The American road trip is an iconic right of passage for many.
You don’t know how truly vast and diverse America is until you try to drive across it. Chances are you don’t realize how incredibly diverse your own state is unless you get in a car and start exploring. No matter where you are, there’s likely a fantastic, accessible drive near you.
From the dramatic California coast to the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys, there are countless scenic drives across the country—and some stellar standouts. We’ve picked the American routes with heart-stopping views for you to explore on your next road trip.
Pacific Coast Highway
Distance: 655 miles
The Pacific Coast Highway is arguably one of the most famous drives in the entire world. Driving Highway 1 means hours cruising along stunning cliffs overlooking the Pacific, plus designated vista points for sparkling ocean views. For many, the Pacific Coast Highway road trip is a popular bucket list experience—for good reason! We recommend doing your Pacific Coast Highway road trip from north to south as you’ll be on the coastal side of the road, starting from California’s northern border with Oregon and stretching all the way down to San Diego.
The Golden Gate Park is a great place to start this epic trip. Take a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and you’ll feel like you’ve truly arrived in San Francisco. Some of the best stops include Point Bonita, Half Moon Bay, Monterey, San Simeon’s Hearst Castle, and many more. Pfeiffer State Beach is a must see along the Big Sur coastline. To get to Big Sur you’ll travel over the Bixby Bridge—one of the tallest single span concrete bridges in the world and one of the most photographed bridges on the West Coast. California’s Pacific Coast Highway offers travelers an unparalleled opportunity to dip into all the character California has to offer: surfing villages, farm-fresh foods, local wine, scenic views and Hollywood glamour.
Location: Illinois to California
Distance: 2,448 miles
Route 66, also known as “The Mother Road,” spans across three time zones, starting from Chicago, Illinois and traveling all the way down to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, California. During the mid-20th century, when American families were heading west, Route 66 served as an expressway to vacationland. For some travelers, it is a trip back in time to revisit a road they once traveled on a family holiday, whereas for others a Route 66 road trip is the ultimate symbol of Americana.
If roadside attractions are what you crave to break up the drive, then this is the road trip to put on your bucket list. This road trip route passes through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, and you’ll see everything from farms to forests to deserts along the way. To experience all of Route 66, we recommend spending 2-3 weeks for the trip to take a deep dive into the charming small towns, mom-and-pop shops and one-of-a-kind attractions, like Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas. There are also some great short side-trips from Route 66, including the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, Monument Valley, Four Corners, and the Lake of the Ozarks.
Florida Keys Overseas Highway
Distance: 165 miles
Driving from Miami to Key West through the beautiful Florida Keys is a classic American road trip. On the 165-mile drive, 113 miles are actually the Overseas Highway that joins the mainland of Florida to Key West. There are hundreds of islands, also called “keys,” that make up the archipelago of the Florida Keys. These small islands are joined by a series of bridges. The longest bridge is the Seven Mile Bridge, which joins Knights Key in the Middle Keys with Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. Before the construction of the Overseas Highway, the Keys were linked by the Overseas Railway. Portions of this railway were destroyed by a powerful hurricane that made a direct hit on the Florida Keys in 1935. The railroad bridges were then transformed into roadways. In the 1980’s, new highways were constructed but the old railway bridges can still be seen today.
There are many beautiful places to stop along the Florida Keys. For starters, Key Largo is world famous for its diving and snorkeling. The best place to go is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park where there are numerous dive and snorkel companies that will take you out for a few hours or longer. Next stop: The Tiki Bar. No trip to the Florida Keys is complete without trying the famous Rumrunner Cocktail. This laid-back bar is a famous stop along the journey to Key West, so it’s worth taking a break here to stretch your legs. If you’re looking for white sandy beaches, palm trees and crystal clear water, you can find them all at Morada Bay in Islamorada. When you’ve hit a dead end, you’ve reached your destination: Key West. The vibrant city of Key West is only 90 miles from Cuba and has a unique blend of Latino, Cuban and American culture. Enjoy walking through the lovely neighborhoods and trying many of the tropical, beachy style bars and restaurants on Duval Street.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Location: Virginia to North Carolina
Distance: 469 miles
Considered one of the most scenic drives on the East Coast, the Blue Ridge Parkway attracts drivers with its stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The route starts at the southern end of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and winds along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains all the way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Parkway offers access to tons of hiking trails, picnic areas, cultural exhibits and awe-inspiring overlooks. Each year, more people drive along its roads than visit the Grand Canyon.
Whether you’re starting or ending the trip in Shenandoah, the park’s Skyline Drive is one of the most unforgettably epic parts of the trip. Located 75 miles outside Washington D.C., the pristine 200,000 miles of Shenandoah National Park offers 500 miles of trails within the park, with dense forests, caves and scenic mountain views. Further south in Virginia, a short detour off the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can find the 215-foot tall Natural Bridge located at National Bridge State Park. It was once owned by Thomas Jefferson and listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark in 1988. A visit to the Biltmore Estate, built by George Vanderbilt, is a must stop. Explore the 8000-acre estate and get a taste of luxury in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, NC. Lastly, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park should be on everyone’s road trip bucket list. The park borders between North Carolina and Tennessee and is filled with lush forests and an abundance of wildflowers that bloom year-round.
The Road to Hana
Distance: 64 miles
Hana Highway also known as the the “Road to Hana” is the crown-jewel of Hawaii driving tours. The scenic drive is located on the northeast coastline of Maui and connects the towns of Kahului and Hana, hugging the coast for a distance of 64 miles. The trip can take hours as there are many winding roads and you’ll be doing good just to average over 30 mph. The roads have 1-lane bridges, featuring tight turns and stunning landscapes of rocky cliffs, lush rainforest and rugged ocean vistas. There are stunning waterfalls along the way with a surprising number of fantastic photo opportunities.
Some of the best stopping points include Ho’okipa Beach Park, Twin Falls, Huelo Lookout, Hamoa Beach and Paia Town. As far as Maui scenery goes, Wai’anapanapa State Park is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Located at mile 32 on the scenic Road to Hana, the state park is full of spectacular views of rugged shoreline, sea arches, ocean caves, black sand beach, and more. Hana is best experienced over a few days. This being said, you can still do it in a day, but you’ll need to decide just how much you’d like to see and do and whether you can handle a full day of driving. The last thing you want to do is drive the winding road to Hana in the dark. Make sure to leave Hana area at least a few hours before sunset.
Monument Valley Drive
Distance: 17 miles
This 17-mile loop, also referred to as the Valley Drive, is a scenic drive passing some of the most popular sites in Monument Valley. Located on the Utah-Arizona border, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is located on the Navajo Nation—one of the largest American Indian tribes. It is not officially a National Park since it sits within the Navajo Nation Reservation. Until the 1930’s, Monument Valley was an undiscovered and rarely visited location. The only people who knew of this beautiful area were the Navajo Indians who lived on the land. The stretch approaching the Utah-Arizona border from the north gives the most famous image of the valley, and possibly of the whole Southwest—a long straight empty road leading across flat desert towards the stark red cliffs on the horizon, curving away just in front.
It wasn’t until John Ford featured this landscape in his well-known Western films, including Stagecoach and Rio Grande, that Monument Valley began to experience some popularity. Now, Monument Valley has been featured in a large number of popular movies, including Forrest Gump, Mission: Impossible II, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and many more. There is much to see along the Valley Drive, even if many of the views are of the same formations, just at different angles, as some of the narrower buttes look quite different from one side compared to the other. This part of Monument Valley is one of the most impressive large-scale landscapes anywhere in the Southwest, rivaling places like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite for the variety of scenes to photograph.
Distance: 368 miles
The Richardson Highway was Alaska’s first major road, known to gold seekers in 1898 as the Valdez to Eagle Trail. This was not only Alaska’s first road, but also the first trail into the interior of the state. Before this highway was built the only way of traveling into the heart of Alaska was by river. Today it offers a very scenic route, filled with magnificent views of the Chugach Mountains and Alaska Range, and some of the best glacier viewing in Alaska. Rugged mountains tower on all sides as you drive south through lush green valleys and wild rivers.
Headed south from Fairbanks, the Richardson Highway gets more beautiful the further you drive. You’re truly out in the wilderness on this road—but there are a couple of noteworthy towns, and important places to stop. Keystone Canyon is located at miles 14 through 17 on the Richardson Highway. Horsetail and Bridal Veil Falls are the two big attractions. Take your time and enjoy the waterfalls pouring into Keystone Canyon. Worthington Glacier is one of the few in the world in which one can drive right up to the face for close up viewing. Rainbow Ridge provides one of the most spectacular, and intimidating sights along the Richardson Highway. Named for its varicolored talus slopes, the highest point is Rainbow Mountain at 6,700 feet.
Oregon Coast Highway
Distance: 363 miles
With sweeping ocean views, golden stretches of sand as far as the eye can see and craggy cliffs dotted with lighthouses, a journey down the Oregon coast is considered one of the world’s best road trips. The ever-changing scenery along Highway 101 offers an epic viewpoint at every bend in the road, and with no shortage of Pacific shoreline it’s easy to find a deserted stretch of sand even in the height of the busy summer travel season. Five days on the Oregon Coast is a perfect way to see all the highlights on a quick Oregon road trip. With a five day Oregon coast itinerary, you will have lots of time to explore the coast’s most easily accessible beaches and attractions.
Start your trip southward in Astoria, near the mouth of the Columbia River. Astoria is a history buff’s playground, with all kinds of great museums and historical landmarks, including shipwreck remains. Follow Highway 101 down some 25 miles toward Cannon Beach, where you’ll want to wander through Ecola State Park. Cannon Beach has a variety of honors, including being named one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places and one of the nation’s 100 best art towns. Situated between Depoe Bay and Newport, 100 miles south, witness the natural wonder at Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area. Here, the rock headland has been worn into a basin by centuries of saltwater and the collapse of two former caves. Located 13 miles south of Coos Bay, Shore Acres State Park is perched on rugged sandstone cliffs high above the ocean. The park is an unexpected combination of beautiful natural and constructed features, including lushly planted gardens with plants and flowers from all over the world.
Million Dollar Highway
Distance: 25 miles
Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway is not a long road trip–technically only 25 miles long, but those miles are packed with thrills and sights. Don’t expect this road trip to go quickly, either. If you’re looking for a scenic drive that is both beautiful and challenging, then we recommend the Million Dollar Highway. Stretching between the towns of Silverton and Ouray, along U.S. 550 is a two-lane highway traveling through the steep San Juan Mountain range. There are a number of stories about how the road got its name of the “Million Dollar Highway.” These include a legend that the road was made from a million dollars worth of gold and silver filled tailings, another tale of a woman who traveled the road saying, “I would not travel that road again for a million dollars,” and more likely that the land was purchased for a million dollars. We like to think it got its name for the million-dollar views.
Proceed cautiously up Red Mountain Pass, known as one of the state’s highest paved passes that has a elevation of 11,018 feet. The road is particularly beautiful in the winter, with ample snow covering the mountainous terrain, though it can be treacherous and steep with a chance of avalanches blocking the road. Take in the beauty of Uncompahgre Gorge, a deep mountain canyon formed by the Uncompahgre River and Red Mountain Creek in the San Juan National Forest. The drive is truly spectacular as it cuts through steep cliffs that rise hundreds of thousands of feet above the river, creating a scenic backdrop every step of the way. One of the most dramatic features in Ouray is the 285-foot Box Canyon Falls, where Canyon Creek ends its mountain journey. The City of Ouray built this park in order to allow visitors to get up close and personal with this impressive waterfall. It is truly a dramatic scene.
Location: Napa Valley, California
Distance: 29 miles
For a more leisurely alternative to the tourist traffic of Highway 29 through Napa Valley, plan your road trip along the Silverado Trail—running down the valley from Calistoga to Napa. The Silverado Trail travels through the Napa Valley wine region on a road originally built in the 1850’s during the silver rush. Along the Silverado Trail, you can take convenient exits to the five major towns of Napa, Yountville, Oakville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. Discover exceptional wineries with rolling hills of vineyards and mountain views on a road less traveled. This two-lane country road, filled with shady oaks and world-class vineyards, is quintessential Napa Valley. Its surrounding land is lined with so many wineries that you could travel it for a week straight and still not visit all of them. We recommend visiting 3-4 wineries a day to truly unwind and have the full experience of wine tasting in the heart of Napa Valley.
The biggest challenge is figuring out where to stop first. Along the way on Silverado Trail are dozens of exceptional wineries open for tasting and exploring, including Joseph Phelps, ZD Wines, and Miner Family Winery, just a few of the many wonderful places to sample Napa Valley’s infamous Cabernet Sauvignon and other big-bodied reds. Heading northwest on Silverado Trail, you will soon be surrounded by fields of grapevines, first, Chardonnay and 8-miles further in Yountville, Cabernet Sauvignon. Yountville is named for George Yount, who first planted grapes in 1838. The town is also known for its culinary artistry, offering a wide variety of cuisines from down-home comfort food to upscale dining. Premium wineries, shopping, galleries and hot-air balloon tours make this a worthy side trip.
Road-trips are the ultimate way to see America.
Each and every trip highlights the beauty of our great nation, from shorelines to mountain valleys and beyond. No matter how much of our country you think you’ve already seen, there’s always something new to discover. Make your way through canyons and valleys, to beaches and islands, or explore historic American small town cities. Whatever your plan is, we have a feeling you won’t regret spending your next vacation on the open road.