4 US Road Trips to Take Before You Die

Posted by Jimmy Im on July 31, 2013 at 1:56:22 PM EDT | Post a Comment

There's no better way to discover America than by criss-crossing the country via its most iconic highways. Whether you have fast wheels or an RV, these classic routes ensure breathtaking scenery and terrific attractions along the way. Summer is the best time to cruise, so grab your family, friends, or significant other and embark on a journey on wheels through our majestic country with four top itineraries we assembled below.

Pacific Coast Highway: Los Angeles to San Francisco


Distance: 400 miles

A favorite for West Coast road-trippers, day-trippers, and even honeymooners, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) runs along the Pacific Ocean from Southern California to Washington, though the Los Angeles to San Francisco stretch is the highlight with charming beach towns and state parks along the way. The cliff-hugging road stretches approximately 400 miles with ocean views dominating most of the drive.

Stop in Malibu for gorgeous beaches and watch surfers take to the waves. A celebrity sighting or two here isn't unlikely. Santa Barbara is a must-stop spot for whale watching and visiting one (or several, depending on your schedule) of the terrific wineries, San Luis Obispo, which critics refer to as the "most California town," is big on small-town charm. Many visitors complain they can't capture the wildly scenic views of Big Sur's natural landscape (chockfull of redwood trees) in their point-and-shoot. For some more natural attractions, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Monterey Bay is where many artists visit to get inspired.

Road to Hana: Maui, Hawaii


Distance: 68 miles

Visitors don't truly experience Maui without driving its iconic Hana Highway, which snakes along the Northeast coast on wild and thrilling curves, bends, and twists. The tropical seascapes are exotic but it's the number of waterfall pools along the highway that makes the journey truly "Hawaiian." Start in Paia, a former plantation village that's happily overrun by surfer types and highbrow families alike.

Start with a hearty breakfast at Charley's, then stop for a quick plunge at Twin Falls, a waterfall pool that's easily accessible from the road. If you need to stretch your legs, stop at Waikamoi Ridge Trail, a relatively flat nature trail that's no more than a mile loop. Just as rewarding as the drive is the final stop, Hana, a bohemian and "retro" town where locals still walk barefoot and fire up barbecues on the regular. Stay at Travaasa Hana right on the bay for a luxurious, "Old Hawaii" experience.

Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia to North Carolina


Distance: 470 miles

Road trippers can expect lush forestry and some majestic mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 470-mile drive connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. While it averages roughly 13-14 hours to drive, plenty of highlights along the way ensure you'll want to take several days to explore the route. Locals call the Blue Ridge Parkway a "window" to the region as several cultural and unique towns are right off the highway.

Visitors stop for a photo opp at the Humpback Rocks in Blue Ridge, VA, a natural rock outcrop that has a storied history. Nearby is the Natural Bridge of Virginia in Rockbridge Country, one of the oldest tourist destinations in the country and constantly voted as one of America's best natural wonders. Stop in Roanoke, the largest metropolitan city along the route, to visit charming farmer's markets.

Several attractions await in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, but a road tripper's favorite is the actual Blowing Rock itself, a cliff looming 4,000 feet above sea level, harboring magnificent views of Hawksbill Mountain and Table Rock. For the mother of all views, stop at Waterrock Knob, which, at just more than 6,000-feet high, showcases breathtaking mountain views.

Route 66: Arizona


Distance: 370 miles

The classic Route 66 connected Chicago to Los Angeles via Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. While it was officially removed from the US highway system in 1985, die-hard road trippers still follow the historic road, and Arizona holds many of its highlights. From Toprock on the western border, Route 66 rolls north to Seligman. Road trippers get a good feel of Old West here with ubiquitous tumbleweeds and saguaros.

After an amusing stop in Oatman (which still stages gunfights), pass through oddball and sleepy towns like Hackberry, Valentine, and Truxton, then pull the brakes at Grand Canyon Caverns for trippy cavern touring. Holbrook keeps it kitsch with the Wigwam Motel and its teepee rooms.

Jimmy Im is a freelance travel writer based in LA. He's hosted programs on the Travel Channel and LOGO, and makes regular appearances on morning news shows as a "travel expert." Follow him on Twitter: @dieselmad.

Photo credits: Pacific Coast via Shutterstock; Road to Hana courtesy of Jon Jackson; Blue Ridge Parkway/Great Smoky Mountains via Shutterstock; Route 66 via Dreamstime.com

Member Comments (4)  Post a Comment

  • peterboy on Mar 18, 14 at 12:03 PM

    Jimmy Im needs to get out of LA more. There are NO saguaro cacti anywhere near Rt. 66 in as is passes through northern Arizona.


  • Nicole_C Fodor's editor on Aug 5, 13 at 10:29 AM

    Hi Guys,
    LanSluder -- sharp eye! We are making the necessary updates to the story right now. We did find, however, that Roanoke has a higher population than Asheville. Thank you!

  • macmcenheimer on Aug 3, 13 at 04:22 PM

    You're exactly right. I've been riding the Parkway for several decades on my motorcycle. A few of my friends have ridden it by motorcycle in one day but I'm sure they weren't paying attention to the speed limit. They rode it from Waynesboro VA south and it was well after dark when they arrived in Cherokee NC.

    Unfortunately I have never ridden the Pacific Coast Hwy but i have stayed at Holiday Inn Express once. On my way to Alaska (by motorcycle of course) i picked up the coast just north of San Fran and rode it to the northernmost point in Washington which is where I boarded a ferry to Vancouver Island. After riding it to Port hardy I took the Port Hardy Inside Passage ship to Prince Rupert BC. The next day I boarded an Alaska Marine Hwy ferry which took me to Alaska.

  • LanSluder on Aug 3, 13 at 10:56 AM

    There are at least three errors in the section on the Blue Ridge Parkway:

    1. The largest metropolitan area on the Parkway is not Roanoke, Va., but Asheville, N.C. According to the 2010 Census, the Asheville MSA had a population of 424,858 while the Roanoke MSA population was 308,707. Asheville, by the way, is the headquarters of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    2. You state that the elevation at Waterrock Knob overlook is 7,000 feet. Actually, the highest elevation on the entire Parkway is only 6,053 ft., and the highest elevation in all of Eastern America, 6,684 ft. is at Mt. Mitchell, which is near but not on the Parkway. The elevation of the Waterrock Knob peak is 6,292 ft., but the BRP overlook elevation is several hundred feet lower.

    3. The article says it takes 10 roughly hours to drive the 470 miles of the BRP. If you drove it in 10 hours, you'd be breaking the law, because the maximum speed limit on the Parkway is 45 mph. In some areas, the speed limit is 35 mph or lower. Anyone who has ever driven even a section or two of the Parkway knows that realistically you can only average 35 or 40 mph. Even without stopping, it takes 13 to 15 hours to drive the entire length (technically 469 miles), depending on weather and traffic conditions.