Think of the USA and you think of road trips, whether it’s Thelma and Louise, On the Road, Easy Rider, the life-changing journey made in The Grapes of Wrath or even the goody-baddy buddies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Bonnie and Clyde. They’re all on road trips of one kind or another.
I’ve been lucky enough to drive thousands of miles along the highways and byways of the USA, from slithering on icy roads in Alaska and getting snowed in in Sheridan, Wyoming, to regular drives along the Pacific Coast Highway, and scenic byways like the Natchez Trace Parkway. It’s important, though, to distinguish between a pretty drive and a road trip. The USA has countless attractive drives, but a road trip is something else – it’s a journey, even if only of a few days. It need an edge of uncertainty to it. It needs time to spare to take a detour. It needs an ability to appreciate quirky roadside attractions, which you come across all the time in the USA, but an ability, too, to appreciate the grandeur of scenery whether it’s the coastline of Big Sur or the magnificent Rocky Mountains.
Here, then, is my choice of the six best road trips in the USA, in no particular order.
I’m biased because I have a website dedicated to what’s been called the greatest free attraction in the USA. Whether you drive the full length of America’s west coast from Mexico to Canada, or just the most popular stretch from LA to San Francisco, you’re in for a treat with must-see sights ranging from the man-made magnificence of Hearst Castle to the natural ‘oh my’ beauty of Big Sur.
2) The Alaska Highway
Another personal choice as my wife’s grandfather helped to build the Alaska Highway, and we have some fascinating old family photos of him out there, working on it. It’s our ambition to one day drive the full 1,700-mile length of it, from Dawson Creek over the border in British Columbia through to Delta Junction in Alaska.
3) Route 66
Route 66 is, of course, the ultimate road trip, even though long stretches of the road no longer exist. That doesn’t stop people wanting to drive it, and we’ve seen coach after coach of tourists from all over the world stopping at the Bagdad Café in Bagdad, California, and having their photo taken standing in the middle of Route 66, the Mother Road, the most famous road in America. And in case you’ve forgotten: It winds from Chicago to LA, more than 2,000 miles all the way.
4) US Route 1: the East Coast
US Route 1 is a tremendous thrill of a drive, from the Canadian border in Maine going south for almost 2,400 miles till you run out of road at Key West. It links some of the USA’s most important cities – Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Miami – and includes some of New England’s lovely coastline at one end, and Florida’s beaches at the other. It also includes the impressive Overseas Highway, skipping over the ocean and linking the various Florida Keys.
This 500-mile circular Scenic Byway takes in some of the best scenery in western Colorado and eastern Utah, and includes the Dinosaur National Monument, where you’ll see an entire wall filled with dinosaur fossils. You’ll also pass through one of the most breathtaking parts of Utah, around Moab and the Arches National Park.
6) The Great River Road
Created in 1938, this 2000-mile combination of several different roads has been attracting drivers for 75 years now. It follows the Mississippi River from the chilly north of Minnesota to the sultry south through Mississippi and Louisiana. Like all great road trips, this takes you through contrasting climates and landscapes, and shows just what a huge and varied place the United States is.
These six best US road trips mount up to over 10,000 miles of driving, with no duplications. The USA really is road trip heaven.
Mike Gerrard (www.mikegerrard.net) is an award-winning British travel writer who spends half his time in the USA and specialises in US travel. He publishes a website devoted to the Pacific Coast Highway (www.Pacific-Coast-Highway-Travel.com) and is co-editor of the 101 USA Holidays website (www.101holidays.co.uk/usa/).