Discover the best American road trips

The US is the world’s ultimate driving destination. Simon Heptinstall picks 10 top routes

Home road Discover the best American road trips
Discover the best American road trips

1 Pacific Coast Highway
San Francisco to Los Angeles, California (443 miles)

California’s Highway One ducks and dives around the West Coast’s headlands and bays between the cities of San Francisco and LA, twisting over viaducts and skirting rugged mountains high above the blue Pacific. Highlights include the cliff-hugging stretch along the Big Sur, passing glamorous Malibu beach houses and, maybe, if you’re lucky, seeing a whale just offshore. Need more? Follow the road north into Oregon for redwood adventures or south for cactus forests in Baja California.

2 Overseas Highway
Miami to Key West, Florida (160 miles)

Drive aboard this island-hopping highway for a sequence of long, low bridges that seem to float just above the turquoise tropical sea. Amid endless seascapes of mangroves, palms and pelicans, the road links a necklace of coral and limestone islets from Key Largo to Key West. As you drive south from Miami you’ll travel across more bridges than dry land; in fact, the round trip crosses 84 bridges, the longest of which stretches for seven miles across the ocean. 

3 Route 66 
Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California (2,451 miles)

Arm out of the window, music playing, driving on Route 66 is more than a simple road trip – it’s part of the Great American Experience. This pre-war highway was originally a route west for families escaping the city of Chicago and the Dust Bowl, via Arizona and Texas to Los Angeles. Songs, books and films celebrated the Depression-era highway but today only scattered sections of the old road exist, offering plenty of cool period diners and oddball roadside attractions.

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4 US Highway 89
Glacier National Park to Yellowstone, Montana (384 miles)

Head south across the Montana foothills of the Rocky Mountains, with mesmerising views east across the grassy sea of the Great Plains. You’ll pass through dark forests and deep canyons, keeping an eye out for grizzly bears, elk and beavers. In winter, check the ski resorts; in summer, stroll around lakes and waterfalls along the way.

5 Acadia All-American Road
Maine (40-mile circuit)

This short pretty circuit around Acadia National Park will last long in your memory. Explore the unspoilt Mount Desert Island on America’s far north-east coast, just north of Portland. From high in the granite mountains, you’ll spot yachts weaving among tiny forested islands, wooden fishermen’s homes along Bar Harbour waterfront and miles of wonderful craggy shoreline.

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6 The Alaska Highway 
Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Delta Junction, Alaska (1,387 miles)

Most Americans fly or take ferry trips from the United States to Alaska. But you can drive – by taking the Alaska Highway through Canada. Head north from Washington or Montana to pick up the renowned route in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, for the journey to Alaska. Expect unbeatable panoramas of lakes, forests and mountains, and close encounters with wildlife. The spectacular remote route is paved all the way but crosses 4,250ft-high mountain passes and serious wilderness areas, so needs careful planning. 

7 Billy the Kid Trail
New Mexico (84-mile circuit)

In 1881 the outlaw Billy the Kid shot his way out of Lincoln County Courthouse and escaped along this classic trail through pine forests and grassy hills. Today it forms one of America’s most historic and scenic country byways, offering a cross-country day in which you’ll discover stories of the real Wild West and modern attractions that include a ski resort run by the Apache tribe.

8 Trail of the Ancients
Utah and Colorado (480 miles)

Drive through red-rock landscapes and remote desert, crossing a map of extraordinary geology and archaeology in the Four Corners region – the only place where the boundaries of four states meet. This designated National Scenic Byway passes 600 prehistoric cave dwellings at Mesa Verde (a World Heritage Site), the largest natural rock bridges in the world and the stunning rock formations of Monument Valley. 

9 Blue Ridge Parkway 
North Carolina and Virginia (469 miles)

Your photos will include quaint old wooden farm cabins among the trees, misty wooded mountains marching away to the horizon and fairy-tale waterfalls plunging down dark rock cliffs. America’s longest linear park winds around the ridges of the Appalachians, between the Cherokee Reservation in the Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. You’ll negotiate 168 bridges, six viaducts, 26 tunnels and a 6,000-ft mountain along the way. 

10 The Seaway Trail
New York and Pennsylvania (518 miles)

Travel the St Lawrence Seaway by car on this popular series of roads hugging the banks of Lakes Erie and Ontario, and the St Lawrence and Niagara rivers. It’s a chance to visit destinations such as Niagara Falls, the vast sandy arc of Presque Isle, the natural forests of Erie Bluffs and the beautiful Thousand Islands region, before ending at the impressive Seaway International Bridge crossing into Canada. Places to stop could include historic lighthouses, beautiful state parks, sandy beaches and charming waterfront towns and villages.

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