10 Incredible Road Trip Routes Across America

There’s nothing quite like the great American road trip. National Geographic compiled its own list of 50 Ultimate Road Trips around the world, and of those included, 39 are actually situated in this country, from Alaska’s Seward Highway to Maui’s Back Road to Hana to the Cherohala Skyway in the Great Smoky Mountains.

A sprawling network of interstate highways, bumpy back roads, and everything between makes it easy to craft the perfect road trip for your particular interests and timetable. And then there are the tried-and-true routes, those must-sees for road trip aficionados. Here’s a look at ten of my all-time favorites.

Champlain Valley. Photo © Stephanie Murton/123rf.

The Vermont Cheese Trail passes through the scenic pastures of Champlain Valley. Photo © Stephanie Murton/123rf.

1. Vermont’s Cheese Trail

Ever since my first visit to Burlington, I’ve been an ardent fan of Vermont’s sharp cheddar and artisanal cheeses. If you’re a passionate cheese fan, too, you’ll appreciate this 280-mile loop (via I-89, Route 100, and Route 7) from Plymouth Notch, the birthplace of President Calvin Coolidge, to the scenic pastures of the Champlain Valley.

2. The East Coast’s Journey Through Hallowed Ground

The East Coast offers a number of amazing sights for history buffs, including the 175-mile route known by preservationists as the Journey Through Hallowed Ground. Commencing in Charlottesville, Virginia, and continuing toward Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, you’ll encounter such presidential landmarks as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Monroe’s Ash-Lawn Highland, and James Madison’s Montpelier, not to mention Gettysburg National Military Park.

Map of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

3. Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys

There’s nothing quite like the 113-mile drive through the Florida Keys, via the aptly named Overseas Highway (U.S. 1). Along this picturesque route–a series of bridges and land-based stretches–you’ll encounter several unique islands and attractions, including the state parks and dolphin facilities of Key Largo, the spas and diving museum of Islamorada, Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Keys, and a plethora of bars, eateries, art galleries, and museums in Key West, the country’s Southernmost City.

View of the Flagler Railway and Bridge at Bahia Honda State Park. Photo © Fiona Deaton/123rf.

View of the Flagler Railway and Bridge at Bahia Honda State Park. Photo © Fiona Deaton/123rf.

4. Louisiana’s Creole Country

You might be surprised to learn that northern Louisiana is as much worth a look as is southern counterpart. Starting in Natchitoches, you can take a 70-mile loop known as the Cane River Road, or the Cane River National Heritage Area, where you’ll spy moss-draped live oak trees, small riverfront communities, and several plantations, including Oaklawn, Cherokee, Beaufort, Oakland, Melrose, and Magnolia.

5. The Hill Country of Texas

Interstate 10 isn’t the most thrilling route to take through western Texas, but the state’s famed Hill Country is another thing altogether. Defined by wooded canyons, spring-fed rivers, and rolling terrain, this pastoral, offbeat region is one of the loveliest areas in the Lone Star State. Starting in San Antonio, this scenic loop will take you through small towns like the German-settled Fredericksburg and curious landscapes like the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.

Travel map of The Hill Country, Texas

The Hill Country

6. The Southwest’s Four Corners

This is a strikingly beautiful region of the American Southwest, so named because the corners of four states–Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah–converge here. Beginning in Flagstaff, Arizona, this 525-mile route (via I-40, U.S. 191, etc.) will take you through such wonders as Petrified Forest National Park, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde National Park, and the ski resort town of Telluride, Colorado.

7. Pacific Coast Highway

Indeed one of the most scenic routes in the country–and one of the most accessible–is the Pacific Coast Highway, known regionally as the PCH. The 522-mile stretch between Dana Point and San Francisco is particularly beautiful, offering access to numerous beaches and state parks, several sun-loving towns (such as Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, and Monterey), and various historic sites, including the San Juan Capistrano Mission and Hearst Castle. It’s easy to break the highway down into more manageable chunks, such as five days exploring Oregon’s Pacific Coast or two weeks on the California coast.

A two-lane road along Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

The remote Olympic Peninsula features thick rain forest, a wild coast, and gritty towns. Photo © welcomia/123rf.

8. Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

Situated just west of Seattle, marked by snow-capped mountains and old-growth forests, and protected, at least in part, as Olympic National Park, this majestic peninsula is still one of the most untamed regions left in America. Starting in Seattle, follow the 330-mile loop (via Hwy. 101 and Hwy. 12) to explore quiet towns and gorgeous destinations, such as Port Angeles, Lake Crescent, and the Hoh Rain Forest.

Maps - Washington 10e - Olympic Peninsula and Coast

Travel map of the Olympic Peninsula and the Coast of Washington

9. The Black Hills of South Dakota

For a history buff and outdoor enthusiast like me, the southwestern corner of South Dakota offers a surprising number of Wild West towns, historic landmarks, and dramatic landscapes. On a circuitous, 350-mile route that mainly follows I-90 and Highway 16, you’ll find places like Badlands National Park, the Mount Rushmore National Monument, and the once-legendary town of Deadwood.

10. Michigan’s Shipwreck Coast

It’s easy to be enamored by the windswept beaches, massive forests, and multicolored cliffs of the Upper Peninsula. By following a series of small routes along unforgiving Lake Superior (where hundreds of ships have met their end), you’ll encounter several worthy attractions from Marquette to Whitefish Point, including the Marquette Maritime Museum, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

Which road trip route would you add to this list? One of the 29 others suggested by National Geographic–or another route altogether?


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1 Comment

  1. Jessica Mitchell says:

    Nice repertoire of adventures you have there, Laura. I’ve enjoyed some of that sharp Vermont cheddar you are talking about – http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-deal-with-sharp-cheddar-cheese-ingredient-intelligence-211405 – and acquired something of a habit. Going to Vermont on a cheese pilgrimage seems like a worthy idea. Gettysburg has a rich history, of course, but it’s a bit bloody and grim in some ways.
    I would undertake a road trip in Louisiana along the route you’ve described, starting in Natchitoches and going through Alexandria to Natchez – http://en.cutway.net/distance/20250-20422/ Seems like this way I can see most of sights, enjoy Creole atmosphere and travel time will be only about 3 hours or less. And after that, I will go for Pacific Route. I was there before, but not enough.