The air is fresh, the sun is out, the kids are on summer break – it must be time for a road trip! Arguably the most popular form of leisure travel in the U.S., road trips capture the spirit of adventure most of us only daydream about the rest of the year. Powered by a full tank and your own hands and feet, this is a form of travel with no departure times, no pricey tickets, and no layovers. Hungry? Pack snacks or stop at a food stand on the side of the highway. Carsick? Pop Ginger Ease and drink plenty of water. Drowsy? Stop off at a campground or a cute bed and breakfast – because, after all, there’s no rush to get anywhere in particular. It’s just you and the open road (and maybe a chatty kid or two in the back seat.)
No matter your personal preferences for landscape and climate, there is a road trip out there that will be perfect for you. Here are our top 5 U.S. road trips, based on exactly which kind of nature-lover you happen to be:
For the Desert Lovers: The Red Rock Southwest and New Mexico’s Hwy 64.
Explore the rocky desert of the Southwest, giving special road time to US Route 64 along the northern border of New Mexico. You’ll pass through three state parks, as well as the historic and culturally rich city of Taos. Dip down on Hwy 285 for a bit to visit the secluded hot springs, Ojo Caliente, for a spa treat, and take a longer detour to Santa Fe for some amazing gallery-hopping and thrift store shopping!
For the Ocean Fans and Beach Bums: California’s Pacific Coast Highway
Starting from the north or south, California’s coast is just waiting to be traversed along the stunning Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll hit up the state’s urban gems – San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego – with all the culture, cuisine, and diversity they offer. But you’ll also pass through countless quaint seaside towns, experience the majestic beauty of this rocky coast, and have plenty of opportunities for splashing. Once you get up north, take a jaunt east to Napa and Sonoma for a few days in the wine country.
For the Mountain and Forest Seekers: The Blue Ridge Parkway
This lush highway connects the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, covering over 450 miles of rich green forests and impressive peaks. This drive – which may go a bit slowly due to the 45-mile speed limit – will offer you all manner of natural delights, as well as plenty of opportunities for cultural and historical enrichment. Check out the Grand Caverns in Virginia, and don’t miss North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain!
For the Lake Hoppers: Going-to-the-Sun Road and Glacier National Park
Montana is called “Treasure State” for a reason, and Glacier National Park is right up there among the jewels. Over 200 lakes, waterfalls, ice covered peaks, and thick forests make this park a must-see for road trippers everywhere. The “Going-to-the-Sun” route crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass and is fairly short – just about 50 miles. So you will have plenty of time to camp, explore Glacier Park further, or even hop up into Canada if you feel so inclined!
For the River-Hungry: Great River Road Along the Mississippi
The mighty Mississippi has captured our collective imagination for centuries, and exploring the river’s course is something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. Luckily, there are infinite ways to do this trip. The Great River Road is a network of state and local roads running through 10 states: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin. If you go north to south, then finish the trip off with an immersion in the cultural richness of southern Louisiana. Listen to some blues, eat some Cajun food, and send us some photos when you get back home!
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