Road trippin’ The inside track on some of the best road trips across the USA that are guaranteed to drive you to distraction
A recent study proved that only 37pc of Americans have a valid passport. That means over 207 million of the population doesn’t. The reason? They have so much on offer right there in their home country.
There are over 5,000 airports dotted around all 50 states but those in the know will tell you that the best way to see the US is by car. The freedom you can have from just hitting the open road is unmatched.
Here are the top road trips to stick on your bucket list.
1: Route 66 (Cross-country)
Known as the Mother Road, this world-renowned strip of tarmac was America’s original road trip, launched in 1926. It begins in Chicago, at the now-iconic Route 66 sign, from where the 480km stretch onward through Illinois offers classic, time-warped touring. Eat at small-town diners, snap photos of roadside attractions like the Gemini Giant, drive past neon signs and stop off at drive-in movie theatres. Once you’re out of Illinois, it’s only another 3,400km to the finish line in LA.
2: Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia and North Carolina)
There’s not one single traffic light to spoil the drive on this 750km roadway navigating the southern Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. Along the way you can watch sublime sunsets, scan for wildlife and lose all sense of the present while gazing at the vast wilderness. Hikes take you deeper into nature and this route is ideal for those who fancy breaking up the driving with some picturesque campsite settings. Check out the bluegrass and mountain music scenes of nearby towns such as Floyd and Galax.
3: The Dalton Highway (Alaska)
Buckle up, stick some Springsteen on the sound system and prepare for the ride of your life. The 800km trawl up the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to the Arctic Ocean won’t be the smoothest ride you’ll ever take, but it could well be one of the most legendary. What the infamous ‘haul road’ lacks in actual asphalt, it makes up for with a succession of surreal ecosystems, from the boreal forests of the interior to the bleak tundra of the North Slope.
4: Great River Road (New Orleans, Memphis, St Louis and Minneapolis)
This epic roadway edges the Mississippi River from its headwaters in northern Minnesota’s pine forests all the way south to its endpoint in New Orleans. For a look at America across cultural divides (north/south, urban/rural, baptist/bohemian) this is the road trip to make. Despite the name, the Great River Road is not a single highway, but a series of linked federal, state and county roads that follow the Mississippi as it flows through 10 different states.
5: Zion and Bryce National Parks (Utah)
Meet red-rock country in all its heart-soaring, sculpted splendour. From the sheer walls of Zion to the pastel sentinels of hoodoos that form Bryce Canyon, these are the landscapes that no one travelling in the southwest should miss. This trip takes in the parks’ classic highlights as well as tiny Western towns and off-the-beaten-path nature sanctuaries where the screech of a hawk breaks the silence of the trail.
6: Pacific Coast Highway (California)
The classic coastal road trip technically includes Oregon and Washington too, but I want to focus on the California leg along Route 1 that takes in the incredible Instagram-perfect Big Sur.
Imagine the towering redwood forests of Northern California (see Jim Gallagher's amazing review here) along the coast of Big Sur down to the stretch beaches of southern California. You can stop along the way in San Fran, Santa Barbara, LA and San Diego, whether it’s a two-day or two-week journey. Check out Hearst Castle, which will open its doors again on May 11 after a two-year closure.
7: Natchez Trace Parkway (Tennessee and Mississippi)
What I love about this journey is that it started out as a buffalo trail running roughly between modern-day Nashville, Tennessee, to the riverbanks at Natchez, Mississippi. Native Americans used it as a hunting and trading route before fur traders, European settlers, enslavers, confederate soldiers and presidents. With jade swamps, hiking trails, opulent mansions, riverside saloons and layer upon layer of American history, the Natchez Trace Parkway is the richest drive in the south and steeped in so much history that you won’t get through it all in one go.
8: Olympic Peninsula Loop (Washington)
Imagine pine-clad beaches fused with an American Mt. Olympus and you’ve got a rough idea of what a drive around the Olympic Peninsula looks like. This is wilderness of the highest order, where thick forest collides with an end-of-the-continent coastline. Bring hiking boots and rain gear!
ROAD TRIP TRAVEL TIPS:
■ Pack a spare tyre and a tool kit as well as emergency equipment; if you’re renting a car, ask if there is a roadside safety kit included.
■ Bring good maps if heading to remote spots; don’t depend on GPS or smartphones.
■ Carry plenty of extra water. You may need it if the car breaks down in a hot place.
■ Don’t forget to fill up your fuel tank regularly; petrol stations can be few and far between once you leave urban areas.
■ Always carry your driver’s licence and proof of insurance
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