“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
– John Muir, The Yosemite (1912)
Get your motor runnin’ and head out on the highway. Adventure awaits on these uniquely American road trips.
From purple mountain majesties to alabaster cities, America has some of the best landscapes and roadways in the world. The vast, sprawling scenery has inspired many great works of art, philosophy, science, and of course, epic road trips.
If you’re yearning for a new, beautiful, and intrinsically patriotic experience, channel your inner Jack London/Kerouac and start planning your next great American Road Trip. To help, here’s our list of the best road trips and destinations in America. Get lost!
A couple tips before we begin:
- Leave yourself plenty of time for spontaneous trips and longer-than-expected stays
- Stock your vehicle with the essentials (and non-essentials)
- Check/change your fluids and tires, and get your vehicle ready for the trip.
- Obtain paper maps (maps and guides can be found at your local AAA)
- Speaking of AAA, consider purchasing roadside assistance
- Play fun car games
- Make sure you have a suitable vehicle
- Drive on America’s National Scenic Byways if you can
- Plan your route (log in to Google and click “Create Map” in “Maps”)
- Bring binoculars
The best time for a road trip is between spring and fall. You may want to wait until October for annual fall foliage displays. Double check peak fall color times to make sure. And always check road and weather conditions.
Great Smoky Mountain Road Trip
Source: National Park Service
- Start: Chattanooga, TN
- Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, TN
- Raccoon Mountain Caverns in Chattanooga, TN
- Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, TN
- Chattahoocee National Forest
- Nantahala National Forest
- Mountain Farm Museum and Qualla Arts and Crafts in Cherokee, NC
- Cataloochee Valley (Hannah Cabin) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Boogerman Trail loop
- Big Witch Overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Devil’s Courthouse overlook trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway
- North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC
- Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC
- Jack of the Wood, a Celtic-style bar in Asheville, NC
End: Asheville, NC
As Tennessee natives ourselves, it’s hard not to be inspired by the wild beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. One of the most popular national parks in the country, the Great Smoky Mountains attracts millions of visitors every year. And rightly so. Don’t be afraid to wander.
If you live near Chattanooga, Cleveland, or Dayton, as we do, you’ll want to pass through the Chattahoochee and Nantahala National Forests and enter the Great Smoky Mountains from the Cherokee, NC entrance. If you’re on the eastern side of the park, start in Asheville, NC.
It’s not a very long road trip, more of a weekend trip, but if you are taking a road trip anywhere in Tennessee, be sure to include the Smokies on your list. Most visitors enter through the Gatlinburg–Pigeon Forge into the park, but a better entrance might be the quieter North Carolina entrance through Maggie Valley and into Cherokee.
The views and wildlife are stunning. You may even be lucky enough to witness the famous blue haze associated with the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Make the trip in May or June and the skyline often has a deep pink and/or red glow.
As you wind your way through the scenery, it will seem to change by the minute—rolling valleys, spring wildflowers, soft fog, dense forests, steep mountains, and occasional log cabins and grist mills. Don’t be afraid to pull over along lookout points, such as Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park, and the popular Chimney Tops picnic area. Just watch out for the black bears!
After a few days in nature, we recommend taking the gorgeous Blue Ride Parkway (an amazing road trip on its own) from Cherokee to Asheville (or vice versa if you are entering from that side).
Watch this video to learn more about Clingmans Dome and the Great Smoky Mountains:
The Blues Highway Road Trip
Source: Wikimedia Commons
- Start: Memphis, TN
- Graceland and B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis, TN
- Blues and Legends Hall of Fame in Tunica, MS
- The Hollywood Café and/or Blue & White Restaurant in Tunica, MS
- Devil’s Crossroads in Clarksdale, MS
- Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, MS
- Hopson Plantation, Cat Head, and Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, MS
- White Front Café in Rosedale, MS
- End: New Orleans, LA
Take a ride on the Blues Highway (US 61), Bob Dylan’s famous Highway 61 that runs from Wyoming, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana, to experience a unique musical journey. We begin our trip in Memphis. From there, you’ll travel to the same towns and juke joints as Bessie Smith, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Elvis, and other legends once did.
Following the course of the Mississippi River all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, there’s plenty to hear, see, and taste on this road trip. Start in Memphis and hit up one of the hundreds of amazing Memphis-style barbecue joints. Some local favorites are Tops Bar-B-Q, Corky’s Ribs & BBQ, and Leonard’s Pit Barbecue. Stay the night at the historic Peabody Hotel (or just visit for a drink). And don’t forget about Graceland!
After a day or two in Memphis, head to the Blues and Legends Hall of Fame in Tunica, Just 40 minutes away, our next stop is Clarksdale, the birthplace of Muddy Waters and deathplace of Bessie Smith. Visit the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49, which is said the be “The Crossroads” where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for his musical talent. For a great live music experience, make sure to check out who’s playing at Cat Head and Ground Zero Blues Club. Nearby is the Delta Blues Museum.
After Clarksdale, you can choose a variety of different options. We recommend getting on the quieter Highway 1 (part of The Great River Road National Scenic Byway—a great road trip by itself), which runs along the Mississippi River’s “Great Wall.” There are lots of beautiful stops along the way, including the Trotter Landing ghost town. Stop for hot tamales at White Front Café in Rosedale.
As your trip approaches the end, don’t miss all the sites and entertainment in Vicksburg. The Vicksburg National Military Park and the Old Courthouse Museum are top attractions, but you’ll definitely want to stop to visit Margaret’s Grocery. It’s no longer a country market, but rather a sort of “voodoo” Christian cathedral, one of the most unique places of worship in the country.
End the trip in New Orleans and enjoy great live blues and everything the city has to offer. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
The Ozarks Road Trip
- Start: Fort Smith, Arkansas
- Devil’s Den State Park in West Fork, AR
- Roaring River State Park in Cassville, MO
- Mark Twain National Forest in Rolla, MO
- Silver Dollar City in Branson, AR
- Mystic Caverns in Harrison, AR
- Buffalo National River near Harrison, AR
- Cosmic Cavern in Barryville, AR
- Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, AR
- Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, AR
- Onyx Cave Park in Eureka Springs, AR
- Great Passion Play (May through October) in Eureka Springs, AR
- Ozark Cafe in Jaspers, AR
- The Inn at Mountain View Bed and Breakfast
- End: Rogers, AR
Start your trip in northwest Arkansas at the Fort Smith National Historic Site and visit the museum. Then follow a loop, up toward Eureka Springs, into Missouri, and then back down into Arkansas to Mountain View, Jasper, and on to Rogers, AR.
Whatever you’re looking for in a road trip—roadside attractions, outdoor adventure, a happy family—you’ll find in the Ozarks, which means “toward Arkansas.” The most mountainous region between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains, it’s known for scenic drives bathed in moonlight and is surrounded by deciduous trees and some of the nation’s most beautiful waterways.
Sometimes referred to as the Ozark Mountains or Ozark Mountain Country, it basically covers the entire northwestern and north central region of Arkansas and much of the southern half of Missouri.
Wind down the roadway during the fall foliage season and you’ll be witness to the spectacular display of shifting saffron and various shades of red, purple, black, pink, magenta, yellow, orange, and brown. Driving through the beauty of the Ozarks, replete with songbirds and deer, is a distinctly American experience not to be missed.
The Borderlands, TX
- Start: Fort Stockton
- Carlsbad Caverns
- Davis Mountain
- Museum of Big Bend in Alpine
- Hotel Paisano in Marfa
- Chinati Foundation in Marfa
- The Food Shark in Marfa
- Ghost town of Shafter
- River Road
- End: Big Bend National Park
You may recognize this area when you come to it. The landscape has been used as the backdrop for some big Hollywood movies like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.
With spectacular canyons, mountain, and rivers, the Big Bend region seems to come from a different planet. The borderland is characterized by huge space-bending skies, rugged mountains, grassland, and large swaths of desert. It is often compared to African landscapes due to its terrain and wildlife.
The borderland trip starts in Fort Stockton, an old oil town, and progresses to Alpine, a gateway to Big Bend National Park, and through to the artsy and spiritual town of Marfa. From there ride through Paisano Pass and to the ghost town of Shafter. After that, cruise down the beautiful River Road (FM-170) to Study Butte. The overlooking views are some of the best this country has to offer.
The Big Bend region contains over one million acres of public land, including Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. End the trip in Big Bend National Park. If you are just driving through, be sure to take Basin Road into the Chisos mountain range. Replenish yourself at Gage Hotel in the tiny town of Marathon, one of the filming locations for Wim Wenders’ movie Paris, Texas.
Highway 89 National Park Road Trip
- Start: Tumacacori National Historical Park, AZ
- Saguaro National Park, AZ
- Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
- Zion National Park, UT
- Kolob Canyon Road, UT
- Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
- Capital Reef National Park, UT
- Arches National Park, UT
- Canyonlands National Park, UT
- Yellowstone National Park, WY, MO, ID
- End: Yellowstone National Park, MO
U.S. Highway 89 passes through 5 states and 7 national parks, clearly making it the longest of all the road trips on the list. If you’re not in a rush, the entire trip is definitely worth. Don’t worry though, you can choose to do one state or a small portion.
If you do choose one state, however, make it Utah. The surreal, Martian landscape of canyons, hoodoos, alcoves, and arches make it unlike anywhere else on Earth. If you make it one park, go with Yellowstone National Park.
U.S. 89 starts in Flagstaff, Arizona and proceeds north, passing near the Grand Canyon National Park, the second of the seven national parks along the way. Once you hit Utah, be sure to spend some time in the Zion National Park and the Bryce Canyon National Park.
The highway proceeds into Idaho around Bear Lake. In Wyoming and Montana, you have Yellowstone National Park, which should be on everybody’s bucket list.
Click here for a collection of posts to help you plan your Highway 89 road trip.
The Best Road Trip (According to Science)
Source: Google Maps
If you are looking for the most efficient route for visiting all of the nation’s best landmarks, some scientists (Randy Olson and Tracy Staedter) have generated the “perfect” map that does just that. It hits all 48 states in the contiguous U.S. and all the major U.S. landmarks, ideal for traveling by car.
How to Survive a Road Trip
America is a force of nature. You have to be prepared for nearly anything when you go on any of these road trips, especially if you have children. Precipitation, cold temperatures, and thick clouds are common at the top of mountains while dry weather and hot temperatures will meet you at some of the country’s lowest points. Dress in layers and make sure you have plenty of water and essential safety items in your car.
- Learn what you should always have in the car.
- Learn fun car games before the trip starts.
- Learn some basic car maintenance, such as changing a tire.
Most of all, have fun!
Don’t hesitate to ask our team members for their road trip tips! We love driving our cars as much as we do selling them.
If you want the perfect road trip vehicle, stop by one of our locations for a reliable Certified Pre-Owned car, truck, or SUV. We’ll set you up with the car of your dreams at a price you can afford.
Chattanooga, TN – (423) 551-3600
Cleveland, TN – (423) 472-2000
Dayton, TN – (423) 775-4600
Dalton, GA – (706) 217-2277