California

The Great American Road Trip: 15 Top Road Trips

The Road to Jalama County Beach, outside of Lompoc, California. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The U.S. offers spectacular scenery and the best way to see it is by its highways and byways. From the coffee-growing coast of Hawaii to the Atlantic waters of Maine, travelers can see the epic scenery of the U.S. From the hills of South Dakota to the top of Colorado’s fourteeners to the blue ridges of the Appalachian Mountains,  roadside pull-outs provide the best views. Best of all, many of the Best Road Trips in the U.S. are in and around national parks. To find a road-tripping getaway from a weekend to a weeklong adventure, here are 15 of the Best Road Trips in the U.S. 

Table of Contents

The Best Road Trips in the U.S. 

Beartooth Highway
The Mighty 5
Pacific Coast Highway
Overseas Highway
Going-to-the-Sun Road
Kaʻū Scenic Byway
Blue Ridge Parkway
Olympic Peninsula Loop
Trail Ridge Road
Northern Arizona National Park Road Trip
Coastal Route 1
Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway
Volcanic Legacy Byway
Volcanic Legacy Byway
Texas Hill Country Trail
Natchez Trace Parkway
Tower Roosevelt in Yellowstone
The Tower Roosevelt area in Yellowstone offers trail rides. credit: Catherine Parker

1. Beartooth Highway

From Red Lodge to Yellowstone National Park
Where: Montana and Wyoming
Best: Weeklong Trip

Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the world to be set aside in 1872. For roadtrippers who want to enter the park on the road less traveled, U.S. Route 212, or the Beartooth Highway, is it. Starting in Red Lodge, Montana, about 60 miles southwest of Billings, this All-American road was built in 1936. It switchbacks through remote mountain scenery from Memorial Day until mid-September, when snow shuts it back down. 

Drivers along Beartooth Pass will reach 10,947 feet, passing clear alpine lakes and glaciers in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. This area is home to Grizzly bears, elk, moose, big-horn sheep, and wildflowers. 

At the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone, travelers drive through the Lamar Valley, rich with bison, bears and wolves, before reaching the Tower-Roosevelt Junction. Here, roadtrippers can check into the historic cabins at Roosevelt Lodge for a true taste of Western life.

Top Things to do in Yellowstone National Park
Zion National Park. Utah National lPark Itinerary from Las Vegas
Carved by the tame Virgin River, Zion National Park’s sandstone takes centerstage. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

2. The Mighty 5

From Zion to Arches National Parks
Where: Utah and Nevada
Best: Weeklong Trip

With Las Vegas as your departure point, roadtrippers can see all five of Utah’s national parks. Pick up a rental car then load it full of road trip snacks to see the majestic beauty of Utah’s National Parks. This is one of the best road trips in the U.S. for national park lovers. 

It’s hard to believe that just a few hours north of the Strip, travelers can splash their feet down Zion’s legendary trail, the Narrows. Drive a few hours more, and then it’s the pink-hued spires of Bryce Canyon. Then there’s the fruit trees of Capitol Reef and the epic vistas of Canyonlands. Then at the edge of Utah is Arches. 

Planning is essential on all trips, though some National Parks require advance reservations to enter or participate in high-demand activities. For Arches National Park, a timed entry reservation is required to enter the park from April 1 to October 31 ($2). It is not available at the park, so visitors must secure one in advance. Zion’s popular Angels Landing Trail requires timed-entry tickets available via lottery for the chains section of the trail. 

Lodging and camping reservations are essential at all times of the year in or near National Park sites.

Weeklong Itinerary for Utah’s National Parks
Find a camping spot in the town of Carpinteria. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

3. Pacific Coast Highway

From Monterey to Ventura
Where: California
Best: Weekend Getaway

Starting at either end, the PCH feels familiar, thanks to countless cameos in car ads over the years. California Route 1 winds its serpentine route, hugging the curves of the coast. With more than a handful of state parks along the route, visitors linger, taking in the California wind-swept coastal scenery. This is one of the best road trips in the U.S., thanks to its epic coastal scenery. 

Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are musts. Old house lovers will want to tour the William Randolph Hearst mansion, San Simeon, and its otherworldly pool. Located nearby, Moonstone Beach is composed of tiny, tumbled semi-precious stones. 

For an away-from-it-all excursion, consider a boat trip to the Channel Islands, departing from Ventura. 

Best of Santa Barbara 

4. Overseas Highway 

From Key Largo to Key West
Where: Florida
Best: a Weekend Getaway

The romantic-sounding Overseas Highway transports travelers across 42 bridges as it ferries cars past the cerulean waters of the Florida Keys. Officially, U.S. Route 1 opened in 1938 (though it was a train route before) as a series of bridges connecting the archipelago off the southwestern tip of Florida. It is another one of the best road trips in the U.S.

Starting in Key Largo, the first key just an hour from Miami, travelers travel 113 miles to Key West. Along the route, several state parks are of note, like John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Bahia Honda State Park. The final destination, Key West, blends literary history as one of Hemingway’s haunts with a permanent party vibe.

Logan Pass Visitor Center is one of the things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Logan Pass Visitor Center along Going-to-the-Sun Road tops my list of must-dos in Glacier National Park. Credit: Catherine Parker

5. Going-to-the-Sun Road 

From Apgar to St. Mary in Glacier National Park
Where: Montana
Best: Weekend Getaway

Located entirely within the Crown of the Continent Glacier National Park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road was an engineering marvel when it opened in 1932. Connecting the east and west entrances of the park, the scenic byway travels 50 miles across the remote and rugged wilderness that Glacier is known. 

Top sites include Logan Pass, at 6,646 feet and surrounded by peaks, and a wildflower-laden meadow. Visitors can see Clements Mountain and Reynolds Mountain from its hiking trails and visitor center. Jackson Glacier is another top site. 

As a seasonal route, it opens in late June or early July and closes down for the year in mid-October. To enter Glacier National Park a 3-day vehicle permit is required from July until October and vehicle restrictions  (like RV size limitations) are in place for the Going-to-the-Sun Road. 

3 Day Itinerary for Glacier National Park
Black sand beach
The black sand is actually eroded lava. Credit: Catherine Parker

6. Kaʻū Scenic Byway 

From Kona to Hilo
Where: Island of Hawaii
Best: Weekend Getaway

On the largest island of Hawaii, travelers can take their rental on the southerly route of Highway 11. This is one of the Best Road Trips in the U.S. Hugging the coast of the volcano-created island, visitors can learn about its unique history and culture along the route. 

For this route start early and grab a coffee at a Kona Coffee Plantation for a taste of the highly coveted drink. As the only coffee grown in the U.S., it’s known for its mellow flavor thanks to the lava rock. Follow with a lesson in the ancient Hawaiian culture at Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. 

If the sun is climbing overhead, then a colored sand beach is on the itinerary with a choice of two unique shades. For a green sand beach (one of only four in the world) Papakōlea Green Sand Beach requires a 5.5-mile hike and gets its color from olivine crystals of the Mauna Loa eruption 49,000 years ago. The black sand beach at Punalu’u is easier to reach and made of pulverized lava.

If the Kīlauea is erupting, then Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must. However, there’s still plenty to do if it’s calm, from its lodge to its rim to its sea arch. There are even mid-century cabins in the park. 

Top Things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 
Blue Ridge Parkway
Take a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the Smokies. Credit: Pixabay

7. Blue Ridge Parkway

From Roanoke to Waynesboro
Where: Virginia 
Best: Weekend Getaway

This all-American Road travels across the Appalachian Mountains for 469 miles, connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park. Completed in 1936, it passes through tunnels, over hilltops and even across a few bridges. 

Starting at Roanoke, drivers will find numerous pull-outs, like the Roanoke River overlook, as well as mountains and valleys. Along the route, roadtrippers can linger at places like the Peaks of Otter Lodge. Several visitor centers line the route, like the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center with an Outdoor Farm Museum, the closest visitor center to Shenandoah National Park. 

Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park 
Enjoy Lake Quinault Lodge with kids.
Lake Quinault Lodge was featured in the PBS series Great Lodges of the National Parks. Credit: Catherine Parker

8. Olympic Peninsula Loop

From Hoquiam to Olympia 
Where: Washington 
Best: Weekend Getaway

West of SeaTac (the region’s airport), travelers can taste the only temperate rainforest in the U.S. as they loop around Olympic National Park. Drivable in either direction, the Lake Quinault National Forest offers a historic lodge, its namesake lake and land and water activities. Farther along U.S. Route 101, roadtrippers can stop along the Pacific at one of the numbered beaches near Kalaloch to see crashing waves and tide pools. 

Heading inland, the Hoh Rainforest drips with raindrops and glows in every shade of green. A road trip can be tiring for the driver, so a dip in the Sol Duc Hot Springs might be a good way to relax. For another option for recreational fun, Lake Crescent offers a lodge and cabins along with evergreen-lined shores.

3 Day Itinerary for Olympic National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park Best Road Trips in the U.S.
At the top of Colorado at Rocky Mountain National Park. credit: Pixabay

9. Trail Ridge Road

From Kawuneeche to Beaver Meadows 
Where: Colorado 
Best: Weekend Getaway

Another scenic (and seasonal) route located entirely in a national park, Trail Ridge Road, meanders through the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the road during the Depression, and it’s a 48-mile-long route that features 11 miles above the treeline (11,500ft the park). It crosses Milner Pass (10,759ft) and the Continental Divide. This makes it the highest continuous highway in the U.S. 

Day visitors need a timed-entry driving permit and park entrance pass to visit Rocky Mountain National Park during its peak season (late May until late October).

Top Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
Best Road Trips in the U.S. Grand Canyon National Park sign
Grab a picture of the Grand Canyon sign with your kids. credit: Catherine Parker

10. Northern Arizona National Park Road Trip 

From Holbrook to Fredonia
Where: Arizona
Best: Weeklong Trip

From the eastern edge of Arizona, roadtrippers will find a string of National Park Service sites linking the state. It is one of the best road trips in the U.S. for park lovers. From Petrified Forest National Park with its antique stone trees and a section of Route 66 to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark, travelers will find sites along Interstate 40. Centered around Flagstaff, visitors can learn about the ancient peoples at Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments. 

From Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon’s South Rim is just over an hour away, and visitors can stay for a few hours, a week or more. To see the Grand from the other side, drivers will cross the Navajo Bridge and pass through the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Greener and cooler than its southern rim, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is only visited by 10 percent of the visitors from the South Rim. It offers hiking, horse rides, and a lodge.

Guide to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim
view from Schoodic Peninsula
The view of the Atlantic along the Schoodic Peninsula. credit: Catherine Parker

11. Coastal Route 1 

From Portland to Bar Harbor
Where: Maine
Best: Weekend Getaway

Starting in Portland, one of Maine’s largest cities, U.S. Route 1 hugs the Atlantic coast, transporting travelers across the state with dips into charming seaside towns, past lighthouses and lobster shacks. Heading northeast out of Portland, shoppers can hit the racks of LLBean’s outlet 24 hours a day. Bath and Camden are popular spots for their historic downtown areas, anchored by festivals. 

Acadia National Park, just south of Ellsworth, is the largest national park in New England. Its Mount Desert Island is bustling in the summer though across Frenchman Bay is the much quieter Schoodic Peninsula. Located on the border, the Saint Croix National Historic Site retells the story of the first explorers to the area in the 1600s.

Best of the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park
South Dakota's Black Hills, Black Hills for kids, Custer State Park
Custer State Park in South Dakota offers world-class outdoor recreation. credit: South Dakota Tourism

12. Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway 

From Custer to Keystone 
Where: South Dakota
Best: Weekend Getaway

While in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway is the way to get around. This scenic loop connects top sites like Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and its Cathedral Spires Trailhead, Needles Eye Tunnel, Sylvan Lake, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. It was named after the South Dakota governor who spearheaded the Iron Mountain Road project and was a major supporter of Mount Rushmore.

Along with the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, travelers will use the Iron Mountain Road. The 17-mile road includes 314 curves, 3 tunnels, 3 spiraling piggytails and 14 switchbacks to afford some of the best views in the Black Hills. Also known as U.S. 16A, it connects Mount Rushmore with Custer State Park.

Top Places to Visit in the Black Hills 
Take a hike. What to do in Lassen National Park with kids.Best Road Trips in the U.S.
Take a hike when visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park to enjoy the mountain scenery. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

13. Volcanic Legacy Byway 

From Redding to Bend 
Where: North California and Oregon 
Best: Weeklong Trip

Leaving the crowds in Southern California behind, the Volcanic Legacy Byway introduces travelers to the forces of volcanoes. It is one of the best road trips in the U.S. for those who yearn for quieter destinations. Lassen Volcanic National Park is up first with its snow-capped peaks surrounded by evergreen forests. Then it passes one of California’s highest peaks at 14,179 feet, Mount Shasta. After seeing the peaks, visitors can explore Lava Beds National Monument for a study of lava and volcanic eruptions. Next to it, Tule Lake National Monument preserves the largest of the WWII Japanese internment camps. 

Crossing over into Oregon, travelers can take a side trip to Oregon Caves National Monument for a tour. Continuing on, Crater Lake is a must, with its lodge overlooking the bluest blue water in the U.S. For true volcano hunters, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument’s cinder cone looks (and feels) like a giant pile of lava rock mulch and offers a trail around its crater.

Top Things to do in Lassen Volcanic National Park
LBJ National Historical Park Best Road Trips in the U.S.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park offers wildflower meadows. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

14. Texas Hill Country Trail

From Austin To Fredericksburg
Where: Texas
Best: Weekend Getaway

Headed west out of Austin, U.S. Route 290 travels through one of the state’s top scenic areas, the Texas Hill Country. From the liquor distilleries and the Lady Bird Wildflower Center near Austin to the LBJ Ranch, the former home of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, visitors can meander through the limestone hills taking in the vistas dotted by wildflowers. 

As the route gets closer to Fredericksburg, wineries might outnumber wildflowers. In fact, there are 50 wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms in and around Fredericksburg. Its historic downtown area showcases the talents of its German founders, from the architecture to the food to the Biergarten.

Weekend Getaway Guide to the Texas Hill Country

15. Natchez Trace Parkway 

From New Orleans to Nashville 
Where: Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee 
Best: Weekend Getaway

Starting in New Orleans, a bit south of Natchez, visitors can fill their tanks with the culinary delights found in the French Quarter. Then, they can soak up the music of the Louisiana Delta or take in the graceful homes of the Garden District.

To catch the Natchez Trace Parkway, drivers head northwest for the town of Natchez in Mississippi for a pic with its entrance sign and a Visitor Center. 

The 444-mile parkway includes stops like Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis Presley. As travelers roll through Mississippi and a sliver of Alabama, they can see the rich forests and rolling hills of the South. There’s even a couple of waterfalls in Tennessee, Jackson Falls and Fall Hallow. Near its terminus, travelers cross the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge then can spend time in Franklin, Tennessee, home to historic storefronts and whisky distilleries.

The U.S. offers some spectacular scenery, best explored by its highways and byways. From the tip of Maine's rugged coast to the coffee-growing coast of Hawaii, travelers can see the epic oceanscapes of the U.S. From the blue ridges of the Appalachian Mountains to the hills of South Dakota to the top of Colorado's 14-teeners, travelers can take in the mountaintop vistas from roadside pull-outs. Here is 15 of the Best Road Trips in the U.S.

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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