10 of the Coolest Road Trips in North America
The open road offers up a lot of possibilities. You’ve got adventure, new and strange destinations, gorgeous scenery, and the opportunity to escape the humdrums of your normal life, plus all of the interesting characters you’ll meet along the way. All you have to do is decide on a route, get into the car and drive.
North America is full of incredible road trips, across states and national borders, through lush forests, arid deserts, meandering valleys and vibrant cities. If the romance of the open road is calling out to you this Labor Day Weekend, we’ve got you covered. Here are some of the coolest road trips the continent has to offer.
Route 66, California to Illinois
Route 66, now called ‘Historic Route 66,’ is also known as the ‘Main Street of America.’ It got its name because of all of the small towns it goes through, and all of the restaurants, shops and motels it passes by. This highway connects Los Angeles to Chicago, and cuts through a good portion of America’s heartland. The route, which was made famous in John Steinbeck’s novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ embodies Americana at its best, and the drive west to California. Route 66 is a piece of national history.
Pacific Coast Highway, California
The Pacific Coast Highway is a stunning stretch of winding road that makes its way down the California coast. It’s not the fastest way to travel, but the views of the Pacific Ocean are truly superb, and make the journey worth your time. You’ll pass by ocean side cliffs, giant waves, beautiful rock formations and lovely bays. Driving can be hazardous at times, because there are some sheer drops along the way, and you might be distracted from the road by the amazing views.
Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania and Delaware
Brandywine Valley offers up a regal view of American life, and the American countryside. The green valley is dotted with lavish country estates built by some of the nation’s wealthiest families. A gently flowing river, and a road guarded by tulip trees will accent the path as you drive. There are various byways you can take to gain a better glimpse of some of the mansions and chateaus that make this area so enchanting. It’s not a long road trip, but you should take your time as you drive, so you can take everything in.
The Loneliest Road in America
The title of the ‘Loneliest Road in America’ belongs to US-50, which stretches across 3,200 miles of asphalt, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. A trip along this route will take you through many different states, over mountain chains, through valleys and state capitals (including the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C) and wide and empty deserts. San Francisco, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and the Great Plains are just some of the places you’ll pass through on US-50. If you want to see a variety of life across this great land, you should plan a trip along “Loneliest Road in America.”
Seward Highway, Alaska
If you literally want a “cool” road trip, the roads in Alaska should satisfy that craving. In Alaska, the giant billboards, car dealerships and mom and pop cafés that mark most of the highways in the lower 48 are spread out a little thin. Glaciers, jagged mountains, wild nature and marine life are the roadside attractions you’ll find along Alaska’s Seward Highway. Once you get out of Anchorage (where the highway begins), you’ll be able to leave civilization behind. You’ll see incredible scenery and tons of wildlife before you reach Resurrection Bay, where the road ends 127 miles later.
The James River, Virginia
If you’re into colonial history and gentle landscapes, highlighted by lots of open water, then the length of road between the James and York Rivers should delight you. This is the land of historic Williamsburg, Jamestowne and the birth of the United States. You can explore notable mansions, famous gardens and former plantations along the way, and revel in the aristocratic life of old, as well as large swaths of lovely green countryside.
The Badlands and Black Hills, South Dakota
The Black Hills in South Dakota offer a grand view of the American West. If you’re a fan of rugged country, you’ll be very pleased by the sights you’ll find here. You can visit the Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial (another large sculpture, still in progress) and plenty of scenic byways.
The landscape, for the most part, is wild and untamed, and a great place for long drives. If you keep on heading west by Northwest, you can make your way to Montana, and the Little Bighorn Battlefield, where General George Custer made his famous last stand.
Banff and Jasper Park, Canada
Mountain road trips give drivers and passengers alike the chance to pass across some truly spectacular terrain, and bear witness to some of nature’s grandest creations. Banff and Jasper Park in Alberta, Canada can boast some of the most remarkable scenery around. Once you get out of Calgary, you’ll head west, and drive past forests, cliffs, mountains and enticing glaciers and lakes.
Come winter, the region is transformed into a winter sports wonderland. In the summer, it’s a backpacker and mountain climber’s paradise. The drives are exquisite, full of rivers, lakes, high peaks, hot springs and the historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, which was modeled after a Scottish Castle.
Florida Keys, Florida
A drive along Highway 1, which will get you to the island of Key West from the Florida mainland, can overwhelm your senses. There’s a lot to do and see on the various Keys, from the crazy nightlife to scuba diving and long walks on the beach. This is where pop culture meets the picturesque beauty of the sea. Highway 1, a very impressive construction feat, links all of the Key Islands together. Great seafood, tacky tourist shops, colorful fish and lots of music will set the backdrop to your drive. If you’re a fan of sweets, stop by a few different diners and restaurants and see which one serves the best key lime pie.
Sea to Sky Highway, British, Canada
The Sea to Sky Highway, in British Columbia, also goes by the name Highway 99. You’ll start your trip at sea level down in Horseshoe Bay, just outside of Vancouver, and head up into the mountains, passing through several different climate zones. The route is overflowing with forests, lakes, mountains and rivers, as well as giant rock faces, like the 700-meter “The Chief” in the town of Squamish.
In the winter, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and downhill skiing are just some of the activities you can take part in. Come summer, hiking, rock climbing, rafting and mountain biking number among the outdoorsy things you can do. Even if you’re not the sporty type and don’t like getting out of the car much, you’ll still be impressed by this exceedingly scenic drive.