5 Essential Off-the-Beaten Path Routes in the USA
If you’re ready to hit the road, seek out these lesser-traveled routes around the United States. Each scenic, off-the-beaten track road trip is perfect for adventurous travelers.
America is a place that is best traveled by car, traversing the most scenic highways and byways across all fifty states. Travelers are familiar with journeys like Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway, but there are many more to explore. Check out these scenic road tripping routes—each one makes for a great off-the-beaten track adventure.
Florida has some incredible drives, especially the stretch through the Florida Keys. But the 80-mile Alligator Alley is unlike any place else in the USA. The stretch of I-75 connects Fort Lauderdale and Naples.
This off-the-beaten track route is not recommended for the “things to do” along the way, as there isn’t much on the highway that cuts through the state in the heart of the Everglades. Instead, the desolate nature is what makes it worth seeing. You never know when you might spot the namesake creatures. It also passes through Big Cypress National Preserve. Give yourself a few hours and make the drive during the day, and stop for a picnic at the scenic recreational rest stops located on both sides of the highway.
Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
The Black Hills of South Dakota can feel like another planet, with sandy stone canyons of the Badlands and rock spires of The Needles. But the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway features lush forest and rushing water. Ponderosa pines make up the forest alongside lakes and waterfalls. The byway itself runs around 20 miles through the gorge and can be driven in less than an hour. But take your time to see as much of it as possible, stopping to hike the trails along the way.
Natchez Trace Parkway
While not as well known as the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, the Natchez Trace follows a Native American trading route between Nashville, Tennessee, and Natchez, Mississippi, passing through Alabama along the way. The ideal road trip runs over 400 miles as a two-lane road, passing through big cities and small towns. There are also historic landmarks and quirky attractions along the way, including Civil War battlefields, Native American burial mounds, and offbeat museums.
Historic National Road
Running over 800 miles from Baltimore to Saint Louis, the Historic National Road was the country’s first federally funded interstate highway. Similar to Route 66, this stretch of road-trip-ready highway cuts through America’s heartland, showcasing the roadside inns, diners, and attractions from the Golden Age of Travel.
El Camino Real
Named the El Camino Real De Tierra Adentro (The Royal Road of the Interior Land), this scenic road trip route was first traveled by explorers as early as 1598. It cuts nearly 300 miles north to south from Santa Fe down to El Paso. Along the way, off-the-beaten path travelers will find ancient sites that predate America by hundreds of years, starting with Spanish explorers and continuing to the missions established throughout the West.
What to Pack for a Road Trip
We recommend packing a duffel bag that will be easy to move from your car to your accommodations. If you use packing cubes (and you should!), you can leave some items in the car that you don’t need. Packing sacs and small packing cubes also work wonders for organizing everything you need during your drive time inside your car—snacks, chapstick, sunscreen, etc.
A cross body bag or small backpack is also good to have in the car with you with essentials like a good book and music to listen to along the way, or as a handy day pack to grab for day hikes. Also keep jumper cables, a gas canister, flares, and water in your vehicle in case of emergencies—pack these items in a small duffel that permanently stays in your car so they’re always on hand.
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By Caroline Eubanks on September 16, 2020
Caroline Eubanks is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia whose work has been published by BBC Travel, Afar, Thrillist, and National Geographic Traveler and is the author of the book This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States. You can follow her work at CarolineEubanks.com.