Experience the Trip of a Lifetime on One of America’s Iconic Road Trips

By  //  April 8, 2020

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Route 66 is the most famous stretch of road in the United States, and perhaps in the world. The original road was nearly 4,000 km long and passed through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending up in Santa Monica, California.

The road trip is irrevocably linked to American life, and has been featured in iconic American movies for decades.

From ‘Thelma and Louise’ to ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ the United States has some of the best roads in the world for simply driving and taking in your surroundings.

In fact, driving is one of the best ways to take in the United States. You’ll see all of its beauty, quirks, and all of its most famous landmarks.

You’ll also see a side of America you may never have considered before. There’s really nothing like it.

For many people, driving across the USA (or just one of her well-known routes) is a dream come true, a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. It’s not hard to see why. Check out the list below for just a few of the best-known American car journeys.

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Route 66

Route 66 is the most famous stretch of road in the United States, and perhaps in the world. The original road was nearly 4,000 km long and passed through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending up in Santa Monica, California.

Originally used by people migrating out West, the road has been replaced almost entirely by the Interstate Freeway System and was removed from the directory of official roads in 1985. However, you can still drive parts of the road, now designated as Historic Route 66 and passing through Illinois, Missouri, Arizona, and New Mexico. 

Despite the fact that it technically no longer exists, thousands of people still drive Route 66 every year, and consider it to be the pinnacle of the American road trip experience and a ‘bucket list’ item. It’s a long road, and you’ll need to take your time. A minimum of two weeks is recommended, but the longer you have, the better.

On Route 66, you’ll find some of America’s best-known landmarks. Stop in Amarillo, Texas, and visit Cadillac Ranch, an art installation that celebrates one of America’s most easily-recognizable cars. How often do you see cars that are literally planted in the ground? Or get the chance to graffiti one? Not often at all!

Many of Route 66’s most popular stops involve the landscape of the Great American West – Arizona’s Painted Desert, where the landscape pans out in stunning colors, and the Grand Canyon, one of the natural world’s greatest wonders.

If all that’s not enough, the Missouri stretch is home to the world’s largest rocking chair! You’ll top off your Route 66 experience with the Santa Monica Pier, a sun-drenched paradise in southernmost Los Angeles, and where the road is finally ended by the sea.

The Great River Road

The Mississippi River is one of the most iconic bodies of water in the world. Also known as ‘Old Man River’ and ‘The Father of Waters,’ this 3,730 km stretch is the second-longest river in the United States and passes through Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, and of course, Mississippi. It has been immortalized in pop culture for centuries.

You can experience the Mississippi by driving the Great River Road, built in 1938 from a network of smaller roads. The GRR, as it’s affectionately known, runs the entire length of the Mississippi.

Spanning all ten states that border the river, the Great River Road features some of the most stunning vistas in the country – everything from flat prairie lands to lush grasses, swamps, forests, and cloud-topped mountains.

The Great River Road also offers a crash course in the American Midwestern industry and city life, with small industrial towns and major cities scattered along the route.

This means that a road trip along the GRR can be pretty much anything you want, from a long, meandering journey through the American landscape to a city-hopping tour of some of the country’s best nightlife scenes. Whatever you want, and you can take as long as you want to do it, too, it’s significantly longer, and takes longer to drive than taking the interstate. 

You can stay on the Great River Road by following the signs, but in some areas, it’s more difficult than in others! That means that part of the experience is getting…well, a little lost in a good way. Just be sure to take a map with the entire route marked, so you never wander too far from your destination.

Overseas Highway

Running through Florida from Miami to Key West, the Overseas Highway is best-known for traversing a massive 42 bridges.

That means driving the route gives you stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean on both sides of the road – something not many other road trips can claim! 

Driving the Overseas Highway is essentially an exercise in island-hopping across some rather oddly-named islands. There’s Fat Deer Key, Tea Table Key, and Ragged Key – you get the idea.

The final stop is Key West, where the route ends and the southernmost city in the entire United States.

Of course, you have the option to stop off at as few or as many islands as you like, and there’s plenty to see. Big Pine and Lower Keys both feature stunning stretches of limestone.

There’s a turtle hospital on Marathon, and Grassy Key has an incredible dolphin sanctuary. There’s something for everyone on this road trip! Just be aware that June-November is hurricane season in Florida, so you might want to skip it during those months.

Pacific Coast Highway

The longest single-state route in the United States, California’s Pacific Coast Highway runs just over 1,000 km between San Francisco and San Diego.

A sunny, twisty road that hugs the Golden State’s stunning coastline and rugged cliffs, it’s not a particularly time-consuming route (it takes about three hours to drive non-stop), but the best trips down the PCH take at least three days. That’s because there’s so much to see and do along the way.

Even if you do nothing but take in the scenery, you’ll still have a fantastic time. The Pacific Coast Highway is an all-American Road, meaning it has been officially declared as one of the most beautiful in the country.

Near the start of the route is the world-famous Big Sur National Park, the spiritual home of Beat poetry where the mountains meet the sea.

You’ll also pass the infamous prison island of Alcatraz, some of California’s finest wineries, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Monterey Aquarium, and Pfeiffer State Beach. Even though it’s far from the longest route on this list, you could take weeks to drive it if you really wanted. It’s that packed with incredible landmarks and activities.

One thing to note is that the Pacific Coast Highway isn’t ideal for large vehicles, as there are sharp bends and narrow stretches. It’s much better to take a smaller, sportier car.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Begun when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the president, and originally known as the Appalachian Scenic Highway, the Blue Ridge Parkway was renamed in 1936 and constructed mainly under the New Deal economic policy designed to help the United States recover from the Great Depression.

Stretching from North Carolina to Virginia through the Appalachian Mountain Range, the Blue Ridge Parkway is both an all-American Road and a National Parkway.

Designed to be taken at a leisurely pace (the speed limit is around 60 kph), the Blue Ridge Parkway doesn’t have a whole lot of activities along the way, but it doesn’t matter.

The joy of this road trip is in the driving itself. You’ll see some of America’s most beautiful mountain scenery, and wind along through the thick green forest, occasionally coming across waterfalls, hiking trails, and plant life you won’t find anywhere else in the country.

Las Vegas Loop

Running from Las Vegas to Monument Valley and past the Grand Canyon before taking in the Zion National Park, the Las Vegas Loop road trip is characterized by the iconic red rock and dirt of the area known as the American West.

The best place to start is the Las Vegas strip (if you want to visit a few casinos, we won’t judge) before heading out into the desert of Arizona and Utah.

A road trip in the truest sense, the loop features long, open stretches of straight road for that straight-out-of-the-movies experience. Roll the top down and put your shades on! 

This is a very popular route, and you’re likely to run into a few tourists, but don’t let that put you off. You can just as easily drive for days and days without seeing a single soul.

It’s just you and the desert, so make sure you have a cell phone and that someone knows where you’re headed!

One thing to note about this trip is that it runs through Monument Valley, which is a Navajo Tribal Park and not a US National Park.

When passing through this area, you’ll need to respect Navajo customs and ask permission to take photographs. You may be expected to make a small financial contribution.