy mist that blankets the mountains at dusk and dawn.

Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in USA and one of the best road trip destinations. You can go on a road trip of 470 miles through the Appalachian Mountains from North Carolina to Virginia. You can get incredibly close to the grandiose natural scenery from the comfort of your vehicle. This is one of the best national parks in USA.

3. Route 66

Iconic Route 66 is a snapshot of Americana and the ultimate road trip for millions of people who have traveled its 2000 miles from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. This trip is made for RV travel, or even better, on a Mustang convertible, so you can throw those safety glasses on and feel the wind in your hair.

The original Route 66 spanned from Chicago to Los Angeles, and it was filled with kitschy roadside attractions, innovative (for the time) motor hotels and mom-and-pop diners along the way. The original road may not exist today, but your GPS or smartphone can help you navigate your way along much of the original path and some of the most notable tourist attractions.

Gaze upon the world's largest ketchup bottle, visit the first gas station built in Texas and explore history in the Route 66 museum as you motor along across the country. For a unique take on this iconic road trip, consider traveling in an RV and camping your way across the country.

4. The Atlantic Coast

Not to be outdone by the PCH, the Atlantic coastal route takes you from the Statue of Liberty in New York City all the way to Florida's Key West. However, unlike the PCH, there is no one east-coast highway that travels all the way down with the ocean in sight. This means you'll need to take some smaller roads out to the shoreline and have the opportunity to discover great local barbeque and seafood joints as you head out to see the Atlantic Ocean.

5. The Great Northern

Route 2, beginning near Seattle, Washington, takes you from sea level to the alpine in just about an hour. You cut through the Cascade mountains, Glacier National Park, the Great Plains, the Great Northwoods of Minnesota, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula into Canada for a bit, before landing in Lake Champlain in upstate New York.

6. The Loneliest Road

Route 50, from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California traces the same route as the Pony Express, cutting through a dozen states along its 3000 miles. You need to take at least two weeks for this journey to appreciate the side trips to sites and attractions since you'll see little more than blue sky and mountains along this appropriately-named road.

7. The Maine Lobster Trail

Coastal Route 1 takes you along the southeastern "Downeast" coast of Maine, from Kennebunkport to Portland and up through the most picturesque New England towns you'd ever want to see. Must-see stops include Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Bar Harbor, and Acadia National Park. If you're game, head all the way out to Eastport, the eastern-most city in the United States.

8. Mississippi Delta Tamale Trail

Road trips through different states to sample a specific type of cuisine are a great way to get to know an area. You could try every style of pizza in New York, for instance. It might be surprising, but if you want to try among the best tamales in the United States, head to Mississippi. You read that right. An interesting mix of history and circumstance brought the tamale to the Mississippi Delta.

Some of the ingredients and cooking techniques changed based on what was available, but the tamale can be found at diners and roadside restaurants along the Delta. For anyone who enjoys taking deep dives into American cuisine, it's worth taking a trip down south to experience this peculiar niche of Mexican food.

One of the most pleasant drives is I-29 down the eastern end of the Dakotas between the Canadian border and Sioux Falls. No major cities. Minimal traffic and scenery, but also not an entirely unpleasant landscape. High speed limits. Just fill up, set your cruise at 85, and relax.

They’re much more enjoyable than scenic mountain roads where the weather can change in a minute and the driver is too busy to enjoy the scenery, or those maddeningly interesting roads in major cities where, again, traffic never moves, and they often charge you for the privilege of driving there. South of Sioux Falls, the road runs into the Missouri River, which at least gives it some definition and curves the rest of the way to Kansas City.

Even North Dakota - often thought to be a place with nothing to see - has over 100 worthy stops on a road trip. North Dakota is one of the better places to take a road trip in the contiguous United States! “It was here that the romance of my life began,” said President Roosevelt of his time in North Dakota. Witness the beauty of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and explore the acres of uninterrupted prairie, forests and radiant floral gardens at the International Peace Garden.

I-90 between Rapid City, and Rochester is a relatively flat road that crosses the flat Great Plains like every other road between I-20 and I-94, but this one again has a slightly extraterrestrial feel due to elevation and the northern clime.

Also, by the time you get out of the Black Hills, you have the Badlands to look forward to, and then endless fun Wall Drug and Burma-Shave signs to entertain you for hours. Before you know it, you’re in Minnesota, and then it’s a short drive to run into the nicely forested and curvy Mississippi River and the woodlands of Wisconsin.

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore has something to explore for everyone. The popular landmarks of the place are the statutes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into the mountain. From the outdoor adventure and American history to an array of beautiful wildlife, it is a large-scale mountain sculpture visited by millions of people from all over the world.

More than just Mount Rushmore, a drive through the Black Hills in South Dakota takes you along the Badlands Scenic Byway and to Wind Cave National Park. Take in the incredible sunrises and sunsets the Badlands has to offer while looking out for bison along the way.

Get up close and personal with the locals and visit Custer State Park’s herd of 1,300 bison. At Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the 18m-high faces of US Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln gaze across the Black Hills, while nearby Crazy Horse Memorial shows history in the making.

9. Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway

From Albuquerque to Taos, New Mexico, Turquoise Trail is a short three-hour drive where you can see the dusty remnants of Western ghost towns and pioneer trails, along with the pueblos and craft marketplaces of the Zuni Reservation. This is a great area to appreciate Native American culture and stargaze at night since there is very little ambient light in this region.

10. East Coast

On I–95 once you get into New Jersey what is at that point the NJ Turnpike, South Jersey from the bottom of the state to at least exit 9 is mostly all wooded, especially the area north of exit 4. There the road goes through a forest of tall trees on each side with no billboards or signage other than the highway signs. In the fall it’s incredibly beautiful.

Then when you get into New York, just north of NYC take the Hutchinson River Parkway (the Hutch) for a much prettier alternative to 95 which it runs parallel to. It’s a very pretty, wooded windy parkway which becomes the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut which is also very pretty (and even more wooded).

11. Logan Canyon Scenic Byway

Enjoy the route via I-15 to Brigham City, then hopping on Rt 89 thru Logan Canyon to Bear Lake. Then following the lake to MontPelier, then heading over the pass and descending into the Star Valley and Afton. Then follow 89 up to the Palisades Reservoir and Alpine. Stop by Melvin’s Brewing right on the water. Continue 89 at Alpine Junction along the Snake River to Hoback Junction and into Jackson Hole. Be careful driving this route in the evenings/dusk as there is lots of wildlife along this route.

12. Midwest

Blow out of Chicago, stop at Starved Rock (cool canyons and dells on the Illinois River), detour to Nauvoo to see the old Mormon ruins (it’s an interesting place). Detour to Eldon, Iowa, to see Grant Wood’s American Gothic House (model for a famous American painting), grab some BBQ in Kansas City, stretch your legs at Konza Prairie and the Flint Hills in Kansas (yes, there are pretty hills in Kansas, and yes you can get a workout hiking at Konza).

Detour to Lucas, Kansas, to see the strange Garden of Eden (a socialist woodcarver’s interpretation of Genesis, and you can even see his embalmed body in a glass coffin out back). Then maybe get to Castle Rock or the Arikara Breaks (more Kansas geology) before hauling ass into Denver, because there’s not much in eastern Colorado.

Or if you’ve got time to do the proverbial around your elbow you should drive up through beautiful southwestern Wisconsin (on back roads). See the river bluffs in southern Minnesota, hightail it at night out to the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota. Swing over to Devil’s Tower in eastern Wyoming, down to the Oregon Trail sites in western Nebraska (like Chimney Rock). Then it’s a quick drive down the Front Range to Denver and crazy traffic.

There’s stuff out there if you slow down and take the time to see it. You might get to do some tornado and thunderstorm spotting. Whatever tornados and lightning are they aren’t boring. Do yourself a favor. Take a tent and camp for a few nights in one of the big national grasslands. That part of the country will grow on you if you give it a chance.

This bucket-list of the iconic road trips will help you in your planning when you're ready to embark on your next big "Great American Adventure." If you're looking for prescription sunglasses with style, quality, and value, check out Marvel Optics for a fantastic selection of frames.

Kalyan Panja