Road trips accounted for 39% of American vacations taken in 2016 - that’s quite some increase on the previous year’s 22%. And although this rise is slowing down somewhat now, the trend for road tripping is still huge in 2018 with research showing that its appeal is truly trans-generational.
It stems largely from a desire to make travel as much about the journey as the destination and is all about having experiences at every stage - something that you can’t do so easily when you’re wedged into a aeroplane seat for hours on end. So grab your map and make a playlist - it’s time to hit the road!
1. Columbia River Scenic Highway
Stretching for a glorious 75 miles through Oregon, you could probably wrap this one up in couple of hours - but why on earth would you? When a highway is built and maintained purely for scenery ogling purposes, you know it’s worth taking your time over - you’ll be treated to waterfalls and mountains, as well as plenty of spots to pull off, take a walk or just sit and soak it all up. For all of its wild and untamed beauty, this is also a fairly densely populated area, so be sure to spend some time in any of the small, friendly towns in the region to hang with the locals and listen to their tales.
2. The Loneliest Road in America - Highway 50
Taking in 3,200 miles and more than 10 different states, this epic journey will take you from coast to coast. With the wind in your hair and some tunes on the radio, you don’t have to be lonely, of course - it’s only the Nevada section of Highway 50 that’s been dubbed ‘the loneliest road’: here, large expanses of uninhabited land offer an unending and hypnotic vista of mountains and sky. The flipside of that is dazzling night skies undiluted by light pollution, so be sure to camp out during this leg of the journey. Visit colonial towns and mining camps, retrace the footsteps of pioneers and take in largely unspoilt scenery that gives some inkling of the wild country that America once was.
3. The High Road to Taos
Linking Santa Fe and Taos, this 56 mile drive will take you through a dramatic landscape of ancient pueblos dotted among mighty peaks and verdant hills. The road snakes and winds through this section of New Mexico, offering beguiling views at every turn - it’s easy to see why so many artists have been inspired by this part of the country, a fact that the art galleries along the route testify to. From meadows full of wildflowers in Spring to the bleakly beautiful snowfields of winter, every season has an allure on this road. The return journey can be made by retracing your route or driving the Low Road through the valleys.
4. Beartooth Highway
Get ready for your stomach to lurch and your ears to pop: switchbacking through southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming, this incredibly scenic 68 mile journey is the highest elevation highway in Wyoming and Montana and reaches 10,947ft at Beartooth Pass. Expect to see glacial lakes, rapids and waterfalls, as well as dense forest and abundant wildlife; be aware, too, that the road closes each winter due to heavy snow and dangerous driving conditions, so plan your trip for summer and set aside some time at the end of its 68 miles to explore Yellowstone National Park, where your route ends.
5. Going to the Sun Road
As if its evocative name weren’t enough, this 50 mile drive in Montana winds through Glacier National Park, offering sweeping views of jagged peaks, majestic glaciers and vast, alpine lakes. This drive is not for the faint hearted; it clings to mountain edges and is closed every winter as snow can reach up to 80 feet in depth. Another reason why those who spook easily may hesitate to tackle this trip? It’s the one you see an aerial view of, in the opening credits of The Shining, as Jack Nicholson drives to his interview for his ill-fated job as a winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel.
6. Route 100
There’s no bad time of year to make this 216 mile drive but, since around 80% of Vermont is forested, it’s easy to see why its popularity as a leaf destination is so high: here, you’ll see some of the most magnificent Fall colors in the entire country (although bear in mind that this popularity can drive accommodation prices up in season). Route 100 runs through almost the entire state and cuts right through its center, with stunning views of the Green Mountains - which at this time of year, are anything but. The changing foliage is a huge draw, but there are also plenty of activities available along the route to break up your journey, as well as lovely New England towns in which to relax and refuel.
7. Black River Scenic Byway
Here’s a road trip you can wrap up in a day and be back at home in time for dinner - but make no mistake, it packs a lot of punch for its distance. The 11 miles you’ll cover in this hidden section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are surrounded by one million acres of the Ottawa National Forest, and Black River Harbor is one of only two harbors within America’s National Forest system. This road was once a wagon supply route to the area’s iron mines; you’ll travel from river to lake, encountering thick forests of pine, hemlock and hardwood, along with a series of powerful waterfalls dropping down to meet the lake.
8. The Alaska Highway
Where better to spark your road trip wanderlust than Alaska, America’s last frontier? This journey lasts around 1500 miles and starts in British Columbia, meandering through the vast lonely spaces of Yukon territory and onwards towards Alaska; originally, the end of the trip was at the Delta Junction but these days you can drive on to Fairbanks. The months between May and September are the most popular time to make the journey - around 300,000 people tackle it each year, in order to see an increasingly dramatic and mountainous landscape against which all manner of wildlife - bears, moose and bison, to name a few - are to be seen.
9. Blue Ridge Parkway
You love adventure and landscape but your best friend or partner is a culture vulture? This is the road trip for you. Linking Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park with North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains in a hefty 469 mile drive, there’s epic landscape and scenery along the route, including the stunning Linn Cove Viaduct and hauntingly beautiful Dark Hollow Falls, plus Linnville Gorge and the jaw-dropping Natural Bridge. Yet along the way, there are also wonderful glimpses of a bygone agricultural era, as well as Appalachian crafts and music, plus Cherokee folklore and tradition. Don’t miss the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center in Front Royal; you can set off an a hike from the Parkway which takes in an old graveyard, offering another opportunity to blend outdoor adventure with historical immersion.
10. Hana Highway
Head to Hawaii for this glorious coastal adventure, which stretches just over 50 miles in distance and takes in some of the best that Maui has to offer. You’ll find fantastic waterfalls, most of which are free to visit - the families who own the land on which they’re located have granted the public access, as well as setting up farm stands based on an honesty box system. Pull over and hike the slippery beds to access the higher falls; stop at The Ke’anae Arboretum to see rainbow eucalyptus trees and visit Ke’anae, a tiny town that was destroyed by a tsunami in 1946, causing great loss of life. There are black sand beaches to lounge on and jungle to explore en route, too.
11. Route 66
Perhaps the most well-known road trip in the States, this fabled route stretches all the way from Chicago to LA, taking in old-school truckstops and roadside motels. It’s the quintessentially American journey, allowing a glimpse of a 1930s Golden Era and highlighting past glories; the road’s long history comes to life along the way, with once-prosperous towns and informative museums. So iconic is the trip that you’ll safely be able to ditch your map and switch off your GPS: the signs are unmistakable, although if you feel like venturing off-route, you’ll come within a short distance of picturesque Santa Fe and the vast Grand Canyon - both definitely worth lengthening your trip for!
12. Highway 1
For stunning coastal vistas, this is one road trip that can’t be beat: it hugs California’s coastline for an expansive 745 miles between Dana Point, which lies just north of San Diego, and Legett, which is located in the awe-inspiring heart of the state’s redwood country. You’ll avoid the traffic congestion of LA by slipping effortlessly alongside it, saving your tires and your car-time for the delights of Santa Monica, Malibu, the wine country of Santa Barbara, Big Sur and San Francisco. Hit the road in summer with the top down and make frequent stops to sample the delights - for all of the senses - that the trip offers en route.
13. Badlands National Park
You need at least two days to tackle this road trip; despite being only just over 30 miles, it offers scenery and landscape of such weird majesty that you should give it the respect it deserves by taking your time over it. The Badlands Wall, with its ever-changing rock formations, is one such aspect of it; Big Badlands Overlook also deserves more than just a cursory “stop and snap” break in your journey. Park up and hike the Notch Trail and, once on the road again, don’t miss the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway, which is often lauded as one of the most beautiful byways in the entire country. The drive ends at Mount Rushmore: a dazzling combination of the skill of both Mother Nature and of humankind.
14. The San Juan Skyway
Countless films have seen to it that the allure of America’s Wild West is pretty much impossible to resist and this road trip allows you to really immerse yourself in the ideal. A stop-off in Durango, set amid the Rockies, will see you strolling around saloons (wide legged strut optional) and riding the scenic Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad; you should also visit Lizard Head Peak Vista Outlook which, from its 13-113 foot perch, gives great views of the formations caused by eroding volcanic rock. A glimpse into the culture of the Anasazi people must not be missed, so factor in a visit to Mesa Verde National Park to explore over 4,000 archaeological sites from the time at which it was the site of hundreds of cliff dwellings.
15. Highway 61
Grab your guitar and fire up your vocal chords, because if you love music, then this is the road trip for you - traveling all the up the Blues Highway from New Orleans to Wyoming, Minnesota. From the legendary jazz bars and clubs of the trip’s starting point, you can drive on to Clarksdale in Mississippi, which claims to be the birthplace of the blues and has certainly seen more than its fair share of well-known blues musicians. Memphis and Nashville in Tennessee will be next on your agenda; even if you aren’t a fan of Elvis Presley, his home, Graceland, is well worth a visit, and the surrounding area is home to a load of music clubs and barbecue joints, while the Country Music Hall of fame is a must for lovers of this genre.