Based on my various cross country drives and other scenic road trips I put together the following route for anyone looking to experience America: The Ultimate American Road Trip!!!! I imagine it would take 3 to 4 weeks the way I have it laid out, but you can always just drive one way (rent a car or offer to drive someone’s car who happens to be relocating and is too cheap to ship their car, you might even find someone willing to pay you to drive their car!) Alternatively, just pick a shorter segment that’s especially interesting to you. I’ve divided this post into parts so it’s not too long, first we’ll head East and North.
Start at the beginning, Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital is brimming with great museums, parks and monuments for free!!! The Smithsonian Museums lining the Mall and even the zoo are all FREE! Use the money you save on attractions to enjoy some of the country’s top restaurants and a diverse array of international cuisines. You could easily spend a week here, or you could run around like a crazed, over-caffeinated tourist and hit enough big sites in one day to make it look like you must’ve spent a week in D.C.
Heading south from Washington you can enjoy the scenic forested drives of the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia, and a short jaunt from the Interstate will take you to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (fantastic fall colors). If you have even more time you could explore some of the Atlantic coast before heading west. The barrier islands that extend along the coast offer some of the most scenic beaches and small, coastal towns you’ll find. The Gulf Stream helps keep the waters here fairly warm and makes for great swimming, fishing and the delicious regional seafood dishes that come from that great fishing.
Going west you’ll cross the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. If you like horses, head through Kentucky. If Elvis or country music are your thing, Tennessee is the route for you. Cross the mighty Mississippi River and continue through Arkansas to get a taste of Southern hospitality. (Did you ever wonder why Kansas and Arkansas don’t rhyme? Now you will.)
Continue across the Great Plains of Oklahoma and Texas. In addition to seeing what the nation’s breadbasket looks like, you’ll get to meet up with historic Route 66 and all of its wonderful, kitschy Americana. Next up are the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. Sedona, AZ is a good stopping point for the night and definitely worth a highway detour over staying in Flagstaff (sorry, Flagstaff, I cannot tell a lie). Just driving through the red rocks around town near sunset or sunrise is a magical experience; working in a hike is a spiritual experience. If you’re in a hurry, you can head straight west to Los Angeles from here.
If you have the time, head up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon truly is spectacular, but the crowds at the South Rim take away from the ambience. From here you can easily reach Bryce and Zion National Parks, two of my absolute favorite parks for both great drives and hikes in a compact size. Next up from there is dazzling Las Vegas. There’s a bedroom for every budget and an activity for every age group in Vegas. Mid-week and summer deals can make jaw-dropping rooms in the middle of the strip surprisingly affordable.
More desert. Los Angeles. Having lived and worked in L.A. for the past eight years, I can safely say that there’s something for everyone in this city. If you end your trip here, take some time to explore downtown, go for a hike in Griffith Park (the nation’s largest urban park), or check out the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and finally end at one of the great area beaches. If you’re continuing onward, skip LA’s beaches in favor of those farther north.
From LA, head north along Route 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH), where the road clings between the Pacific Ocean and the cliffs of the Coastal Range. Of all the coastal drives in America, this stretch is probably the most famous and with good reason. The scenery itself is stunning, but great attractions like Morro Bay, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Monterey Bay, and San Francisco can all be accessed from this road (and some of them can ONLY be reached via Route 1).
Click here to view the full map on Google Maps: The Ultimate American Road Trip Map
For more on why you absolutely should take a road trip in America check out: Road Trippin’