17 Best Road Trips in the U.S. to Take in 2021

Whether you’re looking for sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean or a multiday adventure through national parks, these road trips provide plenty of opportunities for every kind of traveler to explore the United States.

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In a country as large as the United States, there is no shortage of destinations and detours to explore by car. Whether your idea of the perfect American road trip entails an epic, cross-country journey on Route 66 or a shorter jaunt through a few of its most iconic national parks, the road trip options are as large and varied as the country itself.

This, of course, is good news for those who don’t feel comfortable traveling abroad or by plane just yet. With the coronavirus still present, road trips are a good socially distanced trip option—though you’ll still want to make sure you pack plenty of face masks, adhere to considerate travel etiquette, and check local parks and attractions for opening times, restrictions, and guidelines.

From coastal drives to history-filled routes, these U.S. road trips allow you to enjoy the detours as much as the final destination. Whether you’re traveling by van, RV, motorcycle, or four-door sedan, these are 17 of the best road trips in the United States to consider.

Cross-country road trips in the U.S.

There are many ways to do a cross-country road trip in the U.S., but these two itineraries will take you through some truly iconic American places.

1. Bangor, Maine, to Seattle, Washington: The Great Northern on U.S. Route 2

Missing out on the vast diversity and expansiveness of U.S. 2 would be a shame. This drive runs the entire top border of the United States and showcases otherworldly natural wonders like the Columbia Plateau and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. You’ll also get to explore Glacier National Park (reservations required) toward the end of the cross-country trip. 

Depending on your timing, you may not be able to drive the Canadian portion of this route. While Americans have been largely banned from nonessential travel into Canada throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has announced fully vaccinated Americans may be able to enter the country as early as August 9.

2. Chicago to Los Angeles: A Whiskey Road Trip on Route 66

It doesn’t get more American than a 2,000-mile road trip along the entirety of Route 66. And to take your cross-country road trip to the next level, we recommend exploring another American pastime—whiskey.

Starting in Chicago and ending in L.A., you’ll stop by some of the leading craft distilleries in the United States, like Few Spirits in Chicago, Still 630 in St. Louis, and Red Fork Distillery in Tulsa. Just remember to drink responsibly—this is a road trip after all.

Plan your trip

The full itinerary: Put a New Twist on Route 66—Make It an American Whiskey Road Trip

Shorter road trips throughout the U.S.

Not all of us have the time to drive cross-country. Fortunately there are plenty of amazing, shorter road trips (ranging from three days to a week or longer) throughout the United States: classic California itineraries, New England routes that shine especially well in the fall, scenic East Coast adventures, and a variety of Midwest journeys for folks further from the coasts.

Morro Bay, about 45 minutes south of Hearst Castle, is yet another scenic place to stop along the California coast.

3. Dana Point to San Francisco: Driving California’s Pacific Coast Highway

The seemingly endless views of the Pacific Ocean along Highway 1 are what road trip dreams are made of, and exactly what makes this California road trip so popular. However, with so many stops along the 655-mile stretch, we pulled together a list of the ones well worth pulling over to view. Don’t miss the perfect surfing waves at Pismo Beach, seasonal cuisine in Malibu, or a night in Big Sur as you drive between Dana Point (just south of Los Angeles) and San Francisco. 

Plan your trip

The full itinerary: The Best Stops for a Road Trip on the Pacific Coast Highway

The AFAR Guide to San Francisco

4. Big Sur to Mono County: A Literary Road Trip Through Northern California

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Yes, this itinerary requires you actually put down your book to drive, but seeing some of the pivotal places that shaped American authors will be so worth it. Follow in the footsteps of writers like Jack Kerouac, Maya Angelou, and Amy Tan on this road trip that takes you through literary landmarks in Northern California, such as Caffe Trieste, a meeting place for Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts, and other bohemian writers and thinkers. This 12-stop itinerary is perfect if you live in the Bay Area because you’ll be able to stay relatively close to home.

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The full itinerary: The California Road Trip All Book Lovers Should Take

5. Phoenix to the Grand Canyon: The Ideal Arizona Road Trip

This 240-mile Arizona road trip takes travelers along some of the state’s most iconic highlights, including its most famous one, the Grand Canyon. A great itinerary for first-time visitors and returning travelers alike, it offers plenty of opportunities for scenery, hiking, and biking—as well as tasty food along the way. Hike the 2,704-foot-tall Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale or take in the beautiful red rocks of Sedona on a hike to Cathedral Rock while exploring the Grand Canyon State.

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6. Zion National Park to Grand Canyon National Park: A Southwest Parks Road Trip

If you’re looking to hit as many national parks as possible in one road trip, this southwestern itinerary is for you. This journey through Utah and Arizona lets you hike Angel’s Landing in Zion (reservations required), feel tiny under Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, and, of course, raft down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Most visitors to the Grand Canyon remain on the rim, but we recommend staying at least four days to venture within the canyon and take advantage of the trails and river rafting.

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7. San Juan Scenic Skyway Road Trip: An Adventure Through Southwestern Colorado

This Colorado trip takes you along the 232-mile loop of the San Juan Scenic Skyway, where you will see plenty of alpine forests, mining towns, and craggy peaks. And for anyone looking to enjoy refreshments after a long day of driving, this route features many opportunities to stop at some of the best breweries in Colorado, such as Ska Brewing Co. in Durango.

Plan your trip

The full itinerary: The Ultimate Southwestern Colorado Road Trip

8. Denver to Montrose: A 420-Mile Road Trip Through Colorado

Want to explore even more of the Centennial State? Head out on this weeklong road trip where you can fish for salmon in Colorado’s largest reservoir, visit numerous small towns, like Paonia and Crawford, with thriving art scenes along the Colorado Creative Corridor, and explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, one of the least visited national parks in the nation.

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9. Portland to Astoria: An Oregon Coast Road Trip for Outdoor Lovers

If you love the outdoors, then this six-day road trip along the coast of Oregon is for you. After driving to Coos Bay from Portland, travelers will meander along Oregon’s dramatic, rocky coastline, discovering geological features, evergreen forests, seaside dunes, and marine ecosystems along the way. Between stops, there are ample opportunities to stretch your legs hiking, kayaking, or strolling around the region’s small towns—like the historic old town in Florence. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Oregon road trip without a stop (or three) at a craft brewery, such as Fort George Brewery in Astoria, or cozy coffee shop, like Bread & Roses in Yachats.

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The State Capitol Building in Nashville marks the end of this road (trip).

10. Seneca Falls, New York, to Nashville, Tennessee: Follow the Path of the Women’s Suffrage Movement

Starting in New York’s Finger Lakes region and ending at the State Capitol Building in Nashville, this road trip traces the route of the national women’s suffrage movement. Highlights include stops at the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House; Union Square in New York City, which was the site of the first suffrage march; and the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C.

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11. Charlottesville to Asheville: A Scenic Road Trip Through Virginia and North Carolina

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The Blue Ridge Parkway curves along and within the Blue Ridge Mountains, so you’ll have to take this five-day road trip at a slower pace, which is perfect for admiring the dramatic outlooks and green plateaus. This eclectic itinerary features stops at an art museum, a dairy farm, and plenty of hiking trails.

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12. Albuquerque to Las Cruces: Discover New Mexico on This Three-Day Road Trip

This route steers you away from New Mexican tourist hot spots like Taos and Santa Fe and instead takes you on a three-day adventure with places that teach you about Pueblo history. You’ll stop at Indian Pueblo Kitchen (formerly known as Pueblo Harvest), a restaurant inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center that features indiginous cuisine, pick up peppers at Three Brothers in Hatch, and spend the night in historic Josefina’s Old Gate.

Plan your trip

The full itinerary: This New Mexico Road Trip Is the Perfect Introduction to the Land of Enchantment

13. A Five-Day Scenic Road Trip Through Texas Hill Country

This Texas road trip starts and ends in San Antonio with stops in small towns like Bandera, Boerne, and Sabinal. Over five days, you’ll meander through Uvalde and Bandera Counties and find opportunities to stroll in a Japanese tea garden in San Antonio, relax along the Sabinal and Frio Rivers by inner tube, and eat as many tacos as you want. Seriously: You could eat tacos for every meal on this road trip and still not get tired of them.

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The full itinerary: Tree Houses, Tubing, and Tacos: The Ultimate Texas Hill Country Road Trip

14. A Weeklong Road Trip Through Alaska’s Most Majestic Sights

The last frontier is waiting to be explored on this weeklong drive that starts and ends in Anchorage. You travel along four scenic byways; explore Wrangell–St. Elias wilderness, the largest U.S. national park; and enjoy the surprisingly stellar food scene of McCarthy, a one-road town with only 27 residents.

Good news: Vaccinated U.S. travelers no longer need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine to travel to Alaska.

Plan your trip

The full itinerary: Glaciers, Mountain Peaks, and Organic Farms: The Ultimate Alaska Road Trip

15. Boise to Sun Valley: Explore Idaho’s Scenic Byways

Even a short road trip can be packed with adventure, good food, and scenery, which is exactly what this trip from Boise to Sun Valley along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway offers. Although the drive only takes six hours, we recommend taking a few days to explore all the stops and detours along the way. One can’t-miss spot is the Kirkham Hot Springs, where you can stand under a waterfall that’ll splash you with 135-degree mineral water year-round.

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16. Duluth to Grand Portage State Park: A Scenic Minnesota Sampler

Although there are many appealing road trips throughout the Midwest, this 143-mile, three-hour circuit, which starts and ends in Duluth, is worth keeping in mind. Meandering north on MN-61 with this itinerary, you will enjoy prime views of Lake Superior and charming towns, like Grand Marais, and Grand Portage State Park, home to waterfalls, hiking trails, and opportunities to learn about the Ojibwe community who occupy the land today. Once back in Duluth, enjoy a beer at Canal Park Brewing Company before checking into the waterfront Canal Park Lodge nearby.

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17. Kancamagus Highway: A Quintessential New England Fall Foliage Drive

Yes, you can take a road trip in New England at any time of the year, but this region shows off its best colors in the fall, when locals and tourists alike head out into the country to view the changing colors of the trees. Join the leaf-peepers on this popular, 56-mile road trip along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway, colloquially known as the “Kanc,” for picturesque ponds, hiking trails, and scenic overlooks.

Plan your trip

Additional road trip planning resources

Picking the route for your road trip is only one part of your planning. From what snacks to pack to which podcasts to listen to, these additional resources will help you prepare for your next adventure:

This article originally appeared online in August 2020. It was updated on July 28, 2021, to include current information. Additional reporting by Jessie Beck.

>> Next: 8 Unforgettable European Road Trips

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