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America is home to many stunning scenes, from mountains, to valleys, to great plains, waterfalls, canyons, lakes, rivers, and over 60 national parks. Nature is abounding and there is no better way to see it than by hitting the roads (and back roads). So what route should you take, you might ask? Here are five great American road trip ideas for some inspiration.
1.) Pacific Coast Highway
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- Location: California
- Distance: 655 miles total
- Duration: 10 hours (with no stops) to 5-10 days, all depending on how many stops you want to make and how long you want to spend at each.
Drive the 655 mile Pacific Coast highway and take in breathing views of the Pacific Ocean and the golden state’s shoreline. The Pacific Highway spans from San Francisco to San Diego, or vice versa depending on where you decide to begin.
Must Make Stops:
1-San Francisco: A great place to start your journey, drive across San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge and enter into one of California’s most well know cities. Many great attractions await you in San Francisco, from Fisherman’s Wharf to Alcatraz Island, Union Square, and the famous San Francisco tram.
2.) Santa Cruz-Visit the Santa Cruz boardwalk, the lighthouse, Pacific Avenue, Wilder Ranch State Park, and grab a bite to eat or do some shopping at the Wharf.
3.) Montery Bay-Visit the Montery Bay aquarium, the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Caramel by the Sea (sea-side village with shops and restaurants), or enjoy some water sports (kayaking, sailing, or whale watching).
4.) Big Spur-The Big spur has many great sites to stop and observe and a unique hippy/artsy feel that you can enjoy. Drive along the coast and take in views of the many beaches, view Bixby Bridge, or soak in the natural hot springs bath at the Esalen Institute.
5.) Santa Barbara-visit the Santa Barbara Zoo botanical gardens, Stearns Wharf, East Beach, or visit the Lobero or Arlington theater.
6.) Malibu-Walk along the shoreline of one of the many stunning beaches, visit the Point Dume State Beach and Preserve, visit Paradise Cove, or enjoy some water sports or paragliding.
7.) Los Angeles-visit the nation’s television industry capital, visit the Hollywood sign, take the walk of fame, visit Disneyland, or visit the Venice Boardwalk.
8.) San Diego- visit the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Seaworld San Diego, or hit the water for some whale watching, sun bathing, or cruising.
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1.) Half Moon Bay-located shortly outside of San Francisco, a great place to stop and snap a photo from the edge of the cliffs.
2.) Bixby Bridge-a 714 foot long concrete bridge along the Pacific Highway, and one of the most photographed bridges on the Pacific Coast.
3.) The 17 Mile Drive-the 17 mile drive along Big Spur is full of great photo spots (about 15 overlooks). Take some time to enjoy this area and get out of the car. Spend time time hiking along the beaches and taking in the beautiful sites.
4.) China Cove (located within Point Lobos State Natural Reserve) will offer breathtaking ocean views.
5.) Mcway Falls-an 80 ft. falls on Big Spur that you can hike to and snap gorgeous photos.
***If you wish to extend the trip you can continue on to include the Oregon and Washington Coast Lines.
2.) Historic Route 66
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- Location: Spans from Illinois to California
- Distance: 2,451 miles
- Duration: A minimum of two weeks is recommended to take in all the major sites along the road.
Perhaps one of the most well known road trips through the United States, Route 66 spans from Illinois to California and crosses through eight states. It is one of the most traditional American road trips.
1.) Chicago-why not visit one of America’s biggest cities at the start Route 66? Spend a day exploring all that Chicago has to offer, including Willis Tower, Millennium Park, and Navy Pier.
2.) Meramec Caverns in Montana-take a guided tour of the Meramec caves as well as special activities/events, such as ziplining, riverboat rides, and lantern light tours.
3.) Palo Duro Canyon State Park- a 70 mile long canyon in the state of Texas, with stunning landscapes, live music, camping, and hiking.
4.) Cadillac Ranch-Located in Texas, a series of brightly colored Cadillacs that are half buried in the desert dirt. Many continue to mark the cars today with their own graffiti art.
1.) Cloud Gate, Chicago, IL-located inside Millennium Park, Cloud Gate is a famous stainless steel sculpture.
2.) Blue Whale, Catoosa OK-a whale shaped sculpture that once served as a diving board and dock sitting over a small pond.
3.) Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas-brightly colored cadillacs that have been marked over the years by graffiti.
4.) Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, NM-retro neon sign with the classic Route 66 symbol painted on the ground.
3.) The Overseas Highway
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- Location: Florida
- Distance: 120 miles
- Duration: The drive only takes about four hours, but to fully experience all that the Overseas highway has to offer I would recommend 3-4 days.
The Overseas Highway begins in Miami and spans down to the Southern most key-Key West. The entire drive is scenic with great views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Must See Stops:
1.) Visit the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon. If you are an animal lover you can spend the day learning about dolphins and other sea mammals and if you desire swim with them as well.
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2.) The seven mile bridge-okay, if you’re driving the Overseas Highway you aren’t going to miss it, but it is something to take note of. The bridge connects Knight’s Key (in the middle keys) to Little Duck Key (in the lower keys). You will be completely surrounded by ocean while driving across the bridge.
3.) Visit the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in Key Largo. The Heritage Trail is a walk-able or bike-able trail along the bay/ocean that will give you some time to relax while taking in gorgeous views.
4.) Bahia Honda State Park-for some of the best beaches in the Keys (the Keys are not known for great beaches) visit the Bahia Honda State Park. Many of the best beaches are also located near by, so this is a great spot to stop and visit.
5.) Key West-I would recommend spending at least a couple days in Key West. Finish the drive along the Overseas Highway and visit Mallory Square and the Mile 0 Marker.
1.) The Duration of the Seven Mile Bridge-there will be plenty of great photo opportunities along the Seven Mile Bridge as you enjoy this unique experience.
2.) Mile 0 Marker-find the mile 0 marker located in Mallory Square for a great selfie opportunity.
3.) Key West Lighthouse-photograph the lighthouse itself or climb to the top for some great views of the island.
4.) Catch a sunset at Mallory Square-Mallory Square is home to some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Join others in capturing its beauty.
4.) Skyline Drive
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- Location: Virginia
- Distance: 105 miles
- Duration: The drive can be completed in 3-4 hours, but this is without making any stops. To fully experience the area and all it has to offer a minimum of 2-3 days is recommended.
Skyline Drive runs the length of Shenandoah National Park located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. If you are a nature lover, Skyline Drive is the perfect road trip for you. The drive though is leisurely one with the max speed limit being 35 mph. You can enter the park at one of four entrances. Note there is a $25 per vehicle fee to enter. Along the 105 mile long drive there are over 75 overlook spots for you to stop and observe the dazzling landscapes.
1.) Luray Caverns or Shenandoah National Park-Go underground and tour one of the many caves located along the drive. The park features some of the largest cave systems in the eastern US.
2.) Hike an Appalachian Mountain Trail-okay, while this is not a exact location per se, it is a must do along Skyline Drive. Get out of your car and hike up one of the many trails/mountains to the summits, where you will find spectacular 360 views.
3.) Big Meadows-an area of the Shenandoah National Park that is wide open and a common spot to find plenty of wildlife-including butterflies, birds, black bears, and deer.
4.) Hike to a waterfall. Shenandoah National Park is full of water falls. Your trip would not be complete without stopping to get up close to one. Visit one of the many, such as Overall Run Falls, Dark Hollow Falls Trail, South River Falls, and many more.
***Tip: Enter the park with a full tank of gas as there is only one gas station located inside the park (and the price isn’t to pretty).
Skyline Drive is home to over 75 overlooks, and therefor many, many photo opportunities. However, some to take note of include:
1.) Tunnel Parking Overlook-provides a great open view of Shenandoah National Park and a great place to catch the sunrise.
2.) Hazel Mountain Overlook-features unique, large rocks at the overlook that will add to your photo or will provide you with a stepping stone to get better views of the park.
3.) The Point Overlook-a rocky overlook area that will provide you with great sunset views.
4.) Hawksbill Trail-the highest point in the park that will give you great 360 views and photo opportunities of the park.
5.) The High Road to Taos
- Location: New Mexico
- Distance: 56 Miles
- Duration: The drive can be completed in approximately 3 hours, but again if you want to take in everything the route has to offer 1-2 days is recommended.
The High Road to Taos spans from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Taos. Although the drive you will see mountains, desserts, forests, small towns, and Pueblo villages. It outlines the rich Spanish history and ancient Indian Pueblos.
Must See Spots:
1.) Tewa Pueblo-a national historic landmark with a garden, vineyard, and a recreational area featuring Nambe Falls.
2.) Chimayo- Visit the tiny church El Santuario de Chimayo that is believed to have healing earth (a small dirt well) where thousands of pilgrims travel to every year.
3.) Picuris Pueblo-known for its mica-infused pottery, ancient adobe church, and if visiting in the summer time you won’t want to miss their High Country Arts and Crafts Fair.
4.) Carson National Forest-enjoy some time taking in the Sangre de Cristo mountains ad get back to the basics with nature.
5.) Visit the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church-a historical church located in Taos, a national historic landmark, and a representation of Spanish culture in New Mexico.
1.) El Santuario de Chimayo-an ancient church that is believed to have healing earth makes for a great photo opportunity.
2.) San Francisco de Asis church-capture the unique architecture of the historic Spanish church.
3.) Taos Pueblo-abode buildings that are over 800 years old. Capture the architecture of the Pueblo.
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What is your favorite route for an American Road Trip? I would love to hear about your great experiences. Please free feel to comment below.