Best Scenic Road Trips in the US
A road trip is a great way to travel and see more of an area with more flexibility. Many nature destinations in the US including national parks aren’t located near a major airport, so a road trip is the best way to visit them. One of the best parts of a road trip is that you can pack more since you have a full car to fill up. After living in all four corners of the United States and taking many road trips, these are the best scenic road trips in the US for an incredible adventure.
Now is the perfect time to explore more of the US by doing a road trip given the Pandemic. It offers a safer alternative to flying and allows you to see more off the beaten path destinations where there may be less people and it is easier to social distance. Start planning your next road trip with our article: tips for planning a trip during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Southwest Road Trip
Estimated Driving Time: 22 hours
Estimated Driving Distance: 1288 miles
Route Start – End: Las Vegas Airport – Phoenix Airport (if flying in) OR Zion National Park- Sedona (if not flying in)
Duration: 10 days
The Southwest is a unique part of the United States, full of breathtaking natural wonders. The best way to explore this part of the United States is to do a road trip, since many of the top destinations are far from an airport. I curated a 10 Day American Southwest Road Trip Itinerary that guides you through the best way to see the highlights of the Southwest United States in just 10 days. For more of the best destinations in the Southwest, check out our article detailing the Top 16 Destinations in the Southwest.
This 10 Day American Southwest Road Trip Itinerary takes you to 5 incredible national parks, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Sedona. Spend time hiking two iconic hikes in Zion National Park: Angels Landing and The Narrows. Walk between the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park and enjoy amazing views. Witness natural arches in Arches National Park, which has over 2,000 documented arches. Hike down into the Grand Canyon to take in how large and deep the canyon is. This Southwest Road Trip is one of the best scenic road trips in the U.S with a range of incredible desert and rock landscapes.
When to Go
The temperature in the Southwest varies widely depending on the elevation. I recommend doing a road trip in the Southwest during the spring or fall, when it isn’t too hot or too cold. Many of the destinations on this United States Southwest road trip like Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, and Sedona can get up to 100 degrees in the summer, which is too hot for hiking and enjoying the nature. Some of the destinations can get snow in the winter like Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park which could be pretty but could also affect the driving conditions and lead to road closures.
Big Sur Road Trip
Estimated Driving Time (from first to last top): 1.5 hours
Estimated Driving Distance (from first to last stop): 56 miles
Route Start – End: Point Lobos – Sand Dollar Beach
Duration: 2 days
Big Sur, California has the most incredible coastline with redwoods, bright blue water, large cliffs, and waterfalls. A weekend road trip in Big Sur offers the perfect getaway to relax, hike, and explore. Big Sur is made up of several state parks and state natural reserves including Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Limekiln State Park, and more. Start planning your weekend in Big Sur with our Big Sur weekend road trip itinerary.
I recommend splitting Big Sur up into two days, since there is so much to see and do. This Big Sur Weekend Road Trip Itinerary walks you through the best things to do in Big Sur from north to south. Whatever you do not complete during the first day you can continue to see on your second day in Big Sur. This way you aren’t rushed for time and can spend more time in the places that you enjoy the most during this top scenic road trip in the US Below are some of the best places to see on this road trip.
- Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- Bixby Bridge
- Pfeiffer beach
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- McWay Falls
- Big Creek Cove Vista Point
- Limekiln State Park
- Sand Dollar Beach
When to Go
The best weather in Big Sur is late spring through early fall. In the summer Big Sur gets very busy. Therefore, I recommend doing your Big Sur Road Trip in April through early June or September through October.
Where to Stay Near Big Sur
If you are looking to stay in Big Sur, two great options are Big Sur Lodge and Big Sur River Inn. If you would like to save money and don’t mind staying a little further away, you can find accommodations in Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey by searching on booking.com. Carmel-by-the-Sea is about 10 minutes away from the north part of Big Sur, and Monterey is about 20 minutes away. You can also book guesthouses and rooms in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey on Airbnb.
New England Road Trip
Estimated Driving Time: 11 hours 40 minutes
Estimated Driving Distance: 650 miles
Route Start – End: Boston, MA – Burlington, VT
Duration: 8 days
New England is the northeastern part of the US composed of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This area of the United States has an interesting history, beautiful mountains, and unique coastline. This road trip doesn’t go to every state in New England, but you could always add more days and add Connecticut and Rhode Island to your itinerary.
New England offers one of the best scenic road trips in the US for a mix of history, culture, ocean views, fall foliage, lakes, and more. Start your road trip in Boston where you can explore the history of the city, walk along the harbor, shop on Newbury St, and more. Next continue to Concord, a town west of Boston known for its history and nature. Drive to Portland, Maine where you can explore the waterfront city. From there, drive to Acadia National Park, the only national park in New England. In New Hampshire visit Franconia Notch State Park, a perfect spot for hiking and enjoying the fall foliage. End your road trip in the quirky city of Burlington, Vermont where you can relax next to Lake Champlain. This is a quick road trip in the northeast and there is so much more to explore! If you have more time I recommend adding more days to your itinerary to explore the area further.
When to Go
The northeast is beautiful throughout the year, but I recommend doing this itinerary in the spring, summer, or fall when it is not as cold. In the winter the northeast can get a lot of snow and sometimes gets blizzards but it can be very pretty with the snow. In choosing between the other three season, it depends on what you are looking to do and see. If you are looking for beautiful fall foliage, then fall would be the ideal time to visit. The fall foliage here is breathtaking and a lot more colorful than most of the US so it is definitely the most special time to visit. In the fall this road trip will be the most scenic. If you would like to enjoy your time exploring the unique beaches in the northeast, then summer would be a better time for a New England road trip.
California National Parks Road Trip
Estimated Driving Time: 16.5 hours (not including time driving inside parks)
Estimated Driving Distance: 900 miles (not including miles driven inside parks)
Route Start – End: Ventura (Channel Islands National Park) – Yosemite National Park
Duration: 1 week
California has 9 incredible national parks. This itinerary includes only 6 of the national parks, but you can always add Pinnacles, Lassen Volcanic, and Redwoods if you have more time and adjust this itinerary based on how much time you have.
When to Go
The best time for this road trip is late spring or early fall when the weather is nice across the national parks. Death Valley National Park has the most drastically different weather and is very hot in the summer. If you decide to do this road trip during the summer, I would skip Death Valley as it could be 110-120 degrees. In the winter, Yosemite and Sequoia can get very cold and have snow which would make it difficult to hike.
Where to Stay
There are many accommodation options near these national parks. One option is to camp, but make sure to reserve your camp site far in advance. Another option is to book a hotel nearby with booking.com. There are also many Airbnbs near the parks, where you can find a private room, suite, or an entire house.
Southern California Road Trip
Estimated Driving Time: 6.5 hours
Estimated Driving Distance: 370 miles
Route Start – End: San Diego – Malibu
Duration: 1 week
This Southern California Road Trip is one of the best scenic road trips in the US, with ocean, desert, and vineyard views. This road trip allows you to enjoy the coast while also visiting the desert, seeing a national park, and enjoying wine tasting in beautiful vineyards. Start the trip in San Diego where you can explore Little Italy, Balboa Park, and the Gaslamp Quarter. Spend your second day relaxing on one of the many beaches in San Diego such as Torrey Pines, La Jolla, and Coronado Beach. Next, drive to Temecula, a beautiful wine region in southern California where you can spend the day wine tasting.
Continue your adventure in Joshua Tree National Park where you can hike, rock climb, and relax in the Mojave Desert surrounded by Joshua Trees. End your trip with relaxing beach days in Orange County and Malibu. In Orange County you can find many beautiful beaches including Thousand Steps Beach, Crystal Cove State Beach, Corona Del Mar, and Newport Beach. The next day, drive the scenic Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu for incredible road trip views. Start with brunch at Malibu Farm Pier Cafe, and then head over to one of the breathtaking beaches in Malibu such as El Matador Beach and Point Dume Beach.
When to Go
The best time for this scenic road trip is late spring and early fall. Temecula and Joshua Tree National Park can both get very hot in the summer, with temperatures in the 100s. Therefore, I recommend doing this top US road trip before it gets too hot or once it starts to cool down, while still being able to get some nice beach days in.
Southeast Road Trip
Estimated Driving Time: 14 hours 20 minutes
Estimated Driving Distance: 890 miles
Route Start – End: Nashville – Charleston
Duration: 1 week
The southeast offers one of the best road trips in the US if you are looking for beautiful nature, exciting cities, and southern food and culture. This one week southeast road trip offers a condensed itinerary allocating one day in each location. You can easily spend more time in each of these destinations if you have more time to allocate to this road trip. Start your trip in Nashville, a music city with lots of great restaurants and bars. Next, drive to Chattanooga which is a small city known for Ruby Falls. On your third day visit Atlanta where you can explore the city walking along the Beltline from Piedmont Park to Krog Street Market. From Atlanta make the scenic drive up to Asheville where you can visit the Biltmore Estate, explore the downtown, and take a nice hike in the mountains. This road trip would not be complete without visiting Savannah, a historic city near the coast of Georgia. Here you can walk around Savannah Historic District where you can find beautiful houses, Forsyth Park, River Street, and nice historic buildings. Right near Savannah you can find Hilton Head Island where you can walk along the beautiful long stretch of beach and relax. Finish your southeast road trip in Charleston, a cute coastal city with southern charm and colorful houses.
- Hilton Head Island
When to Go
I recommend doing this road trip during the spring or fall, when the weather is the nicest in the south. It can get very hot and humid during the summer in the south, and the winter can get chilly. The prettiest time for this road trip is in the fall where you can enjoy the fall foliage.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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