Five Great American Road Trips, Beyond Route 66

The nation that invented road tripping abounds with incredible drives, yet why does one clichéd icon, Route 66, steal all the limelight? Here are our picks of the USA’s other bucket-list road trips. By Quentin Long

San Francisco to Los Angeles, California

Time to complete: Two to five days

Known as Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway and Shoreline Highway, this drive is everything a great drive should be, deserving of its legendary status.

The best way to drive it is from north to south, giving you a better view of the Pacific Ocean through the particularly picturesque region of Big Sur.

Must-visit pitstops:

  • Monterey and its world-famous aquarium on the touristy Cannery Row.
  • Rub shoulders with A-listers in the moneyed township of Carmel By The Sea, and its exclusive cafes and boutiques.
  • Go wild in Big Sur with many scenic hikes.
  • See opulence at its unrestrained best at Hearst Castle, a museum like no other.
  • Hang with college students and do some wine tasting at San Luis Obispo.
  • Soak up the ultimate Californian coastal town at Santa Barbara, with good food, good wine and an even more impressive array of shops and museums.

Going to the Sun Road, Montana

Time to complete: Two to eight hours

Quite simply, the Going to the Sun Road is one of the most underrated roads in one of the most underrated national parks in one of the most underrated states of the 48 mainland states.

Bisecting the Glacier National Park, the road is just 80 kilometres long but packs a powerful punch.

Climbing to an ear-popping 2025 metres above sea level at its most famous point – Logan Pass – it has more hairpin twists and turns than a pit of snakes.

Being in one of the most remote and pristine states of the US, the wildlife here is prolific. Big horned sheep, bears (both the grizzly and black), wolves, wolverines, moose and elk are frequently spotted by passengers who have the luxury of not focussing intently on the road.

The national park also offers a shuttle bus service, but for a little more adventure hum in one of the restored 1930s tour buses for a round-trip tour.

Must-visit pitstops:

  • Logan Pass – the highest point on the road and leaping off point for great walks around the elevated valleys, blanketed with wildflowers in summer.
  • Trail of the Cedar, where you can wonder through the eerily beautiful cedars and push on to the even more picturesque Avalanche Lake.
  • Bird Woman Falls, which is visible from the road. The waterfalls are fed by snowfields and a remnant glacier on Mount Oberlin, and are crowned in surreal jagged peaks.

Miami to Key West, Florida

Time to complete: Four hours to three days

The road trip from Miami to Key West gets better the longer you spend cruising by shimmering aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The real road trip starts when you reach Key Largo, but if you’re in a hurry you can do the whole 180-kilometre drive without stopping before Key West.

However there are a whole host of reasons (mostly aquatic) to pause for a day trip or night at Key Largo, Islamorada, Big Pine Key or Marathon.

Must-visit pitstops:

  •  John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park at Key Largo and the statue of Christ that lies in 25 feet of water
  • Key West is a world of relaxation. Most notable pitstop is the Ernest Hemingway museum – dedicated to the town’s most famous resident.
    It’s a great break from the pursuit of idleness in one of the many bars filled with sun-kissed locals.

Hana Hawaii

Time to complete: Eight to 10 hours

The American equivalent of the Great Ocean Road, Hana Hawaii snakes along the tropical and remote north-eastern fringe of Maui for a windy 1054 kilometres.

Each neck-craning corner reveals a teeming waterfall or exquisite black-sand beach with a great surf break to boot.

Interspersed amongst the tropical lushness are roadside stands selling all manner of tropical fruit.

Bring your beach towel because you’ll be jumping in and out of rock pools and waterfalls along the way.

Must-visit pitstops:

  • Garden of Eden and Botanical Arboretum is the astonishingly steep green mountains erupting out of the sea.
  • Lower Puohokamoa Falls for a dip in cool rockpools at the base of a waterfall.
  • Wai’anapanapa near the end of the drive at Hana.

The Great River Road

Time to complete: Five to 14 days

The grand daddy of American road trips (and in our opinion should be as famous as Route 66), the Great River Road follows the entire 3760 kilometres of Old Man River through ten states.

Beginning in the Mississippi’s northern source, Itasca State Park Minneapolis, and ending just past New Orleans, you will experience the US as Huckleberry Finn would have if he had a car and driver’s license.

Tracing either side of the Mississippi, the verdant farming country of the US offers Kodak moment after Kodak moment. Just as dramatic as the changing landscape, is the changing accents and political views along the way.

All in all it’s an insight into the greatness and weakness of the US, plus a lifetime of memories and stories.

Must-visit pitstops:

  • Minneapolis–Saint Paul is at the centre of the Mid West arts-and-culture renaissance.
  • National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium Iowa is a huge display space that explains everything you have and will see following the Mississippi.
  • Go on a tour of Graceland Memphis Tennessee and lap up all the gaudy 1960s glitz the city has to offer.
  • Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi.
  • New Orleans; the food, the music the whole damn lot.

Think we’ve missed an iconic road trip across the USA? Let us know below!



Comments (3)
  • Jo Cain says:

    Most definitely need to include a road trip in Alaska!!

  • Ayleen Luck says:

    As 2 Aussie travellers, we have done all these road trips, plus ALASKA and back to S.F. Also from Fort Lauderdale to L.A. via most U.S. states. Just love the road trips. Oh yes, and also Pennsylvania to South Carolina, and back to P.A. via The Outer Banks and Delaware. Would like to do it all again.

  • Snoozie says:

    Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge to Yellowstone NP.
    Valley of the Gods, Utah.
    Both are extraordinary!