Quite simply, there’s never been a better time for a summer road trip in the United States. It’s time to hit the road, Jack…and Jill!
While there are dozens of widely varied possibilities across the country, here are eight great U.S.A. road trips for this summer, plus four more “extra credit” road trip possibilities.
U.S. Route 1: Running from Fort Kent, Maine, at the Canadian border, to Key West, Florida, U.S. Route 1 runs 2,369 miles, making it the longest north-to-south road in the nation. Picture-perfect monuments await road trippers at both ends. The road generally parallels I-95 most of the time though it’s much further east of I-95 between Petersburg, Virginia, and Jacksonville, Florida. I-95 replaced Route 1 as the main north-south corridor starting in the late-1960s, so Route 1 provides a great alternative for road trippers who aren’t in a hurry. It passes through major cities, small towns, and lots of Americana and countryside. Moon’s e-book, Road Trip USA: Atlantic Coast,
is a great resource.
Blue Ridge Parkway: Perhaps unlike any other road in the world, the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina offers one of the ultimate fall foliage road trips for RVers of all experience levels. It meets all of the prerequisites in resounding fashion: only two lanes of traffic; historical interest; friendly and interesting people; great scenery and fall colors; and many places to stop for the night. Since its inception, the Blue Ridge Parkway has been called “America’s Favorite Drive.” It was authorized in the 1930s as a Depression-era public works project, but was a half-century in the making. When completed, it was the nation’s first – and ultimately the longest – rural parkway. It connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia (at the equally pretty 105-mile Skyline Drive, see “Extra Credit”) with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. The total distance is 469 miles, making it an ideal four- or five-day trip in an RV (though it’s appealing to take longer and many RVers do just that come fall). Moon’s book, Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip, is a great resource.
Overseas Highway: There simply may be no better water-focused road trip in the United States than the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys. As the southernmost leg of U.S. Route 1 that’s often appropriately called the “Highway that Goes to Sea,” the Overseas Highway remains a modern travel wonder and one of America’s classic drives. The magic carpet ride cum highway follows a trail originally blazed in 1912 when railroad baron Henry Flagler completed the extension of his Florida East Coast Railroad from Miami to Key West. The Overseas Highway represents a remarkable engineering feat: 113 miles of roadway and 42 bridges leapfrogging across the water from key to key in a series of giant arches of concrete and steel. The Atlantic Ocean lies on one side of the highway, with Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on the other – providing road trippers with breathtaking vistas of open sea and sky. Moon Florida Keys will be very helpful along the way.
GATOR Trail: GATOR, the Gulf Alliance of Tourism Organization Representatives, is a brand-new partnership aimed at introducing road trippers to the unique culture of the Gulf Coast regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. This classic southern road trip encompasses eight distinctive destinations in three states that are linked by one body of water, thousands of fabulous recipes, millions of residents who make guests feel right at home, and countless extraordinary experiences. From east to west, highlights of the GATOR Trail include Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Mobile, Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, Slidell, Mandeville, Covington, Metarie, Thibodaux, Houma, Lake Charles, and much more. GATOR road trippers could make the drive in about six hours, but there’s so much to see and do (and eat) that it will likely take several days or even longer. Many RVers can now enjoy the GATOR Trail when they’re heading to the Southeast from the Southwest and beyond.
Americana Music Triangle: Music fans across the country have a one-stop shopping resource to easily research and explore the more than 1,500 miles of Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas highways and backroads that make up the Americana Music Triangle. This massive preservation, informational, and premier road trip planning project brings to life nine uniquely American genres of music in the South. With more than 30 communities linked along the “Gold Record Road,” music-minded road warriors can explore blues, jazz, country, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and soul, gospel, Cajun/zydeco, bluegrass and more. From Elvis Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo and his over-the-top Graceland in Memphis to the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, the honkytonks of Broadway in Nashville, and the history of the legendary Muscle Shoals sound at FAME Recording Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, there’s something for everyone. Designed to be completed in about three weeks if pursued in one trip, but easily broken down into smaller outings, the American Music Triangle is divided into five general segments that basically complete a clockwise loop between New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, and back. The sections are: New Orleans to Natchez; Vicksburg to Memphis; Memphis to Nashville; Nashville to Muscle Shoals; and Tupelo to New Orleans. Those with even more time in this area can also enjoy The Great River Road, which connects Louisiana and Minnesota along the mighty Mississippi River. Moon Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip is a great resource for both epic road trips.
Route 66: Memorialized in song, television, and more, hitting the road on Route 66 is on the bucket list of many trailblazers. Originally running almost 2,500 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California, Route 66 was – and remains – an American icon. From the Great Lakes to the grand Pacific Ocean, Route 66 is still very much alive and kicking at many stops along the way. One of America’s original highways, Route 66 was established by the U.S. Highway System on November 11, 1926, with signage marking the evolving road sprouting in 1927. Route 66 evolved out of several earlier trails and roads, including a government-funded wagon road from the mid-1800s that followed the 35th Parallel, the Postal Highway, the Ozark Trails system, the National Old Trails Road, the Lone Star Route, and other early passages westward ho. The catchy name “Route 66” was first proposed in Springfield, Illinois, and the city still proudly features many original sections. Of course, many commercial establishments targeting and serving travelers opened along Route 66 during the late-1920s and through World War II and beyond. They ranged from accommodations and dining options to service stations, gift shops, wide-ranging attractions, and more. Though a majority have since closed, many now-classic places remain open on various sections of still-open Route 66. Lonely Planet and Moon both have great Route 66 guidebooks.
The Loneliest Road: Like Route 66, U.S. Highway 1, and many other long-distance drives, the coast-to-coast drive from San Francisco to Ocean City, Maryland, on U.S. Highway 50, provides a classic road trip of about 3,200 miles. Of course, it’s easy to plan shorter road trip segments anywhere in the country along this route. The name originates from the long stretches of desolate landscapes along the route – especially in Nevada, where the moniker evidently originated. Moon’s excellent book, The Loneliest Road Road Trip, says don’t-miss highlights on this classic road include South Lake Tahoe, California, The Million Dollar Highway (stunning scenery on U.S. Highway 550 spur road off U.S. 50), and Dodge City, Kansas. Those with time should consider combining The Loneliest Road with Route 66 in the St. Louis area and beyond, or connecting with U.S. Highway 1 on the east coast.
Pacific Coast Highway: The Pacific Coast Highway is simply one of the roads every American should drive at least once. Running from the rugged coastline of northwest Washington State near Seattle down through Oregon and California to San Diego, the PCH is perfect for varied segments or the entire drive of about 1,650 miles. Running around 300 miles to the Oregon state line, the aptly-named Evergreen State’s portion of Pacific Coast Highway is generally assumed to start in Port Townsend, overlooking Puget Sound. However, many PCH adventurers start their drive in Seattle and head straight to the coast in Aberdeen for incredible Washington State coastal road tripping. Next, running for more than 350 miles along the rugged Oregon coast from Astoria to Brookings, the Beaver State’s stretch of PCH features a bevy of protected areas hugging the cold Pacific Ocean, where fresh seafood is found for all to enjoy. Finally, the Golden State features about a thousand miles of PCH pleasures and it gets started with a bang almost as soon as drivers cross the state line. This is classic northern California coastal nature at its best. Whether you choose a section or all three states, be sure to take Moon’s book, Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip.