John Denver asked to be taken home via country roads, Steppenwolf told us we were born to be wild and Ray Charles told Jack to hit the road and not come back. And Jack probably did so in a red convertible Cadillac, past shimmering seas into sand swept valleys where crimson skies blend perfectly into proud sanguine rocks. Put simply, the United States was made for road trips. Classic Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Corvettes practically scream cross-country adventure, and the country’s sprinkling of charming and chilled-out towns provide the perfect antidote to days spent Runnin’ Down a Dream with Tom Petty. Whether you’re cruising down California’s Pacific Coast Highway – and embracing every road trip cliché that comes along the way – or testing your rental car’s powered steering up Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway, there’s something about USA road trips that make them some of the best in the world. Here’s a round-up of some of our favourites…
I-15: Las Vegas to Salt Lake City
The best road trips in the USA usually include stellar sunsets, roadsides of wonderfully weird attractions and never-ending horizons of lone perpendicular roads. Fortunately the 485-mile stretch of the I-15 between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City has them all. Navigate through soaring red-and-white cliffs in Zion National Park, take a detour to Rhyolite Ghost Town - which is just as spooky as its name suggests - and take a well-deserved dip in Monroe’s Mystic Hot Springs. Channel your inner cowboy with a night at Flagstaff’s Motel du Beau, where both John Wayne and John Ford once stayed, or treat yourself to a few nights along ‘Sin City’s’ sprawling Strip (and don’t worry, we know the score – what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…).
Route 66: Chicago to Los Angeles
Crossing eight states, three time zones and over 2,000 miles, it’s no wonder Route 66 has become etched into American folklore. While the original road no longer officially exists, the route still remains one of the best road trips in the USA. The inspiration behind Pixar’s Cars, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and even Grand Theft Auto, this arterial highway goes way beyond tarmac and road signs. Designed to connect the rural states to the urban west, threading its way diagonally from Illinois to California, it provided prairie folk with a shortcut to freedom and 21st century RV vacationers the chance to see their country on a shoestring. Now a characterful and well-preserved backstreet of old-school Americana, it has become a playground for car enthusiasts, a nostalgic nod to the good old days for natives and the journey of a lifetime for many.
Pacific Coast Highway: Seattle to San Diego
Oozing cool Californian construction and made (even more) famous by the Reese Witherspoon-led series Big Little Lies, Big Sur’s Bixby Creek Bridge has become a celebrity in its own right. Connecting Big Sur’s steep canyons and crumbling cliffs to the chic coastal towns of Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea, it is one of the most photographed and popular spots along the cliff-hugging Pacific Coast Highway. Despite spanning all the way up the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle, the 123-mile stretch through central California is without doubt the most iconic. Crank up the stereo and weave past SoCal’s palm fringed beaches and charming Spanish-infused cities to NoCal’s foggy forests and rural northlands. Make sure to schedule in a stop at Hearst Castle too; combining Hollywood grandeur with elegant European design, it boasts dramatic views over San Simeon and a sea of history that can be admired from its multiple pools, bedrooms and verandas.
The Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia to North Carolina
John Denver was right when he described the Blue Ridge Mountains as ‘Almost heaven’ – they are. Traversing over eight states, they have been home to Cherokee Indians and Thomas Jefferson, along with over 130 tree species that continue to grow there (which are particularly spectacular during the autumn months). While the Blue Ridge Parkway only covers the middle of the mountain range – from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park – it applies the same pace it has to its lilting accents, stiff drinks and smoked barbeque: slow and steady. Cruise gently past rocky ridges, sparkling mountain streams and foggy forests, where black bears, bobcats and mule deer run wild, and stop for a pint at the park’s namesake brewery.
Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West
Last but certainly not least on our list of the best road trips in the USA is Florida’s Overseas Highway. Connecting the country’s southernmost point to its mainland in a concrete dot-to-dot, you’ll feel like you’re soaring through the sky as you cross the Seven Mile Bridge into the Caribbean-like Lower Keys. Flit between sandy beaches and shabby chic driftwood restaurants promising the best Key Lime Pie in the world and escape the sun on a diving adventure past hawksbill turtles, bottlenose dolphins and spindly lobsters. The route may only be 113 miles long, but take it slow and you’ll realise why this subtropical – sometimes kitschy yet completely charming – road trip is a favourite among natives and tourists alike.