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10 Extraordinary Road Trips Across the U.S.

(Last Updated On: March 22, 2024)

A road trip across the United States offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore the country’s vast landscapes, diverse cultures, and hidden gems. Beyond the well-trodden paths lie routes less traveled, where the journey itself becomes a story of unique experiences. This guide presents ten distinctive road trip ideas, each promising an adventure that veers off the conventional tourist trails. From scenic byways to historical routes, these journeys invite you to discover the beauty and complexity of the U.S.

1. The Turquoise Trail, New Mexico

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / underworld

Stretching between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the Turquoise Trail offers a scenic alternative to the faster highways. This route winds through the rugged beauty of New Mexico’s desert landscapes, past historic mining towns, and into the heart of the state’s rich cultural heritage.

Highlights include the artsy town of Madrid, with its galleries and cafes, and the ancient mining town of Cerrillos, where turquoise still whispers tales of the Old West. The road itself is a journey through time, showcasing the natural beauty and historical depth of New Mexico.

Insider’s Tip: Stop at the Turquoise Trail Sculpture Garden for an unexpected encounter with large-scale outdoor art.

When to Travel: Spring and fall offer the most temperate weather, ideal for exploring the outdoor attractions along the route.

How to Get There: Begin in Albuquerque, taking NM-14 north towards Santa Fe. The route is well-marked and offers numerous points of interest along the way.

2. The Outer Banks, North Carolina

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Michael Urmann

The Outer Banks of North Carolina present a road trip that is as much about the journey as the destination. This slender chain of barrier islands stretches over 100 miles along the Atlantic coast, connected by a series of bridges and ferries. The route offers breathtaking ocean views, historic lighthouses, and unique ecosystems.

Highlights include the Wright Brothers National Memorial, where flight first took to the skies, and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, with its pristine beaches and iconic lighthouse.

Insider’s Tip: Take a detour to Roanoke Island to explore the Lost Colony, the site of one of America’s oldest mysteries.

When to Travel: Late spring to early fall provides the best weather for beach activities, though hurricane season should be noted.

How to Get There: Start your journey in Kitty Hawk and follow NC Highway 12 south through the islands. Ferries between sections add to the adventure.

3. The Great River Road, Mississippi

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Lukas Bischoff Photograph

Following the course of the Mississippi River for over 3,000 miles, the Great River Road is a journey through the heart of America. From the river’s humble beginnings in Minnesota to its grand exit into the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, this route traverses a tapestry of American life and landscapes. The road is dotted with historic towns, scenic overlooks, and cultural landmarks, offering a deep dive into the nation’s riverine heart.

Insider’s Tip: Visit the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa for a unique glimpse into ancient Native American cultures.

When to Travel: Autumn brings spectacular foliage along the northern sections, while spring is ideal for the southern stretches to avoid the summer heat.

How to Get There: The Great River Road is well-signed across ten states, with the route easily accessible from major cities along the Mississippi River.

4. Highway 101, Oregon Coast

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / pisaphotography

Oregon’s Highway 101 offers a road trip experience defined by rugged coastlines, towering forests, and quaint coastal towns. This scenic byway hugs the Pacific Ocean, providing endless opportunities for photography, hiking, and beachcombing. Highlights include the towering dunes of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, the historic Heceta Head Lighthouse, and the picturesque town of Cannon Beach with its iconic Haystack Rock.

Insider’s Tip: Take a slight detour inland to visit the Tillamook Creamery for a tour and a taste of their famous cheese.

When to Travel: Summer offers the best chance for sunny days, though the coast’s beauty is dramatic year-round, with winter storms offering a spectacular show.

How to Get There: Begin in Astoria in the north and follow Highway 101 south towards Brookings near the California border.

5. The Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Jeff Morgan

Known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles through the Appalachian Highlands. This scenic route offers stunning mountain vistas, dense forests, and a wealth of recreational opportunities.

The parkway is a slow-paced journey, with numerous overlooks, hiking trails, and historic sites along the way. Highlights include the Linn Cove Viaduct, Mabry Mill, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the southern end.

Insider’s Tip: Visit in October for the fall foliage peak, but also explore the many hiking trails that offer solitude and natural beauty.

When to Travel: Late spring through fall, with fall foliage season being particularly popular.

How to Get There: Start at the northern end near Waynesboro, Virginia, and follow the parkway south to Cherokee, North Carolina.

6. Route 66, Chicago to Santa Monica

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Nyokki

Route 66, the “Mother Road,” is the quintessential American road trip, stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica. This historic highway offers a journey through the heart of America, passing through small towns, past vintage motels and diners, and alongside natural wonders.

The route is a living museum of the American road, with highlights including the Cadillac Ranch in Texas, the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and the end-of-the-trail Santa Monica Pier.

Insider’s Tip: Make a stop in Seligman, Arizona, to experience the birthplace of the Route 66 renaissance.

When to Travel: Spring and fall offer the most comfortable temperatures for this cross-country adventure.

How to Get There: Begin in Chicago, following the historic Route 66 markers through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally California.

7. Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee to Mississippi

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Santi Rodriguez

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile drive that takes you through the heart of the American South, from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi. This historic trail, originally used by Native Americans and later by European settlers, traders, and soldiers, is now a scenic byway that offers a journey through lush landscapes, rolling hills, and important historical sites.

Travelers can also explore deep cultural roots in music, cuisine, and Southern hospitality. The parkway is dotted with landmarks such as the ancient Native American mounds at Emerald Mound, Franklin’s historic homes, and the Cypress Swamp’s scenic beauty.

The route also offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life, with opportunities for hiking, biking, and horseback riding along adjacent trails. The Natchez Trace Parkway showcases the region’s rich history and natural beauty, inviting travelers to slow down and explore the soul of the South.

Insider’s Tip: Don’t miss the opportunity to stop at the Loveless Cafe near Nashville for some traditional Southern cuisine before you embark on your journey. Their homemade biscuits and country ham are legendary.

When to Travel: Spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) are ideal for traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway, offering pleasant weather, vibrant wildflowers, or stunning autumn foliage.

How to Get There: The northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway is located near Nashville, TN, easily accessible from Interstate 40. The southern end is in Natchez, MS, where the parkway meets US Highway 61. Travelers can access the route at various points along its length, making it easy to explore sections of the parkway as part of a longer road trip.

8. The Loneliest Road, Nevada’s Highway 50

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Image Credit: Pexels / tom Swinnen

Stretching across the heart of Nevada, Highway 50, dubbed “The Loneliest Road in America,” offers a journey through vast deserts, rugged mountain ranges, and untouched landscapes. This route follows the historic Pony Express trail, connecting small towns that dot the expansive Nevada desert, each with its own unique character and stories.

Travelers on Highway 50 will find themselves enveloped in the sheer vastness of the American West, with opportunities to explore state parks, ancient petroglyphs, and ghost towns that whisper tales of a bygone era. The road challenges the adventurous spirit with its remote stretches, but it rewards with unparalleled solitude, starlit skies, and a deep connection to the American frontier.

Insider’s Tip: Make sure your vehicle is well-prepared for long stretches without services, and carry plenty of water. Stop at the small towns along the way to experience local hospitality and learn about the area’s history.

When to Travel: Spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) offer the most pleasant weather for this journey, avoiding the extreme summer heat and winter snows.

How to Get There: Begin your journey on Highway 50 in Carson City, Nevada, easily accessible from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, where you can rent a car for the trip.

9. The Great River Road, Following the Mississippi

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / mehulgupta146

The Great River Road is a scenic byway that winds alongside the Mississippi River, stretching over 3,000 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. This route offers a deep dive into America’s heartland, showcasing the Mississippi River region’s cultural, historical, and natural beauty.

Travelers can explore charming river towns, historic sites, and beautiful landscapes that define the river’s legacy. The journey is punctuated by majestic views of the Mississippi, opportunities for bird watching, and the rich musical heritage of the Delta Blues. The Great River Road is a journey through the soul of America, offering insights into the country’s past, present, and future.

Insider’s Tip: Take your time to explore the small towns along the route, each offering unique attractions, from historic antebellum homes to local festivals celebrating the river’s bounty.

When to Travel: Late spring to early fall (May to October) provides the best weather for exploring the many outdoor attractions along the route.

How to Get There: Start your journey at Itasca State Park in Minnesota, where the Mississippi River begins, accessible via a drive from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.

10. The Pacific Coast Highway, California’s Coastal Route

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / HandmadePictures

California’s Pacific Coast Highway, State Route 1, is a legendary road that offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, and iconic landscapes. Stretching from the northern redwood forests to the southern sun-kissed beaches, this route showcases California’s diverse natural beauty.

Travelers can also explore world-famous cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, quaint coastal towns, and pristine state parks. The drive includes unforgettable sights such as the Big Sur coastline, the engineering marvel of the Bixby Creek Bridge, and the serene beauty of Point Reyes. The Pacific Coast Highway is an experience that captures the essence of the California dream.

Insider’s Tip: Plan stops at the numerous overlooks and state parks along the way to fully appreciate the stunning landscapes and wildlife.

When to Travel: The best times to drive the Pacific Coast Highway are during the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) to avoid the summer fog and enjoy mild weather.

How to Get There: Start your journey in San Francisco, accessible via San Francisco International Airport, and head south towards Los Angeles, or vice versa, depending on your preference.

The Bottom Line

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

A road trip across the United States presents an unparalleled opportunity to explore the diverse landscapes, cultures, and histories that define this vast country. From the solitude of Nevada’s Highway 50 to the cultural tapestry along the Great River Road, and the iconic vistas of California’s Pacific Coast Highway, each route offers a unique journey into the heart of America.

As you plan your adventure, remember to embrace the spirit of exploration, take the time to connect with the places and people you encounter, and open yourself to the transformative experiences that await on the road less traveled.

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The post 10 Extraordinary Road Trips Across the U.S republished on Passing Thru with permission from The Green Voyage.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images.

For transparency, this content was partly developed with AI assistance and carefully curated by an experienced editor to be informative and ensure accuracy.

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