From Coasts to Canyons: 8 Road Trips to Experience the Best of America

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Collage of Route 66 memorabilia in the gift shop on the Santa Monica Pier, the western end of epic Route 66 road trip

From cultural discoveries to stunning landscapes to weird roadside attractions, road trips attract travelers with a variety of interests. As a lifelong road-tripper, I embrace it all! If the lure of the open road beckons to you, these American road trips provide plenty of options. From ambitious cross-country routes to shorter journeys, choose what fits your schedule and appeals to your interest. Then join Willie Nelson as you sing, “I can’t wait to get on the road again!”

Have Time to Tackle a Cross-Country Road Trip? Here are 3 Extraordinary Options

Looking for a hearty slice of Americana? Route 66 is the way to go. More interested in awe-inspiring landscapes? Consider the Great Northern Road Trip traveling US Highway 2 from Seattle to Maine with a detour into Canada. Up for a coast-to-coast ride through the heart of America? The Loneliest Road from California to Maryland’s eastern shore along US Highway 50 delivers an ideal USA sampler platter. Whatever cross-country road trip route you choose, there’s plenty to discover.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Download our printable road trip packing list so you have everything you need on your cross-country trip!

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Perhaps the most well-known road trip in America, Route 66 delivers a mega-dose of Americana. Route 66 begins in Chicago and ends at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. The original road trip route opened on November 11, 1926, connecting these two cities with 2,448 miles of roadway.

Route 66 passes through nine states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. Neon signs, mom-and-pop eateries, kitschy roadside motor inns and historic Route 66 markers remind travelers of days gone by along the “Mother Road of America.”

graffitied cars in cadillac ranch
Check out Cadillac Ranch, a unique sight you surely won’t find anywhere else. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Route 66 Road Trip Highlights

  • Springfield, Missouri claims the title as the birthplace of Route 66. A museum in the city’s main square is chock full of memorabilia and stories of Springfield’s unique connection to the beloved highway. Schedule your visit for August and you’ll catch the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival.
  • Nearby in Carthage, amid a rural setting on a nine-acre plot outside of town, the Route 66 Drive-In theater retains its 1949 charm. Bed-down in neon nostalgia at Boots Court Motel. Sitting at the crossroads of the historic Route 66 and US-71 in Carthage, this 1939 motel has welcomed road trippers for decades, including celebrities like Clark Gable.
  • Visit Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, a public art spectacle where 10 classic Cadillac cars are buried nose-down in the ground. You can even leave your artistic touch using a can of spray paint available at the local Home Depot, which incidentally sells the most spray paint in America!
  • Pat yourself on the back when you arrive at the Santa Monica Pier. Be sure to take a selfie in front of the official sign marking the end of Route 66 to commemorate your journey!

The Great Northern Road Trip

Spanning nearly 3,600 miles from Everett, Washington, to Bar Habor, Maine, the Great Northern Road Trip is named in honor of the pioneer-era Great Northern Railroad that parallels the western half of the route. This incredibly scenic road trip includes portions of the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway, the Columbia Plateau, Glacier National Park and windswept prairies of the northern Great Plains in the West.

Moving into the Midwest, the Minnesota Northwoods and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula add to the landscape variety. From Michigan, the route leads into Ontario, Canada as you continue east to Montreal before dipping back into the eastern edge of New York near gorgeous Lake Champlain. From there, the road meanders through Vermont’s Green Mountains and into New Hampshire where granite mountains take the stage. The finale happens in Maine as you reach the Atlantic Ocean in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

An expansive view from the summit of Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

The Great Northern Road Trip Highlights

  • Visit the picturesque Alpine town of Leavenworth, Washington where you’ll find all the bratwurst, schnitzel, accordion music and brews you can manage. It’s also home to the world’s largest nutcracker collection at the Nutcracker Museum.
  • In Wisconsin, detour along the scenic shore of Lake Superior on US Route 13 to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
  • A foodie’s dream, Montreal’s diverse population ensures a variety of dining options to supplement your road trip food. For a hearty indulgence, try poutines — french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. Work off the calories with an urban hike up the trail to Mount Royal for panoramic city views
  • In Vermont, find your way to Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury for a tour and a taste of creamy goodness.
  • New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Cog Railway is the world’s first and will chug you up to the mountain’s peak at 6,288 feet.
  • Linger in Maine for lobster rolls as you celebrate your cross-country road trip!

SheBuysTravel Tip: 7 Fun Road Trip Trivia Games for Families on the Go!

family at Arches National Park
Delicate Arch at Arches National Park. Photo credit: Tim Jones

US Highway 50: Travel Through the Heart of America

Travel across U.S. Highway 50 (US 50) from West Sacramento, California, to Ocean City, Maryland, for an up-close view of the middle of America. This transcontinental highway spans more than 3,000 miles highlighting the country’s diverse landscapes.

From West Sacramento, the road follows the historic route of the old Pony Express up into the Sierra Nevada leading to the shores of Lake Tahoe. The stretch of US 50 through the center of Nevada is known as America’s Loneliest Road. On this remote stretch, you’ll likely have the road to yourself (except for the occasional coyote) as you drive into the seemingly endless horizon. Mountains, dunes, ghost towns and abandoned mines combine nature with human history.

After crossing the Continental Divide atop the Rocky Mountains, the highway follows the Arkansas River along the Santa Fe Trail. Mountains give way to pastoral landscapes dotted with windmills, water towers, railroad tracks and small towns.

Moving through Missouri to St. Louis, US 50 crosses the Mississippi River into Illinois, Indiana and Ohio — America’s agricultural heartlands. Mountains return in West Virginia’s Appalachian backwoods, before retreating as you leave small-town America behind for the traffic and energy of Washington, D.C. Your epic journey ends in Ocean City, Maryland at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

US Highway 50 Road Trip Highlights

  • Step into Wild West history in Carson City, NV. Hike amid the alpine forests, bristlecone pines and glacial lakes of Great Basin National Park, NV.
  • Explore the sandstone arches, deep canyons and high plateaus of Canyonlands & Arches National Parks in Utah.
  • Detour for a drive along Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. This two-lane blacktop forms a winding ribbon through the San Juan Mountains – the wildest peaks in the Colorado Rockies.
  • Step into the Garden of Eden in Lucas, KS, one of the country’s oldest and funkiest folk-art experiences.
  • In Serpent Mound, see remnants of the Mound Builder people who once lived in what is now Ohio.
  • Visit the final resting place of American heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Stroll the iconic boardwalk and splash in the waves at Ocean City as you celebrate your cross-country adventure.

Best Short US Road Trips

A bridge at sunset in Memphis, one of the best places to visit in Tennessee.
Mississippi River at sunset. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

Mississippi: Explore the Birthplace of the Blues

Start your Mississippi road trip in the land where cotton once reigned supreme, and the hard-luck chants of the field workers evolved into America’s original music: the Blues. The Mississippi Blues Trail expands from the Gulf Coast to every corner of the state. This road trip starts in Memphis and then heads south along the Mississippi Delta.

Take Highway 61 south to Clarksdale, stopping in Tunica on the way. In Clarksdale, where the legendary crossroads of Highways 49 and 61 intersect, you’ll discover tumbledown shacks, juke joints and extremely hospitable locals eager to share their stories.

Travel the back roads between Highways 49 and 61 in search of Lost Superstitions and the spirits of Sam Cooke, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Son House and Elmore James. Makers along the Mississippi Blues Trail tell the stories of the lives and times of bluesmen and women.

Located at the center of what’s known as the “American Music Triangle,” Cleveland is home to the Grammy Museum – the only one outside of Los Angeles. From there the road leads to Indianola and ultimately Jackson, the capital of Mississippi.

Mississippi Road Trip Highlights

  • In Tunica, visit the Gateway to the Blues Museum housed in an old, tin-roofed train station.
  • In Clarksdale, tour the Delta Blues Museum, enjoy BBQ and the soulful sounds of the blues at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club.
  • Shop at the eclectic Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art, then visit the Hambone Art Gallery.
  • Pop into Deke’s Mississippi Saxophones & Blues Emporium and, if you’re lucky,  you might get a one-man show.
  • In Clarksdale, experience live blues by some of the best local musicians at the lively, no-frills Red’s Blues Club juke joint.
  • Elvis Presley fans will want to detour two hours east to Tupelo to visit the birthplace of the King of Rock-n-Roll.
  • In Indianola, don’t miss the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.
the bow of a whitewater raft heading into a rapid on the New River in West Virginia
Heading into a rapid on the New River. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

West Virginia: Take Me Home Country Roads

Mountain landscapes, national forests, industrial heritage sites and rushing rivers make West Virginia an ideal road trip destination. A relatively small state, a week provides sufficient time for exploring the highlights. Or, take it slow and soak in the small-town hospitality along the way.

Designated as a National Scenic Byway, the Coal Heritage Trail winds through 13 counties covering 187 miles of West Virginia’s scenic industrial heritage. Meandering through the rich coal mining history, this scenic route passes former Appalachian coalfields, coal miners’ homes, company stores and railroad yards. Small towns along the way provide a taste of “down home” cooking and an opportunity to chat with the locals. Starting on RT. 52 in Bluefield, the route connects with RT. 16 North into Ansted.

Another scenic byway, the Midland Trail follows US Route 60 traversing some of West Virginia’s most rugged terrain. Stretching from border to border, the route begins at Kenova and continues to White Sulphur Springs covering approximately 180 miles. Scenic vistas abound but none tops the lofty New River Gorge Bridge—the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the United States and the third-highest bridge in the country. The bridge spans 3,030 feet across the New River Gorge National River just north of Fayetteville.

Slicing through the midsection of the state, the Midland Trail passes through the state’s capitol, Charleston, along with smaller communities. Ideal for those wanting a sample of all West Virginia has to offer including art, history and outdoor adventures.

West Virginia Road Trip Highlights

  • A visit to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine offers a detailed look at the culture and historic significance of this American industry.
  • The Coal Heritage Trail Interpretive Center in Bramwell includes coal heritage murals. The Helen Coal Miners Memorial is another point of interest.
  • If you can handle dizzying heights, take a guided Bridge Walk on the catwalk underside of the New River Gorge Bridge, 876 feet above the gorge!
  • Spend some time at Adventures on the Gorge whitewater rafting on the New River or – if you’re up for it – the legendary Gauley River. Out of the water, mountain biking and hiking are favorite pastimes in this little slice of West Virginia heaven.
Things to Do in Catskills - Large peace sign in front of railroad tracks with Rail Explorers pedal carts in the Catskills.
Make a reservation for a Rail Explorers pedal cart tour, a fun road trip attraction in the Catskills. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

New York: From the Hudson Valley to Niagara Falls

One of the easiest road trips from New York City carries explorers through the fertile Hudson Valley. Views of mountains, farmland and lakes along Route 9 make the city that never sleeps a distant memory. Following the Hudson River, charming towns, art galleries, farms open for berry picking and restaurants featuring farm-to-table dining abound.

Crossing over the Hudson River, the trip continues along Route 9W to New Paltz. Nestled at the base of the Shawangunk Ridge – affectionately known as “The Gunks” – New Paltz offers an abundance of outdoor adventures including biking, hiking and rock climbing. A friendly, artsy community, it has been listed as one of New York’s best hippie towns!

Continuing north through the Catskills to the state capital, Albany, a three-day road trip covering New York’s widest expanse along “America’s Main Street” begins on Route 20. The route runs along 108 miles of the designated New York State Scenic Byway between Duanesburg and LaFayette and passes through quaint towns and picturesque farms. From LaFayette, take Interstate 81 up to Syracuse then head west on I-90 to Rochester. Both Syracuse and Rochester offer great stops for sightseeing, eateries, and museums. In Rochester, the route picks up The Great Lakes Seaway Trail which winds along the edge of Lake Ontario to the spot where the lake meets Niagara River as it inches toward Niagara Falls.

New York Road Trip Highlights

  • Explore one of the world’s largest outdoor sculpture parks at Storm King Art Center in New Windsor.
  • Stretch your legs in Poughkeepsie on the pedestrian bridge Walkway over the Hudson. Or, if time permits, rent a bike locally and explore the Hudson Valley Rail Trail.
  • Tour the New York State Capitol in Albany, a marvel of late 19th-century architectural grandeur that took 32 years to build.
  • Visit the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester.
  • Experience the awe of Niagara Falls as you conclude your New York adventure.
Sailboat in front of sunset in Key West, Florida, a great place to visit in November
The memory of a beach sunset will keep you warm all winter. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Florida: From the Historic Coast to Key West

The 482-mile stretch between St. Augustine and Key West delivers an eclectic combination of old-world charm, nature, aerospace, surf and sunshine. Hugging the eastern seaboard from top to bottom, the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway serves up a visual smorgasbord of fish shacks, colorful beach houses and cinnamon-sugar sands touched by the waves of the ever-moving waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

In St. Augustine, revel in the Spanish-inspired architecture as you stroll cobblestone streets lined with boutiques, eateries and art galleries. Surround yourself with rockets at the Kennedy Space Center. Assess your surfing skills at Cocoa Beach—the East Coast surfing capital. In Palm Beach, stroll Worth Avenue to discover luxury boutiques, world-class galleries and acclaimed dining intertwined with glitzy estates. And in Miami, soak up the Cuban culture through the vibrant art and authentic Cuban cuisine.

Florida’s Overseas Highway connects Miami to Key West by a 124-mile roadway atop a vast expanse of clear turquoise water. Take your time and discover secluded islands, historic shipwrecks and some of the best fishing holes in the country.

Florida Road Trip Highlights

  • In St. Augustine, explore the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental US.
  • Visit Marineland, one of Florida’s first marine mammal parks billed as the world’s first oceanarium.
  • Take a guided kayak tour with Ripple Effect Eco-Tours through 76,000+ acres of protected lands in the GTM National Estuarine Research Reserve estuary system.
  • Stroll the one-mile Riverfront Esplanade in Daytona Beach amid a year-round botanical garden.
  • Experience the underwater wonders at America’s first undersea park—John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo
  • Explore Old Town Key West including the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and the Key West Lighthouse.
  • Stroll through the only frost-free, subtropical, natural conservation habitat, native plant botanical garden in the continental US at Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden.
  • Toast the sunset at the Mallory Square sunset celebration amid street performers and irresistible conch fritters.
neon sign and front of blue swallow motel tucumcari
Neon signs light up the night at vintage Tucumcari motels like the Blue Swallow. Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

New Mexico Scenic Byways: Trail of the Mountain Spirits

With 25 scenic byways sprawling across 2,900 miles of diverse landscapes, New Mexico earns its moniker as the “Land of Enchantment” at every turn. With three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Native American and Spanish history, unparalleled stargazing, hot springs and reminders of the wild west, all roads lead to discoveries.

The Trail of the Mountain Spirit National Scenic Byway winds around the southwest corner of New Mexico. This 93-mile National Scenic Byway traverses back and forth across the Continental Divide crossing six climatic zones in the Gila National Forest—the country’s first national wilderness area. Along the byway, ancient cliff dwellings and remnants of the Wild West offer insight into the land’s storied past.

New Mexico Road Trip Highlights

  • Take advantage of the many opportunities for biking, hiking and birding in the Gila National Forest.
  • Travel a segment of Route 66 and spend the night in Tucumcari in a vintage motel.
  • A slight detour off the byway leads to the Mogollon ghost town. Abandoned when the mine closed in the 1970s by all but a few hearty souls, this picturesque town surrounded by wilderness offers a small café, art gallery and historical museum.
  • Embrace the Wild West in Silver City
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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