With over four million miles of highway, the USA offers more road trips than anyone could tackle in one lifetime. Whether you’re itching to peek into Wild West history, or just longing for a big ol’ soulful dose of nature’s vistas, you’ll find them along America’s backroads and byways. Here are our top 10 favorite drives: what are yours?
1. Route 66: Get your kicks on the USA’s ‘Mother Road’, a ribbon of concrete stretching from Chicago to LA. Take snapshots of retro roadside relics, stuff yourself silly at mom-and-pop diners and snooze in 1950s motor courts.
2. Pacific Coast Highway: Curve alongside the ocean on California’s Hwys 1 and 101 past SoCal’s celebrity enclaves and golden beaches, over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and north into misty coast redwood forests.
3. Blue Ridge Parkway: Cruise the Appalachian Mountains on this historic route, with its rustic wooden-cabin hideaways and bluegrass music joints, while soaking up glorious sunsets.
4. Florida’s Highway 1: Fly along breath-taking bridges and causeways across the Florida Keys, an archipelago that feels as close to Cuba as it does to Miami. Your final destination? Kooky, anything-goes Key West.
5. Great River Road: Wind alongside the mighty Mississippi, stopping off at 19th-century author Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, St Louis’ Gateway Arch and Missouri’s pastoral French-colonial countryside.
6. Columbia River Highway: Oregon’s most scenic byway was the first route in the USA to become a National Historic Landmark. Travel in spring, when waterfalls and wildflowers spread along the dramatic Columbia River Gorge.
7. Natchez Trace Parkway: After kicking up your heels in country-and-western Nashville, drive into the Deep South and enter Alabama and Mississippi, with their swampy marshes and old-fashioned roadhouses dishing up good ol’ barbecue, biscuits and beer.
8. Road to Hana: Twisting through tropical jungle and over dozens of cliff-hugging, narrow one-lane bridges, this thrilling route leads to hidden waterfalls and rural villages along Maui’s most stunning coast.
10. US Highway 50: Nicknamed ‘The Loneliest Road in America,’ this highway through Nevada is a winner if you’re seeking solitude amid arid deserts, skyscraping peaks, Basque-flavored cowboy country and Old West mining ghost towns.
This article was updated in February 2012.
Want to hit the road for a classic American journey? Check out Lonely Planet's comprehensive USA guide, which comes complete with pull-out map.