Being from the United States, I often used to take for granted a lot of the incredible things that my country has to offer. From great cities to well-developed rural areas, the United States is a place where even the most remote places really aren’t that far off the grid. This endless slew of incredible places to stop and see, coupled with the vast and stunning landscapes that surround them, makes the United States one of the best countries in the world for road trips.
During this Covid year, road tripping has become a lot more common, kind of like it was several decades ago before commercial air travel was a common thing. Because of this, more people have been wondering “what are the best road trips in the United States?” Well, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. Here is my list of the best road trips in the United States, with options all over the country that would appeal to anyone.
Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon on Route 66, onward to Horseshoe Bend and Zion National Park
If you’re looking for a road trip that checks off just about every checklist item you can think of, this is the one for you. Casinos until 4am? Check. Historic railroad museums? Check. One of the runners up for modern wonders of the world? Check. Oh, did we mention a giant hole in the ground that is about 4,000 feet deep and almost 300 miles long? Yeah, check.
In all seriousness, this road trip is epic and might be the single best road trip in the United States. While people commonly cite Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Denver as other great places to start a similar road trip, I really don’t think anything tops Las Vegas. In fact, I wrote an entire post about why you should go on this road trip from Las Vegas instead of Phoenix! By starting in Las Vegas, you get to include Hoover Dam, long stretches of Route 66, and deeper parts of Utah in your itinerary without adding days to your trip.
So, how long does it take? You can do this road trip in as little as two days, or stretch it out to fill up over a week. Really, you can make of it whatever you want. We, for example, chose to bypass the Hoover Dam in order to catch the sunrise over Route 66 as we drove into Arizona. To get from Las Vegas to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon will take you anywhere from 4 to 5 hours without stops, but from there on the rest of the drive is in shorter stints. It’s also a really customizable route as this area is just jam-packed with great places to stop. I list my four favorite day trips from Las Vegas in this post.
I would recommend a night near the South Rim, a night in Page, Arizona to catch the sunset over Horseshoe Bend, a couple of nights in Springdale, Utah to visit both Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, and at least one night in Las Vegas on the tail end to recharge before heading home! If you are looking for some information on Las Vegas and specifically how to go there without losing a fortune, head over to my post of doing Las Vegas on a budget.
Charlottesville, Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Built as part of the New Deal to reinvigorate American tourism and economic activity after World War Two, this stunning highway passes through the mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina linking Rockfish Gap right outside Charlottesville to Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee. Winding along the Blue Ridge Mountains, this two lane highway provides some of the most breathtaking views on the East Coast.
The drive from right outside Charlottesville, Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina takes about 9 hours if driven without stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but driving straight through gets rid of all the fun! There are many great places to stop, hike, and explore along the route. Great historical spots like Roanoke can be found along the way, and Charlottesville and Asheville deserve some exploration time themselves!
While the distance is just under 500 miles, the road has pretty low speed limits due to its extreme landscape. Don’t expect to go over 45 mph too often, and be prepared for speed limits to dip down even lower than that. This is all out of precaution and respecting those limits is a good decision for your safety! While the road is definitely safe to drive on and experience, it does demand focus and care. The mountains are pretty high, after all, and you’ll be driving right along the ridge!
Route 1: California’s Coastal Highway, from San Francisco to Santa Barbara
Ah, the great California Pacific Coast Highway. What a stunning and relaxing drive! We did this one this past July in the middle of the pandemic era, and it truly does live up to the hype. Route 1, the super famous California Pacific Coast Highway, can be taken all the way from San Francisco to San Diego and is definitely worth the trip. It was pretty remarkable, and I wrote all about it specifically in its own post. On that note, San Diego is hands down the best city in California, and you should do yourself a favor and read my San Diego travel guide if you plan on heading to Southern California’s true gem of a city any time soon.
There are two main reasons that people recommend this road trip, and they are both pretty solid reasons. Firstly, the drive itself is simply beautiful. The highway hugs the Pacific Ocean for several hundred miles and passes through the full length of Big Sur, one of the most beautiful parks in the United States. From mesmerizing ocean views, to jaw-dropping cliffs, to beautiful forests lining the road, this drive is certain one for the camera.
It doesn’t stop there, though. It gets even better! This drive is unique in that it connects so many awesome places to visit. Of course the major cities deserve some time – like San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles – but the smaller cities and towns along the coast demand some attention, too! From the charming town of Monterey, to the domineering Hearst castle, to the quaint little city of Santa Barbara, this route is dotted with fantastic places to visit and spend a night.
On the topic of California cities, have you ever wondered why they all have Spanish Catholic names? I was curious, and some stops along this road trip answered all of my questions, enough so to where I could even write a post explaining the roots of California’s cities’ names for you.
The North Shore Scenic Drive along Lake Superior in Minnesota
I wanted to make sure I included an option for my readers in the Midwest, and with so many great options in your area, it was hard to narrow down to just one! However I think that this one is definitely something that belongs on this list. The North Shore Scenic Drive starts in Duluth, Minnesota and follows Highway 61 along the shore of Lake Superior to Grand Portage. This 154 mile long drive offers a striking balance of beautiful scenery with charming local towns.
This road trip is great because you can really check a lot of boxes, much like I said about the drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon. The wilderness here is absolutely gorgeous, and the backdrops of rugged cliffs, glimmering waters, and towering trees are beauties that simply don’t get old as you keep driving along.
More though is the offering of beautiful villages along the water that provide a charming place to spend the night, grab a bite to eat, and recharge before heading back out to tackle another stretch. While this drive can be done in one day easily, like always I advise taking your time and really enjoying it piece by piece. Stop in the small towns, like Grand Marais, Tofte, and Lutsen. Spend some time on either end in Duluth and in Grand Portage. All of these lesser traveled places are filled with treasures waiting to be discovered!
U.S. Route 1 from Miami to Key West
If you’re craving a little bit of sun and feelings of freedom, this drive is probably for you! Starting in Miami, this drive takes you along U.S. route one as far down into the Florida Keys as you want to go. We actually did this drive on our honeymoon back in 2020, and it is definitely worth checking out if you have an extra couple of days in southern Florida! Miami itself is amazing – you can read all about that here – but no matter how much fun you’re having in Miami, taking a trip to the Keys is absolutely worth it.
The Florida Keys are a set of small islands stemming off of the southern coast of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, and the furthest one out is called Key West. The full drive from Miami to Key West takes just over 3 hours each way, and driving it all round trip in one day is certainly possible (although not recommended)! Key West is so far southwest of Miami that is is actually closer to Havana, Cuba than it is to Miami. If you’re looking for tropical island weather, the Keys are the best you’re going to get unless you want to fly to Hawaii or Puerto Rico.
It is customary to rent a convertible to make this drive, as soaking up the ocean breeze and tropical sun are done best with the top down. We did this, and it really is a great experience! One of my favorite parts about this trip is the 7 mile long sea bridge that you cross, which leaves you suspended over the ocean for a good 5 to 10 minutes. All in all, very fun drive with decent traffic, and the seafood you can get in the keys is top notch!
I-95 up the Northeastern Corridor from Washington, D.C. to Boston
This is a road trip that I hardly ever see on a list of the best road trips in the United States, but as a city lover and east coaster, that is really hard to understand. Something I love about the East Coast is how close together everything is, and driving along the Northeastern Corridor is the perfect example of that. While you can take this all the way up to Maine and all the way down into Florida, I think the best stretch of it is between our current home of Washington, D.C. and the beautiful colonial city of Boston.
Now, why does this belong on my list of the best road trips in the United States? To me, that is pretty simple. There are some beautiful sights along the way, but frankly I-95 is no Blue Ridge Parkway or Route 66. What it is, though, is a quick connector to some of the United States’ best cities. Driving from Washington D.C. to Boston straight will take a little under 8 hours, which is really manageable at the end of the day. However, you won’t be doing this drive in one shot!
Along this drive, among other things, you will pass through some incredible places like Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, and Boston. If you want to talk about a route that hits the most major cities, I don’t think you’ll find a better option anywhere in the entire United States. By driving in just 1 to 3 hour stints you can hit each of these awesome cities. 8 hours might sound like a piece of cake, but make sure you budget enough time…each of these cities could easily take up its own week of exploring!
Another cool component is the fact that you can hit up just about every Ivy League school on your way without deviating too far from the path. The drive naturally passes by the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, Columbia University in New York City, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and of course Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Silverado Trail, the Heart of California Winemaking History
As a big fan of California wines, this one absolutely deserves a spot on this list. The Silverado Trail, located in California’s Napa Valley, is probably the most historic road in the region. Considering that it stretches through the whole valley linking Napa to Calistoga, and along its shoulders lay some of the most important vineyards in American winemaking history, the regional significance of this route is unmatched.
Napa Valley is beautiful. There really is no other way around it. We visited this past July as part of a longer, broader trip, and Napa Valley was truly the highlight of the trip, as least in my opinion. If you read my Napa Valley travel guide, you’ll probably pick up very quickly on the fact that I really loved it there. The wines are among the best in the world, but the restaurant scene is almost as remarkable!
Part of what is great about this road trip is that is really doesn’t take long at all. The Silverado Trail is only about 30 miles long, and you can easily drive it from end to end in a day. In fact, we did! While traveling between two vineyards one day, we drove the full stretch of the Silverado Trail, and it really is a gorgeous drive.
The glory of the Silverado Trail, though, is not just its natural beauty; it’s the incredible vineyards that line it from top to bottom. Don’t rush through this drive – savor it like a fine glass of wine, and spread out your visits over several days. Just remember, if you’re going to be drinking, be sure to have a designated driver!
That rounds out our list of the 7 best road trips in the United States! Do you see yourself going on any of these awesome getaways any time soon? Are there any great road trips near you that you think deserve a spot on this list? Drop a comment below!