(Credit: Paje Victoria)


The 10 best road trips to take across the USA


“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” – Hunter S. Thompson.

A recent study examined and developed a list of the best officially tracked road trips across the United States of America. With more than 4,000,000 miles of road available to cover, 61 official national parks and countless landmarks available to view in the great US of A, Geotab has created what they describe as a “country-wide survey to score 50 classic routes” using modern data.

“The all-American road trip has been a great way to explore the country since the early 1900s, with certain routes becoming iconic vacations for seeing landmarks, visiting cities, and simply enjoying the open road,” says Geotab – and they’re not wrong either.

Ever since European settlers began traipsing across the vast bulk of North America, the concept of progress has been intricately bound to the idea of movement and travel. As they crossed what they understood to be an endless canvas of untamed wilderness – making settlements as they went – these early American settlers began to develop a sense of who they were, of what America could be, and what it would value.

It wasn’t until the arrival of motor vehicles, however, that the great American road trip allowed everyday Americans to replicate this sense of discovery for themselves. In 1921, the filmmaker Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. wrote an article called The Democracy of the Motor Car about a journey he took with his wife across American shortly after their wedding, during which he met “every possible type of person in the world.” In Vanderbilt Jr’s writing, the road trip isn’t simply a necessary passage from point A to B, but an opportunity for self-reflection and kinsmanship.

The idea of the American road trip as an antidote to the alienation of the modern world continued well into the 1940s and ’50s when Jack Kerouac wrote his Beat manifesto, The Road. For Kerouac’s characters, America’s highways symbolise the exhilarating pursuit of escape: escape from the weekday grind, escape from societal norms, and an escape from the persistent reminder that one’s life is but a fleeting moment.

Today, our understanding of the great American Road trip is still imbued with the writings of Hunter S Thompson, the gonzo journalist who, like Kerouac, had an innate affinity for America’s ocean-wide highways and the freedom they represented. In his red convertible, Thompson’s alter-ego Raoul Duke burns a trail across the modern wild west, chasing the last glimmerings of an American dream rapidly sinking below the horizon.

Now, we’re not saying you should arm yourself with your darkest Fear and Loathing memories and hit the open road in a wave of hysteria akin to Hunter S. Thompson’s imagination, but you certainly should try and explore at least one of these top ten selected road trips.

The 10 best road trips to take across the USA:

10. Bryce and Zion National Parks

The three-day journey from Zion to Bryce Canyon National park takes you across one of the most otherworldly landscapes in America. During those three days, you’ll begin to understand why this red-rocked, geologically jaw-dropping area has captured the American imagination for so long.

As America’s first National Park, Zion has a hell of a lot going for it. With its looming pink and peach sandstone cliffs, rich pioneer history, and extraordinary variety of flora and fauna, Zion positively hums with adventure.

As with all the selections on this list, the best part about the Zion to Bryce Canyon trip is – you guessed it – the trip itself, which will eventually take you to Bryce’s famous hoodoos, the unique rock formations that, under a clear night sky, take on the presence of sleeping giants.

(Credit: Tracy Zhang)

9. Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

The 218-miles that make up The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway coil around the Wallowa Mountains. A land defined by extremes, this area is home to ferocious white water rapids, sapphire-blue ice lakes, towering peaks, and abundant wildlife, making it a popular location for fishing.

The byway winds its way between Hells Canyon, the Eagle Cap Wilderness area, and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, offering countless campgrounds, hiking trails, and even skiing resorts.

As you make you’re way along the Hells Canyon Byway, you’ll also notice the dizzying array of cultural events this area has to offer, from rodeos and PowWows to music festivals and concerts.

The Hells Canyon Oregon. (Credit: X-Weinzar)

8. Grand Canyon Road Trip

Home to one of the most iconic landscapes in America, Arizona’s Grand Canyon offers one of the most thrilling road trip experiences.

You can embark on the Grand Canyon Road trip from a range of starting points, the most advisable being Denver, Pheonix, Las Vegas, and – if you’re feeling really adventurous – New Mexico.

Many of these routes will take you down the famed Route 66. From Las Vegas, you’ll find yourself burning a path from one polar opposite to the other, beginning in the hyper-modern climes of Sin City and ending in the ancient Hualapai Reservation, where you can raft your way through the western end of the Grand Canyon before drying off and making your way down to the southern end via route 66.

(Credit: Sonaal Bangera)

7. Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies, to put it bluntly, make the Swiss Alps look like a child’s sandcastle. They are big boys, forming the great backbone that stretches from New Mexico all the way to Montana and into Canada.

This trip begins in Denver, a city that lies a full mile above sea level. The brilliant thing about this trip is that, with the Rockies looming in the distance all the while, there’s a great sense of anticipation.

As you move along the road, you’ll find the landscape shifts and remoulds itself with chameleonic dexterity, taking you from the relative lowlands outside Denver to the dizzying alpine heights of the peaks, where jutting ice-clad mountain tops emerge from dense forests of pine, populated by everything from mountain lions to black bears.

Red Rock Canyon Trail, Colorado Springs. (Credit: Kevin Bree)

6. Oregon’s Pacific Coast

This trip takes in all the best features of Oregon’s coastal landscape, from its vast beaches and ivory lighthouses to its mind-bending sea stacks.

As well as the opportunity to spot whales, Oregons’ coast is speckled by an array of fascinating museums and tantalising seafood restaurants where the fish is always fresh.

My recommendation to anyone undertaking this trip would be to keep the windows open and – if you can – the roof down, because, after it, it’s the smell of the salt-infused sea air that makes travelling this trail so unforgettable.

A road trip down the 101 along the Oregon coast. (Credit: Jim Basio)

5. Blue Ridge Parkway

Weaving its way through some of the most gorgeous autumnal forests in America, the Blue Ridge Parkway follows the grooves of- as the name suggests – the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Beginning just south of the Shenandoah Valley in North Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway will guide you through 29 counties in Virginia and North Carolina, with the Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains Park in Tennessee nestled at opposite ends.

Often described as “America’s favourite drive”, this route has been attracting tourists for decades with its thick forested panoramas and gentle ruby slopes.

Blue Ridge Parkway. (Credit: Ashley Knedler)

4. Along the Missouri River

A trail followed by Lewis and Clarke themselves, the Missouri River road trip takes in a range of fascinating historical sites, picture-perfect cities such as St. Charles, and the expansive Great Plains.

This stunning drive will take you across some o the most stunning (and least developed) stretches of the Missouri River as well as through some of the landscapes immortalised in Mark Twain’s fiction.

Boasting eye-watering vistas and a rich Native American and homesteader history, this is a trip in which the past is in constant communion with the present, giving travellers a chance to understand a landscape that has had a powerful impact on the American imagination.

Kansas City. (Credit: Daniel Bosse)

3. Mesa Verde and San Juan Mountains

Combining outdoor adventure and historical exploration, this road trip takes travellers all the way from the Mesa Verde National park to the old mining towns of Southern Colorado.

Mesa Verde Nationa park contains an intense feral beauty and is home to a variety of expansive vistas and to innumerable species, including some that can be found nowhere else on the planet. Mesa Verde is also the ancestral homeland of the Pueblo people, who carved their villages into its peach-hued cliff faces. Today, it is still home to over 26 tribes.

The San Juan Mountains, meanwhile, have a long history of mining, the scars of which can still be seen today, the abandoned Summitville mine being one ignorably haunting example.

Driving through Southern Colorado. (Credit: Holly Mandarich)

2. Yellowstone and the Tetons

There are few trips that capture the bewildering beauty of America than the journey through Yellowstone National Park to the Teton Mountain Range in Wyoming.

While Yellowstone, with its technicolour geysers, is home to some of the most alien geothermal features on the planet, it is also nestled within an area speckled with gigantic waterfalls, herds of muscled buffalo, and – in the spring and summer – lumbering grizzly bears.

The drive up to the Tetons feels like falling into some pioneer reverie. You’ll take in the rust-red plains of Idaho, which gradually fold into the rolling flatlands of Wyoming before you find yourself confronted with the towering immensity of the Tetons themselves. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Yellowstone National Park. (Credit: Ashley Knedler)

1. Monument Valley Trails

It may come as little surprise that the epic 17-mile road trip around the Arizona–Utah border to explore the mind-blowing Monument Valley Trails is at the top of this list.

With 11 stops which include moments such as The Mittens & Merrick Butte, John Ford’s Point, Sand Spring and Artist’s Point, Monument Valley has everything to satisfy your desert sandstone needs.

Famously, as the aforementioned name suggests, iconic film director John Ford was a massive fan of the area and shot a whole range of his Western films around Monument Valley and did so with prolific success.

(Credit: Gerson Repreza)