Road tripping through Lonely Planet's top US destinations

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Buckle up: it's time to hit the road! Our travel experts have rounded up the Top 10 US travel destinations for 2014, giving you brand new reasons to visit long-time favorites and also less-touristed places that are ripe for exploring, right now.

Is getting there half the fun? Find out for yourself on these five road trips that will take you to some of those top US destinations this year – and beyond. All these trips, plus 47 more, are contained in the award-winning USA's Best Trips book; the second edition was just published in March 2014.

Coastal New England

Castle Hill Lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island. Image by Yuri Kriventsov/Flickr Open/Getty Images.

Castle Hill Lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island. Image by Yuri Kriventsov/Flickr Open/Getty Images.

The thriving East Coast city of Boston nearly topped our experts' list for 2014. This summer, make 'Beantown' part of a classic road trip along New England's southern coast. It's a leisurely drive of less than 250 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts to New Haven, Connecticut. You'll be feeling pleasantly waterlogged and stuffed with seafood after a full week of marine wildlife watching, maritime museums and sailboat harbors. In yachty Newport, Rhode Island, stop for gourmet pub grub and grog at the White Horse Tavern, originally opened by a 17th-century pirate. Then bed down in the seaside town of Mystic, Connecticut, with views of the wharf from your private room at the Steamboat Inn (steamboatinmystic.com).

Ivy League Tour

Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Image by Steve Dunwell / The Image Bank / Getty Images.

Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Image by Steve Dunwell / The Image Bank / Getty Images.

What else is New England known for besides seafood, fishing villages and coastal scenery? The hallowed halls of the Ivy League of course. Save this road trip for fall, when historic campuses are buzzing with students again and fall foliage is showing off brilliant shades of gold, orange and red. Just outside Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University may be the most world-famous of the Ivies, but it's equally fascinating to take campus tours of Yale, Brown and Dartmouth, all on this 300-mile road trip traipsing through three states.

In the colonial town of Concord, Massachusetts, pay your respects to two of New England's heavyweight thinkers from centuries past (both Harvard grads, naturally), at Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial House and Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond, now a state park in a leafy forest. Back in Cambridge, spend the night at Irving House, a quick walk from Harvard Yard. In the morning, join the intelligentsia at Cafe Pamplona, a European-style coffeehouse, also by Harvard Square.

Michigan's Gold Coast

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Michigan's Gold Coast. Image by Ben Neumann/Flickr/Getty Images.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Michigan's Gold Coast. Image by Ben Neumann/Flickr/Getty Images.

It might be the USA's most surprising beach getaway, but the shores of Lake Michigan have been a family holiday destination since the late 19th century. Seemingly endless stretches of beach dunes, wineries, orchards and B&B-filled towns hug the water's edge along the pinky finger of what locals call 'the mitten' (just take a look at the state's vaguely hand-shaped outline on a map).

Take off during late summer, when the weather and the lake's waters are warmest, or during early autumn around harvest time. You'll cruise almost 500 miles north from New Buffalo, the Midwest's surfing hub (no really, it is!) all the way up to Mackinac Island, reached via a ferry that's also a nostalgic trip back in time. Along the way, stop at roadside farm stands for pie and apple cider, to clamber around Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and to snap a photo of the tulip fields and windmills of Holland, where you can order a pint of Dragon's Milk Stout at New Holland Brewing Company Pub. Wind down your Gold Coast drive with a sweetly sound sleep on Mackinac Island at Cloghaun B&B, a 19th-century home embraced by flowering gardens.

Four Corners Cruise

Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah state line. Photo by Steve Peterson Photography / Flickr / Getty Images.

Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah state line. Photo by Steve Peterson Photography / Flickr / Getty Images.

Las Vegas isn't just for gamblers and nightclubbers anymore. It's your new adventure base camp for exploring the Southwest's iconic deserts and canyon country. Spy on the buttes of Monument Valley, made instantly recognizable by yesteryear Hollywood Westerns, then trek down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the ginormous Grand Canyon. Historic Route 66 towns like Flagstaff and Williams, Arizona are just as fascinating to wander around as the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. Taste the good life in Santa Fe, New Mexico, filled with art galleries, adobe hotels and flavorful restaurants.

And if those aren't enough reasons to make the trip, consider this: where else can you stand in four states – Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona – at once? It'd take a lifetime to get to know and understand the Four Corners region, but taking 10 days to make an 1850-mile grand circle by car from Las Vegas is a fantastic introduction. For a quicker but almost equally scenic road trip, visit both the South and North Rims of Grand Canyon National Park, then loop back to Las Vegas via Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, an unforgettable trip of a week or less.

The Mighty Mo

Kansas City, Missouri. Image by Eric Bowers Photo / Flickr / Getty Images.

Kansas City, Missouri. Image by Eric Bowers Photo / Flickr / Getty Images.

One of the most unexpected US destinations our experts picked for 2014 was Kansas City, Missouri. Then again, is there really ever a bad time for slow-cooked barbecue, hot jazz and cool blues music? 'KC' also rates highly as a big-city stopover on a historical road trip beside the Missouri, North America's longest river. You'll be tracing the footsteps of early 19th-century explorers Lewis and Clark, who set off on their cross-continental journey from St Louis, Missouri.

Starting from the same place, this epic drive covers almost 1400 miles of riverside territory along what was once the USA's frontier. Revel in Wild West lore at the Pony Express National Museum and Jesse James Home Museum in St Joseph, just outside KC. Then roll over the Nebraska border into Omaha, where train buffs can't miss the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. By the time you finally arrive at North Dakota's Fort Buford, where Lakota chief and medicine man Sitting Bull surrendered to US forces in 1881, you'll be amazed by the sweep of American history found on the long, winding road beside the 'Mighty Mo.'

Need even more road trip inspiration? Floor the gas and zoom over to our Pinterest board to see four of our favorite road trips.