Special Report

The 15 Ultimate Summer Road Trips

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It would take a lifetime to travel every road and experience the whole country. From the Mojave Desert to the snow-covered summit of Denali, the United States’ 3.8 million square miles of land contain examples of nearly every climate zone on earth.

With so much to explore, 24/7 Tempo planned out the 15 ultimate summer road trips to bring you to the far reaches of the American landscape.

Whether it’s sunny beaches, bar-hopping, or remote mountains, the country has something to offer everyone. Remember to take the back roads, and stop often if you want to see some really cool and jaw-dropping places — these are the most beautiful attractions in America. The journey is the destination.

To compile a list of 15 of the best road trips you can take this summer, 24/7 Tempo reviewed multiple travel guides. Only trips that are over 300 miles were selected because a road trip inherently means it will take more than a day. Trips that will only take a few hours were excluded.

Click here to see the 15 absolute best summer road trips.

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1. Pacific Coast Highway
> Start / end: Crescent City, California to San Diego, California
> Miles: 988

Highway 101 south from Crescent City takes you through some of California’s best giant redwood forests. In Leggett, hop on Highway 1 to the coast, where you’ll drive along cliffs of blooming wildflowers, and can stop at the Little River Blowhole, a sinkhole that fills with ocean waves at high tide. Hiking options along the way include the short Gualala Bluff Trail, or a jaunt around Big Sur. Stop at the Golden Gate Bridge, and don’t miss the beach towns of Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara.


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2. Loneliest Road
> Start / end: Pueblo, Colorado to South Lake Tahoe, California
> Miles: 1,066

U.S. Route 50 runs coast to coast from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California, but the scenery peaks through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to the iconic Nevada corridor known as the Loneliest Road in America. Worthwhile detours are the painted rocks of Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park, Colorado, and the red sandstone formations at Arches National Park in Utah. Finish off by exploring the high mountain peaks surrounding Lake Tahoe.

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3. Alaska Highway
> Start / end: Dawson’s Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska
> Miles: 1,459

Winding through the northlands of British Columbia, the Alaska Highway traverses the Rocky Mountains, then continues into the rugged Yukon Territory, touching on countless lakes and pristine wilderness. Don’t miss the Liard River Hot Springs and Muncho Lake in B.C., and Miles Canyon and the historic capital city of Whitehorse in the Yukon. The Highway ends in the Alaskan Tanana Valley, but for an epic finale, continue on from Fairbanks to Denali National Park.

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4. Desert Rocks Trail
> Start / end: Prescott, Arizona to Moab, Utah
> Miles: 724

Beginning in the lively city of Prescott, Arizona, take route 89A through the Black Hills and stop for lunch in the historic mountain town of Jerome, which is built into a steep hillside. Head onward to Sedona for stunning red rock views and take a dip in Oak Creek Canyon. Fuel up in Flagstaff because next is a series of desert landmarks. After peering over the south rim of the Grand Canyon, head to Zion National Park and Utah’s Route 12 to explore Bryce Canyon and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. When you reach Moab, the opportunities for continuing the trek are limitless.


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5. Blue Ridge Parkway
> Start / end:Front Royal, Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina
> Miles: 469

Starting at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the Appalachian Mountains to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina with more scenic overlooks than you’ll be able to count. Caverns, waterfalls, preserved historic sites, and diverse forests await. Stop at the Natural Bridge, Linville Falls, and Mount Mitchell, the highest point on the eastern seaboard. For Appalachian cultural immersion, try the Blue Ridge Music Center or the Southern Highland Folk Center.

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6. Southern Gems
> Start / end: Charleston, South Carolina to Nashville, Tennessee via New Orleans
> Miles: 1,358

For an entertainment-themed road trip with endless bars, restaurants, and live music venues, take this Southern route that starts in the charming historic city of Charleston, with its cobblestone streets and distinctive Gullah cuisine. Head down the coast to Savannah and bask in the shade of picturesque oak tree tunnels at Wormsloe, then head to New Orleans for live jazz, street performers, and boiled crawfish. From there head up Route 61 — the Blues Highway — through Mississippi to Memphis and Nashville, stopping at the many blues museums and clubs along the way.


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7. National Parks Tour
> Start / end: Jackson, Wyoming to Glacier National Park, Montana
> Miles: 558

Starting in Jackson Hole, take Route 390 into Grand Teton National Park, stopping to hike at Jenny Lake amongst the towering peaks of the Tetons. From there, head into Yellowstone National Park. Don’t miss the rainbow waters of the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Detour to Bozeman or Missoula for refreshments, then head to Glacier National Park and take one of the most scenic drives in the country along Going to the Sun Road, where you’ll see alpine lakes, cliffs, wildflowers, and some of the last glaciers in the park.

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8. Pacific Northwest Coast
> Start / end: San Juan Islands, Washington to Brookings, Oregon
> Miles: 687

From rainforest to sand dunes to oceanside cliffs, this drive has a bit of everything. Begin on Orcas Island in the San Juans by driving up Mount Constitution for a great view. Leave by ferry and head into Olympic National Park, where you can walk in the Hoh rainforest, one of the largest temperate rainforests in the country. Then take Highway 101 into Oregon, where the coastal scenery astounds at every bend. Stop at Sea Lion Caves, Ecola State Park, or the Oregon Dunes and don’t miss the cliff views at Otter Point and Cape Sebastian.

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9. Route 66
> Start / end: Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California
> Miles: 2,500

Before the Interstate, there was the Mother Road, Route 66. Spanning eight states between Chicago and Santa Monica, the former “Main Street of America” is dotted with Americana: vintage gas stations, diners, drive-in theaters, and a diverse array of roadside attractions. You won’t be able to miss the muffler man in Springfield, Illinois, the huge milk bottle in Oklahoma City, or Cadillac Ranch, in Amarillo, Texas. Natural wonders also abound, like the Petrified Forest in Arizona, and the Amboy Crater in California.


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10. El Camino Sierra
> Start / end: Joshua Tree National Park to Lake Tahoe, California
> Miles: 527

California Route 395 runs from the deserts of southern California near Joshua Tree National Park into the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, passing by such well-known destinations as Death Valley, Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite, Mono Lake, and Lake Tahoe. If exploring jaw-dropping national parks isn’t enough, you can visit the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, where dozens of Western movies have been filmed, or the ancient bristlecone pines in the White-Inyo Mountains — the oldest trees in the world.

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11. Alaska Pipeline
> Start / end: Homer, Alaska to Valdez, Alaska
> Miles: 519

At the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, Homer, Alaska is a great place to seek out whales and other wildlife. From there, the drive up the coast features volcano views, a historic Russian fur trader village, and a dump where hundreds of bald eagles tend to congregate. Pass through old gold mining towns and fishing villages, then from Anchorage to Valdez, and witness mountains that rise to 14,000 feet, ancient glaciers, and waterfalls in Keystone Canyon.


Source: Philippe Gratton / Getty Images

12. Seafood Trail
> Start / end: Portland, Maine to Prince Edward Island, Canada
> Miles: 543

Route 1 follows the Maine coastline on what is sometimes called the Lobster Trail. From Portland, where lobsters and art are plentiful, head up the coast through Maine’s many idyllic oceanside towns to Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park. From there, the towns are fewer and far between, and the coastline is king. Cross the Canadian border in New Brunswick and drive along the Bay of Fundy, being sure to stop at the geologic wonder, Hopewell Rocks. Cross the massive Federation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, and end at Cavendish Beach, where more seafood awaits.

Source: JacobH / Getty Images

13. Wild West Tour
> Start / end: Taos, New Mexico to Bisbee, Arizona
> Miles: 579

The Wild West tour takes you from one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in the United States — Taos Pueblo, a pre-Columbian settlement — to the old mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. From Taos, head north for the scenic route through Carson National Forest, then south to Santa Fe, a city known for its arts culture and architecture. After visiting the famous Santa Fe farmers market, head to Caballo Reservoir then turn west on Route 152 to Silver City, through the Gila National Forest, where you can explore hot springs, ancient cliff dwellings, and high desert landscapes. In Arizona, stop at Tombstone, home of the O.K. Corral, for a gunfight reenactment before ending at Bisbee.

Source: Thomas R Machnitzki ([email protected]) / Wikimedia Commons

14. Great River Road
> Start / end: Bemidji, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana
> Miles: 3,000

Following the Mississippi River from its headwaters in Minnesota through 10 states, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway traverses wild countryside, canyons, farmland, cities, and hundreds of small towns in the heart of America. Cross Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans off your bucket list in one trip, and visit some of the numerous Native American archaeological sites along the way.


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15. Michigan Coast
> Start / end: Holland, Michigan to Potawatomi Falls, Michigan
> Miles: 733

This trip along Lake Michigan and Lake Superior passes waterfalls, sand dunes, lighthouses, cliffs, and so many beaches. Beginning at the Big Red Lighthouse in Holland, skirt the coast and visit several more historic lighthouses and Sleeping Bear Dunes before stopping in Suttons Bay to visit one of the area’s cider makers. Then follow the scenic coast to the Upper Peninsula, heading to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Seven potential waterfall stops lie to the west before you reach Potawatomi Falls on the Black River Scenic Byway.

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