You know that inspirational cliché, the one about the journey being greater than the destination. While it's typically applied metaphorically to things like life or happiness, to us, it's talking about the beauty of a road trip. Exploring the highlights of a region while stumbling upon hidden gems is what makes road tripping such a popular vacation mode.
According to this year's Portrait of American Travelers survey, 63 percent of travelers plan to take a road trip within the next year, with the intention to explore new places. And many of those road trips don't start at home—roadtrippers are booking flights to start their four-wheeled adventure in another part of the country.
To help you plan your road trip this summer, we've rounded up some of the best routes in the country using a mix of editorial insight and data from our Editors' Choice Awards. Each one is tailored to a particular interest—take a drive along America's music highway, navigate through some of the country's most significant historical sights, and visit several National Parks all along one scenic route. Whichever route you choose, enjoy the ride!
Music: Cleveland to New Orleans
Hit the road, Jack, and discover the diversity of America’s musical history and heritage with a journey from the Midwest to the Deep South. Home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland makes a logical starting point to kick off the journey where roadtrippers can school themselves on the bands and artists that have influenced the soundtrack of our evolving culture since the genre first emerged back in the 1950s.
From there, blaze a trail south to Music City. In Nashville, you’ll find legendary country music venues like the Grand Ole Opry and the iconic Ryman Auditorium. Nashville’s Lower Broadway district is a great spot to catch a rising star—honky-tonk bars buzz nonstop with aspiring singers and songwriters all hoping for their big break. Round out the visit with a spin through the Johnny Cash Museum and some traditional Nashville hot chicken before continuing southwest to Memphis for outstanding barbecue, a stroll down historic Beale Street, and a Sun Studio tour, capped off with a free concert at the open-air Levitt Shell.
Your next stop is the birthplace of the blues: Mississippi’s musical landmarks include the hometowns of Elvis and B.B. King, as well as the fabled Devil’s Crossroads where Delta guitarist Robert Johnson reputedly sold his soul in exchange for his incendiary talent. Wrap up the road-trip adventure in enchanting New Orleans to feast on boudin, crawfish, and gumbo while sultry strains of jazz and lively Creole-inspired Zydeco music seem to waft out of every open doorway in the French Quarter. —Amy Lynch
Outdoor Adventure: Rapid City, South Dakota, to Olympic National Park
For the most rugged outdoor adventure in the country, you need to head north and west. This route is filled with opportunities for those looking to get their adrenaline fix on the road.
Your starting point, Rapid City, South Dakota, is on the doorstep of several great places to camp and experience the outdoors, including the Black Hills and Badlands area of South Dakota. Hike Black Elk Peak, go caving, or try scuba diving among other activities.
Next, head to Yellowstone National Park. Backpacking and hiking through the park's vast wilderness is bucket-list material, but the area also offers ziplining, biking, kayaking, and much more. From there, make your way to Glacier National Park, one of the most rugged national parks in the country. Located on the Montana-Canada border, this park offers backpacking, mountaineering, and whitewater rafting, complete with gorgeous views in every direction.
Keep up the momentum, and drive to Sun Valley, Idaho. During winter, Sun Valley is popular for skiing and snowboarding, but summer provides horseback riding, hiking, and on-the-water adventure. Try to schedule your trip for the annual Sheep Town Drag Races where cyclists race burning logs across town.
Continuing west takes you to the last stop at Olympic National Park. Backpacking along the High Divide through Olympic’s old growth forest and alpine lakes is the most popular activity, but you can also swim and kayak in nearby lakes, go fishing and climbing and more. As a bonus, end your day (and your trip) by soaking in natural hot springs to relax and unwind after your adventurous road trip. —Melissa Popp
History: Boston to Richmond, Virginia
No book, Broadway musical, movie, or miniseries brings America's founding history to life like an East Coast road trip. In a mere 12 hours of point-to-point driving, you can stride cobbled streets and battlefields, admire colonial artisanship, and check off more iconic photo ops than in any other U.S. region.
Start in Boston, where the Freedom Trail links sites like Paul Revere's House and the Old North Church. Reenact rebellion at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum before continuing west to Concord, where the American Revolution's first shots rang out. Visit the nation's first armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut, en route to West Point, New York, where military academy tours reveal this Hudson River outpost's Revolutionary-era importance.
Next up: Philadelphia, where the founding fathers handled the new nation's paperwork. Venture inside Independence Hall, where the Declaration and Constitution were signed; meet Betsy Ross; don't ring the Liberty Bell... but do grab a cheesesteak.
Swing south through Annapolis, stopping at Maryland's state house, the oldest one continuously in use. Washington, D.C., the nation's capital since 1790, is a goldmine for history geeks. If you do only one thing, see D.C.'s famous monuments illuminated at night. George Washington's Mount Vernon proudly overlooks the Potomac, 15 miles south.
Wrap up your road trip in Richmond, Virginia, with tours of the capitol (designed by Thomas Jefferson) and of St. John's Church, where Patrick Henry asked for liberty or death. As you wander the cobblestone streets of Shockoe Slip, be thankful this historic restaurant and retail district offers much more palatable choices. —Kim Knox Beckius
Fall Foliage: Milwaukee to Washington Island
From mid-September to late October, Wisconsin is rich with color. The see the best of the area's fall foliage, start your journey on Milwaukee’s tree-lined Lincoln Memorial Drive (hugging Lake Michigan), and follow “the long way” north (via I-43 and Highway 42) to the Door County peninsula, until you can’t drive any further. Along the way, consider making some of these stops.
Before you get started, fuel up with a seasonal harvest frittata at Simple Café on Milwaukee’s East Side or “very stuffed (hash) browns” at Blue’s Egg in Shorewood—both are off Lake Drive, which you’ll take to Brown Deer Road. Make stops in Lake Park and Doctors Park to find picturesque strolls through colorful trees with Lake Michigan views.
Then, make your way to the nearby 988-acre Kohler-Andrae State Park where you can walk through sand dunes and admire the white-pine forest views on the two-mile Dunes Cordwalk.
Drive two more hours to find another scenic hike—the two-mile Sentinel Trail, located in the 3,776-acre Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek, that takes you through ancient maple and beech trees showing off their fall colors. Reward yourself afterward with some award-winning Dairy State fromage from Wisconsin Cheese Masters in the nearby Egg Harbor.
Take a break from the active leaf peeping, and grab a scoop at Ephraim’s 113-year-old Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor while you take in the unobstructed fall-foliage vistas of Horseshoe Island and Eagle Bluff.
Your final destination? Washington Island, accessible by ferry at the end of curvy Jens Jensen Road. Plop onto Schoolhouse Beach for a postcard-perfect view of harvest’s hues to your left, or hike among old-growth forest (yellow birch, sugar maple, and Northern white cedar) at Detroit Harbor Nature Preserve. —Kristine Hansen
Green Relief: Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles
Go green on your next trip with an adventure by automobile from the Pacific Northwest’s capital of kook and craft beer down to sunny Southern California, a long and lush route that's filled with specialty gardens, national parks, urban green spaces, coastal cliffs, wildflowers, orchards, and redwood forests.
Start in Portland where you can spend a few days wandering its myriad gardens—Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, Lan Su Chinese Garden, and the International Rose Test Garden (the 8,000 buds are at their best May through September)—or the eight-mile long Forest Park conservancy, with a Voodoo Donut and single-origin coffee in hand. Then, rest your achy feet on The Duniway’s private landscaped rooftop patio before dining under a sea of hanging plants at the jungle-themed Hey Love or sipping botanicals-heavy gin at the woman-owned Freeland Spirits.
After leaving town, glamp at Mendocino Grove with s’mores and outdoor yoga, taste goat cheese at Pennyroyal Farm, and get an aerial view of the redwoods on the zipline at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve zip-line.
Make plant moms everywhere instantly green with envy by rambling through San Francisco’s giant Golden Gate Park and The Presidio, a scenic stunner that encapsulates beaches, a golf course, and outdoor art on a defunct military base.
Then, continue your verdant vacation through central California. Peruse giant award-winning pumpkins in Half Moon Bay, and scuba in a kelp forest in Monterey before refueling at the Portola Hotel where the menu relies heavily on herbs from the terrace’s living walls.
Spend the night at San Luis Obispo’s newest luxury boutique, Hotel Cerro (opening in September 2019), where spa treatments use local ingredients like sea kelp and wine vines. The Japanese Garden at the magical Ganna Walska Lotusland recently reopened after a two-year renovation, so make time to check out its makeover. In Santa Barbara, explore diverse ecosystems like tide pools and butterfly groves through Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, one of four Ritz-Carlton properties in the world offering the program.
Despite being known for freeways and vast swaths of concrete, Los Angeles has a surprising number of spots that nurture nature including the 4,310-acre Griffith Park, the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, and the Arboretum where the Pasadena Pops play open-air concerts. —Carrie Bell
National Parks: Southwest U.S.
Driving from Santa Fe, New Mexico, into Colorado and then through Utah and Arizona onwards to Las Vegas takes on a journey of some of the best and most well-known National Parks (so much so that we're dubbing the route the National Parks' Greatest Hits).
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, about three hours outside Santa Fe, is an excellent park for night sky viewing of the bright constellations. The park is also full of native ancestral history you can spend time learning about during the day. Keep up the history tour as you continue driving to reach Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, site of cliffside dwellings of the ancestral Pueblo people.
Drive a few more hours north to explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, home of gorgeous painted cliff sides and deep dark stone, on your way to Arches National Park in Utah. Spend at least a day admiring the natural stone arches cut into the landscape, formed by sand and time. Afterwards, head to another Utah park, Canyonlands National Park, to hike around the buttes with dramatic views of the Colorado River. Wrap up the Utah segment of the trip at Bryce Canyon National Park, home to the famous hoodoos, striking rock spires that can reach up to 150 feet.
Your next stop is arguably the greatest of the greatest hits—the Grand Canyon. Although it’s a bit out of the way, this bucket-list stop is worth the drive. Head south from Bryce Canyon to get to the northern doorstep of Grand Canyon National Park.
Then, end your trip with a stop at Lake Mead. It's not a National Park, but Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers one last outdoor refuge before pulling into the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. —Melissa Popp
Food: Savannah, Georgia, to Houston
If there's one thing the southern U.S. is known for, it’s good eats: flaky biscuits, spicy chicken, and cool-your-brow iced tea. The ultimate food road trip, covering more than 1,100 miles in six southern stops (plus the requisite road-side stand for fresh produce and boiled peanuts), is a lot to fit in, so gas up the car and pack pants with an elastic waistband.
Start off in Savannah, Georgia, a city whose rich history and proximity to the coast led to a tradition of delicious seafood and time-tested recipes. Try both at Elizabeth on 37th, which is housed in a restored 1900 mansion.
Next stop is Birmingham, Alabama—arguably the best food city in the south, thanks to James Beard award-winning chef, Frank Stitt. You can't go wrong at any of his restaurants, but Highlands Bar and Grill is the patriarch. If your budget doesn't allow a multi-course experience, eat at the bar for the same impeccable experience.
Drive four hours south to Mobile, a sweet bayside city with no shortage of great oyster spots. The real must-stop, however, is an unassuming diner with a puny name: the Dew Drop Inn is rumored to be where Mobile native Jimmy Buffett (of "Cheeseburger in Paradise" fame) fell in love with burgers.
Head an hour west to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, a resort on the Gulf Coast that was Elvis Presley's beach destination. Come to Aunt Jenny's Catfish for a specialty of the region (served fried, natch) and then have a drink downstairs in the Julep Room, where The King supposedly liked to hang out.
What’s a southern foodie road trip without a stop in the Big Easy? There are a lot of great places to eat in New Orleans, but. St. Roch Market allows you to try 11 of them in one visually appealing stop. There's a cocktail bar, too, which is essential to the New Orleans experience.
Finally, end your trip in Houston. Texas’ melting pot city is famous for breakfast tacos—Houstonia magazine says they are to Houston what the bagel is to New York—so if you only have time to eat one thing while in town, that's it. Choose from more than 20 different varieties at Villa Arcos.