As American as apple pie and baseball.
Americans have been taking road trips across this big beautiful land from east to west and back again for centuries—it all started with the pioneers. Of course those hearty souls did it without actual roads. Fortunately, our highway system (and vehicles) have come a long way since those wooden horse-drawn wagons.
As we celebrate America’s birthday, let’s take a look at some great American road trips. From sea to shining sea, these 5 road trips showcase the diversity across this big beautiful land. It’s what REALLY makes America great.
1. Stevens Pass Greenway Scenic Byway, Route 2
Part of the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway, Stevens Pass runs 90 miles from Monroe to just past Leavenworth in Washington. This remarkable alpine landscape is graced with waterfall-streaked mountains and gushing rivers. I drove this in late September when the snow-capped mountains were dressed in rich autumn colors. The two seasons merged for one spectacular scene.
Plummeting some 265 feet, Wallace Falls is the largest of the waterfalls along Route 2. A hike along Woody Trail in Wallace Falls State Park (milepost 27) will bring you up close to some of the falls’ most dramatic spots. Further down the byway at milepost 56, Deception Falls picnic area gets you as close to the whitewater of the thundering creek as possible without being in a raft. And as you reach Leavenworth, you’ll feel as if you’ve left the USA for Bavaria. This picturesque little town serves up all the Bratwurst, schnitzel, accordion music and brews you can handle. It’s also home to the world’s largest nutcracker collection at the Nutcracker Museum.
2. California’s Pacific Coast Highway 1
A favorite setting for car commercials, California’s Pacific Coast Highway is hard to beat when it comes to dramatic scenery. Put the top down and feel the breeze as you drive the twisting turning curves while waves crash over rocks in the ocean below. The PCH runs almost the entire length of the California coast, but you may be detoured in a stretch through Big Sur, which recently suffered a landslide that has closed the road until repairs can be made. Still, it’s worth seeing what you can; the highway hugs the coast, passing through fertile farmland, charming seaside villages, lonely lighthouses and the iconic Bixby Bridge in Big Sur which is currently accessible from the north but not the south.
Luckily, the north end of the closure doesn’t include Pfeiffer Beach—the setting of the famous kissing scene in the film From Here to Eternity. If you make the trip you’ll want to stay for eternity—it’s that beautiful.
3. Utah’s Route 12-A
With 5 national parks scattered across its landscape, it’s hard not to find a scenic road in Utah. One of the most aw-inspiring is Route 12—often referred to as A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway. Connecting Bryce Canyon with the Capital Reef, Route 12 is 122 miles of jaw-dropping beauty. This little slice of heaven on earth passes through Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park. From there it climbs Boulder Mountain in the Dixie National Forest before ending at the entrance to Capital Reef National Park. Highlights along the way include ancient Native American settlements and the abandoned Western movie sets at Grand Staircase-Escalante.
4. The Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the country’s most famous scenic drives, the Blue Ridge Parkway begins at the edge of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park and winds 469 miles south to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Along the way split rail fences, historic structures, and old farmsteads tell the story of days gone by. Scenic overlooks yield views of majestic mountains and deep ravines. Stretch your legs on one of the many hikes just off the parkway or explore the intriguing communities nearby.
Located at Milepost 316, Linville Falls is a lovely spot for a hike and a picnic. The Linville Rivers flows from its headwaters on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain cascading nearly 2,000 feet into this spectacular rugged gorge.
5. Historic Route 66
Referred to as America’s Main Street, Route 66 is the USA’s most iconic road trip. When it opened on November 11, 1926, Route 66 covered 2,448 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica. Neon signs, Mom & Pop eateries, kitschy roadside motels and historic Route 66 markers serve as a reminder of days gone by along the “Mother Road of America.”
I can’t resist quirky roadside attractions and Route 66 delivers them in abundance. You can catch the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois, the World’s (second) Largest Rocking Chair in Fanning, Missouri, and plenty of old style gas stations. Be sure to make a stop at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo—a public art spectacle where 10 classic Cadillacs are buried nose down in the ground. Route 66 serves up a big dose of Americana at every turn.
Happy Birthday, America. Let’s hit the road!