Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

TripBlog
Sep 29, 2021

America is the land of drive-in movies, drive-through takeout, and drive-up service! With lots of land and spectacular scenery, the United States is a fantastic place for a good old-fashioned cross-country road trip. Seldom has there been a better time to enjoy all the sights and sounds of America from the relative safety of our cars. Here are some suggestions for the perfect road trip. This adventure planner will help you this fall to experience Road Trip USA!

Contents

How to Plan a Road Trip
1. Choose a Destination
2. Determine How Long You'll Be Gone
3. Plan Your Route
4. Plan Your Accommodations
5. Pack a Road Trip Kit
Great USA Road Trips
Southeast Coast
Desert Southwest Loop
Rocky Mountain High
New England Pastoral
Pacific Northwest
A Night Under the Stars
Great Lakes Splendor
Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

How to Plan a Road Trip

Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

There are a few basic things to consider when planning your road trip adventure.

1. Choose a Destination

Are you setting out with a place in mind or just looking to log some miles? Is your goal to visit a particular city, attraction, or National Park? Deciding where to go is the first step in planning your road trip and. Once you have this figured out, you can start to figure out what you'll need.

2. Determine How Long You'll Be Gone

Is this a long vacation or just a weekend adventure? Do you need to get return quickly or can you afford to take it slow? Don't overestimate how much time you can spend behind the wheel. Driving is fun, but it can also be tiring. Give yourself room to enjoy where you're going and consider whether you want to make some stops along the way.

3. Plan Your Route

America is stitched together by a vast network of interstate highways. The interstate is likely the quickest way from Point A to Point B; but that might not be what you’re trying to do on your road trip. Seeing the countryside buzz by at 75mph is fine as far as it goes; but much better might be exploring the smaller roads off the major highways. Look for alternatives to interstates depending on your destination and schedule for a more relaxing and adventurous road trip experience.

4. Plan Your Accommodations

Unless you're setting out in a modified van or RV, you'll need to plan some places to stay. Book accommodations based on your route and a rough estimate for the distance you want to cover in a single day. If you want to visit smaller towns and avoid big cities, you should have some idea where you plan to stop and rest before setting out.

5. Pack a Road Trip Kit

Make sure you have an assortment of snacks and other goodies to keep yourself sustained. Pack foods that are easy to consume while driving. This means various dry snacks like mixed nuts, chips, and sweets that you can easily pop in your mouth without having to take your hands off the wheel for long. You should also pack an emergency kit in case you run into trouble along the way. These are easy to find online or make yourself. Always have a set of jumper cables, flairs or reflective triangles, blankets and ice scrapers, and of course don't forget battery packs and your device chargers.

Great USA Road Trips

Southeast Coast

Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

Myrtle Beach – Charleston – Savannah – Jacksonville – Daytona Beach – Cape Canaveral

Starting in Myrtle Beach, there’s a great little road trip down the coast to Daytona Beach or Cape Canaveral. Enjoy some fun in the sun in Myrtle Beach before heading south on US-17 towards Charleston. Tour the classic antebellum city where you can see Fort Sumter National Monument and the Battery Point Gardens. Afterwards continue south to lovely Savannah. Walk the cobblestones on River Street and visit Forsyth Park with its charming fountain. A short walk will bring you to the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist. Departing Savannah, hop on I-95 to Jacksonville or stay on US-17 to arrive at a more leisurely pace. You can opt to hug the Atlantic coast, bypassing central Jacksonville. Make for Jacksonville Beach and work your way south on Florida State Road A1A. St. Augustine claims to be the "oldest city in the US" and the Spanish Colonial architecture is well worth the visit. Continue on the A1A down to Daytona Beach and further to Cape Canaveral. Explore the Space Coast and take the tour at NASA. Time it right and you might catch a rocket launch. The Southeast Coast is a great way to cap a lovely 3-day driving tour.

Desert Southwest Loop

Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

Albuquerque – Petrified Forest National Park – Flagstaff – Grand Canyon National Park – Lake Mead – Las Vegas – Zion National Park – Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – Glen Canyon

Starting in either Albuquerque or Las Vegas, you can piece together a fantastic loop by combining I-40, I-15, and several branch highways. Start out heading west from Albuquerque with the top down along historic two-lane Route 66. Make a stop at Petrified Forest National Park on your way to Flagstaff. Turn north and venture to Grand Canyon National Park. Alternatively, stay on I-40 / Route 66 and visit the western Grand Canyon with its famous skywalk on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. A short drive from there will take you to Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Traveling northwest on I-15 out of Las Vegas will take you to Zion National Park. Piggyback on Utah State Route 9 to reach US-89 and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. US-89 will also take you to Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. These are arguably some of the best scenic and recreation areas anywhere in the world. The Desert Southwest Loop has all the stuff for a great road trip.

Rocky Mountain High

Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

Denver – Leadville – Aspen – Maroon Bells – Carbondale – Curecanti National Recreation Area – Pueblo – Colorado Springs

Start in Denver and use I-70 to reach the Rocky Mountains where you can visit the famed resort towns of Aspen, Crested Butte, Breckenridge, and Vail. One option is to turn south on Colorado State Highway 91 at Copper Mountain and make for Leadville. Home of the popular Leadville Race Series, featuring grueling trail running and mountain biking, this is an outdoor paradise. You can use US-24 to go south out of Leadville and turn west on Colorado State Highway 82 to Aspen. From Aspen, take the short trip over to see the famed Maroon Bells. Work your way back to State Highway 82 and continue on to Carbondale where you can turn south on State Highway 133. Pick up State Highway 92 and make for the Curecanti National Recreation Area. This beautiful and less-traveled place is a great road trip destination. On the return, US-50 will get you to Pueblo and you can then turn north on I-25 towards Colorado Springs and Denver. Rocky Mountain Majesty!

New England Pastoral

Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

New York City – Gold Coast – New Haven – Mystic – Providence – Boston – Acadia National Park – Bangor – Mount Washington – Burlington – Lake Champlain

New England offers several bites at the apple so to speak. A southern route lets you start from New York City. Make your way on I-95 into Connecticut. Tour the Gold Coast on US Highway 1 through Greenwich and Stamford. Stop in New Haven and wander around Yale. The Beinecke Rare Book Library is worth a visit. Stay on Highway 1 to Mystic for some pizza. Cool off with a swim at Misquamicut State Beach or Narragansett. Finally head north up to Providence and Boston. An alternative route is to start in Boston and either work your way along the coast on Highway 1 to Acadia National Park near Bangor, or track northwest into New Hampshire and Vermont. White Mountain National Forest and Mount Washington are amazingly scenic. In Vermont, work up near Middlebury and hike the Camel’s Hump on the way to Burlington and gorgeous Lake Champlain. The rustic towns along the way offer fantastic dining, antiquing, or general recreation. This is a fantastic fall tour when the colors burst across the hillsides.

Pacific Northwest

Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

Seattle – Portland – Salem – Albany – Eugene

Start in Seattle and explore the areas around Puget Sound. Head south on I-5 to Olympia. Get on US Highway 101 and use that to circumnavigate and explore Olympic National Park. Once you turn south, look forward to crossing the Columbia River and heading into Oregon. If you want a strictly coastal adventure stay on US-101, or instead take US-26 into Portland. Either option is great so it just depends on whether you want to remain rustic or go in for the crunchy. Should you opt for Portland, use the I-5 to continue south to Salem, Albany, and Eugene. In Eugene, you can take Oregon State Road 126 through the Willamette National Forest. Several lovely mountain lakes are in the area including Blue River Lake, Clear Lake, or Detroit Lake, which is further north off Oregon State Road 22. This entire circuit will wrap you around to Salem; from there you can turn north back to Washington State. If you elected to stay along the coast on US-101, Oregon State Road 126 is a good place to turn off and head back to Eugene. This is a solid 3-4 day tour with excellent opportunities for camping.

A Night Under the Stars

Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

Salt Lake City – Central Pennsylvania – Southern California

One drawback to city life is never having the chance to see a vivid night sky. However, there are places where the darkness permits a full tapestry of stars to shine overhead. One such place is Antelope Island State Park, found just outside Salt Lake City. Set on the Great Salt Lake, it is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park so the views here are spectacular. You will see distant Salt Lake City glowing on the horizon, so it’s not the darkest of dark sky parks, but it’s easy to reach by car and a great short road trip. For those living in the Eastern United States, Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park in north central Pennsylvania is prized among the amateur astronomy community. It has a dedicated astronomy observation field and several medium-sized telescope domes where you can setup your equipment if you so desire. The weather can be a bit fickle so plan ahead, but the drive through the hills is well worth it. Finally, if you’re in the Los Angeles or San Diego areas, make a trip out to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Home to a local Dark Sky Community, there is normally always something abuzz. It’s a perfect way to spend a weekend.

Great Lakes Splendor

Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

Chicago – Michigan City – Bridgman – South Haven – Saugatuck – Holland – Grand Haven – Pentwater – Traverse City – Petoskey – Mackinaw – Escanaba – Green Bay – Milwaukee

Starting in Chicago, navigate the busy I-94 corridor heading towards Michigan City. Cross the border into Michigan and consider stopping for a swim at Warren Dunes State Park near Bridgeman. Get on Michigan State Road 63 near St. Joseph and use that to hug the coast as you go north. Eventually you’ll want to get on the Blue Star Highway in order to stay close to the water. As you head north, make sure to stop in Saugatuck with its many art galleries. Holland features some nice restaurants and you’ll find another good swimming spot at Grand Haven State Park. Spend some time in Leelanau County at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Traverse City boasts dozens of activities during the summer along with some outstanding restaurants. From there you can keep heading north to the Mackinaw Bridge and cross over into the Upper Peninsula. Escanaba is a good place to stop and regroup before the big turn to the south towards Green Bay. Eventually you will find I-43 and that will get you into Milwaukee.

Great USA Road Trips: Open Spaces, Open Roads

If you’re looking for a way out of the house, the routes we profiled should offer plenty of opportunities to spread out and enjoy yourself. Bring a tent and a cooler and you can have yourself a mighty fine time. No matter where you're located, there are great road trips near you. Use this guide as inspiration to plan your own travel adventure.

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