13 Most Epic Summer Road Trips in the US
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All you need is wheels, wanderlust, and a list of the most epic summer road trips in the US!
Whether you want to tick off some bucketlist experiences or meander through charming US towns, there’s a road trip here with your name on it. Road trips are a fantastic way to explore the United States at your own pace, especially if you are traveling with kids. You are not limited with how much luggage to bring as long as it fits in your car (this is a great road trip packing list for families) and you don’t need to worry about toddler tantrums, or taking a lot of stops along the way. Here are the best summer road trips in the United States!
Best Summer Road Trips in the US
Here are some USA Road Trip routes to add to your list.
1. Alaska Road Trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks
One of the best Summer road trips in the US is the Alaska Road Trip.
The route from Anchorage to Fairbanks is perfect for hikers and wildlife lovers. It’s 360 miles from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The drive takes more than 6 hours. But with stops along the way, the route can take up to a week. This is one of the most scenic routes to add to your Alaska Itinerary.
Some of the best places to see along the way include Talkeetna – a small, charming mountain town, which is perfect for a stop. In this town, all expeditions for Denali starts. Town offers great adventure activities, as flights over the mountains, kayaking at the river, and hiking. There is also a lot of souvenir shops and great restaurants.
Denali National Park is the best place on the route. You can take a shuttle bus for a one day trip or stay for longer camping. Private cars are not allowed inside the park. If the weather is good, you can admire Denali, the highest peak in North America. On the way, you have the possibility to see deer, caribou, and grizzly bears.
In Healy, next to the local brewery, you can stop to see the Magic Bus 142 – replica from the movie Into the Wild. You can go inside the old bus, see the pictures and memories of Christopher McCandless.
When you get to Fairbanks, it is a great idea to go to Chena Hot Springs Resort after sightseeing in the city. It’s 60 miles from Fairbanks, but it’s worth your effort. Chena is one of Alaska’s best hot springs, and it’s amazing to soak in hot water after a long road trip.
By Agnes from The Van Escape
2. Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the best summer road trips you can take in the eastern US is the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Parkway runs 469 miles through Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Along the way, you’ll be surrounded by emerald-green mountains, late-season wildflowers, vibrant wild mushrooms, and rushing waterfalls.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is an especially great road trip for hikers. Top hikes include Black Balsam Knob, Clingman’s Dome, Craggy Pinnacle, and the trail to the highest point east of the Mississippi at Mount Mitchell.
Not a hiker? No worries! You can still get panoramic views at over a hundred scenic overlooks. Or go on short walks to waterfalls like Linville Falls and Graveyard Fields.
Be sure to pack layers for your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip. You’ll need to prepare for temperatures that can fluctuate 20 degrees Fahrenheit or more in a matter of a few miles. Mount Mitchell has even gotten snow in July and August!
Additionally, the Blue Ridge Mountains see daily severe storms in the summer. Plan to be done with your outdoor activities by 2 pm and check the weather regularly. It’s extremely dangerous to hike on an exposed ridge in a thunderstorm. However, the rain and the elevation keeps temperatures down — daily highs are usually in the 70’s Fahrenheit in summer.
By Carrie from Trains, Planes, and Tuk Tuks
3. Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake, America’s deepest lake, with its rim drive and awesome sights is a popular US road trip destination.
At a reasonable 4 and half hour drive from Oregon, it is convenient to stop at a couple of interesting places along the way. Eugene, a pretty little University city, is the perfect mid-way point to stop for a night. Eugene is a town of parks, trees and waterways, and a hiking destination.
Salem is another interesting place en route surrounded by gardens, flower fields, vineyards, and green pastures, located an hour from the ocean and an hour from the Cascade Mountains.
Crater Lake National Park is the dream destination for photographers, hikers, and cyclists. It lies within the crater of an extinct volcano, Mount Mazama, which is 7,000 feet above sea level. The popular thing to do is drive along the 33-mile rim and stop at the various vantage points of attraction. Many of these points offer hiking opportunities. Among the top attractions at Crater Lake are Phantom Ship Overlook, Pumice castle overlook, Wizard Island, the Pinnacles, and Cloud cap Overlook.
Stopping for a day or two at one of the many convenient B & Bs in the Klamath Fall area would make it easy to not only see the Crater Lake attractions but also admire the Klamath falls.
By Jan from Leisurely Drives
4. Florida Keys: Miami to Key West
Beach lovers looking for a classic American adventure should take a Florida Keys Road Trip. This drive from Miami to Key West follows the Overseas Highway, which connects the Florida mainland to Key West with 42 bridges along 113 miles. It’s perfect for friends, couples, and families looking for an adventurous but laid-back getaway!
The one-way drive takes about 4 hours, but its many sights make for a fantastic vacation week. First, stop at classic kitschy restaurants in Key Largo. Sample some of the Keys’ best conch fritters at Alabama Joe’s tiki biker bar, then try the famous coconut shrimp and key lime pie at Mrs. Mac’s. Key Largo is also a world-famous snorkeling and diving destination, with many options for day trips including the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Next, spend a few days in the towns of Islamorada or Marathon to explore the Middle Keys. Both are popular fishing and watersports destinations with resorts, shopping, and beach restaurants for sunset views. Check out the History of Diving Museum, visit the Turtle Hospital to see rescued sea turtles, and spend a day at Sombrero Beach, one of the best in the Florida Keys.
On your way to Key West, stop for a picnic, hike, and swim at Bahia Honda State Park. Then get ready for the amazing restaurants and nightlife of Duval Street and the sights of Old Town Key West. Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home, climb the Key West lighthouse, and snap a selfie at the Southernmost Point of the U.S. If you have time, take a day trip to Dry Tortugas, one of the most remote National Parks, for spectacular snorkeling and pristine beaches.
By Adrienne from The Haphazard Traveler
5. New England
New England, the northeastern side of the US, is an amazing place for a road trip. Covering 6 states, you can spend weeks in this area to explore all of it. However, in one road trip, you can still get a good taste of what New England offers; hikes in woods and on mountains with gorgeous views; interesting cities and towns with both history and modern city life; beaches, water activities, and more.
Leaving from NYC, take the first 3 days of your road trip to New England to explore the state parks of Connecticut, drive through Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, and make the way up to Acadia National Park. The park offers amazing hikes with beautiful sceneries. For accommodation, you can camp in the park or book a hotel in the nearby town of Bar Harbor.
In the next 2 days, explore the small towns along the coast of Maine and drive down to Boston. Here you can explore the history of this city and the independence of the United States. Boston is fun and interesting, but expensive to stay in, so it is recommended to book a hotel outside of the city.
From Boston, drive down to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Here you can hang out on the beaches, and if you have time, book a whale-watching cruise. In the last days of the trip travel through the towns and beaches of Connecticut, absorb a bit more nature and history, and head back to NYC.
By Moshe of The Top Ten Traveler
6. Northern California Coast
One of the best road trips you can do in California in summer is along its rugged north coast. Starting from San Francisco, you can make your way up the coast all the way to Crescent City, the final stop before you either drive into Oregon or return to your start point.
With spectacular scenery, quaint towns, great food and fine wine, and quaint little museums, there’s something on this trip for all types of travelers. It’s best, however, for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Along the route, stop at Point Reyes National Seashore, where you can photograph an old shipwreck, drive through a cypress tree tunnel, or hike to a tidefall. Next up is the scenic Sonoma Coast, dotted with little towns where you can enjoy fabulous seafood and choice wines. The scenery is beautiful as well.
Further north is the Mendocino Coast, where you will find lots of things to do in Mendocino, a pretty coastal village perched on scenic headlands, and Fort Bragg, where you can see the famous glass beach.
Still further north is the Lost Coast, so rugged that no road could be built through it. Adventurous hikers can explore it on backpacking trips.
Finally, you can take in the spectacular beauty of the Redwood National and State Parks. Walk among the towering redwoods, do scenic drives along the shore, and look for wildlife.
With temperatures in the 60s during the day in summer, this road trip makes for a fun adventure.
By Dhara from Roadtripping California
7. Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast is one of the most beautiful drives in America. The drive along the Oregon coast can take up 7-12 hours depending on how many stops you make. But don’t worry you do not have to drive the entire coast to get a fantastic experience!
Starting in the seaside town of Astoria, Oregon, Mile marker 0, you can check out the historical sites and see where many movies have been filmed. As you drive down the Oregon Coast make a stop at Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock. From there, Tillamook Cheese Factory is a must-see. There is a free cheese tasting, which is incredible!
Now, the first part of this road trip is fun but get ready because in the next few hours you will see one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. There are so many spots where you feel an overwhelming desire to pull the car over and explore the coast on foot. The National Forest scenic area which includes Cape Perpetua (Thor’s well, Devils Churn, Cookes Chasm, and Cape Cove Beach) is the highlight of the road trip. Cape Perpetua is at Mile Marker 167. On a clear day, you can see 37 miles out to sea and 70 miles of coastline.
Thor’s Well is the top attraction. It is a massive blowhole. As the waves come in, the powerful pull of the ocean makes it the most magnificent sight to behold. We witnessed this at low tide but high tide is supposed to be even better. There are many seaside towns along the coast where you can deep-sea fish, go on a whale watching tour or see historic sites. As you travel down the coast the views just get better and better!
By Lisa from Planning Away
8. Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is well known for its unbeatable hiking, stunning scenery, and plenty of camping opportunities. The best way to experience all of this is with a road trip to Oregon and Washington through the National Parks! When planning your National Parks road trip, start in the North Cascades or Crater Lake National Park and continue up or down through Olympic and Mount Rainier National Park.
All of these parks are stunning in their own way! Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, formed from a collapsed volcano. As the name suggests, Mount Rainier National Park surrounds the iconic Washington landmark, Mount Rainier. It is full of hiking and gorgeous fire lookout towers you can even stay at!
Olympic National Park is on the coast and not only has beautiful beaches and mountains, but much of it is also a rainforest. North Cascades borders Canada, and while a bit less developed than most National Parks it is still worth the visit and is a great place for backpacking, camping, and it is a world-class photography destination!
This road trip is perfect for outdoors and natures lovers, but if you’re a city person, you can also fly into or make stops at Portland and Seattle! Portland is full of “weird” things to do, and a trip isn’t complete without a visit to Powell’s Books or Voodoo Doughnuts. In Seattle, take a drive to Snoqualmie Falls and visit the iconic Pikes Place Market and Space Needle.
By Val from Voyages with Val
9. Road to Hana in Maui
The island of Maui is mostly associated with waving palms and picture-perfect beaches. But did you know that this tropical paradise has much more to offer? The eastern coast is wild, lush, and home to a highway with no less than 59 one-lane bridges and 620 curves and hairpins over a distance of 52 miles. The Road to Hana connects the artistic town of Paia to rural Hana.
The destination in itself is not that spectacular but it’s the journey that makes this road trip truly legendary. From majestic waterfalls to rainbow eucalyptus trees and from colored beaches to tropical arboretums, the winding Hana highway connects dozens of the Valley Isle’s natural highlights. Along the way, you’ll find the quaintest food stalls selling mouth-watering local delicacies such as banana bread or coconut candy.
The Road to Hana counts as Hawaii’s most epic road trip so, especially on sunshiny days, there’ll be lots of people driving the same highway and stopping to see the same highlights (where there’s hardly any parking available). Therefore, leaving early is highly recommended. Also, pack plenty of water and snacks since there are no gas stations and no shops (other than the food stalls) along the Road to Hana. This is the ultimate road trip for adventurers who look forward to exploring Maui’s wild side.
By Sarah Vanheel from CosmopoliClan
10. Route 66
Route 66 is a great summer road trip option for couples, families, and solo travelers alike. Known as the “Mother Road”, Route 66 begins in Chicago, Illinois, and ends in Santa Monica, California. At 2,448 miles, to drive the entire length would be quite a road trip, but even completing a section would make for a great summer vacation for those who love quirky roadside stops and vintage memorabilia.
Some notable stops along the way are classic Route 66 diners such as the Midpoint Cafe in Texas, at the exact midpoint of Route 66, Pops in Oklahoma, a vintage diner and old school soda shop, and the Big Texan Steakhouse, known for its large portions. Some famous roadside attractions are Cadillac Ranch, the Standin on the Corner mural in Winslow, Arizona, and the donkeys that roam free in Oatman, Arizona.
Other well-known cities and towns along Route 66 with many things to do are Williams and Flagstaff in Arizona, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Oklahoma City and Tulsa in Oklahoma, and Springfield, and St. Louis, Missouri.
If you are looking for popular, nostalgic places to stay along Route 66, then check out the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, which was used as inspiration for the Cars movie (as was much of Route 66) and La Posada Hotel in Winslow, home to a famous railroad hotel that celebrities used to frequent. In addition, this Route 66 summer road trip can be combined with plenty of other side trip options to visit national parks like the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest.
By Margie from DQ Family Travel
11. San Francisco to Los Angeles
California’s Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles is 479 miles of killer coastal views, sandy beaches, hikes, and wineries. If you hurry, you can drive it in 10 hours, but what’s the rush? This classic summer road trip is meant to be savored.
Some of the best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway road trip, include Monterey Bay, This deep bay harbors some of California’s most diverse marine life. You can take an otter safari on the Elkhorn Slough, a whale watching boat, or see the eerie jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Big Sur. This narrow stretch of the road is bordered by steep forest on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Take a hike in the Point Lobos nature reserve or stop to see the lovely McWay waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer beach.
If you’re a wine lover, Paso Robles OR Cambria has over 200 wineries. If you are more into history, then stay on the coast and visit Hearst Castle, which is just north of Cambria.
Pismo Beach is one of the most gorgeous beaches in the US and the only one in California which allows you to drive right onto the beach. So, pack a picnic and stay awhile.
By Carol Guttery of California Crossings
12. Southwest USA
The American Southwest is one of the most memorable and unique regions of the United States. With numerous national parks, waterfalls, scenic hikes, and panoramic landscapes, the area is a nature lover’s paradise. The perfect Southwest USA road trip itinerary should ideally include portions of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Although you could spend months exploring the southwest US and barely scratch the surface, give yourself at least 2 weeks to road trip through the region. Start your road trip in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and head north into Southern Colorado to see two of the state’s best natural and cultural wonders: Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde National Parks.
From there, you’ll head west to explore the Mighty 5 National Parks of Utah. Spend a few days in Moab and do some hiking in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Be sure to wake up early one morning and hike to Delicate Arch, one of the state’s most notable landmarks.
Your road trip should continue through Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and down to Bryce and Zion National Park. Zion is one of the country’s most visited national parks, and for good reason. The famed park is home to two of the most acclaimed hikes in the USA, Angel’s Landing and The Narrows.
Of course, no trip to the American southwest would be complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon to take in the majestic, sweeping views. If planning a road trip to the southwest, be sure to pack plenty of hiking gear, as this area is best explored one trailhead at a time.
By Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
13. South Dakota
Most people look at South Dakota for a visit to Mount Rushmore National Monument, but there is so much more adventure throughout the western side of the state that makes the perfect road trip for any nature lover or history buff. Plan your route through 3 areas to experience all the best South Dakota has to offer: Spearfish Canyon, Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park. You can see a lot in just one day in each area, but they are all worthy of a bit more time if you have it.
It’s certainly no ordinary road trip when you travel through South Dakota on the scenic byways through Spearfish Canyon, Iron Mountain Road, Wildlife Loop Road (make sure to pack extra apples and carrots to feed the “begging burros” along the way), and Needles Highway.
Nature lovers and outdoor adventurers will love hiking the trails (don’t miss the Notch Trail in Badlands NP), some epic camping spots in the parks and in the Black Hills National Forest, and plenty of wildlife.
History buffs will enjoy touring the Delta-09 Missile Silo National Historic Site, Crazy Horse Memorial, and exploring Deadwood, SD, which offers unique sights such as the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center and Mount Moriah Cemetery.
And no road trip through South Dakota is complete without a stop at Wall Drug for some shopping and their famous hot roast beef sandwich!
By Kiersten from Hiking in My Flip Flops