I asked a few dozen travel writers for their favorite lesser-known USA road trips and am thrilled with the resulting list of amazing American road trips. Any of these 16 road trips will be a wonderful addition to your summer vacation or a destination itself.
Big Sur, Blue Ridge Parkway, Route 66, and the Overseas Highway (Florida Keys) are covered in practically EVERY list of American road trips. Instead, I asked these travel writers to surprise me (and my readers). The resulting drives cover many states and vary from beaches to mountains to country roads to deserts.
How American is that?
All text and photos were submitted by the listed author(s). Please visit their websites and social media accounts for much more travel inspiration.
This is a curated list, not “best” or “favorite” or “most popular” American road trips. Whether or not I have been on them, I am interested in exploring our amazing country so let me know your favorite road trip.
We took a road trip last summer through the heart of American, which I called the Great American Road Trip. We traveled from Kansas City to Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Louisville, and Cincinnati. We took in a baseball game in Kansas City, ate BBQ, and visited the Negro League Baseball Museum and Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. We visited the Clinton Library in Little Rock and Chrystal Bridges museum of American art on the way there. We visited the Rock and Soul museum and the National Civil Rights museum in Memphis… and ate more BBQ. We attended a concert in Nashville and visited Andrew Jackson’s home The Heritage. We visited a Corvette plant in Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park, the Louisville Slugger museum, and the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati.
Beginning at Mena, the scenic byway stretches for 54 miles along crests of the Ouachita Mountains before terminating at Talihina, Oklahoma. The route offers some of the best sightseeing in Arkansas, with vistas from atop some of the highest peaks between the Rockies and Appalachians. Atop Rich Mountain on the Talimena Scenic Drive is the Queen Wilhelmina State Park, which reopened July 1 after a $9.6 million renovation and expansion. The park has a lodge, restaurant, camping, picnic areas, miniature railroad, and hiking trails. The revamped lodge now offers even better views of the surrounding Ouachita Mountains. The 192-mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail passes through the park.
One of the best ways to view Arkansas in all its diversity, from cotton fields to mountains, is to follow Route 7 from El Dorado at the Louisiana border to its finale at Missouri. The highway was Arkansas’ first state-designated scenic byway and visitors will enjoy four geographical regions as they head straight up the center of the Natural State. Scenic Byway 7 begins in the state’s coastal plains and continues through the Ouachita Mountains and Hot Springs, then up through the Ozarks, including passing through the Buffalo National River. Along the way are springs, whitewater rafting, historic towns, and authentic Southern cuisine.
This is a road trip you will want to savor. Start the Bourbon Trail in Louisville, Kentucky. We suggest three days and a designated driver to hit all nine historic distilleries on the trail —including Jim Beam, the world’s No. 1 Kentucky bourbon. The distilleries are located between eight and 80 miles apart, weaving through quaint country towns and beautiful landscape. It’s best to plan ahead to take advantage of the behind-the-scenes distillery tours and tastings.
The Finger Lakes in Western New York is an area which marks each season with beautiful landscape offerings. On a drive around Seneca Lake, in the deepest of the Finger Lakes, you will discover beautiful vineyards, majestic waterfalls, unique roadside eats, and sailboats gliding on the clear waters on a hot summer’s day. Over thirty wineries claim the Seneca Lake area as their home. Food and wine tips: Head to Hermann J. Wiemer winery for a taste of their award-winning Riesling inside their quaint tasting room. For local eats, head to FLX Wienery for locally made sausages and cinnamon doughnuts.
The cute towns and sights in south central Texas, in the general area of Austin and San Antonio, are linked by an easy route that makes for a great long weekend through country studded with wildflowers, wineries, and tons of character. The charming town of Fredericksburg, with its unique German heritage, thriving wineries, shopping, and hundreds of B&Bs, is the perfect place to spend as much time as you can. The second stop is Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, with a massive pink granite dome that is about 6 million years old. Luckenbach, Texas, is a charming music venue that hosts periodic festivals and events and oozes Texas hospitality. Stonewall and Johnson City are historic sites related to Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th U.S. President.
There is an energy to the Mississippi Delta that can’t be explained, only experienced. Laying between the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers and covering over 200 miles, the area is perhaps best known for its musical heritage, but there is so much more. Here not only can you get a feel for Mississippi itself, but also the South. From juke joints to museums to unique lodging to Delta-flavored restaurants to the legend of Robert Johnson and more, there are many ways to immerse yourself into the culture. Just one visit and you’ll understand why this area has inspired so many.
Ponte Vedra is home to the Tournament Players Championship Golf Course and many sports celebrities. Guana Reserve runs along A1A with million dollar beach homes, and glimpses of the beach on the other side. Further south is a real castle so popular that the owners open one day a week for tours. A must-see is the Magic Beach Motel in Vilano Beach whose claim to fame is it was used as a backdrop for the 1990’s series Safe Harbor. The renovated motel still boasts bright colors, pink flamingos, neon lights and of course, the famous Magic Beach Motel sign.
Brandywine Valley by Irvina Lew of IrvinaLew.com
The multi-hued hillsides of the Brandywine River Valley — outside Wilmington, DE — wind through pastoral country roads rich with history dating from the Battle of Brandywine, in 1777. Wyeth artwork is showcased at the Brandywine River Museum and there’s a wine trail. The incredible du Pont legacy of art, architecture, gardens, and parklands dominates the glorious drive: the riverfront Hagley Museum, the 18th century-style Nemours mansion, the bountiful Longwood Gardens, and the collection-rich Winterthur Museum. The Inn at Montchanin Village — the 19thcentury hamlet where Winterthur workers once lived — has been restored for guest lodging.
Nestled in an area nicknamed God’s Country, the Great River Road traces the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, winding through the lush valleys, fertile farmland, and limestone bluffs of rural western Wisconsin. It passes through 33 quaint townships, each with its distinct character like Trempealeau with Perrot State Park and boutique winery Elmaro. Countless lookouts for bald eagles pepper the picturesque route along with plenty of local gems such as Nelson’s Creamery for sampling Wisconsin’s finest cheeses. Tap into Wisconsin’s beauty, craft beers, and even local lingo like “you betcha” on the Great River Road.
Am I wrong to think that the loneliest road in America should NOT have places to eat, sleep, and shop? Geronimo Trail, between Douglas, Arizona and the New Mexico border, is more lonely than roads listed in lonely road articles. In an hour and a half, I only saw a handful of vehicles. That, my friends, was the road I drove to get to the loneliest road — County Road C002 in the extreme southwestern corner of New Mexico. How lonely? I did not see another vehicle, person, or sign of person (house, farm) for 90 minutes of driving. No people — but fun unpaved roads, incredible scenery, and the best kind of solitude.
For a Montana scenic drive that escapes the crowds of Glacier or Yellowstone National Parks, explore Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway in the southwestern portion of the state. The 49-mile paved road travels through the heart of the Pioneer Mountains in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest from the town of Wise River to Dillon. To the east, 10,000-foot granite peaks stand guard while the rolling terrain of a lodgepole pine forest stretches to the west. Coolidge ghost town makes a fun side-trip. Or try your luck looking for quartz at Crystal Park. And soaking in the pool at Elkhorn Hot Springs is good way to soothe your road-weary bones. Nine campgrounds are scattered along the drive or bunk for the night in the small ranching community of Polaris.
US Route 12 runs 2,500 miles from Aberdeen, Washington, to Detroit, Michigan. But if you love forest, hot springs, rivers and streams, the stretch through Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest can’t be missed. History buffs will enjoy the Nez Perce Indian and Lewis and Clark sites. Hikers tramp through fir and spruce forests, likelier to spot a moose or an elk than another human. This stretch of Route 12 is one of America’s top motorcycle roads, and is also popular with cross-country cyclists. Campsites abound. If you like electricity, hot showers, and other amenities, stay at Lochsa Lodge.
This is a road like no other. What began as a stagecoach road to Oregon is now a national treasure, passing through the tallest, most massive plants on Earth. The narrow ribbon of blacktop winds through the trees, with enormous trunks standing only inches from the pavement. There are several interesting stops along the way, Founder’s Grove, The Immortal Tree, and the touristy Shrine Tree (of cars-driving-through-a-tree postcard fame) are all just off the road. One thing we can promise, you will never look at trees the same again.
Last, but certainly not least, is this classic, must-drive American road trip from the 50th state.
We did ourselves a big favor escaping from resort row and trekking out the exhilarating yet treacherous Hana Highway on beautiful Maui. Navigating the canyon switchbacks and one lane curves yields delicious treats such as gorgeous waterfalls and lagoons, swimming pools carved out of old lava flows, and picturesque swimming bays with aquamarine waters. The unspoiled beauty and magnificent cliffs epitomizes the best that nature offers on the road to Hana, driving on a razors edge between heaven and earth. This is truly one of the planet’s best road trips!
A huge red, white, and blue Thank You to the travel writers who contributed to this post.
Please let me know if you have a topic for a future collaboration (or would like to participate).
Have you been on any of these American road trips? Do you have a different favorite road trip in the USA?
Please also visit: 16 Fabulous Road Trips Around the World