Whether you’re going solo, spending quality time with your bestie or making lifelong memories with the kids, summer is the perfect time to hit the open road.
The daylight hours are long, the weather is gentler and the country’s landscapes are teeming with life and color. With hundreds of amazing routes covering the most scenic parts of America, it can be tough to choose. So, here are five great routes that will inspire your own road trip wanderlust.
Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West
- Best for: Fans of turquoise waters
- Distance: 166 miles
- Estimated time: 3.5 hours nonstop, 3-4 days with stops
The drive through the Florida Keys isn’t a long one, but it’s so beautiful that it’s worth slowing down to enjoy the natural and cultural gems sprinkled along the route.
Pick up US-1 in downtown Miami and head south toward the Keys. If you have a little extra time before leaving the city, consider a diversion to South Beach for great people-watching against the backdrop of Art Deco architecture. But if you prefer gator-watching instead, stop in Florida City for a side trip to Everglades National Park.
Once you leave the Everglades, you’ll cross into Key Largo, home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Because of the shallow waters, this park is the perfect launch pad for snorkeling, scuba diving and glass-bottom boat tours.
This route has earned its moniker “Overseas Highway” honestly. Along some stretches of the drive, the surrounding land is not much wider than the highway, and in other places there is no land at all, only long, narrow bridges. But, a few of the keys are large enough to house sleeper communities known for their B&B accommodations, fresh seafood and tiki bars, as well as nature centers like the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, the Windley Key Fossil Reef State Park and the Turtle Hospital.
Even if you don’t stop overnight in one of these island villages, the turquoise views along US-1 are stunning. And, once you reach Key West, you’ll want to stay a couple days to explore what the island-city has to offer.
Pacific Coast Highway: Point Reyes to San Simeon
- Best for: The romantic at heart
- Distance: 238 miles
- Estimated time: 6-7 hours nonstop, 3-4 days with stops
Where dizzying cliffs, vibrant sunsets, massive trees and ocean blues intersect, coastal California boasts some of the most stunning scenery in the country. This stretch of Pacific Coast Highway is particularly enticing.
The route begins at the Point Reyes National Seashore, known for its wild elk, intense wind gusts and historic lighthouse that sits at the base of a 300-stair descent. Farther south, you’ll drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and through the Presidio of San Francisco, a former military base transformed into a national recreation area.
As you continue south, you’ll feast on artichokes in Castroville, celebrate Pacific sea life at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, dig the artistic vibe of Carmel-by-the-Sea where Clint Eastwood once served as mayor, and relish the abundant wildlife and seaside hiking trails in the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
Just beyond Point Lobos, the roads grow narrower and the scenery more breathtaking. When you start this stretch, be sure there’s plenty of daylight and your camera batteries are charged. You’ll want to stop at every vista point you see along the way, especially Big Sur. When the meandering coastal road returns to sea level, you’ll know you’re not far from San Simeon, the final town on this road trip itinerary. Here, you can spend the morning touring the grounds of Hearst Castle and the afternoon searching for seals on the neighboring beaches.
Get Your Kicks on Route 66: Chicago to Santa Monica
- Best for: A taste of historic, small-town America
- Distance: 2,138 miles
- Estimated time: 32 hours nonstop, 7-10 days with stops
For generations, crooners like have been singing about the wiles of Route 66. Even though it doesn’t officially appear as a single route on U.S. maps anymore, the roads and the Americana it contains still exist.
The journey starts in downtown Chicago and heads southwest through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, where it ends at the Santa Monica Pier. Along the route, you’ll encounter the St. Louis Gateway Arch, giant sculptures, rusty cars, eateries, Maisel’s Indian Trading Post,
markets and motels—some dating back to the 1920s and ’30s.
In addition to these historic sites, Route 66 provides easy access to natural wonders, such as the limestone Meramec Caverns of Missouri, Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest national parks in Arizona, and, heading into California, Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and Joshua Tree National Park. This route is the perfect way to experience the heartland of America.
Coastal Maine: Portland to Quoddy Head State Park
- Best for: Lovers of all things quaint
- Distance: 266 miles
- Estimated time: 6-7.5 hours nonstop, 4-5 days with stops
Dotted with white-sand beaches, quaint seaside villages, Victorian architecture, antique shops, pottery studios, lighthouses and small marinas, this coastal Maine road trip takes you through quintessential New England.
Beginning in Portland, Maine’s largest city, this route runs north until just before the Canadian border. A trip like this is best taken at a leisurely place. Route 1 meanders through small towns, allowing you to stop wherever the inspiration strikes. Be sure to spend a little time in Camden, Rockport and especially Bar Harbor, which serves as the gateway to Acadia National Park.
Ranked as a bike-friendly state by the League of American Bicyclists, Maine is a great place to rent or bring your bikes. With a series of well-established riding loops through the region, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore hidden nooks and crannies on two wheels.
This road trip wraps at Quoddy Head State Park, which offers cliffside hiking trails, glimpses of Canada and some of Maine’s best wildlife-watching during the summer months.
Red Rock Alley: Sedona to Arches National Park
- Best for: Channeling your inner naturalist
- Distance: 676 miles
- Estimated time: 12-13 hours nonstop, 6 days with stops
While the other road trip itineraries combine constructed spaces and cultural artifacts with natural landscapes, this route focuses solely on the great outdoors. In a fairly compact region spanning Arizona and Utah, there are a wealth of national parks and scenic views.
Home to dozens of impressive red rock formations, Sedona, Arizona, is an excellent introduction to the geology of this part of the country. For the best views, take a leisurely drive along the Red Rock Scenic Byway, a 7.5-mile stretch of SR-179 just south of the city. After a day exploring Sedona, head to Grand Canyon National Park for a bit of hiking along its south rim, and if you’re super adventurous, you can hike down to the canyon floor.
A couple hours north you’ll find Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon located on Navajo tribal land near Lake Powell. Unlike the Grand Canyon, whose immense size can sometimes be overwhelming, Antelope lets you get up close and personal with the canyon walls. Colorful hues, swirly rock patterns and beams of sunlight cutting through make Antelope Canyon a photographer’s dream.
Just across the border in Utah sit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Both offer great hiking opportunities among the red rocks, but Bryce is particularly known for its terrain filled with odd-shaped erosion-formed rock pillars called hoodoos. The final stop is Arches National Park, which contains, among other formations, more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. By the end of this journey, you’ll be amazed at how many variations in shape and hue red rocks can have.
These are just five of the hundreds of possible road trips you can take this summer. Is there a city, a landmark or a national park that you’ve always wanted to see? Gas up your wheels, grab a map, and go!