Iconic American Road Trips that Should Be on Your Family’s Bucket List

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Sunglasses, a must have on the packing list for a road trip with kids
Sunglasses are good to add to road trip packing list for those sunny days. Photo credit: Kimberly Miles

You might have spent your youth jet-setting around the world. But you’ve got kids now. That likely means the travel is slower and road trips are king! It’s just what we do for family vacations in the United States. America’s landscapes are vast and varied, making it the perfect place to explore by car. From funky roadside attractions to drool-worthy vistas—there’s a road trip route to suit everyone. These get our vote for the best road trips in the USA. Time to create an epic playlist fit for an iconic road trip and put at least a few of these U.S. road trips on your family vacation bucket list.

Making Memories on the Road

It happened every summer. My parents, little brother and I would load up the car and set out on a family road trip. In the early days—by that I mean the 1960s—we crammed into a tiny Volkswagen Bug. On another trip, it was a ’66 Ford Mustang.

After years of listening to my brother and me fight about who was on whose side of the back seat, Daddy wised up and bought a van. Always a “do it yourself guy” he customized it himself. (Think 1970s shag carpet and bean bag chairs.) Oh yea, we were styling!

Looking back, those road trips and the memories we made along the way were priceless. I carried on the family tradition when my kids were growing up.

These days the kids are grown and road tripping with their children. And me? I’m still road tripping. Sometimes I road trip solo. Other times I’m with my husband. And in the summertime, I’m often on the road making memories with the grandkids.

I’ve even had some Thelma and Louise cross country adventures. In short, I know a thing or two about hitting the open road, including where to find the best road trips in the USA.

Read More: The Complete Road Trip Packing List, so you never forget the essentials again!

Taking the Scenic Route

There’s a reason the landscape of the United States was described with such poetic terms by Katherine Lee in America the Beautiful. From sea to shining sea, this really is one big beautiful country.

Take a few days on the American road to explore the vast wide-open spaces and glorious mountains. Our list of SheBuysTravel-endorsed road trips has something for just about everyone. Pick your favorite: winding country roads, coastal highways, byways through stunning mountain landscapes or long flat stretches of the Great Plains —we have it all.

East Coast Road Trips: Montauk

Montauk Highway is a favorite for New Yorker road trips. Often referred to as the “end of the road,” Montauk is as far east as you can go on Long Island, New York.

As the Hampton’s easternmost town, it’s a popular destination for city dwellers looking for an escape. Heading east from New York City you’ll have a relaxing ride along the coastline of Long Island.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Time your trip for the weekdays to avoid those over-eager city dwellers. And you’ll want to know this Hamptons traffic hack.

Don’t-Miss Stops on the Way to Montauk

Lobster stands will tempt you along the way. But if you can only choose one, make it The Lobster Roll restaurant known as LUNCH. Housed in a red, white and blue clapboard building LUNCH has been serving lobster rolls, crab cakes and all kinds of tasty seafood since 1965.

When you’re ready to explore, head out to Montauk Point State Park. Located on the eastern tip of the South Shore of Long Island, the park offers nature trails and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean as it meets the Block Island Sound.

Work off those lobster rolls along with some of the kids’ excess energy with a climb to the top of Montauk Point Lighthouse. Authorized by the Second Congress under President George Washington, Montauk Point Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in New York.

More Great New England Road Trip Ideas

  • Drive through New Hampshire to see the fall foliage
  • Visit Acadia National Park in Maine in the summer
  • Take a Massachusetts road trip from Boston to Cape Cod

Southeast USA Road Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

One of my favorite road trips in the Southeast is the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s also one of the country’s most famous scenic drives. Beginning at the edge of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge winds 469 miles south through North Carolina to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Split rail fences, historic structures, and old farmsteads tell the story of the route’s history along the way. Scenic overlooks yield views of majestic mountains and deep ravines.

Read More: Best Things to Do in Johnston County NC on a Road Trip

Don’t Miss Stops Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Give the kids a break from the ride by taking one of the many hikes just off the parkway. It’s an ideal way to stop the “are we there yet” refrain. Don’t miss Grandfather Mountain one mile off the parkway at milepost 305. You may recognize the road up—it’s the last stretch of Forest Gump’s cross-country run.

More Great Southeast USA Road Trip Ideas

  • Road trip through north Georgia and stop at one of the many hiking trails that lead to picturesque waterfalls
  • A Mississippi road trip to learn about shrimping in Biloxi
  • A road trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

Road Trips in Florida: Overseas Highway

There are countless options for seaside road trips in Florida. But for a unique adventure, don’t just drive beside the sea, drive over it.

Head out to sea on the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys. Connecting Miami to Key West, the Overseas Highway is a 124-mile roadway that sits atop a vast expanse of clear turquoise water. Originally part of Henry Flagler’s short-lived East Coast Railroad extension, the highway was built after the railroad was destroyed in a 1935 hurricane.

Take your time and discover secluded islands, historic shipwrecks and some of the best fishing holes in the country. With unobstructed views to the east and west, you choose if you want to time your trip to catch sunrise or sunset. If the weather is right, either choice is spectacular.

Don’t Miss Stop in the Keys

For a lesson in wildlife sustainability for the kids, schedule some time at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, located at mile marker 48.5 on the Overseas Highway.

The only one of its kind in the world, the volunteers at the Turtle Hospital rescue, rehabilitate and release sick and injured sea turtles. Daily guided educational tours are offered. We learned so much about these turtles on our visit and even had the chance to meet some of the “patients” while we were there.

More Fun Florida Road Trip Ideas

  • Take the Black Bear Scenic Highway to the Ocala National Forest
  • Road trip to the Florida Panhandle with a stop at the famous Flora-Bama to watch the mullet toss in the spring.

Go Big: Epic Road Trip in Texas

As any Texan will tell you, things are bigger in Texas. In fact, it’s the biggest state in the continental 48—and it takes a while to cross it. There are some loooooong Texas road trips.

But if you’re driving there during the spring, the right Texas road trip is the one that travels between San Antonio and Austin. That’s because the state’s famous bluebonnet fields will be in full bloom then! Definitely build in plenty of extra travel time so you can stop along the way and snap photos of the kids among the blue bonnets.

Don’t Miss Stop Along the Way

While there are plenty of natural wonders and historic sites along the way (Hello, Alamo!), you’ve got kids. And kids love water parks. So plan to spend a day in New Braunfels at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark. There’s a reason it’s ranked #1 in America!

More Epic Texas Road Trip Ideas

  • Head to Amarillo to spray paint the buried Cadillacs at Cadillac Ranch
  • Head south to South Padre Island
  • Visit the Christmas town of Grapevine

Journey Through Time on Utah’s Route 12

With 5 national parks scattered across its landscape, it’s hard not to find a scenic road in Utah. One of the most awe-inspiring is Route 12—often referred to as A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.

Connecting Bryce Canyon with the Capital Reef, Route 12 is 122 miles of jaw-dropping beauty. This little slice of heaven on earth passes through Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park. From there it climbs Boulder Mountain in the Dixie National Forest before ending at the entrance to Capital Reef National Park.

Don’t Miss Stops Along the Way

Prepare to be wowed following the summit of Boulder Mountain where a 30-mile stretch of the byway winds through a forested landscape. The colorful Capitol Reef National Park, the Circle Cliffs and the Henry Mountains are in view—all framed by the trees of Dixie National Forest.

Make sure to spend some time hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park amid the brightly colored hoodoos and scented Ponderosa pines. The dazzling sunrise at Sunrise Point is worth getting up early to catch even if your teenagers grumble.

More US Road Trip Ideas through Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Nevada

  • Visit any of America’s amazing national parks, especially the Grand Canyon, Zion or Yellowstone National Park
  • Head to Las Vega if you prefer a kitschier vibe

New Mexico: High Road Scenic Byway

With miles of open space, road trips across the southwest are epic. The terrain ranges from desert to mountains, all of it beautiful. New Mexico is the only state that is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo and Carlsbad Caverns.

Our favorite New Mexico road trip runs from Santa Fe to Taos along the High Road Scenic Byway.

All roads to Taos deliver impressive views, but the High Road kicks those views up a notch. Along the way, dramatic rock formations unfold as the road climbs the Truchas Peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Showcasing 70 miles of spectacular scenery and Spanish history.

Don’t Miss Stop Along the Way

Our favorite family-friendly stop on this New Mexico road trip is Taos Pueblo. Inhabited for more than 1,000 years, Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Made entirely of adobe, this striking southwestern structure is of many individual homes built side-by-side in layers with common walls.

Today, 150 Native Americans live within the walls of the Pueblo.

Art and Nature Combine for an Arizona Road Trip

Arizona is equally impressive with desert landscapes surrounded by rugged mountain peaks, miles of wide-open space, charming small towns with histories rooted in the wild west, and mining communities reinvented as artist havens.

One of my favorite scenic drives is also one of the shortest on our list: the Ajo Mountain Drive. This 21-mile one-way gravel road loop offers glimpses of Organ Pipe National Monument. That’s home to 500 square miles of stunning desert landscape showcasing an incredible variety of cacti. The drive climbs from the valley floor into the foothills of the Ajo Mountains skirting past towering walls of cliffs and sculpted canyons.

Don’t Miss Stop Along the Way

The National Park Service says this is a two-hour drive. But plan to take longer and stop for a picnic lunch along the way. There are four picnic sites provided on the drive. Stop #6 has a shaded picnic area and Estes Canyon after stop #11 has backcountry restrooms.

SheBuysTravel Tip: This is Arizona desert and there is no water available along this drive. Bring at least one full water bottle per person. 

More Arizona Road Trip Ideas

  • Wow the kids with the flowing chocolate milk formations at Grand Falls
  • Head to Jerome to explore a real ghost town

Icon California Road Trip: The Pacific Coast Highway

Everyone should take a California road trip at least once in their lifetime. I think I’ve taken about 10—and I’m not done yet. There are plenty of road trips in California to choose from, but my absolute favorite is the Pacific Coast Highway 1.

Running almost the entire length of the California coast, the iconic PCH is like the sampler platter of road trips. As you hug the twisting, turning coastline, waves crash over the rocks in the ocean below. On the opposite side of the highway, fertile farmland gives way to charming seaside villages. The entire route is gorgeous but the section between Santa Barbara and San Francisco is spectacular.

Don’t Miss Stops Along the Way

Monterey. This town on the rugged central coast is worth a multi-day stopover. But if you only have a few hours, head to the incredible Monterey Aquarium. And plan to take the 17-mile drive to check out classic California small towns Pebble Beach and Carmel and the iconic Bixby Bridge in Big Sur.

More Awesome California Road Trip Ideas:

  • Check out the national parks near Los Angeles
  • Drive south to San Diego and the Temecula wine region
  • Head north to see the poppy fields in the springtime
best road trips in the usa: Levenworth Washington
Visit Leavenworth Washington on a USA road trip. Photo credit: Pixabay

Pacific Northwest Road Trip: Stevens Pass

With an abundance of moody skies, soaring mountains, towering redwoods and coastal vistas, road trips in the Pacific Northwest are destined to be beautiful. Choose any road from Oregon to Canada and you’ll have a winner.

One of my favorites is Route 2 in Washington known as Stevens Pass. As part of the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway, Stevens Pass runs 90 miles from Monroe to just past Leavenworth in Washington State. This remarkable alpine landscape is graced with waterfall-streaked mountains and gushing rivers. I drove this with my BFF on a Thelma and Louise road trip in late September. The snow-capped mountains were dressed in rich autumn colors merging the two seasons for one spectacular scene.

Don’t Miss Stop Along the Way

Plummeting some 265 feet, Wallace Falls is the largest of the waterfalls along Route 2. We hiked along Woody Trail in Wallace Falls State Park at milepost 27. This brought us up close to some of the falls’ most dramatic spots.

Further down the byway at milepost 56, Deception Falls picnic area brought us as close to the whitewater of the thundering creek as possible without being in a raft.

And when we reached Leavenworth, we felt as if we’d left the USA for Bavaria. This picturesque little town serves up all the Bratwurst, schnitzel, accordion music and brews you can handle. It’s also home to the world’s largest nutcracker collection at the Nutcracker Museum.

Read More: The Coolest Road Trip Destinations in the Western USA

Get Your Kicks on Historic Route 66

Referred to as America’s Main Street, Route 66 is the USA’s most iconic road trip. When it opened on November 11, 1926, Route 66 covered 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California. Although it has been replaced by interstates in many locations, Route 66 has been revived in recent decades by communities along the route. Neon signs, Mom & Pop eateries, kitschy roadside motels, and historic Route 66 markers serve as reminders of days gone by along the “Mother Road of America.”

Don’t Miss Stop on Route 66

If you can’t do the full road, consider including Route 66 as a Midwest road trip. Route 66 was born in Springfield, Missouri in 1926. Today you’ll find plenty of Route 66 themed signs, eateries, and motels throughout the city. Springfield’s retro Steak-n-Shake is a fun stop serving up the chain’s iconic burgers and chili with a side of neon lights.

I slept my way into the nostalgic Americana with a night at the Rail Haven. One of the many roadside motor inns popular in the Route 66 heyday, Rail Haven has eight sandstone cottages built in 1938. Schedule your visit for August and you’ll catch the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival.

More Must-See Midwest Road Trip Destinations

  • The Arch in St. Louis
  • Mackinac Island in Michigan
  • The Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Woman at John Deere Pavilion
Pretend drive a tractor at the John Deere Pavilion on a road trip to Moline Illinois. Photo courtesy of Visit Quad Cities

Mississippi River Road Trip: The Great River Road

The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River through 10 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. But one of my favorite stretches runs through the Quad Cities — two Illinois towns, Rock Island and Moline, and two Iowa cities, Davenport and Bettendorf.

Don’t Miss Stop on the Great River Road

For families with tractor-obsessed kids, a visit to the free John Deere Pavilion in Moline is required. The kids (and their adults) can climb on giant tractors and drive them via simulators. Before you leave town, take the family for ice cream at Lagomarcino’s. There are two locations, but go to the original in downtown Moline to get the real feel of the family-owned business that started in 1908. Work off the treats by renting bikes and biking along the riverfront.

More Iconic Illinois Road Trip Destinations

  • Chicago should be on the radar for city lovers
  • The state capital, Springfield, should top the list for history lovers thanks to its many Abraham Lincoln sites.
the view from the Road to Hana, one of the best road trips in the USA
Just one of the spectacular views from the Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii. Photo credit: Pixabay

Hawaii Road Trip: The Road to Hana

Maui is home to so many beautiful sights, sunsets and experiences. But none can beat the Road to Hana. The legendary road is only 52 miles from Kahului but the challenging drive can take as much as four hours thanks to the narrow one-lane bridges, 620 hairpin turns and incredible island views. But the views are oh so worth the challenge! The road passes through lush rainforests, gorgeous waterfalls and ends with at the quiet town of Hana.

While you certainly can rent a car and do this road trip on your own, this is one road trip when it might be worth joining a tour and letting someone else do the driving so you can spend the entire trip looking out at the drool-worthy scenery.

Don’t Miss Stop on the Road to Hana

The Ho’okipa lookout is the place to stop to see some of the best surfing in Maui. In the winter, the waves are massive. And you’ll definitely want to stop at the Halfway to Hana stand to sample the fresh baked banana bread.

Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, road trips, soft-adventure, camping, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru to road-tripping through the jungles of Belize, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Drop her into a landscape filled with mountains, towering evergreens, waterfalls and a glacier or two and she’ll be in heaven. But what thrills her most of all is traveling with her teenage grandkids. Terri serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA). She also serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Eastern Chapter for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Terri’s publication credits include AARP, Island Soul, Girl Camper Magazine, A Girls Guide to Cars, CHILLED, World Footprints, North Hills Monthly, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Contractor and more. Follow her on Instagram at TrippingWithTerri.
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One response

  1. I am trying to plan a road trip from Marble Falls, Texas to Omaha, Nebraska , around the end of May. We would like to include the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Ok, City, and the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, OK, then head north. We would like to take the back roads when possible and see pretty and unusual sites. Can you help?

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