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The USA’s Greatest Road Trips

Author: David Pettitt

The USA is one of the world’s greatest places to undertake a self-drive holiday. Whether following the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway that hugs the sun-kissed Californian coast, traversing America via iconic Route 66, driving the stunning mountain roads of Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway or travelling the picturesque country lanes of New England during fall, the options are endless. Whichever road trip you choose, what’s for certain is that your journey will travel through ever-changing landscapes from arid desert to lush green rolling hills, jagged mountain peaks to crystal-clear lakes and rivers. There will also be an opportunity to spend time in quirky roadside attractions, explore vast national parks and spend nights in classic American motels. With so many routes and road trip options to explore, below we have put together a selection of some of our favourite American road trips.

1 Route 66

Route 66 road sign
Route 66 road sign

Starting in Chicago, travel through the beating heart of America to Los Angeles on an iconic Route 66 road trip. A nostalgic journey through time, experience quirky roadside attractions, historic landmarks, spectacular national parks and retro motels. Stretching 2,448 miles, crossing eight states and three time zones, Route 66 was one of the original US highways and played an integral role as the main route for migrants travelling west to California during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. With sections of the road now protected and numerous landmarks, diners and signs preserved, today it is possible to live the American dream on this epic cross-country road trip.

2 New England

Sri Lankan leopard
Portsmouth in New Hampshire

New England is made up of charming countryside, quaint islands and a striking coastline. Comprising of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, New England is culturally rich, historic and scenically beautiful making it the perfect region for a self-drive holiday and also easy to combine with New York City. Experience mountain ranges, quaint villages with pretty wooden homes, white steepled churches and the dramatic Atlantic shore. Possible to visit the year-round, New England is at its finest during the fall when the leaves turn fiery shades of orange and crimson, however, it is also beautiful in spring when the countryside is in full bloom.

3 Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway

Linking Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, the 450 mile Blue Ridge Parkway is widely known as ‘America’s Favourite Drive’. The section that traverses the Great Smoky Mountains is considered one of the most scenic in the United States and a must for visitors to this part of the country. A UNESCO World Heritage site and International Biosphere Reserve the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including over 1,500 black bears, offers numerous breathtaking viewpoints, charming mountain towns and excellent hiking and walking.

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4 Pacific Coast Highway

Sambar Deer
Brixby Bridge near Big Sur

There are few American roads as iconic as the Pacific Coast Highway. Known as the ‘PCH’ for short, this stunning route hugs the Californian coastline and runs between San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Part of a longer route, Highway 1, which continues through Northern California, Oregon and Washington State to the Canadian border, the PCH is the best known and most frequently travelled portion of the road. With wide golden sand beaches, wild windswept headlands, charming coastal towns and breathtaking beauty in between enjoy diverse scenery, historic sites and iconic cities. May to October is an ideal time to drive the PCH with warm weather and clear skies.

5 Florida’s Overseas Highway

Florida’s Overseas Highway
Florida’s Overseas Highway

Florida’s US Route 1, better known as the Overseas Highway, travels the length of the Florida Keys from Key Largo all the way south to Key West. This incredible feat of engineering is quite literally a highway over the sea, with the 113 miles of road crossing 42 bridges that link 44 tropical islands. This spectacular road is unlike any other route in the world, floating above the Caribbean Sea and passing countless coral and limestone islets, picturesque sandbars, colourful towns and turquoise lagoons. Once in the island paradise of Key West, snorkel in pristine seas which are home to abundant marine life and experience the island’s famed laidback lifestyle.

6 Great Lakes

Green Bee Eater
Navy Pier in Chicago

The wider region of what is known as the Great Lakes spans a considerable area that encompasses eight states and also includes the Canadian province of Ontario. The five lakes, Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario are vast inland seas of extraordinary natural beauty that, together, contain over 20% of the world’s fresh water. Aside from their impressive scenery, the lakes are crucial habitats for wildlife including wolf, lynx, beaver and moose, numerous fish species and an important base for thousands of migratory and resident birds. The period between spring and summer is the best time to explore the lakes with sunny days and warm evenings.

Self-Drive: Historic Route 66

Self-Drive: Historic Route 66

Travel along the nostalgic Mother Road through the heart of America on this two week cross-country road trip of a lifetime.

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7 Rocky Mountains

Tufted Grey Langur
Rocky Mountain National Park

The Rocky Mountains are rightly considered to be one of the world’s great mountain ranges. The backbone of North America and forming the transcontinental divide, the Rockies run from Canada, south through United States all the way down to Mexico. A rugged region of snow-capped peaks, vast wilderness areas, pretty rural towns and spectacular national parks, the Rockies is a fantastic place for a self-drive holiday but also for wildlife enthusiasts and those interested in outdoor pursuits, particularly hiking and walking. The region is at its most popular during the summer months, however, spring and autumn are also excellent times to visit.

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