So far we’ve road tripped through Nevada, Southern California, Northern California and Utah and Arizona. There is just something about driving around the US, spotting that off the beaten path attraction and going for it that adds a sense of freedom and spontaneity that you can’t get with a plane ride.
What makes the USA so great for road trips is there are so many scenic driving routes, the possibilities are endless.
Imagine if you planned just one road trip, per year, with the goal of visiting every state in the US. You’d have 50 years worth of vacation plans to map out, routes to explore and experiences you’d never regret.
When you think about all the different regions, states, national parks, geological attractions and all types of historical landmarks the USA has to offer; traveling by a car or recreational vehicle is really the way to go for the ultimate family road trip!
No matter where you go you’ll find something that appeals to all ages and family dynamics to get you on your way to the most amazing places to drive in the US.
If you’re just now considering taking a trip to the most scenic drives in America because of how the pandemic has changed our lifestyles, think of this as an opportunity that can and will change your perspective forever. From the settlement of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, the largest living history museum, or the Redwood Trees in California, the majesty and excitement of experiencing Americana first hand via a road trip can be an adventure of a lifetime!
7 Of The Best, Most Scenic Drives In America For Epic Road Trip Adventures
Pacific Coast Highway
There’s 1,058 miles of scenery and an amazing range of experiences along Pacific Coast. From the towering redwood forest of Northern California, across stunning bridges and rocky cliffs, past Monarch butterfly migration sites, down through Big Sur, past the Hearst Castle, all amid the crashing waves of ocean views, The classic Coastal California road trip on Route 1 is considered best starting North from San Francisco, through Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Newport Beach, and to the many attractions and gorgeous beaches of San Diego. It’s a trip to remember whether it’s a two-day or two-week journey you’ll be awed.
Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
“Two for the price of one?” This drive is composed of two separate National Scenic Byways, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, OR, and Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, CA. This must see US road trip is about 500 miles on an All-American Road and travels north to south along the Cascade Range past lakes, waterfalls, wildlife refuges, lava beds and numerous volcanoes. This includes the Lassen Volcanic National Park which contains the world’s largest plug dome volcano, Lassen Peak.
Otherwise known as “The Mother Road,” thanks to John Steinbeck, Route 66 is an iconic American road trip and is probably the most famous road in the world. This historic route spans over 2,300 miles, crossing eight states, starting in Chicago, IL. and ending Santa Monica, CA. Enjoy nostalgic roadside motels, retro gas stations, classic automobiles, and historic experiences of a bygone era.
The Outer Banks, North Carolina
If you want to “impress” someone with a cool weekend getaway, this is a US road trip made to order! A stunning,138 mile drive and 25 miles via waterways provides an amazing and unique place for a scenic drive along the heart of coastal Carolina. The Outer Banks Scenic Byway, is considered one of the most beautiful lengths of roadway and water views in North Carolina.The drive features 21 coastal villages and miles of breathtaking scenery in every direction. Known as the OBX, the trip can take 5-6 hours including the ferry rides, so plan for at least an overnight stay (or three) to be able to explore the museums, beaches, and climb a lighthouse or two. Don’t forget to check out Kittyhawk and the birth of aviation at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
The 113-mile, four hour one way, trip along US 1 through the Florida Keys to Key West is also called the “Road to Paradise” and “The Highway That Goes To Sea.” Following the original Florida East Coast Railroad trail constructed by Henry Flagler in 1912 connecting the little islands known as keys, driving down the highway is an experience like none other.
Crossing 42 bridges, including the 7-mile bridge, where the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet and ending at the famous concrete buoy, the Southernmost point in the continental United States. This colorful, tropical and uniquely unexpected adventure will have you awestruck as you traverse several miles with just you, the road, and the water as one of the truly most scenic drives in America. (For a profoundly mystical adventure, try driving it at night where there are stretches of roadway with only the vast night sky and shooting stars, not for the faint of heart!)
Richardson Highway, Alaska
What has dall sheep, Thompson Pass, Santa Claus’s house, Horsetail Falls, and a glacier? If you said Richardson Highway, you’d be right! Not only are those cool things to found on Alaska’s oldest highway, it is the only highway to connect Fairbanks to Valdez, to the tune of 368 miles that can get you from point A to point B in 7.5-8 hours, by why would you rush?
There are two portions of the Richardson Highway that have been designated as State Scenic Byways; the southern segment connects Valdez to Glenallen, the northern segment connects Fort Greely to Fairbanks, both over 100 miles long. But that doesn’t diminish any of the wonderful sites in between!
From the awe inspiring, narrow Keystone Canyon and across the Thompson Pass peaking at 2,805 ft, to the Worthington Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that you can drive to see, to the many national parks and reserves, this scenic drive should be on anyone’s bucket list.
On your northern leg, stop to take a “flightseeing” trip or air taxi to take you to one of the many remote national parks, Make sure to save time to stop by and see a reindeer and remind St. Nick how good you’ve been this year at Santa Claus House, Northpole alaska. Just 20 minutes from the finale of your awesome road trip, Fairbanks.
Route 50, The Loneliest Road in America
Talk about a homeschooling families’ dream, this history rich “loneliest” stretch of road definitely earns a place on the list as one of the most amazing places to drive in the US. Route 50 in Nevada roughly runs parallel to the famed Pony Express trail that took on the challenge of keeping the West connected to the East in 1860-1861 and full of historic opportunities to learn and experience the “Ole West!”
In total, Route 50 is a transcontinental highway stretching over 3,000 miles from the west coast in Sacramento, California, to the east at Ocean City, Maryland. The 408 miles of Route 50 in Nevada, crossing the center of the state, was named “The Loneliest Road in America” in 1986, by Life magazine.
There’s plenty to experience along the drive, maybe the most spectacular would be the stargazing in the Great Basin National Park. Experience hot springs, state parks, ghost towns and historic mining communities with authentic saloons along the route. If you’re inclined to break up your drive with outdoor activities, you won’t be disappointed with the options along the way, from traditional hiking, biking, cave touring, fishing, off-road opportunities and even sandboarding (like we did in the Sahara Desert).
How to plan your Road Trip Route & Hit all the Must See Place on the Drive
It’s hard to deny that one of the good things about people having cellphones in their faces all the time is how we’ve embraced and can use the wealth of information available at our fingertips. From websites devoted to any kind of travel you can think of, to applications for devices, travel bloggers with first hand inside tips and strategies, all available to make it easy to find the must see places in the USA for a road trip.
With that in mind, even if you are limited to a PC, there are many tools available to help you plan the best US road trip.
What’s the best road trip planner?
Here we go! Yes it can be confusing because there are so many options for trip planning that you can use on your personal device or your smartphone. There are planning tools that are totally free, those that offer basic services with options to upgrade for extras or a free full service trial period (these two are known as “Freemiums”), and the regular pay for service choices or subscription services. Based on what you want, and comfortable you are with online programs, I feel there are five trip planners worth mentioning:
The general consensus used to be that RoadTrippers was the way to go, but I found many reviews with objections about this “Freemium” service due to cost (or waypoint rewards) for the best planning utilizaztion The Roadtrippers Plus ($29.99) is highly recommended by those who really like it and don’t mind the fee since they use all the bells and whistles.
The free online, but with a catch, Rand McNally TripMaker is a cool online pre-planning option to help find quirky, off the beaten path type places to visit when planning the best USA road trips and it gives you options within a certain radius of your route. The downside is that it doesn’t sync to other GPS services besides their own. The upside is, with all the features it provides, If you don’t mind the paper, you can print out and also email your itinerary to use and share with family or friends. Otherwise, it’s pretty useful as a pre-planning tool for those cool things to do on your drive.
For the Baby Boomer Gen (or not), the reliable and well known TripTik by AAA (American Automobile Association) is a good option that provides free use of their travel planner. In keeping with this quality brand, you get access to gas station info and current pricing, their diamond lodging recommendations, restaurants, approved repair facilities and more. The drag and drop planning feature with detailed rollovers makes it pretty easy to plan your scenic road trip!
Speaking of scenic drives, I found an amazing planning tool for places to drive in the US! MyScenicDrives.com is a jewel of a free scenic drive finder and road trip planner. From weekend getaways to cross-country adventures this planner’s highlight is the pre-planned scenic routes. They feature must see places in the USA and Canada for road trips, and all countries which have Google Direction. You can also use to it to map out your own
Ok, my top pick for a travel planner fot the most amazing places to drive in the US, just slightly edging out myscenicdrives.com is…da da da daaaah… Furkot.com. I tried each and every one of these online trip planners and while this one takes a bit more “work” when you first get acquainted with the website, it definitely allows you more freedom and maneuverability with your itinerary. It is a layered site that definitely takes a wee bit of finessing when trying to plan out the best US road trip, but definitely worth the learning curve. I also booked a hotel stay through this site and couldn’t find a better price for that hotel on any of the other booking sites, Bonus!
Is there an app to plan a road trip?
Why yes, yes there is an app (make that many apps!) to plan an amazing road trip in the US! Of the five planners I gave you above (interchangeably touted as “the best” depending on whose site or what blog you read), TripMaker, RoadTrippers, and AAA TripTik, all have an app as well as the online version. Furkot recommends you bookmark their site on your home page and once your trip is saved, you will have access to it offline. MyScenicDrive claims its service is “Mobile Friendly.”
Although the main focus of this blog is picks for the “Most Scenic Drives In America For Epic Road Trip Adventures,” there are a few really cool apps that are worth adding to your travel collection, especially when taking road trips in the US:
- iExit: shows gas, food, lodging that’s ahead on Interstate and where to exit
- Flush Toilet Finder: >200,000 available public restrooms in the database
- GasBuddy: realtime gas pricing, amenities & ratings by users. Saves lots $$
- WeatherBug: current, hourly, and 10-day forecast options around the world
How do you map a road trip with multiple stops?
A common question but you’ll be surprised how easy it is with the planning tool you choose, since that’s what they are made to do, it should be! Actually, adding stops along the route was probably the easiest thing to do on the sites I tried. The help sections were actually “helpful,” ha ha, I know! What a concept! These “stops” along the way are usually called waypoints.
How far can you drive in a day?
How far can YOU drive in a day? This is completely a personal choice and will depend on how long you can sit without a “water” break, walk the dog, or fuel up and if you have a place you need to be by a certain time.
However, is the purpose of your scenic drive to get from point A to point B, or stop and enjoy the different attractions or parks along the way? If you are including highways into your trip, a nice rule of thumb is to allot approx 50 miles per hour of travel which should average out with your breaks. If you’re taking the road less traveled, you might want to average 40 miles per hour of travel.
Of course, that all goes out the window if you decide to make points of interest stops along the way. Always the best policy to follow; once you are tired and feel that you can no longer drive safely, it isn’t worth getting another 50 miles down the road if you could hurt you, your loved ones, or someone else’s loved ones on the road.
How much does a week-long road trip usually cost?
Where are you going, and what are you doing? 🙂 “Are we there yet?!” With fuel prices on the rise these days (but you’ll be saving money with GasBuddy or one of your trip planners that shows you gas prices, right?) You can easily ball park your fuel costs based on your mpg and an average cost per gallon.
Let’s say you are middle of the road budget conscious and want the road experience vs luxury accommodation costs. So with a week long, 1100 mile road trip, averaging 25 mpg @ $2.85 per gallon, your fuel cost will be around $125. If you decided to stay at hotels along the way that average less than $100/night, that’s $600 for a 7 day trip (don’t forget to filter your search to hotels that include breakfast). Then let’s agree that since we’ve got our own transportation, we have the benefit of a cooler to stock up on drinks, fruit, and other goodies to keep the fast food frenzy under control. So thinking about at least one good meal and a few goodies along the way, $50? Now for the entertainment…Let’s throw another $50 per day for those fun things you find to do along the way. That basic budget plan comes with a price tag of $1425.
So for an experience focused trip, you can plan for approx $100/person per day. It still comes down to where you’d like to stay, what you want to eat, but with many free attractions and great locals places to eat, you can easily shave off several hundred dollars if you prefer to spend less.
The USA has so many amazing roadways just perfect for Road Trip Adventures, Spice it Up By Taking an RV
We took our first RV road trip in 2017, an 8 day Southwest road trip visiting Zion, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon and more. Since then we’ve become a tiny bit addicted and have gone on 9 more including a stationary weekend rental of an Airstream in Naples, FL. As much as we love RVing, I don’t know that we’d ever own one but we love the option on renting them on Outdoorsy (sign up here for $50 off your first rental). No experience with RV’s? No problem, we knew nothing our first trip either but here are 6 tips for first time RVers and everything you need to know about vacationing in a RV.
Whether you are going for a cool cruise on a weekend getaway to unwind and reconnect, or a week or two of adventurous exploration, there are beauties and surprises that await you on the most scenic drives in America! Did you find this article helpful? Please share it!