You can’t call these the “best” road trips in the nation because it really depends what you’re looking for. If you’re travelling with kids, your idea of a good time isn’t going to look much like the trips you took with your buddies in college. Still, these are all tried and true favourites with all kinds of RV-loving folk, and somewhere on this list you’re going to hear the echo of rubber on asphalt and want to hit the highway.
1. Route 66
Mount Olive, Illinois
We’ll start with the classic because anyone who loves life on the road is going to want to take it from Chicago to LA at some point in their lives. It’s 2,500 miles of nostalgia, roadside diners and ghost towns. It’s not actually possible to stick with Route 66 the whole way because parts of it have now vanished, but you can chart a path that sticks pretty close to the old highway. You’ll head down through Illinois to St. Louis then cut across Missouri to Oklahoma City, just nicking the bottom corner of Kansas. From there, you’ll go over the Texas panhandle to New Mexico, Arizona and finally California. It’s Americana at its finest, so crank up the tunes and don’t forget the antacid.
2. The Alaska Highway
The Alaska Highway near Haines Junction, Yukon Territory
If you want something completely different, head north. Way north. The Alaska Highway begins in British Columbia, Canada, near the town of Dawson Creek. It was built during the Second World War to connect Alaska with the rest of the country and runs all the way to Delta Junction, almost 1,400 miles away. From there, you can continue up the Richardson Highway to Fairbanks, and keep going all the way to Anchorage for another 300 miles of unbelievable scenery and wildlife. The Denali National park is where you’ll find Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, and enough breathtaking views to last a lifetime. Best time to go is June to September, but the road is paved and open year-round.
3. The Music Marathon
The Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
If you’re a fan of country music, blues or rock ‘n roll, this road trip is a journey to mecca. Actually, many meccas. Start in Memphis and stop in at Graceland to visit the King. You can also tour the Gibson Guitar factory across the street from the Rock ‘n Soul museum, and stop in for a beer on Beale Street. Head a couple of hundred miles down the road to Nashville and spend the day cruising the Honky Tonks before taking in the show at the world-famous Ryman Auditorium. Knoxville is another 180 miles through the Tennessee countryside, and Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood and more country kitsch than you can shake a Stetson at. The best part of the trip may well be the jaunt through Great Smoky National Park on the short drive over the pass into North Carolina. The views of the mighty Smokies are stunning.
4. Death Valley
Death Valley, California
If you’re going to go all “Thelma and Louise”, do it in Death Valley. The drive from LA to Las Vegas takes about four hours, but you’re going to want to spend a couple of days in one of the biggest National Parks in the country. Bring lots of water and make sure you’re driving with a full tank because gas stops along the way aren’t plentiful. You also might want to stay away between May and October because the temperature soars to well over 100 degrees and there is absolutely no shade anywhere. Check out Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, and a host of other natural features including sand dunes, craters, canyons, and the floor of a vanished lake that looks like a million gold balls scattered across the weird salt formations.
5. The Eastern Seaboard
Charleston, South Carolina
If you keep well away from the I-95, the East Coast is a wonderful mix of southern charm and northern hospitality. Start in Savannah and work your way up the coast through Charleston to Virginia Beach. You’ll see fine antebellum mansions, eat some great seafood, and dip your toes in the cold Atlantic surf. Virginia Beach to Boston is either about avoiding the big cities, or taking some time to visit the historic monuments of the Capital, Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk, and the bright lights of New York. Cape Cod is a perennial favorite, but can get almost oppressively crowded in summer. Head a little further north for Maine lobster, lighthouses, and whale watching with fewer people and loads more room on the beach.
Pull out the cooler and grab your gear. The open road awaits.