There’s perhaps no country in the world more iconic for scenic road trips than the USA. From the famous to the unexpected, these are its best routes.
Road trips are all about the journey, not the end destination, and nowhere is this adage truer than the winding highways of the USA. With a landmass to rival Australia and most of the European continent, there’s plenty to cover on the great open road, with ever-changing landscapes, weather and even accents to keep you on your toes. Weave your way north, south, east or west on epic routes, discovering hidden gems, soaking up the scenery and enjoying the freedom that comes with building your own itinerary. So, line up your playlists or podcasts, stock up on snacks... it’s time to hit the road with this list of iconic road trips in the USA.
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The iconic one: Route 66 – Chicago to Santa Monica Pier
There’s a reason Nat King Cole sang about Route 66 and John Steinbeck declared it ‘The Mother Road’ – as one of the U.S. Highway System’s original routes, the iconic road has seen its fair share of cars travelling from downtown Chicago to Santa Monica Pier. Spanning eight states and nearly 4000km, the historic highway is a classic for a reason, with vintage motels, eye-catching roadside attractions, restored gas stations and traditional diners all evoking the nostalgia of times gone by. Stop to devour St. Louis-style ribs at countless diners, sample whiskey at craft distilleries, admire natural wonders like the Mojave Desert and Petrified Forest, or detour to discover attractions like the Grand Canyon.
The coastal one: Pacific Coast Highway
Hugging 900km of California’s rugged coastline, the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the best ways to explore every nook and cranny of the USA’s western coast, passing by verdant mountains, towering forests, beautiful beaches and the rolling waves of some of the country’s best breaks. Start in San Francisco or LA for your serving of city-cool, before hitting the road to embrace the exhilaration of treacherous turns along the cliff-hugging route. Let the heart rate drop with visits to charming coastal towns like Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea, stop off at sensational Big Sur and refuel at farm-fresh food stalls and local wineries.
The Wild West one: Santa Fe to Taos Loop
Pull on the cowboy boots, throw on the Akubra – it’s time to discover the Wild Wild West with a road trip loop from Sante Fe to Taos and back again. This all-American drive is a tale of two halves, weaving through desertscapes (tumbleweeds and all) and the pueblo communities of Ojo Caliente, as well as the lush hillsides of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. If you’re driving after dark, pull up for a spot of stargazing – the area has some of the darkest skies in the country. Don’t forget to stop in Taos, located in northern New Mexico’s high desert – it is home to centuries of Native American history and culture, including the Zuni Reservation and Taos Art Museum. Should you be there in the colder months, Taos is also a ski mecca.
The mountainous one: Blue Ridge Parkway
Forget the stop-start of traffic lights – its green all the way on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 755km roadway that runs through Virginia and North Carolina to connect the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. Winding through the southern Appalachian Mountains, this road trip is all about embracing the great outdoors, driving under brilliant displays of crimson, auburn and golden leaves, especially in autumn. Stop to stretch the legs with short hikes to lakes, rest the head at forest lodges and if you’re chief navigator, while away the hours by looking for native wildlife. A note for speed fiends – the Parkway isn’t a route for the rushed. The speed limit sits at 70km/h and commercial vehicles aren’t allowed.
The diverse one: Olympic Peninsula Loop
This West Coast wonder swerves, dips and dives around Washington’s Olympic National Park, and is best known for the diversity of its landscapes. With nearly 500km of road winding through forests, along cliffs, by beaches and around rugged mountains, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to your next snap for social media. Make a pit stop to enjoy local oysters and fresh clams, a regional speciality, or swing by Sol Duc Hot Springs to soak away the day in the natural mineral springs. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack swimmers – you can nip in and out in the nude.
Feature image: Blue Ridge Parkway.
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