The Best American Road Trip Routes

There is nothing quite as liberating as hitting the open road and exploring the world at your own pace. The United States of America is home to some of the most iconic and scenic routes to drive along, uncovering unique parts of the country along the way.

Whether you’re an American looking to discover a new side of your own country or a visitor from abroad, taking a US road trip might be the best vacation decision of your life.

If you are an international traveler, it is a good idea to check if you need a United States visa or travel authorization and apply for the relevant document to make sure you’re good to go. For Americans, it’s as simple as getting in your car and going.

Where are you going to drive to? Which routes offer the best sights and experiences? Here is our guide to the best drives in the US to help you plan the ultimate American road trip.

Route 66

Perhaps the most iconic road in the United States, historic Route 66 takes you 2,448 miles (3,940 km) from Chicago to Los Angeles, crossing much of the country in the process.

Dubbed the “Main Street of America”, it winds its way across the Midwest and Southwest, through small towns and past hundreds of roadside cafés, diners, motels, and tourist attractions.

Historically an important road, hundreds of families migrated west to California during the Great Depression, taking the long drive down Route 66. This has left the road with a certain mystique; an almost legendary slice of Americana that beckons to be traveled.

From the city streets of Chicago and St. Louis, through the cornfields of Illinois, the heartlands of Arkansas and Oklahoma, and the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, past native American communities and ghost towns to the sunny shores of California, Route 66 is not just a drive, it is an adventure through the heart and history of the United States.

Sadly, it is no longer possible to drive along the entire route, since it was decommissioned in 1985 in favor of the interstate system. However, large sections of the original road still exist and with careful planning, it is possible to retrace most of the original journey in one of the best cross country road trip routes imaginable.

Route 66 is a journey to be enjoyed. If you’re embarking on this adventure, take your time and don’t be afraid to deviate from the main route every now and again. The Grand Canyon is a short diversion from Route 66 in Arizona and is definitely not to be missed. With so much to see, it can easily turn into a 3 week road trip across America.

However, much of the joy of Route 66 comes from the drive itself. The old billboards, the vast, open landscapes, and the liberating sensation of being on the open road across a continent make this one of the most epic US road trips.

Pacific Coast Highway

The west coast of the United States offers sea views, mountain trails, redwood forests, and the chance to stop off at world-famous cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The Pacific Coast Highway route is actually made up of 2 major roads: US Highway 101 in the north, which becomes California State Route 1, better known as “Highway 1”, once it enters the Golden State. While the drive is incredible whichever direction you take, it is a good idea to go north-to-south, allowing you to stay in the lane closest to the sea and really soak up those Pacific views.

Many people choose to drive only a section of the road, which can easily be one of the best US road trips in itself. However, it is even more rewarding to make it the whole way from Washington state to Southern California.

Depart from Seattle and make your way through the misty logging and fishing communities of Washington, along the peaceful coastline of Oregon, and through the legendary giant redwood forests of Northern California, where US Highway 101 takes you straight through the Avenue of the Giants.

After a stop in the iconic city of San Francisco and the obligatory photos with the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s onwards to the highlight of the trip.

Big Sur—a rugged stretch of coastline between San Francisco and LA, which has been described as the “longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States”—is one of America’s best road trip destinations in itself.

With the mighty Pacific Ocean to one side and an interior region of mountains and forests to the other, California Highway 1 winds its way along cliffs, past glorious beaches, and over dramatic creek valleys on bridges like the Bixby Creek Bridge.

The wild beauty of the Pacific Coast Highway cannot be understated. If you are lucky, you might connect even closer with nature by glimpsing some of the inhabitants and visitors to this stretch of coastline.

Endangered California condors, brought back from near-extinction, can be seen circling overhead, while seals bask on sunny beaches. Various species of whales, dolphins, and sharks visit the coast throughout the year and can be spotted from the road, while the forested interior provides a habitat for the elusive mountain lion.

The Atlantic Coast

While the Pacific is the more popular coast to take a 2 week road trip in the USA, the East Coast is also well worth considering.

Start out in New York and take full advantage of the moment to see the city’s many famous monuments. The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Broadway, and the many, many world-class museums… There is no end to all the things you can do and see in the Big Apple.

Onwards and southwards, the Atlantic coast alternates between beach resorts and wild, rugged coastline, with nearly 2,000 miles of country roads leading through many of the US’s original 13 states all the way down to Florida.

Discover quaint fishing villages, old colonial buildings, lighthouses that beg to be photographed, and Victorian-era boardwalks in seaside towns, complete with saltwater taffy stands, wax museums, and roller coasters. Find historic sites, such as the remains of the vanished Roanoke colony in North Carolina and important locations from the American Civil War, like Fort Sumter.

In between all this, you’ll drive past untouched woodlands, wetlands, and beaches, imagining what it was like for the first settlers from Europe to arrive on these shores 400 years ago.

As always with US road trips, half of the fun is stopping off at small towns, taking advantage of the many roadside stands for some hearty American barbecues, and watching the boats come in as the sun sets over a sleepy port.