There is so much to see, do and experience in the United States of America, and a road trip is an excellent way to enjoy the beauty as well as the culture of this country. These journeys are a great way to soak in the sights of sparkling waters, breathtaking mountains, natural forests, seasonal foliage, and historic structures. Hitting an open road is one of the greatest pleasures for someone who loves driving, regardless of the destination. The best part is that you don’t have to drive a long distance to find a great highway, as the US is full of them.Compiling a list of the best road trips to take across this country is no easy feat as there are so many amazing destinations to choose from. Almost everyone who has the habit of hitting the highways on a regular basis will tell you about a unique favorite destination that you must drive to. If you prefer traversing the great mountains and deserts right along the backbone of America, an East-West route across the country will be worth your while. However, if you have ever dreamed of driving along the cliffs which overlook the Pacific, a North-South route may be more your thing.
So prep your car, fill up on gas and update your playlist for a long, enjoyable ride. Add these 5 fantastic road trips on your bucket list of things to do in the USA.
Route 66, Between Chicago, Illinois & Los Angeles, California
The romance of Route 66 has been captivating people from around the world for a long time now. This legendary road, which is 2,448 miles (3,840 kilometers) long, passes through the heart of the nation, and represents essential American values like migration West, freedom and loneliness of the American heartland. It also offers a great display of neon lights, mom-and-pop motels in the middle of nowhere, and kitschy Americana. However, the most compelling reason to drive down Route 66 should be to experience the timeline of contemporary America ingrained into the road.
This corridor was paved in 1926, but before that it was traversed by the nation’s first transcontinental highway, known as National Old Trails Highway. For more than 3 decades, this road was referred to as “Main Street of America”, since it wound in and out of the small towns across the Midwest as well as the Southwest. Route 66 was lined with numerous cafes, restaurants, motels, gas stations and other attractions. During the Great Depression, thousands of farming families made their way to California through this road, after being displaced from the Dust Bowl. After the war, thousands more left the industrial East, once again using Route 66. During the late 1950s and for the next 25 years, this highway was bypassed, one section at a time, as high-speed Interstate Highways were formed. In 1984, the historic Route 66 was officially decommissioned.
While this is no longer the main highway across the nation, it still retains its mystique. Many of the commercial establishments in the small towns alongside the route manage to stay alive by playing up their connection to the highway.
Once on the road, you will pass through an interesting cross-section of American landscapes, ranging from the cornfields of Illinois to the golden sands of California, with diverse environs like the Grand Canyon along the way. Also visit the Native American communities of the Southwest desert, the small-town Midwest heartlands of the Ozarks and Oklahoma, and the gritty lanes of St. Louis and Chicago. Planning a trip from Chicago to LA should hardly be a challenge, thanks to all the online resources that are easily available to you today. If you are looking for information on the most interesting spots to cover and the best routes to take, you may find these sites useful:
Back Roads Planet
Route 66 Guide
The Oregon Trail, Between the Oregon Coast & Provincetown, Massachusetts
Following in the footsteps of the pioneers as well as the pilgrims, US-20 enables you to experience a bit of everything through its two-lane journey from Oregon’s coast to the splendid seas and sands of Cape Cod. From the spacious West to the dense and chaotic East, this route, which is parallel to the Oregon Trail, offers one of the longest and most engaging trips of a lifetime. It spans 3,300 miles (5,310 kilometers), connecting a diverse range of towns and cities. The journey is bound to be much longer if you take the possible detours and side trips into consideration.
Interestingly, the superlative sights on this route include at least two wonders of the world, the Niagara Falls and Yellowstone National Park. It also brings you close to the cities of Boston and Chicago, as well as two halls of fame, one in Cooperstown (celebrating baseball) and the other in Cleveland (dedicated to rock n’ roll). On this great cross country highway, you will come across a number of classic American diners, idyllic towns, odd museums, and post-industrial decay. Halfway through the countryside, don’t forget to stop and visit the two notable monuments, Carhenge and Mount Rushmore. After that, make your way across the Sand Hills of Nebraska, past Iowa’s Field of Dreams, and see why people love the Great Plains.
Starting in the West, US-20 parallels the broad path that formed the Oregon Trail and in several places, runs right on top of it. The landscape spanning Oregon, Wyoming and Idaho is as lonesome today as it was 150 years ago, when the pioneer families followed the one-way route to the land of the Pacific Coast.
The US-20 route crosses the Mississippi River at Dubuque, one of the oldest settlements on what used to be the western frontier of the nation. Then it stops off in Chicago before winding eastward through the Rust Belt, along the Great Lakes. This densely populated area is home to some of the most well-preserved historic sites, like the Amish farmlands and automobile plants that produce the nation’s classiest cars. However, the fun doesn’t end there. US-20 has a lot more in store for you, as you journey through upstate New York, Boston and the tip of Cape Cod. The pot of gold at the end of this road trip will be your arrival into the charming and lively resort of Provincetown, where the Pilgrims originally made their way into the US in 1620.
The Road To Nowhere, Between North Dakota & Matamoros, Mexico
For those who prefer taking roads less travelled, US-83 makes for the perfect long-distance journey. It cuts across the heartland of the US but doesn’t once graze the regular tourist hotspots. At one time, this was the sole route from Canada to Old Mexico that was completely paved. In fact, the US-83 is probably still the shortest road from Swan River, Manitoba to Brownsville, Texas and further down to Matamoros, Mexico.
Over a period of time, this route has earned the nickname “The Road To Nowhere”. Those who have taken trips on this highway claim that the grim moniker is unfair in some cases and an understatement in others. This road navigates some of the widest and most challenging landscapes across the US. It also gives you a taste of the phenomenal countryside including lush and green farmlands dotted with small towns, endlessly shifting prairie grasslands, isolated agricultural expanses and winding Mississippi roadways.
The US-83’s cultural landscape focuses on the small but independent farms and cattle communities, which date all the way back to the days of the Wild West and are fairly removed from the tourist trail.
As the endless miles stretch out in both directions, the telephone and power poles will offer a few signs of life between the highway and the far-off horizon. Fortunately, there are a number of small towns, where the average driving speed will suddenly drop from 70 MPH to radar-enforced 25 MPH, or lower. These little settlements are spaced often enough along the highway, to take care of your food and fuel requirements. The best part of the US-83 is that it manages to trans-navigate a broad nation mainly from the north to the south, without grazing the usual tourist spots even once.
The Loneliest Road, Between San Francisco & Chesapeake Bay
The US-50 runs coast to coast, through the heart of the country, on a 3,200-mile adventure from one shining sea to another. It passes through several different states (including 4 state capitals) as well as Washington DC, the capital of the nation. Anyone who takes a trip along this route gets treated to some of the most magnificent landscapes in the US, including the Rocky Mountains, the farmlands of the Great Plains, and the deserts of Utah as well as Nevada.
Following the footsteps of pioneers, the US-50 depicts a reverse timeline of national development over the centuries and as you travel from the west to the east, you make a journey back into history. From the cutting edge technology of the modern Silicon Valley, through the Wild West frontier of the 1800s, across the lands of the 1700s, arriving at the Atlantic Ocean, near some of the oldest and most well-preserved colonial era settlements. Along the way this route passes through hundreds of timeworn towns that have survived in spite of the giant retail and fast food chain onslaught.
Route US-50 is so culturally compelling, Time magazine once dedicated a whole issue to the story of this road, referring to is as the Backbone of America. Author William Least Heat-Moon of Blue Highways once said that for the unhurried, the little-known US-50 is the best national highway across the center of the nation. The Nevada portion of the road is called “The Loneliest Road in America” by tourist boards and travel authors. If you find miles and miles of mountains, blue skies and sagebrush interesting, this could be one of the most compelling drives for you.
The Appalachian Trail, Between The North Woods, Maine & Atlanta, Georgia
Known as the longest and the best hiking trail in the US, the Appalachian Trail winds all the way from the North Woods of Maine, down south, to Georgia. Of course, driving down this route comes second to walking. Fortunately, the scenic roads help you enjoy the natural beauty of the countryside (minus the sweat and blisters) from the top of New England right to the heart of Dixie, passing through a number of fascinating towns and historical sites.
The Appalachian landscape is home to not just the wealthiest areas of the country, but also some of the neediest, and the two contrasting worlds sit within a few miles of each other. Almost every retirement community and resort will appear to have an alter-ego in the form of a former mill town. Where these areas were once dependent on the land and its resources, today they rely heavily on tourism.
There are several noteworthy attractions along this route, including Mount Katahdin, Mount Washington in the Presidential Range, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the rural charms of New England. Your itinerary will also cover Boston, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Have you taken a road trip across America? Share your experiences and suggestions in the comments!