Is there anything more stereotypically American than the road trip? The endless stretch of dusty highways, the landscape changing from plains to mountains to desert, the roadside diners, the cacti and tumbleweeds. It’s an image that suffuses the popular imagination, even for those who haven’t yet visited the US.
But the United States is a big and wild country and those looking to travel across the land’s expanse have options other than the traditional, well-worn Route 66. Take a look at our five lesser-known road trips for some American motoring inspiration…
The New England Coastline
Starting point: New Haven, Connecticut
Ending point: Calais, Maine
Distance: 482 miles
Beginning in historic New Haven, Connecticut, north of New York, road trippers can start on Route 1 and follow its winding path up the Eastern Seaboard. A stop in Providence, Rhode Island is recommended, and it’s worth spending an evening in Boston on the way up for a hearty sampling of historic New England culture. As the journey continues up into Maine, the terrain gradually becomes more rugged, stark, and beautiful: think rocky coastlines, evergreen forests, and craggy peaks (and the occasional moose). The itinerary ends in the small town of Calais, right on the edge of the Canadian border. We recommend planning this road trip for late spring: temperatures will be relatively warm, tourists won’t yet clog the roadways, and the seafood being served at roadside stands will be some of the freshest you’ve ever tasted.
The California Coast
Starting point: Dana Point, California
Ending point: Redwood National Park
Distance: 819 miles
One of the country’s most unforgettable journeys, the Big Sur road trip takes drivers straight up the California coastline where they’ll behold glittering views of the Pacific, sandy beaches, rocky coastlines, and an array of local flora and fauna (sea lions, eagles, dolphins . . .) Beginning south of Los Angeles in Dana Point, California Route 1 gives drivers a quick pass through LA before winding along the shore, often – gulp – without any guardrails. Drivers can expect to pass through a number of state parks and nature preserves, and the wineries of Santa Barbara County should provide an exciting off-the-road adventure. Plan to follow Route 1 up through San Francisco (and across the Golden Gate Bridge) before veering onto 101. From there, you can crown your journey with a trip to Redwood National Park for a quiet moment with these giants of the forest.
Blue Ridge Parkway – North Carolina and Virginia
Starting point: Cherokee, North Carolina
Ending point: Afton, Virginia
Distance: 469 miles
Constructed from 1936 to 1987, the Blue Ridge Parkway links two of America’s most stunning national parks: Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which covers a border area between Tennessee and North Carolina. Consisting of a wide swath of the Appalachian region, the land covered by the Parkway is hauntingly beautiful: the Great Smoky Mountains, which get their name from the blanket of fog that nestles around the range’s peaks, are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, while Shenandoah National Park includes the roaring river of the same name and the impressive Blue Ridge Mountains. Those who like to rough it will want to stop for some off-road hiking, camping, and nature-watching opportunities, while urbanites should set aside time to explore Asheville, North Carolina and its many restaurants, bars, and cafes. The drive is especially scenic in the fall when the leaves are turning from green to gold.
Seward Highway, Alaska
Starting point: Anchorage, Alaska
Ending point: Seward, Alaska
Distance: 127 miles
Though Alaska isn’t connected to the continental United States, it’d be a shame to write off a visit to the remote state. Home to some of America’s most extraordinary landscapes, Alaska and its bountiful fjords, glaciers, islands, and waterfalls make this drive one to consider. Though it’s the shortest one on the list – a mere 127 miles – the Seward Highway is so replete with sights that it’s worth taking the trip slowly (or combining it with a much lengthier trip through British Columbia to Vancouver along the Trans-Canada Highway). Beginning in Alaska’s capital, Anchorage, drivers will soon hit the wilderness after leaving the small city. Along the road, scenic spots like Chugach State Park, Mount Alyeska, and Moose Pass beckon. We recommend getting off the road as much as possible to spot salmon, whales, sea lions, moose, and other local species.
The Deep South and Gulf of Mexico
Starting point: Atlanta, Georgia
Ending point: New Orleans, Louisiana
Distance: 719 miles
Atlanta, Georgia is one of the South’s most exciting cultural hubs, so it only makes sense to kick off a whirlwind tour of the Deep South in this city. After some time exploring, drivers can take off down Route 75, which will bring them through the state and down into Tallahassee in the Florida Panhandle. From there, Route 98 brings drivers smack up against the Gulf Coast, with scenic spots like the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge and a number of swimming-friendly beaches within easy reach. The journey continues across the entire stretch of the Panhandle before a stop in Mobile, Alabama. Another Southern cultural centre filled with art museums, examples of historic architecture, and a number of shops, Mobile is the perfect prelude to colourful, one-of-a-kind New Orleans, the final stop on the trip.