The summer solstice finally happened, meaning the days are longer, the grass is greener, the birds are chirping and the smell of freshly-applied sunscreen is wafting through the air. And that can only mean one thing: It’s road trip season.
But, before you can hop into a hot set of wheels (preferably a drop top convertible) and drive off into the sunset, you’ve got to plan your route. But, have no fear, as the United States is chock full of roadways that will make your traveling heart go aflutter. Here are a few of the best drives across America’s 4 million miles of roadways that you should travel through this summer.
Route 66, Chicago to Santa Monica
Come on, you can’t talk about road trips in the United States without discussing the famed Route 66, which runs from Illinois all the way to California. And, at more than 2,500 miles long you really could spend the entire season exploring stops along the way.
First established in 1926, the roadway became a major part of our pop culture lexicon thanks to songs like “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch.” And, by making appearances in movies like “Rain Man” and in books such as “The Grapes of Wrath,” the route is really is as American as apple pie.
Pacific Coast Highway, California
State Route 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, is without a doubt one of the most scenic drives you can take up and down this great nation. Crossing more than 655 miles, the PCH is the longest continuous route in California.
Along the way, travelers can stop in Huntington Beach to catch a few waves with the surfer dudes dotting the shore, stop in at the Santa Monica Pier to ride the famed roller coaster, visit a Santa Barbara winery, pull over to spot a few blue whales as they swim past Big Sur, and check out the Golden Gate Bridge toward the end of their drive. Just make sure to bring your bathing suit along for the ride.
Great River Road, Minnesota to Louisiana
While this drive certainly is great, don’t let the name fool you. The Great River Road isn’t just one road, but rather a collection of routes traveling along the Mississippi River.
Using this path, drivers can journey more than 3,000 miles through 10 states. And this year may be the ideal year to travel it as the route is actually celebrating its 80th birthday.
On the road, Experience The Mississippi River explained, drivers and passengers can enjoy local cuisine, check out unparalleled scenic views and even stop in for live music at the plethora of bars and venues along the way. Check out their website to plan each section of the route, buy some gas, and get to driving.
Overseas Highway, Miami to Key West
Over the course of the 113-mile Overseas Highway from Miami to Key West, drivers will be rewarded by some seriously stunning ocean views.
And though most people head straight for Key West (which would take about three hours from Miami), it’s crucial to stop along the way, otherwise, you’re going to miss out on all the best spots.
Spots like Bahia Honda Key, which is nearly uninhabited, is home to one of Florida’s most beautiful state parks. There, visitors can switch off their engine, pay $8 to enter the park and find a private little stretch of sand just for them for literally the entire day. And, if you’re willing, you could even camp out overnight next to the hermit crabs and under the southern Florida stars.
The Loneliest Road, Nevada
US Route 50 may be the perfect road trip for solo travelers this summer as it’s also referred to as “The Loneliest Road in America.”
But, being lonely isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially when you get to drive from Carson City to Baker, and stop at hot springs, a few of the best burger joints in the country, and get to experience a truly solitary environment, free of most people and signs, so you can get really introspective about your driving odyssey. Indeed, you can go miles, and miles, and miles without seeing another person — just grass, mountains and wild open country. So make sure to have a playlist handy to keep you company. Start building an itinerary for your trip down the lonely road here.
Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, Colorado
At just 82 miles long, the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway is the shortest drive on this list, however, as the saying goes, “great things come in small packages.”
As the Colorado Department of Transportation explained, the byway passes through the town of Leadville, which is located at an elevation of 10,200 feet, making it the highest incorporated community in the United States.
But, behind that town, drivers will get to cross the Continental Divide twice and check out the communities of Redcliff, Minturn, and Twin Lakes. At each place, visitors can experience not only the charm of these incredibly small towns (Red Cliff, for example, is home to just 270 people), but they’ll also get to see the U.S. from some of its highest peaks. Which could make the altitude sickness totally worth it.
Alaska Highway, British Columbia to Alaska
Though technically an international drive, the Alaska Highway most certainly deserves a spot on Departure’s list of best road trip destinations.
The highway, which begins at Mile 0 in British Columbia, winds its way through the stunning mountains and valleys of the Yukon Territory, ending at Delta Junction in Alaska. It is truly perfect for those looking to add just a bit more backcountry adventure to their summer road trip.
In total, the highway stretches for more than 1,700 miles, with 200 of those miles actually in America’s most northern state. While driving through, stop in at Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, which Travel+Leisure explains, sits at a major migration point for birds traveling to and from Canada throughout the year.
Once you finish this trip all you need to do is figure out your route back to the contiguous United States and you should be all set. Who knows, you may even make it back in time to see the fall leaves start changing colors.