28 March 2023 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. From the icons of California to the wilds of Alaska, from Utah's canyons to the New England coast, here's our round-up of America's classic road-trip routes, a guide to exploring all corners of the country on four wheels.
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.
Explore the Pacific Coast Highway
Big Sur, USA
Route 95 – New England to Florida
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. You could even tag on a road trip further south, taking in the jaw-dropping, island-connecting bridges of the Overseas Highway to the Florida Keys.
New England coast
The Deep South
If American music is your thing, then you simply have to head to the Deep South, the home of blues, jazz and, of course, rock n' roll. From Memphis to New Orleans, this region is teeming with 20th-century icons, be it the bars of Bourbon and Beale Streets of Elvis's mansion, Gracelands. Add in some of the USA's finest food and you've got yourself a road trip to truly remember.
Beale Street, Memphis
Hana Highway, Hawaii
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.
Hana Highway, Maui
Seward Highway, Alaska
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.
Shenandoah National Park
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.
The historic Route 66
Columbia River Highway, Oregon
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.
Mt Washington, Oregon
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.
Explore Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park
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.
Bryce Canyon, Utah