6 Most Popular American Road Trips • Best Routes & Holiday Ideas
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6 Most Popular American Road Trips

Road Trip USA Sign

Having a destination in mind, but no particular urgency to reach it, is the essence of the perfect road trip. With panoramic vistas across deserts and canyons, coastal routes past perfect beaches and seaside towns, and winding passes through mountains and epic forests, America always has a destination for the perfect road trip.

There are few better ways to explore America than through a road trip. The American road trip is a real staple of so many USA holidays, so here we will guide you through our most popular driving routes and let our travel experts explain how and when to enjoy your next American Road Trip.

1. Drive Route 66

America's Historic Route 66
Historic Route 66
LocationFrom Chicago to Los Angeles
Route HighlightsGrand Canyon, Santa Fe and Las Vegas
Distance / Duration2488 miles / At least 16 days
Best Time Of YearAll year round
Suggested ItineraryAmerica’s Route 66

For many, the emblem for America’s Route 66 signifies the “Mother Road”, a life-affirming experience, evoking freedom, and nostalgia. Whether you choose to complete the route from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, in a convertible car, luxury motorhome (RV) or iconic Harley Davidson, Route 66 remains a legendary American Road Trip.

Chicago to Los Angeles

For the purists that want to complete all 2,488 miles of Route 66, it is best to plan for between 2 and 3 weeks travelling along the road. Beginning with the cities of Chicago and St. Louis, the landscape soon widens to the open arable lands of Oklahoma and Kansas. By Texas you cross into land dominated by vast plains and ranches, but this changes again as Route 66 continues its journey into New Mexico and then Arizona, invoking images of the old wild west. The natural wonder of the Grand Canyon and the bright lights of Las Vegas dominate the final run to Los Angeles and the Pacific coast where Santa Monica’s pier literally marks the end of the road.

Freedom Top Tip

Crossing three different time zones and eight American states, this road trip is epic in all senses of the word, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. “When first planning a Route 66 holiday, the dream of following the whole route, may well exceed the reality of driving all those miles” explains Charlie, one of Freedom Destinations America travel experts. “As an alternative, consider your must-see locations, and divide the journey up, accordingly, perhaps concentrate on the western half of Route 66 from Texas to California. You can always come back and complete the eastern half of Route 66 from Chicago to Texas another time”. That is the great thing about an American Road trip. You are in the driving seat, so you can do as much, or as little, as you want.

2. Autumn in New England

Kancamagus Highway, New England
New England in the Fall
LocationRound trip from Boston
Route HighlightsFall colours, Acadia National Park and Cape Cod
Distance / Duration1240 miles / 13 days
Best Time Of YearAutumn
Suggested itineraryNew England Explorer

The perfect region to explore on an autumn fly drive holiday, the byways of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, provide a colourful backdrop to any New England road trip. Meandering through the White Mountains, the Berkshires and the Green Mountains can be done in spring and summer, but it is the autumn fall-foliage that really brings this region to life.

For a few weeks from late September until early November the numerous forests undergo a spectacular change, as the abundant deciduous trees begin to shed their leaves, but not before regaling us with colour changes from green to orange, red and yellow.

Boston to the White Mountains

A good starting point is the city of Boston, home to the Freedom Trail and the bar from Cheers, but also, importantly, a gateway to rural New England. You can follow the coast road north to visit Acadia National Park, an area that offers 6000 acres of protected forest and a rugged coastline. Head inland to climb into the White Mountains via the Crawford Notch Pass, stopping at the towns of Conway and Bretton Notch or continuing onwards towards Stowe in Vermont.

Green Mountains to Cape Cod

The colours of the fall naturally transition from north to south, so follow them down to the Green Mountains via Moss Glen Falls. Perhaps stop along the way to drive across one of the historic covered bridges in Vermont or New Hampshire. From the Berkshires, return to the coast south of Boston, and for a further change of scenery and enjoy a spot of whale watching off the end of Cape Cod.

Freedom Top Tip

“The first two weeks of October is New England’s peak season” says Caroline, part of Freedom’s expert America team. “But it’s a special time for locals too. What they call ‘leaf peeping’ is a popular pastime. It also marks the countdown to Halloween and then Thanksgiving so it’s a very important cultural moment in New England. I love seeing the wooden clad houses with pumpkins on every doorstep. It really is magical. But remember that the hotels and inns around New England are often quite small and traditional, so it is important to plan ahead and book your New England road trip earlier in the year. Don’t leave it until the last minute.”

3. Scenic Blue Ridge Parkway

Lynn Cove, Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway
LocationWashington D.C. to Nashville
Route HighlightsShenandoah N.P. and Great Smoky Mountains
Distance / Duration850 miles / 14 days
Best Time Of YearAutumn
Suggested ItineraryBlue Ridge Parkway

A relaxed driving road that follows America’s longest linear park for 469 miles through the states of Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway links the Great Smokey Mountains with Shenandoah National Park, along the peaks of Appalachian Mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway provides a great American road trip in spring and summer, when it is possible to see for miles from the heights that reach in excess of 5000 feet. However, in autumn the fall-foliage can rival New England for its vibrant colours.

Washington D.C & Shenandoah National Park

A great starting point for accessing the Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s Capital, Washington D.C. so it is worth an extra day or two to explore the city’s famous monuments, before getting on the road. Around 100 miles from the city is Shenandoah National Park, home to the Skyline Drive, offering panoramic views across the protected hills and valleys of the park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Beyond Roanoke, the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the border from Virginia to North Carolina, where it approaches the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The views remain spectacular all the way, occasionally interrupted by mountain towns, such as Blowing Rock and Asheville, where it is possible to enjoy boutique shops, local markets, restaurants and gastropubs.

Rather than double back to Virginia, it is possible to continue through the Chattahoochee National Forest, into Tennessee and on to the city of Nashville, where you can enjoy some music history and culture. It is easy to see why the Blue Ridge Parkway has been nicknamed “America’s Favourite Scenic Drive”.

Freedom Top Tip

“For mountains in the USA most people immediately think of America’s western states, but the Appalachian Mountains are much closer for those travelling from the UK, and equally scenic” says Phoenix, from Freedom’s America team. “In fact they reach closer to some of the major cities too, making them more accessible for fly-drive itineraries.”   

4. Fly Drive Florida

Overseas Highway, Florida Keys, USA
Overseas highway, Florida
LocationRound trip from Miami or Orlando
Route HighlightsFlorida Keys and the Everglades
Distance / Duration950 miles / 9 days
Best Time Of YearSpring
Suggested ItineraryFlorida’s Best

Florida’ sunshine state is a popular destination for many UK holidaymakers, but it is great shame if the most they see of the region is Orlando’s famous theme parks. With wildlife-filled National Parks and plenty of sandy beaches there is a lot to explore on Florida’s Best Road Trip.

Florida has great connectivity with the UK, with direct flights to both Orlando and Miami departing regularly from London and Manchester. It is also possible to fly directly to Tampa as well, which offers a good alternative, particularly during peak season.

Miami to the Florida Keys

You could choose to begin your Florida road tip in the cosmopolitan city of Miami. This will allow you to enjoy the stylish South Beach and the street art of Wynwood, before beginning your road trip. From Miami it is less than 100 miles to the Overseas Highway, that links the Florida Keys with the mainland. A series of 42 bridges cross over the shallow turquoise sea, between the islands all the way to Key West, where watching the sunset from Mallory Square is a daily celebration event.

Retracing your steps back to the mainland, you can then divert off to the west to cross the famous Everglades National Park. It is here that you can enjoy a spot of alligator watching from some of the raised walkways or an air-boat ride across the rivers of grass for the more adventurous.

Gulf Coast to Orlando

The Gulf Coast is home to relaxed resorts and white sandy beaches, and you can follow the coast up from Naples, via Fort Myers to Sarasota stopping at laid-back communities and seaside towns along the way. From Tampa you can then head across towards the Atlantic Coast to reach the tourist hot-spot of Orlando. There is more to Orlando than Disney, so for those adverse to rollercoasters and Mickey Mouse, a good alternative is to head across to Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, which charts the history of spaceflight. Surprisingly it is also home to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, which is home to some rare birds as well as the endangered manatee. Motorsport fans can also take a detour north to visit the racetrack at Daytona. You could end your trip in Orlando, or follow the coastline south back to Fort Lauderdale and Miami via the upmarket Palm Beach.

Freedom Top Tip

“Whilst the Everglades takes all the plaudits, there are two lesser-known National Parks that are definitely worth visiting whilst on a Florida road trip” explains Courtney in Freedom’s America team. “Just south of Miami is Biscayne National Park, and off the coast of Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park. Both require a boat trip to visit, but if you want a day out of the car, and enjoy snorkelling or paddle boarding, then both these parks are worth adding to your itinerary.”

5. Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Big Sur, California
Big Sur, California
LocationFrom San Francisco to Los Angeles
Route HighlightsMonterey Bay, Pebble Beach and Big Sur
Distance / Duration485 miles / 7 days
Best Time Of YearAll year round
Suggested ItineraryBest of California’s Coast

With beautiful coastal scenes, gorgeous sunshine, and a relaxed vibe, it is not difficult to appreciate the attractions of a road trip along California’s Highway 1 (now officially State Route 1). Following the winding California coastline for nearly 500 miles between California’s two biggest cities, makes this a frequently followed route. Strictly speaking the road stretches to 656 miles from north of San Francisco to South of LA, but it isn’t necessary to drive the whole road to enjoy the California feel.

We suggest starting this road trip in the welcoming city of San Francisco. Before collecting your car be sure to spend some time seeing the city sights. Perhaps begin at Fisherman’s Wharf and join a guided tour across to Alcatraz or get on a bike to cycle across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco to Carmel

Once in your car, begin your journey south along the coast to the marine focussed town of Monterey, and then the hot properties of Pebble Beach and Carmel. As well as the sardine industries at Monterey and the impressive aquarium, it is worth getting out on the water to enjoy a spot of whale watching around Monterey Bay while you are here.

Big Sur

From the gorgeous beaches around Carmel, follow the coast road south to enjoy one of the best driving routes in the world, Big Sur. Endless sweeping curves of the road take you past state parks and cliff-top views across the ocean, whilst majestic bridges link rocky headlands, with sandy bays beneath. Be sure to stop at the designated viewpoints to take it all in.

Santa Barbara to Santa Monica

A further 100 miles south of Big Sur, you will find yourself in Sant Barbara. Not only can you explore the beautiful beach towns like Morro Bay, but this area has become synonymous with California wine, so be sure to stop for refreshments or join a tour of one of the famous vineyards.

As your Highway 1 road trip approaches its end you will pass through the famous beachfront towns of Malibu and Santa Monica. You can pause here to enjoy the pier, or a walk along the promenade to Venice Beach, before ending your trip in Los Angeles. To enjoy the city, leave your car behind and join a bus tour, or enjoy the best of Hollywood with a visit to Universal Studios.

Freedom Top Tip

“The drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles can easily be completed in a week” says Lauren, part of Freedom’s America team. “But if you have a bit more time, it is worth considering a side trip to Yosemite National Park from San Francisco, or head across to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon from L.A. Perhaps the easiest add on is to continue south along the Pacific Coast Highway and visit San Diego and explore Southern California.”

6. Nashville to New Orleans: The Blues Highway

Bourbon Sign, New Orleans
Streets of New Orleans
LocationNashville to New Orleans
Route HighlightsGraceland, Memphis and Country Music Hall of Fame
Distance / Duration700 miles / 11 days
Best Time Of YearSpring
Suggested ItineraryNashville to New Orleans Road Trip

Music is an important consideration on any road trip, and you can combine them by following the legendary Blues Highway that links Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee with New Orleans, Louisiana. These locations need no introduction to music fans, but jazz and country aficionados aren’t the only ones who appreciate the cultural significance of these cities, and you don’t need to be a fan in order to experience them to their fullest.

We recommend you create a road trip playlist of your favourite artists from the region and hit the road, stopping now and again to enjoy a new city or enjoy the unique landscapes, and to work up an appetite for the culinary specialities the American south is famous for.

Explore Nashville

Begin your Blues Highway road trip in Nashville, the home of country music, although there is a lot of blues music history here too. Be sure to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame in the city and head down to Broadway for some live music entertainment. You may wish to join a behind the scenes tour of the Grand Ole Opry venue, or just enjoy the tunes in one of the amazing local restaurants.

Discover Memphis

Head southwest to Memphis where you can discover some of the stories of American soul music in the former home of Stax Records, who featured artists such as Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes. Memphis is perhaps most well-known as the birth place of rock ‘n’ roll, so be sure to visit Sun Studio that recorded tracks for Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and the legend that is Elvis Presley. No visit to Memphis could be complete without stopping by Graceland, to immerse yourself in all things Elvis.

Natchez to New Orleans

Continuing south via the historic town of Natchez on the Mississippi River, brings you all the way to New Orleans. This diverse city is a melting pot of French, Spanish and Cuban culture with traditional Creole influences. Park your car and explore the ornate garden district on foot, then hop on a streetcar to join the artists and musicians in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Enjoy some traditional food at Café du Monde and hen take to the famous Bourbon Street or Frenchman Street for some live jazz.

Freedom Top Tip

“The Blues Highway road trip shows you that driving routes don’t just have to be about National Parks and scenery. Road trips can follow different themes like culture, food and music” explains Victoria in Freedom’s America team. “When in New Orleans, why not take to the Mississippi River on a traditional paddle steamer. You can cruise, dine and enjoy music all at the same time.”  

How to plan your next American Road Trip

Arches National Park, Utah
Plan your American Road Trip

When is the best time to go?

America is truly a year-round destination. However, if you are planning on touring some of the northern states, then avoid the months between November and February when some roads are often closed due to snowfall. Likewise, expect some of the southern states like Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are going to be very hot in mid-summer.

Prices do vary throughout the year. Expect travel costs to rise during school holidays due to higher demand, but also be aware of local holidays like Thanksgiving or large sporting events, like the Superbowl, which artificially increase demand for hotel rooms.

How to get to America?

Presuming that you aren’t choosing to cruise across the Atlantic, then there aren’t many cities in the United States that aren’t served by direct flights from the UK. There are even more destinations available if you transit through one of America’s hub airports. UK airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are popular airlines to use, with American carriers, Delta, United and American Airlines also worth consideration. Ask for a personal recommendation when booking with the Freedom Destinations America team.

How much will it cost?

The great thing about American Road Trips is that they can be easily tailored to match your budget. The more nights you are away, the greater the cost, but there are plenty of motels and inns on most routes, that enable you to keep the costs down. An alternative worth considering is renting a motorhome (RV) in the US and taking your bedroom with you wherever you go.

Are there particular driving rules in America?

All the the basics about road safety apply, but otherwise driving around the USA is easy and hugely rewarding. Of course you should drive on the right, and always keep to the speed limits, as American police officers can be stricter in violations then their European counterparts.

How do I book my American Road Trip?

Once you have a destination in mind, get in touch with one of Freedom Destinations’ America Experts and they can tailor-make a road trip itinerary especially for you.


Richard has more than 25 years of experience working within the travel industry. He has travelled widely in the USA, Australia and Africa and enjoys exploring National Parks and other wilderness areas.