How Road Trips Work

Top U.S. Road Trips

There's no shortage of great road trips in the United States; the hard part is narrowing them down. Here are three surefire winners: one in the West, one in the East and one running through the American heartland.

Route 66, Sort Of

Get your kicks on one of the first U.S. highways, 2,451 miles (3,945 kilometers) of America's main street running from Chicago to Santa Monica. Traveling this route requires meticulous planning, but do your homework and you're in for the most iconic road trip in the 50 states. Although the route Highway 66 no longer exists (you'll really be switching between Interstates 55, 44, 40, 15 and 10 and preserved portions of the old highway), the American spirit it exemplified lives on. These are the rights-of-way immortalized in "The Grapes of Wrath," beatnik lore, pop songs, television and film, and for good reason: Route 66 is the embodiment of freedom and of the open road, an invitation to the vast open spaces of America's heartland.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Shooting down Interstate 95 at 70 miles-plus (113 kilometers-plus) is no way to see Virginia and North Carolina. Hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, though, and you'll give the natural splendors of Old Dominion and the Tar Heel State their due. Start with a drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park on the equally stunning Skyline Drive, then cruise south on the parkway to North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains. In autumn, cars line up bumper-to-bumper to view the color explosion (it's worth it), but if that doesn't sound like your speed, head there in the summer for a cool drive through dogwoods, red maples and tulip trees, dotted with frequent picnic areas, rest stops and scenic overlooks. Along the way, check out the Biltmore Estate and any of the amazing peaks, like Grandfather Mountain.

California's State Route 1 and the Pacific Coast Highway

You already know the view -- it's one of the most iconic landscapes in television and film -- but no mere image can compare to cruising down the coast in person, top down, with the ocean waves crashing to one side and mountains chasing along the other. Depending on your schedule and interests, you can subdivide the 650-plus miles (1,046-plus kilometers) into smaller tours, or drive the whole length from Leggett to Dana Point. Either way, make a run through Big Sur's mountains, rocky beaches and redwoods -- 90 miles (145 kilometers) along the central coast between Carmel and San Luis Obispo -- at some point. For beatniks and hippies, this was the laid-back place to be. Why not make it yours?

Now that we've tackled some of the more reachable roadways, let's set off for some out-of-the-way escapes.