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The Great American Road Trip: 5 Top Driving Routes
Whether you’re into exploring ocean views on the Pacific Coast Highway or checking out small-town America along Route 66, catch a ride as we navigate America’s top road trip routes.
Few things feel more patriotic than hot apple pie, rock and roll—and the Great American Road Trip. As the weather starts heating up, you may just find yourself with an urge to grab a bag a few friends (or your family) and head out on the great open road. Fortunately, you don’t need to know exactly where you’re going when you decide to take off, but we recommend you keep the country’s most iconic road trip routes in mind—whichever one you choose make sure to add time to take breaks and catch the local scenery.
Road Trip Route 1:
Pacific Coast Highway, California
The Pacific Coast Highway is generally regarded as one of the most scenic drives in America. For most of its length, the highway hugs the coast, revealing gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean and its meandering, rocky coastline. California State Route 1 runs north from Orange County for more than 500 miles, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco along the way. If you have the time, continue onto interstate Route 101 to extend the road trip up the coast of Oregon to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Hint: Because the PCH dives inland right around Los Angeles, some drivers choose to skirt the metropolitan area along quieter, more scenic back roads (consult your GPS or map for options!).
Road Trip Route 2:
Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, South Dakota
Most of South Dakota’s famous landmarks can be found along or near the 68-mile Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. The easy drive provides access to a herd of 1,500 bison in Custer State Park, the still-in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial, which honors the Native American hero, the forested lands of the Black Hills, which are home to bighorn sheep and mountain goats and the top tourist draw, the famous presidential faces of Mount Rushmore.
Road Trip Route 3:
Overseas Highway, Florida
Another of the top road trip routes in America: the southern portion of U.S. Route 1. A trek on the Overseas Highway almost feels like driving in the open ocean as you pass through dozens of islands in the Florida Keys and travel more than 100 miles, including the infamous Seven Mile Bridge. Leave some time to snorkel in Key Largo, enjoy the nightlife of Key West or relax on any of the beaches you pass though on the journey. While the winter and early spring months are most popular time to travel this sun-drenched route, they’re also the busiest. Aim for the shoulder seasons of November to mid December, or April - May to catch the idyllic weather while still avoiding holiday crowds.
Road Trip Route 4:
Historic Route 66, Chicago to Los Angeles
Established in the 1920s back when the entire route wasn’t even paved, Route 66—also known as “the Mother Road,” is the classic American road trip journey. The trip begins in Chicago and passes through eight states in the Great Plains and Southwest before ending in Santa Monica, California. Route 66 isn’t an official U.S. highway anymore, and some of the old businesses on the road have been abandoned, but you can still find kitschy roadside shops and experience the nostalgia of classic Americana. Arizona boasts the best-preserved and most historic section of the route, a long stretch west of Flagstaff.
Road Trip Route 5:
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
Running from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia down to the Smokies in western North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway is sometimes referred to as “America’s favorite drive.” You may spot wildlife such as black bears and deer, but the real draw of the Blue Ridge is the scenery. With an average elevation of close to 4,000 feet (1220 meters), the drive reveals plenty of mountain views and rolling forests. There are numerous hiking and camping options along the parkway if you want to stop and spend some time in the great outdoors.
Scott Shetler is a freelance journalist and frequent traveler who enjoys national parks, urban nightlife, and everything in between. He blogs about his adventures at http://quirkytravelguy.com.