Planning a road trip in the USA is an ultimate holiday bucket list idea. USA road trips are a popular choice for honeymoons, anniversary holidays and break up trips because they’re just so, damn, incredible. Driving across the USA a la Thelma and Louise is so freeing, so exciting, and as the voice of experience, FUN.
Obviously you need to choose your car – cheapest vs most awesome – sort your playlists out, and get your team / friend together. But first up, you need to decide where exactly you want to go in the USA for your road trip.
So, from my USA road trip history, recommendations from others, and a few tips I’ve heard along the way, here are the best routes for your USA road trip.
Planning a Road Trip in the USA: 11 Best Routes
Read through these top USA road trips, think about the kind of things you want to see most along the way, and then come back for another read and decide. If you have any questions about what exactly you think you’d enjoy most, just let me know in the comments at the end.
1. Pacific Coast Highway road trip
I feel like the Pacific Coast Highway is the ultimate West Coast road trip in the USA. I’ve done it twice, and it’s definitely the most popular USA road trip among my friends. Stretching from San Francisco to San Diego, it goes past some of the most beautiful coastal scenery I’ve ever seen.
– Me on the Pacific Coast Highway with my friends, and my Mustang
Also known as Highway 1, you can complete the Pacific Coast Highway in around three days, ticking off the likes of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fran, before hiking in Big Sur National Park and washing it all down with wine tasting in Solvang, California’s ‘Little Denmark’.
I have a whole post on road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway – check it out.
2. The Loneliest Road road trip
The Loneliest Road, aka US-50, runs from the east to west coast of the USA. It starts in Ocean City, Maryland, and ends in Sacramento, California. The Loneliest Road passes through 12 states and 4 state capitals, but it’s the stretch through Nevada you’ll definitely need a buddy for: miles and miles of sweeping mountains, dusty highways and only the odd otherworldly town make this stretch a little on the quiet side.
If you want to get away from the crazy roads and highways of the USA then this is the one for you. There’s a reason they call it the Loneliest Road!
And, just to note, the views between Nevada Beach and the Great Basin National Park are some of the most beautiful in all of the US, so get that camera ready.
3. Road trip Route 66
Maybe the most legendary of all the USA road trips is Route 66 – it’s definitely the most sung about anyways. If you’re planning a road trip in the USA Route 66 will probably be the first one you think of.
This legendary US road trip starts off in Lake Michigan and take you all the way to LA. I’ve travelled some of it, as it passes through Illinois between Springfield and Chicago.
Route 66 can be completed in two weeks – as it often is by those motorbikers – but to give yourself plenty of time for top attractions a month is recommended. Don’t be put off by that though – you can easily do a small part of it and join and leave as you please.
Highlights of Route 66 include America’s oldest church, St Joseph’s, in Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico; the cool car display at Texas’s Cadillac Ranch; and the world’s largest rocking chair in Fanning, Missouri. Also, this sign in Pontiac, Illinois, where it looks like I gave my all for the group photo. Got a bit of height there, didn’t I?
You’ll also find plenty of those classic diners and motels from the movies to rest your weary head along the way.
You can drive a bit of Route 66 on the road trip from Chicago to New Orleans.
4. Driving from Miami to Key West
Miami marks the start of one of the wettest road trips in the USA, and when I say wet, I mean from the sea, not the rain. The Miami to Key West route along the Overseas Highway is stunning.
It’s also the perfect mini road trip. This sunshine state route only takes 3-4 hours and links up two of Florida’s top beach locations.
Miami is all sand, surf and art deco hotels whereas Key West belongs to the Florida Keys collection of islands and has a Cuban infusion, as well as some of the best coral reefs to dive in. The 113-mile stretch of highway also brings you across the ocean itself, so expect epic views.
READ MORE: Miami to Key West Road Trip
5. Great River Road road trip
When I was at school we used to do these spelling tests and ‘Mississippi’ was on my list for about two months before I learned to spell it. I just couldn’t get it right. And I think of standing up in class trying to recite it whenever I hear the word.
As the greatest river in the USA, the Mississippi provides an iconic route to follow through ten different states along the Great River Road.
This north-south route especially calls out to nature lovers thanks to all of the wildlife resorts lining the route, like the Yazoo Refuge and the Theodore Roosevelt Refuge. There are also plenty of quaint river towns like Greenville and Rosedale you can spend the night in and as you head further south you’ll get to sample that fine fried food the Deep South is so well-known for.
Reach Louisiana and allocate a good amount of time to explore the highlights of the state, mainly, New Orleans.
I love that city! And you’ll need the extra time to make it through at least some of the incredible New Orleans food experiences.
READ MORE: Cheap Things to Do in New Orleans
6. Driving from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas
If you’re planning a road trip in the USA and you want to fit in as many iconic places as possible, then starting with Vegas and ending at the Grand Canyon would be pretty sweet. This way, you’ll take in some awesome sights, but also get to have a unique trip in the middle, stopping where you please.
This is a great one for nature lovers as you can stop off at lakes, forests and even an alpaca farm along the way.
7. The High Road to Taos
Weaving between the valleys along the Rio Grande and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this New Mexico route makes for an American adventure with a Hispanic twist. Desert sands, peaks and greenery are broken up by old Hispanic villages, like Chimayo, Penasco and Truchas – known for their artisan crafts.
Bring your cowboy hat and holster because you’ll recognise the route as the backdrop to many a Western movie.
READ MORE: Essential Tips for Hiring a Car in the USA
8. Florida state road trip
Pick a state, and do all you can in a week. That was the basic premise for my Florida road trip. It was a press trip and we got a Mustang which was absolutely incredible (and reasonable I thought – starts at £200 per week) to travel the state of Florida.
We started in Tampa, dropped down to Sarasota, and visited Daytona, Cape Carnavral, Fort Lauderdale and ended in Miami. We saw amazing beaches, ate amazing food and rented bikes, went on boat rides and even went to a drive in cinema. Gawd it was good!
And then of course, if you have the time, you can add the Miami to Key West road trip on the end. Might as well make the most of it while you’re over there.
I’d totally recommend visiting Martin County too, and the county’s pearl, Hobe Sound. Click here to find out some of the coolest things to do in Hobe Sound to keep you busy.
9. Driving from Austin to New Orleans
The road trip from Austin to New Orleans is totally underrated. Go direct and it’s just nine hours, but with so many cool attractions along the way, you might as well make the most of it with a few stop offs along the way. Click the link for the full how to guide, but for ease now the highlights include looking up the sights in Houston, and staying at some of the old plantation houses of Louisiana.
Oak Alley Plantation is one of the most well-known – we had a fascinating stay there in a beautiful old room.
10. Emerald Coast road trip
Ok, so it’s Florida again. It’s a popular state for a reason!
I once drove up the Emerald Coast and had a wonderful time. Honestly, it was so easy, and so beautiful, I feel like it’s a great starter for anyone planning a road trip in the USA. The road trip up the Emerald Coast is the perfect choice for any families rung out by nearby Orlando.
The roads are easy, two lanes all the way, it’s a chilled speed and there are lots of quirky and interesting things to see and do along the way. LOOK AT THAT BEACH!
More road trip routes in the USA
- Eastern Utah (Moab/Canyonlands/Arches)
- Texas (El Paso to Austin via Big Bend & Hill Country)
- Denver loop, Colorado
- Olympic Peninsula, WA
- Las Vegas loop (Bryce & Zion)
- New York State
- North Cascades Highway, WA
- Oregon Coast
- Denver to Mosca
- Boston loop