Travel

The best summer road trips across America you need to take

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Image: Annette Shaff/Shutterstock

There are certainly faster forms of travel, but somehow even the magic of flight can’t compare to the rustic charms of a real road trip. Trekking cross-country alone or with a few friends and seeing the world has been mythologized to infinity by novelists, musicians and filmmakers alike, but the only way to really experience the open road is to get outside and go somewhere. Summertime is the perfect season to explore any corner of this enormous country of ours, so let’s look at some of the best summer road trips you can plan this year.

Here are the best summer road trips you could take this season.

The Rocky Mountains

The most rugged mountain range in the continental United States is just begging to be explored in the warm seasons, when all of its seasonal roads hugging mountainsides and traversing canyons are open to the public. The huge span of the Rockies makes it almost impossible to cover the entire territory, so it might be wise to limit your trip to one corridor. To squeeze it all into one epic trip, begin in the south with a brief foray in the pueblos of Santa Fe before exploring Colorado’s many attractive tourist towns and finally making your way into the untouched big sky country of Wyoming and Montana via the gorgeous Route 212. Going even further north into the Canadian Rockies couldn’t hurt either.

The Pacific Coast

America’s Pacific Coast is world famous for both its sandy beaches and its rocky shoreline cliffs, and luckily there’s an easy way to see the entire length of this legendary coastline, simply by following Highway 1/101—otherwise known as the Pacific Coast Highway—from the Mexican border to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Along the way you’ll pass through towering Redwoods, rolling Mediterranean hills, temperate rainforests, historic Oceanside communities, coastal mountain ranges and a few of the nation’s best cities.

The Appalachian Range

It can be difficult to escape civilization along the East Coast, but roughly every state in the region has some cluster of rural mountains that together form the spine of the ancient Appalachian range. Each part has its own name—from Vermont’s Mountains to Tennessee and North Carolina’s ever-popular Great Smoky Mountains—and its own distinct character, both in terms of wildlife and the charming communities serving all the mountaineering tourists. Highways throughout the region split and rejoin randomly, but be careful not to miss North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia’s Skyline Drive or New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway.

The Southwest

It’s hard to beat Utah’s Route 12 when it comes to scenic drives throughout the iconic southwest. The road goes from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon National Park, encompassing a good chunk of southern Utah’s otherworldly landscape, where high deserts meet Rocky Mountains and together form some of the most remarkable geological oddities in the world. You won’t want to miss even one of the region’s five national parks, but be careful to leave time to head south to see the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. And if you’re coming from the West, it’s all too easy to squeeze in a stop in Las Vegas for a night of revelry to counteract all the time spent in the great outdoors.

Great River Road

The Mississippi River is an icon of American life, neatly dividing the nation between east and west and spawning more communities than any other waterway in the US, and there’s no better way to appreciate its importance or beauty that driving its length from north to south, or south to north. The Great River Road follows the river from Minnesota to Louisiana, offering a wonderful variety between population centers and untouched countryside on its way from the northern Midwest to the Delta region of Louisiana and Tennessee. New Orleans makes a wonderful final stop for a celebration amidst all the bars and big bands of the French Quarter, but don’t neglect the shimmering warm waters of the Gulf Coast, about 100 miles removed from the Big Easy.

Route 66

Almost as iconic as the Mississippi River, Route 66 is North America’s most prominent highway, chronicled so many times over to the point where it’s become almost mythical. There’s a good reason too, as the route traverses America’s empty yet treacherous western half on its way to the Pacific coast—a familiar path for so many pioneers—encompassing so much of the scenery and quaint roadside stops made famous by films and music.

Jeffrey Rindskopf is a freelance writer living in Seattle. He was born and raised in southern California, where he attended college at Chapman University and majored in film and journalism.