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Nowhere has US culture and travel collided more perfectly than on the classic American road trip. With iconic pieces of the country’s history and pristine natural preservations paralleling the yellow and white lines dashing across the map, hitting the open road is not only one of the best ways to see America, it’s one of the best ways to live and breathe it. From scenic coastal byways to remote stretches between national parks, these 10 classic road trips will take you through some of the most iconic locations around the country.

 

Outer Banks Route 12

Route 12 is what started Travel Well Magazine. There’s something about the quiet stretches of soft dunes and breezy marshes so calm we forget they were formed by the immense power of the Atlantic and the colorful stilted houses teetering over the islands like toddlers hiking their pant legs up to avoid the splash of the surf. Conservation is essential here, so if you do take a drive on Route 12, be mindful of the delicate ecosystems around you.

hang gliding

Alexa taking hang gliding lessons in 2011

Blue Ridge Parkway

High season on the BRP is the few fleeting weeks in Fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains burn indistinguishable from a sunset. But that doesn’t mean summer on the parkway is worth skipping. On the contrary, rolling down the two-lane road in and out of tree-made tunnels that give way to expansive views and splashing waterfalls is just as spectacular. Drive just a section or take a few days to travel the entire length from Waynesboro, VA to Cherokee, NC. Stop along the way to visit:

Blue Ridge Parkway

Rattlesnake Mountain Tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway by Doug Bradley

Florida Coast

Forget Disney and follow the Florida coastline instead to get a taste of all the Sunshine State flavors: Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Palm Beach, Daytona, Miami, the Keys, Naples, Sanibel Island, Tampa, Clearwater and everything in between. From the tackiest of tacky tourist traps to protected natural areas and the state’s iconic beaches, all there is to experience will keep you on the road for weeks.

Key West sunset by W. Tipton

Key West sunset by W. Tipton

 

 

Route 66

No road trip list would be complete without the Mother Road. Historic Route 66 may no longer officially exist on US maps, but Americans refuse to let it get buried under the sands of time. Take the ultimate road trip between Chicago and LA with this turn-by-turn guide so you don’t miss:

Historic Route 66 road paint

Historic Route 66 road paint by Randy Heinitz

Hawaiian Loop

Sure, you could spend your days at a beachside resort soaking up the sun and sand. Or you could take a couple days to cruise the edges of the Big Island between the sun sparkling on the sea and the shadow of Mauna Loa. Rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle and jump on the Mamalahoa Highway, or Hawaii Belt Road. This loop road can take you around the island’s circumference in 5 hours, but you can stop and detour to see:

Akaka Falls by Alan Strakey

Akaka Falls by Alan Strakey

 

Mississippi River’s Great River Road

The longest river in the US plays a key role in our country’s history, dividing the states East and West and serving as a major thoroughfare of people and goods between Minnesota and the Gulf. The Great River Road follows Mississippi’s banks between small towns, big cities, farmland and industrial centers, immersing you in the varied cultures of America’s heartland. Drive a section or two at a time, or tackle the entire scenic byway over a few weeks to experience:

Great River Road sign by Matt Northam

Great River Road sign by Matt Northam

 

Portland Head Light by Kan Wu

Portland Head Light by Kan Wu

Maine Lighthouse Coast

With 65 lighthouses stringing the rocky coastline, there’s no question why Maine is nicknamed the Lighthouse State. Visit every open lighthouse or pick just a handful between West Quoddy Head in the north and Cape Neddick in the south for a 258-mile point-to-point scenic tour of Maine’s rocky coastline.

 

California on the Pacific Coast Highway

California coastline earned the state its reputation for sun and surf, but its prismatic character reflects in other colorful dimensions, too: historical towns, wild parks, acclaimed restaurants, redwood country. The Pacific Coast Highway takes travelers through California’s multifaceted landscape over 656 miles of pavement between Dana Point and Leggett. Don’t miss:

Big Sur rock formation

Big Sur rock formation by Graeme Stewart-Robertson

Alaska

The Seward Highway running 127 miles south from Anchorage to Seward may be one of the lesser known all American drives, but if you’re seeking wild mountains and coastline still accessible by roads rather than snowmobiles, this is your stretch of asphalt. Civilization is few and far between here, replaced instead with glaciers, sea lions, fjords and fishermen. Stretch your trip out to see:

Resurrection Bay by Teddy Llovet

Resurrection Bay by Teddy Llovet

 

 

National Parks

You can make any number of stellar road trips looping through the National Parks system, one of America’s greatest accomplishments. You can go from the highest to the lowest points in the US–Mt. Whitney in Sequoia National Park and Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park–or explore the redwoods and lush green parks of the Pacific Northwest. For one of the grandest loops of them all, follow this route over a week or two to see:

Capitol Reef National Park by John Fowler

Capitol Reef National Park by John Fowler

 


 

What are your favorite American road trips?

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