1 September 2015 by Debbie Mayger
There are more than 4 million miles of highway in the USA, making it prime territory to explore on a self-drive holiday, especially if you've been inspired by one of the great literary road trips of Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Hunter S. Thompson or Bill Bryson. Here's our round-up of the classic routes and our guide on how to explore the country, go beyond the big cities and embrace your inner Kerouac on a road trip, one of America's archetypal experiences.
Our Top 5 American Road Trips...
- Pacific Coast Highway
- Best of the Carolinas & Georgia
- Florida 'Sunshine State'
- Canyon Country
- Rhythms of the Deep South
Pacific Coast Highway
Iconic California State Route 1 extends the entire length of California but the best bit is south from San Francisco, via a wealth of Spanish and colonial history to Monterey, Carmel and the Big Sur. The 90 miles from Carmel to Hearst Castle is stunning, with mountains rising out of the sea, redwood groves, rocky beaches, sealion colonies and the Pacific Ocean to distract you as you wind along the precipitous cliff road. Convertibles were made for this journey.
Route 95 – America's East Coast
This 2,500 mile route links Maine to Florida and journeys through a swathe of America's history. Go in spring or autumn to avoid the crowds and take in colonial New England, New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC before finishing in Miami and Key West, all the while enjoying scenic sights such as the Maine coastline, Florida Everglades and overseas highway to the Florida Keys.
The Hana Highway on the Hawaiian island of Maui is the best way to explore the island's eastern coast and get a feel for its wild beauty and laid-back towns, although this rollercoaster ride isn't for the faint hearted. Drive east from Paia for 60 miles, via some 600 hairpin bends and masses of one-lane bridges. Look out for the verdant rainforest, a trio of crashing waterfall cascades and some unusual lava formations.
Take the Grand tour of Hawaii
Drive the 127 mile route through a section of Alaska to see some of the state's wild beauty. Start in Anchorage and set off across the Kenai Peninsula to finish on Resurrection Bay, looking out for forests, glaciers and fjords as you go. Dall sheep and beluga whales make guest appearances, meaning that there's always something to admire amidst the Alpine scenery although the bore tide that sweeps along Turnagain Arm around new or full moon is the most impressive phenomenon.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Set off into the Appalachian countryside and explore the mountains, rustic retreats and jumping bluegrass music joints hidden here as you drive more than 450 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
Synonymous with road trips, Route 66, nicknamed the Mother Road by John Steinbeck, stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles, via retro roadside attractions, traditional diners with soda fountains and historic motor courts. Although only segments of the old highway exist, it remains a venerable slice of Americana and still the best way to get your kicks while travelling through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Great River Road
Follow the Mississippi as it meanders from its humble headwaters through highlights that include Minnesota, Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans on its journey through 10 states from the border of Canada in Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Look out for history and culture amongst the scenery and stunning landscape.
Nicknamed the 'Loneliest Road in America' this fascinating and historic corridor through Nevada's cowboy country is ideal if you want peace and tranquility whilst you discover deserts, soaring peaks, Old West mining towns and abandoned settlements that once stood along the Pony Express Trail.
Columbia River Highway
The first route in the USA to be awarded the status of National Historic Landmark, this scenic route through Oregon is best enjoyed during spring, when the waterfalls are fuller and wild flowers spread along the dramatic Columbia River Gorge.
Yellowstone National Park
Driving through Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, you'll get a chance to see bison, elk, wolves, moose, bears and dozens of bird species, making it an exceptionally good route along which to watch wildlife. Start in Jackson and take in Grand Teton and Jackson Lake for the ultimate excursion in this area.
Drive through Big Bend National Park in Texas and over more than 200 isolated, empty miles you'll discover dramatic canyons, desert landscapes and mountains. Look out too for ghost towns and abandoned film sets that were used to make some of Hollywood's most famous Westerns.
Canyon Country, which straddles the states of Arizona, Utah and Colorado, incorporates some of the USA's most spectacular national parks. From the iconic expanses of Grand Canyon to the breathtaking desert landscapes of Monument Valley, this incredible region is nature at its most impressive. Although the distances may appear daunting, its possible, on a two-week trip, to take in not only the aforementioned Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, but also Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde and Sadona, while beginning and ending in America's ultimate Sin City, Las Vegas.