Going on a road trip to explore unfamiliar places is an experience that is hard to describe. Everyone will have their unique description. Some may call it a liberating and life-changing experience, and others may describe it as an affordable and spontaneous adventure. But to most travelers, the road trip is an enjoyable and memorable journey. And as the wise men and women say, it is the journey that matters more than destinations.
Road trips offer you the gift of freedom and flexibility and an opportunity to bond with your partner, friends, or family. If you have a car, you can hit the road whenever you want, and you can go wherever you want to go. You can drive up, down, across, straight, or you can take a turn and drive on the off-the-beaten-path to unearth hidden treasures. There is no limit to what you can discover on a road trip. It can be majestic historical sites, magnificent museums, sprawling cities, quaint towns, cascading waterfalls, glorious beaches and sunrises, eclectic performers, colorful festivals, local culture and cuisine, shopping areas, hiking trails, splendid views of mountains and gorges. And you will also get to meet friendly strangers who will infuse your memories with warmth. After your road trip, you may become a new person, with different perspectives, goals, and dreams.
The world has an uncountable number of road trip destinations, and some of the stunning ones are in the U.S. If you are planning a visit to America, do not take the regular route to explore it. Book a rental car, buy a map, pick some good music, pack some essential things, and then go on a road trip with your co-travelers(s) and discover hidden treasures in scenic locations. It will change your outlook and life. Here are the best places to go on a road trip in the U.S.
Phoenix to the Grand Canyon Road Trip
Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic natural wonders in the U.S. It is known for its spectacular rock formations, gorges, and ridges. You can enjoy its picture-perfect views from several vantage points. If you are in Phoenix, the capital of Arizona, do not miss the opportunity to go on a 229-mile road trip to reach this majestic destination. The route is as spectacular as the end destination. There are multiple spots where you may feel like stopping your car and gawping at the glorious sight.
Grand Canyon National Park encompasses Grand Canyon, and the former is divided into two sections – the North Rim and the South Rim. From Phoenix, the main entrance located at the South Rim is the nearest one. And it is also easiest to visit. And it takes around 3 to 4 hours to reach Grand Canyon from Phoenix if you are driving without taking a break. If you have time, do give in to the temptation of exploring the picturesque spots along the way before stopping at your road trip’s last destination. On this route, you pass through a landscape dotted with cactus, then there are towering ponderosa pine forests, and as you reach Grand Canyon, you will see a high desert area peppered with scrub bush and Pinyon pines.
You can plan the road trip from Phoenix to Grand Canyon as a weekend trip. It will give you the time to unearth the natural beauties in Sedona, the art town of Arizona. The place looks straight out of a gifted artist’s canvas. The surreal red rock formations are the main attraction in Sedona. After Sedona, you can drive to Oak Creek Canyon, the enchanting river gorge located between Sedona and Flagstaff. It has plenty of hiking trails at peak points. Flagship is another quaint destination on Phoenix to the Grand Canyon route. The sweet smell of pine trees wafts through this vibrant mountain town. The road trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon Road Trip is an easy one. It is also a safe route.
Pacific Coast Highway – California
The road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is full of unexpected, life-changing experiences. You are going to pass through an uncountable number of evocative sceneries, which will fill you with wonder and awe. There is so much to see, discover, experience, and absorb on this iconic trip that you may find yourself excited, thrilled, and humbled most of the time. The PCH road trip will take you through sun-kissed coastal towns, glorious beaches, sprawling cities, diverse and stunning landscapes, and magnificent forest areas.
Dana Point is the starting point for the Pacific Coast Highway road trip, which begins at exit 79 from I-5. Located in the Southern Orange County, California, the sun-kissed Dana Point is a small beach town where you can spot whales. The highway will take you through a part of Dana Point and lead you to Laguna Beach, which is home to a thriving art community. Known as a “hippie enclave,” this small seaside resort city has several miles of coves and beaches.
Some of the popular destinations that you will pass through on this trip are Huntington Beach, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu, Santa Barbara, San Simeon, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Bodega Bay. The Pacific Coast Highway road trip ends in Leggett, which is in Mendocino County.
Huntington Beach is known as the Surf City, as its beaches offer good, consistent waves for surfing. It also hosts the U.S. Open of Surfing. If you are a surfing enthusiast, you can stop in Huntington Beach to go surfing. And do make sure to visit the International Surfing Museum. If surfing is not your favorite activity, the next stop, Venice Beach, is where you may find something interesting to see and do – like skateboarding. Its boardwalk is where most tourists and locals congregate to watch delightful and eclectic characters perform. People-watching is what most people like to do at Venice Beach.
Santa Monica is another popular spot on the Pacific Coast Highway route. It offers you a classic postcard-picture view of Southern California. The star attraction of this beachside town is Santa Monica Pier, which is home to multiple attractions. There is the traditional fare with a roller coaster and Ferris wheel rides, aquarium, and the classic carousel. Also, Santa Monica pier regularly hosts music and film events.
You may spot a few celebrities at Malibu Beach. Many top Hollywood stars and athletes live at ocean-front houses here. If celeb-spotting is not your idea of having a fun time, then you can head to Zuma Beach, which offers a spectacular view of the Pacific. Malibu Country Mart is also waiting for you with its wide array of shops and restaurants. As you are on a road trip, you can go on a drive to explore this glamorous beach town. And after that, drive toward Santa Barbara and relax along its beach and catch the spectacular sunset. If you are not in a hurry to end your road trip, visit Santa Barbara’s State Street and try out the latest collection in fashion. Santa Barbara Museum of Art and Santa Barbara Botanic Garden are other top attractions here.
One of the most picturesque coasts on the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur. Blessed with pristine natural beauty, Big Sur has a craggy, unspoiled coastline. Here, you can reflect upon your journey while gazing up at the stars. There are many stargazing spots along the Big Sur coastline. After Big Sur, San Francisco is waiting to impress you with its culture, architecture, museums, art galleries, and food scene. There is so much to see in San Francisco that you will have to plan a separate trip to explore it. But do not drive toward your last destination without visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic structure that connects San Francisco to Marin County. The bridge is both an engineering marvel and a sensory beauty.
Leggett is where the Pacific Coast Highway – California road trip comes to an end. It is a quaint town known for hosting some of the largest trees in the world. There are three drive-through trees in this area. So before you take a break from driving, do drive through the opening of the famous Chandelier Tree, which is still alive and growing. Once you do that, make sure to celebrate completing one of the most captivating road trips of your life.
Historic Columbia River Highway – Oregon
The exquisite Historic Columbia River Highway – Oregon is often celebrated as “King of Roads.” Constructed between 1913 and 1922, it passes through the Columbia River Gorge and connects the city of Troutdale to the Dalles. A road trip down this 75-mile-long highway will take you through the temperate rain forest, gorgeous waterfalls (LaTourell Falls Wahkeenah Falls, and Multnomah Falls), magnificent, lush-green vistas of the Columbia River Gorge, and some of the most magnificent architectural gems. At every turn, you are going to discover a new treasure that will make your jaw drop.
You can start your road trip from the picturesque town of Troutdale – exit 17 on Interstate 84. Called the “Getaway to the Columbia River Gorge,” the town will captivate you with its verdant landscape. Troutdale also has some good fishing spots. Do buy a souvenir from one of the antique shops before you start your Historic Columbia River Highway road trip. You will have to go through parts of Troutdale and over the scenic Sandy River to reach the iconic highway. The road winds uphill through Corbett, and after some time, you will reach the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint, which provides you the first breathtaking view of the magnificent Columbia River Gorge. Almost 1 mile away from here is Crow Point, which houses the “crown jewel” of the Columbia River Gorge – Vista House.
A majestic century-old observatory, museum, and rest stop, the Vista House towers the Columbia River Gorge and offers a birds-eye view of the Columbia River. As the view from here is so ridiculously beautiful, you may want to stay for long. But there are a string of enchanting waterfalls and hiking trails after this. You will get to see more gems of nature when you drive your car toward exit 28. After enjoying the views at Latourell fall, Shepperd’s Dell, Bridal Veil, and Wahkeena fall, you will soon reach Oregan’s most famous waterfall, Multnomah. Fed mainly by underground springs, it drops 635 feet in two major tiers down basalt cliffs. It is one of the most visited tourism sites in Oregon.
Bonneville Lock and Dam is located at exit 40. From its Oregon and Washington Shore Visitor Centers, you can see the river water and fish migrating up the ladders. After the dam, there is the scenic Hood River, which has an ideal weather and constant winds for windsurfing and kiteboarding. From the east, Twin Tunnels Trail connects Hood River to Mosier. There are trailheads and parking at both ends. The two old tunnels are only open for cyclists and pedestrians. The views here are stunning – you also get to see the river flowing below.
Mosier is at the east end of the Twin Tunnels Trail. And from here, as you drive toward your last destination, the Dalles, you will find this stretch of your road trip full of spectacular panoramas. Take a small stop at another scenic location before stopping your car’s engine in the Dalles. It is the Rowena Crest Viewpoint. It offers one of the most incredible views of the Columbia Gorge.
And one of the historical cities in Oregon, the Dalles is located on the shores of the River near the Deschutes River. You can go fishing, hiking, paddling, and biking here. Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum is another spot to visit in the Dalles. It is the official interpretive center for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Historic Columbia River Highway is for sure going to energize and rejuvenate you.
Blue Ridge Parkway
“America’s Favorite Drive” the Blue Ridge Parkway has created a stunning path through the southern Appalachian Mountains. On this 469-mile-long route, you will pass through some of the most wonderful sites that are untouched by commercial elements such as billboards and commercial traffic. And you will get treated to an array of natural splendors and flowery blue mountain views. Almost every season is perfect to go on this road trip, which allows you to explore two states: Virginia and North Carolina. This makes Blue Ridge Parkway one of the best road trip destinations.
Shenandoah National Park in the north is the starting point of the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip, which ends in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south. Located just 75 miles from Washington D.C., Shenandoah National Park is nature’s abode. It is dotted with fields of colorful wildflowers, wooded hollows, splashing waterfalls, and stunning landscapes. You can spot black bears, deer, and songbirds here. From this park’s northern end, you head to Afton, which is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can stop here for a few seconds and soak in the blue surroundings.
Roanoke is the largest metropolitan area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The city has a rich cultural scene and a lively downtown. You can visit the Historic Farmers Market located in the downtown area, where vendors sell fresh produce, garden plants, art, and crafts. Roanoke also has unique retail shops, art galleries, museums, and international restaurants. If you are not in a hurry to reach the destination, you can visit Taubman Museum of Art, one of the southeast’s top-museum. Located in downtown Roanoke, this museum of art has a collection of more than 2,200 artworks.
After Roanoke, you can stop at Fancy Gap, where you can have snacks, ice creams, and soda. Also, you can take a selfie at Blue Ridge Parkway’s only official Virginia LOVE sign. Fancy Gap is also a perfect destination to watch sunsets and for stargazing. A little ahead from Fancy Gap is Blowing Gap, the only full-service town on the route you are driving. Blowing Gap is also the home to the historical and magnificent Moses Cone Manor, the mountain estate spread on thousands of acres. Located at Milepost 294, this estate is also on the National Register of Historic Places in the U.S.
America’s largest home Biltmore is also located on this route. You can see its grandeur in Asheville, which is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. From the quaint mountain town, you then head toward your last destination on Blue Ridge Parkway – Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is nature’s wild wonderland, spread in over 500,000-acre area. At every turn, you will find something splendid to gawp at. Cascading waterfalls, hiking trails, blooming wildflowers, and incredible wildlife are the highlight of this park. Cades Cove, the broad, verdant valley, is one of the most photographed locations in the park. Here, you can see many wild animals, such as black deer, white-tailed deer, coyotes, skunks, and other animals. Make sure to spend lot of time inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, discovering as many nature’s wild gems as you can. You may not return to it soon as there are other places to roadtrip to.
Olympic Peninsula Road Trip
The Olympic Peninsula road trip will take you through striking views of cascading waterfalls, rainforests, snow-capped peaks, tide pools, stunning coastline, and other nature-blessed pristine beauties. This 330-mile loop journey starts from Seattle, and then you make your way through to the picturesque Olympic Peninsula. Seattle is the city where a modern tech world co-exists in harmony with nature. It also has a thriving and cultural scene, along with opportunities for outdoor activities.
After Seattle, you can stop at Port Townsend, a laid-back, charming town. You can have a cup of coffee here, chit-chat with the friendly locals, and then start again. Soon you will find yourself in Sequim, the getaway to the pristine Olympic Peninsula. Olympic Mountain towers over this small coastal town. You can enjoy sport fishing and crabbing here. Also, Sequim is known for its famous Lavender Festival.
Take a deep breath as you get closer to Olympic National Park. It protects one of the largest wilderness areas, which is why it is this route is considered one of the best road trip destinations. And the park’s diverse ecosystems of lush green rainforest, rugged Pacific coastline, and glaciated mountains have together created a landscape that looks straight out of a magical place. You will love to explore each area’s distinct flora and fauna. Olympic National Park has everything that Mother Nature has to offer. You can just stroll around the park to soak up the magical scenery of the temperate rainforests or relax at the sandy beaches of the wild coast. The view of the majestic glacier-capped mountains will overwhelm you. Olympic National Park is full of opportunities to explore and indulge in outdoor activities, such as fishing, camping, and hiking.
And the 922,810-Park is home to around 650 lakes. You can go kayaking or take a guided boat tour on some of the alpine lakes. Lake Crescent is one of the popular lake spots inside Olympic National Park. You can glide across it on a kayak. Waterfalls also dot the landscape of the park. Sol Duc Falls beats other waterfalls when it comes to the popularity race. You will get to hear its roar first and then see the water split into four channels while descending 48 feet into a narrow, rocky canyon. And if you want to reinvigorate yourself, make sure to visit Olympic Hot Springs during this road trip. It is natural hot water seeps.
And one day is not enough to see and experience the wilderness marvel called Olympic National Park. So, do make a mental note that you will plan to visit it once more. After Olympic National Park, you begin to drive toward the end destination. Neah Bay is where you can stop to watch the glorious sunsets and sunrises. Flanked by the Pacific Ocean and the Juan de Fuca, Neah Bay is home to the Makah tribe. Along with visiting the Makah reservation, you can also go hiking, fishing, sightseeing in Neah Bay.
If you want to spend more time in the Olympic Peninsula region, spend some time in Aberdeen. It is the official gateway to the Olympic Peninsula and the hometown of rock music icon Kurt Cobain. And then head to your last spot of your Olympic Peninsula road trip. It is Seattle. The entire route from Seattle to Seattle is bursting with hidden gems. Do stop often to just observe nature’s gift in its most pristine form.
Preparation is key to a stress-free and memorable road trip. So, before you hit the road, you must equip yourself with information, essential things, a list of dos and don’ts, and a positive and fearless attitude.
Ask and Read to Gain Information
Road trips offer you the benefit of flexibility and spontaneity. But as a traveler exploring an unfamiliar land, you cannot be too spontaneous. Your road trips cannot start with, “Okay, I have got the car. Let’s drive on that highway and see where it takes us.” If you are a road trip enthusiast, you first need to check good road trip places in the area you are currently traversing. Second, you need to find out: how long it will take, is it safe to drive on that route, places where you can stop, popular attractions, food scene, and accommodation if necessary. You also need to determine the estimated cost of the trip. Travel books and magazines, travelogues, and travelers’ blogs and social media feeds will provide all the required information.
So do spend some time reading them. Also, befriend locals and ask them about the best place to go on a road trip. They will offer you information that you may not find in any book. They will let you know about the hidden gems and which routes you should take and not take.
Check Your Car
You must check your car before you hit the road. It will save you from dealing with a sudden breakdown. Check your rental car’s fluids, air pressure, wheels and tires, lights, wipers, brake pads, drive belts, and other important components. It is best to contact a local mechanic and ask him to do safety check of your car. And do remember to take with you spare tire on your road trip.
Pack Essential Things
- Visa, passport, and driving license
- Well-stocked, first-aid kit containing pain relievers, allergy medication, gauze, bandages, antiseptic, and your regular medicine
- Ready-to-eat food, snacks, and chocolates
- Bottles of drinking water
- Basic tools: a hammer, screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, a wire cutter, a lineman’s plier, and baling wire
- Blankets and weather-appropriate clothes
- High-power torchlight
- Toilet paper and wet wipes
- Lots of masks and hand-sanitizers
Dos and Don’ts
- As you are far away from your home, avoid the temptation to hike or explore unmarked trails and unfamiliar areas. There is always the risk of getting injured, and medical care is not affordable in the U.S. if you do not have health insurance cover.
- Do not post everything about your trip on social media. It is best to return from the road trip and then post pictures and inform your social media followers about it. If you upload pictures while you are still on the road, a stranger may see your post and start following you with malicious intent.
- Do most of your driving during the day. It is not too safe to drive on highways at night, and you also cannot see the stunning landscapes in darkness.
- Do have a friendly and positive attitude. Talk to locals and discover a new culture. But remember not to tell everything about yourself to your new friend.
- Do create a playlist, as road trips are no fun without good music. You can also bookmark, audiobooks, and podcasts that you want to listen to during the trip.
- Do not drive for hours at a stretch. You may begin to complain about fatigue if you do that. Stop your car after every few hours, step outside to stretch your legs, and get some fresh air.
- Explore as much as you can those spots that are safe. Try to visit a museum, dine at a restaurant where they serve local cuisine and participate in community activities. If a place is celebrating a festival, try to become a part of it.
- Do stay connected all the time.
Click a Lot of Photos
Do not just gawp at a mountain covered in colorful wildflowers or observe the setting sun paint the sky in an orangish hue. Take out your camera or your smartphone and capture the captivating beauty. You can also click a lot of selfies using the stunning landscape as your background. Some of these photos will help you narrate your travel stories more engagingly.
– Seattle to Seattle
– Troutdale to the Dalles
– Dana Point to Leggett
– Phoenix to the Grand Canyon
– Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
– Blue Ridge Parkway road trip
– Phoenix to the Grand Canyon road trip
– Pacific Coast Highway road trip
– Historic Columbia River Highway road trip
– Olympic Peninsula road trip
Phoenix to the Grand Canyon is a four-hour-long trip. The 229-mile route will take you through some of the dramatic and diverse landscapes before showing you one of the wonders of nature, the Grand Canyon.
Pacific Coast Highway road trip
Historic Columbia River Highway road trip
Olympic Peninsula road trip
Blue Ridge Parkway road trip
Phoenix to the Grand Canyon road trip
A road trip takes you on a memorable journey that helps change your perspective and strengthens your bonds. And some hidden treasures and nature’s artistic work you can only discover when you are driving on a highway that is flanked by picturesque sights.