6 Amazing All-American Road Trips to Take This Summer

Embrace striking scenery and classic attractions on the open road.

U.S. News & World Report

6 Amazing All-American Road Trips to Take This Summer

A couple rides in a convertible.
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(Getty Images)

Discover iconic drives across the country.

Summer is fast approaching, tempting us to hit the road and check out the country's dramatic landscapes. After all, nothing inspires the same sense of excitement as the anticipation of gearing up to get out of town for an epic drive along iconic and under-the-radar routes with jaw-dropping views, quaint towns and a wealth of natural wonders around unfamiliar twists and turns. "For me, it's all about variety. I'll be on a wide, open road, then head through forests, then wind up a mountain," says Abigail Wise, news editor and social media manager at Outside, pointing out that scenic parks and small-town stops are added bonuses for a quintessential drive.

"The ingredients include cool small towns and manageable cities to stay in, uncrowded highways that pass by beautiful mountain ranges or parkland and, of course, great restaurants along the way," says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of Budget Travel. "We especially find that drives to and from national parks fit this description well, and there are many, many underrated state parks that fit the bill as well," he adds.

Regardless of how you define the perfect road trip, we've come up with six diverse routes to pique your interest. And luckily, in spite of rising demand for the summer travel season, this summer national gas prices are expected to be lower than they've been in over a decade, according to AAA. So, pack your bags, and take in the stunning views and charming locales on these iconic summer drives.
Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica.
Credit

(Getty Images)

California's Pacific Coast Highway

While California's iconic Coastal Highway 1 (also known as California State Route 1 or the PCH) is an obvious choice, it's popular for a reason, Wise says. She recalls a drive she took from San Francisco that included checking out Natural Bridges State Beach and weaving through Big Sur. "The views are insane, with gigantic waves crashing right below the cliff you're driving on," she says, adding that McWay Falls is a can't-miss spot in the Big Sur area. She also recommends checking out Elephant Seal Vista Point in San Simeon, California, "where you can see dozens of seals hanging out and sunbathing," she says. "The whole route is filled with gems like that," she adds. And though the route is thrilling, with cliffside zig-zagging (complete with steep drop-offs) along Big Sur (on Highway 1), the area's heart-stopping views, national parks and roadside stops are well worth it for those looking to commune with nature. Firpo-Cappiello agrees, highlighting the California coast, from Santa Cruz to San Simeon, as an especially beautiful route. And for those looking to take the road less traveled, "exploring the San Francisco Bay Area's 'backroads' in the East Bay, Central Valley and Peninsula (San Jose, Palo Alto) is incredibly rewarding," he adds.
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Discover iconic drives across the country.

Summer is fast approaching, tempting us to hit the road and check out the country's dramatic landscapes. After all, nothing inspires the same sense of excitement as the anticipation of gearing up to get out of town for an epic drive along iconic and under-the-radar routes with jaw-dropping views, quaint towns and a wealth of natural wonders around unfamiliar twists and turns. "For me, it's all about variety. I'll be on a wide, open road, then head through forests, then wind up a mountain," says Abigail Wise, news editor and social media manager at Outside, pointing out that scenic parks and small-town stops are added bonuses for a quintessential drive.

"The ingredients include cool small towns and manageable cities to stay in, uncrowded highways that pass by beautiful mountain ranges or parkland and, of course, great restaurants along the way," says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of Budget Travel. "We especially find that drives to and from national parks fit this description well, and there are many, many underrated state parks that fit the bill as well," he adds.

Regardless of how you define the perfect road trip, we've come up with six diverse routes to pique your interest. And luckily, in spite of rising demand for the summer travel season, this summer national gas prices are expected to be lower than they've been in over a decade, according to AAA. So, pack your bags, and take in the stunning views and charming locales on these iconic summer drives.

California's Pacific Coast Highway

While California's iconic Coastal Highway 1 (also known as California State Route 1 or the PCH) is an obvious choice, it's popular for a reason, Wise says. She recalls a drive she took from San Francisco that included checking out Natural Bridges State Beach and weaving through Big Sur. "The views are insane, with gigantic waves crashing right below the cliff you're driving on," she says, adding that McWay Falls is a can't-miss spot in the Big Sur area. She also recommends checking out Elephant Seal Vista Point in San Simeon, California, "where you can see dozens of seals hanging out and sunbathing," she says. "The whole route is filled with gems like that," she adds. And though the route is thrilling, with cliffside zig-zagging (complete with steep drop-offs) along Big Sur (on Highway 1), the area's heart-stopping views, national parks and roadside stops are well worth it for those looking to commune with nature. Firpo-Cappiello agrees, highlighting the California coast, from Santa Cruz to San Simeon, as an especially beautiful route. And for those looking to take the road less traveled, "exploring the San Francisco Bay Area's 'backroads' in the East Bay, Central Valley and Peninsula (San Jose, Palo Alto) is incredibly rewarding," he adds.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Encompassing 469 miles and snaking through North Carolina and Virginia, this route is filled with scenic mountain and valley vistas, enchanting natural parks and plenty of intriguing small towns. "Asheville is a must-see for anyone who's into beer, yoga and art," Wise says, noting that if you hop on Interstate 40 along this expansive stretch, "you can drive into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the country." When you need a break you can stop at the enchanting Pisgah Inn, perched on Mt. Pisgah at 5,000 feet in elevation and filled with easy access to hiking trails across western North Carolina. Plus, you'll find many picnic areas and affordable eateries along the way.

Maine's Coast

Instead of battling crowds at Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, which are affordable scenic drives, Wise suggests considering an off-the-beaten-track road trip in the Northeast. U.S. Route 1 "takes you along the eastern coast of the Maine, which I think is one of the most underrated states in the country," Wise says. Beyond the picturesque shoreline, you'll find charming New England towns and even Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, which is the oldest lighthouse in Maine and one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country, she adds. "And there's Acadia National Park, which is a dream for anyone who likes kayaking, canoeing, fishing, rock climbing or hiking," Wise says. Acadia National Park's Loop Road (from Route 3) will take you to the striking Cadillac Mountain. And with free park admission from August 25 to 28 thanks to the National Park Service's 100th anniversary – and affordable camp sites starting at $30 per site – you can easily tack on a cost-effective camping expedition to your itinerary.

Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico

Wise recomends taking U.S. Route 285 north to Colorado for a scenic drive. "You pass through some amazing mountain towns, which make for great camping, hiking and fishing detours in the summer," Wise says. "Nothing beats hitting Buena Vista, Leadville and Breckenridge [in Colorado] all in one swoop," she adds. But if you would rather plan a quick jaunt, hop in the car and follow High Road from Santa Fe to the striking deserts, eclectic galleries and the Taos Pueblo compound, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on your route to Taos. Best of all, if you're a wine enthusiast, you can return on New Mexico State Road 68, which is dotted with wineries.

A drive along Florida's Overseas Highway

For a road trip to remember, traverse U.S. Route 1 in Florida, where you'll crisscross through scenic seascapes and charming beach towns across the Florida Keys – from Islamorada to Marathon to Key West. Plus, the 113-mile stretch boasts plenty of can't-miss cultural and natural attractions, from the Seven Mile Bridge to scenic lighthouses to parks. And when you need a break, there are plenty of places to stretch your legs along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary or the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Even better, there are plenty of noteworthy eateries and hotel options for budgets low and high.

Utah State Route 12

Pack your hiking boots and your camera for this 124-mile highway, which skirts along magnificent rock cliffs, canyons and diverse parks, including Bryce Canyon National Park and Capitol Reef National Park. When you need a pit spot, you'll find plenty of places to hike (hint: check out the Sunset Point Trail) and famous sites to visit such as the Temple of the Sun. Best of all, there are a variety of quaint towns along Scenic Byway 12 and plenty of festivals, hikes and recreational activities during the summer months. You'll also find an abundance of lodging and dining options, making planning a bargain-friendly road trip a cinch. Firpo-Cappiello points out that "Utah packs five major national parks into one state for an amazing (but epic!) scenic drive."

That said, the route is rugged, remote and filled with sharp, hair-raising turns, so it's best to map out your trip in advance. And keep in mind, regardless of where you want to plan a road trip, oftentimes cell service is minimal, "so it's smart to have an app that allows you to access maps when you're out of range, or grab an old-fashioned paper one just in case" Wise says.
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