The American road trip is a thing of beauty. It has so many weird permutations, so many serpentine variations. It’s an adventure that offers a chance for young and old to experience our country’s nature, cultures, and people. Best of all, the United States is so vast that seeing the entire country in one go is just about impossible, even if you live the #vanlife. There will always be another corner of the country to be explored.
Here are some of the best road trips you can take this summer, or next summer, or the one after that. We can’t cover everything, but it’s a start.
SOUTHERN MUSIC TRAIL
Blues, jazz, country, folk, and gospel were all born in the American South. One could start out in Athens, Georgia, then take the road across Tennessee to Nashville and Memphis, mosey on south to Oxford, Mississippi, and then end up in New Orleans. A quick 950-mile trip around the American South is a syllabus for a master class in American music and culture. You’ll meet some seriously awesome people. You’ll collect some great vinyls. You’ll hear amazing music. You’ll eat some decadent and delicious food. And you’ll drink a lot of sweet tea and bourbon. Sounds like a dream.
Athens is one of the iconic college band towns — giving us greats like R.E.M. and the B-52s. It’s a city full of great venues and amazing musicians. Nashville and Memphis are landmarks of American folk, country, and rock and roll to this day. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton and a whole mess of other influential musicians have called Tennessee home.
As you head south on the I-55 toward NOLA, a stopover in Oxford is a must. Oxford may be best known for its literary scene, but it’s also a major player in the blues scene. Sweet Tea Recording Studios has hosted a long line of talented acts from Modest Mouse to Elvis Costello to the Black Keys. There’s a burgeoning hip-hop scene that’s worth checking out as well. Then, it’s on to New Orleans — the jazz capital of the world. New Orleans oozes music from its pores. Finding the right venue is as easy as walking down Frenchman with your ears and eyes open.
THE PACIFIC COAST
Although this trip only covers three U.S. states, it’s amazingly diverse. Starting off in Seattle, you’ll find a beautiful city stuck between the sea and mountain ranges. As you head down the I-5, veer off onto Highway 101 and drive all the way around Olympic National Park and all its rainforest and alpine beauty. You can even catch your first set of waves on the park’s western edge.
As you carry on down the 101 you’ll find many seaside gems as the great waves of the Pacific Ocean beat the sandy shores and rocky outcrops. After a few days you’ll find yourself walking among the Ancients: The Redwoods are older than Jesus and taller than any other florae on earth. As you head down the California coast you’ll find the green gems of Humboldt County, Napa, San Francisco, Big Sur, Santa Ynez, and Los Angeles. If you still have time, there’s always San Diego. That’s their tourism catch phrase, right?
View this post on Instagram
Can you spot me? Walking among the Ancients in the #Redwoods. #California #usa #america #forest #avenueofthegiants #redwoodnationalpark #worldtraveler #wanderlust #trees #ancient #forest #travel #traveler #travelgram #travelphotography #photographer #instaphoto #instapassport #instatravel #instacalifornia #instagood #nofilter #color #life #amazing #nature #natgeo #natgeotravel #woods
Chances are when you think of the Mississippi River, you’re thinking of paddle boats, hazy days filled with Spanish moss swaying in the breeze, and the distant echo of a jazz trumpet tickling your ears while you relax on the banks of the Big Muddy. You’re probably not thinking about the land of a thousand lakes and Minneapolis butchers stuffing sausages while snowbound. But you should be.
Following the river and staying off interstates allows you 1,700 miles of what makes America a great place to explore, including minor-league baseball diamonds, roadside BBQ pits, whiskey distilleries, and vast expanses of nature. You’ll see a massive variance in heritage, from the Germanic/Scandinavian Minnesotans to a deep south steeped in French and African cultures. And the food will change from brats and lager beer to bourbon and corn to beignets and Hurricanes (with everything else in between).
The Mississippi has its headwaters deep in the Minnesotan forest on Lake Itasca. Exploring the thousands of lakes of Minnesota is worthy of a road trip on its own. Instead, follow the river as it winds through Minnesota towards Minneapolis. Next, follow the river as it creates the borders between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Ending any trip in New Orleans is worthwhile for the city alone.
This Mississippi is what divides the East from the West. Its cities and nature form a sort of backbone to American life and commerce. You’ll hit big cities like Saint Louis and Memphis. Yet you’ll still find a massive amount nature amongst a laundry list of state parks.
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
The Rocky Mountains stretch deep into Canada, but let’s focus on the the U.S. range. The Rockies offer a breathtaking array of jagged peaks, verdant forests, and abutting grasslands. They’re the home to American ranching, Native Americans, and some serious adventure sports. What makes traversing the Rocky Mountains special is the access to 1,450 uninterrupted miles of nature. There’s little on earth better than seeing wild bison stampeding across the prairie. You can herd cattle and have a better understanding of where that burger you just ate came from.
Starting in Glacier National Park you can wind your way amongst the insanely high peaks toward Flathead Lake where you can feast on some bison in the shadows of the Rockies. Heading south through Butte you’ll end up in Yellowstone. One of the world’s largest volcanoes is a wonderland of seismic activity and raw, wild nature. Carry on through the rugged Jackson Hole toward the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Here you’ll find town after town and park after park of natural wonder and beauty. Finally, end your journey in Taos Pueblo, North America’s eldest continuously inhabited city, where the Rocky Mountains meet the dry and inhospitable high deserts of New Mexico.
OCEAN TO OCEAN — NORTH
This is a big one. Cross-country road trips are serious adventures. Let’s keep it simple and start in New York and end in Seattle. That’s 3,300 miles of America. Megacities. Endless fields of grass, corn, soy, and beans. Multiple mountain ranges. Rivers. Lakes. Towns. And People. Visiting America from coast to coast, Atlantic to Pacific, the East to the West — it’s every American’s duty to do this at some point in their lives.
Heading west from one of the greatest cities on the planet, New York, you’ll cut across the oil state of Pennsylvania until you hit the awesomely underrated Pittsburgh. From there, touch the Great Lakes and Rock And Roll history in Cleveland. After crossing the farms of Indiana you’ll find yourself in Chicago, America’s second great city on another Great Lake. We hear the hot dogs and pizza are special there.
After Chicago, head into the agricultural heart of America through Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. You can even play baseball on the real Field of Dreams. Then the mountains start: the Black Hills, the Rockies, Yellowstone, Idaho, the Cascades, the Columbia River, Portland, and finally Seattle. You’ve just covered the nation from sea to shining sea.
OCEAN TO OCEAN — SOUTH
Let’s think of this one from west to east, just to change it up a little. Traveling from Los Angeles, California, to Savannah, Georgia, is going to be a long haul; 2,780 miles long. There are few places in the country that elicit completely different reactions, histories, and lifestyles than LA and Savannah. In between the two you can get lost in magical deserts, Indian country, the backlands of Texas, and the deep and dirty South. The swaying palms of southern California’s streets give way to the gothic oaks hanging heavy with Spanish moss along Savannah’s boulevards.
Leaving Los Angeles, you’ll find yourself in some serious desert. One of the most beautiful corners of that desert is Joshua Tree NP. Continuing through, you’ll bump into all sorts of mythical places — the Mojave, the Grand Canyon, and, eventually, you’ll be in Navajo Country. Exploring the fry bread huts and deep canyons of the Navajo is a life-long adventure alone, but you have a destination and it’s further east. Head through New Mexico’s Rockies and badlands into Texas’ Hill Country before taking a long rest in Austin. The music, food, and beer will not disappoint.
Barreling across Texas in a fast car is a lot of fun. You’ll properly leave any semblance of the West behind as you cross into Louisiana and head into the deep south of Alabama and Georgia. New Orleans, Mobile, and Montgomery are all great cities in their own rights. Finally, you’ll find yourself on the slow and gentle streets of Savannah. You’ll have traded the Pacific surf for the gentle lull of the Atlantic, and that’s just fine.
View this post on Instagram
"The rain left pools of water around the park that allowed us to capture some cool reflections" – @themalibuartistwife A little adverse weather in the park can make for some of the best photography. Another perk: less people! Remember to watch out for flash floods and stay safe during rain. Great shot @themalibuartistwife
THE HISTORY OF AMERICA
There may not be a better way to get a handle of what America is than to visit the places that matter most to the creation of the country. These are the villages, towns, and cities that made up the foundation for what would become these United States. From the early 17th-century English colonists landing on the Atlantic coasts to their progeny revolting and founding a nation, the 655-mile road between Massachusetts and Virginia is rife with Americana. You won’t see any natural wonders or great herds of wildlife, but you will see some uniquely Anglo-American cities and find the history of how we got our start as a country.
Starting in north on the Massachusetts coast in Plymouth, you’ll find the rock on which some English landed back in 1620. They were heading to Jamestown, but ran out of beer. The rest is history.
From Plymouth, head to Boston, one of America’s oldest colonial cities filled to the brim with landmarks marking many firsts from the Americas. Head south the New York, where our capital once sat and our economy was born. Then, head through Trenton to Philadelphia, where America was put onto paper and signed into existence. Further south you’ll find Washington, D.C. The city is full of parks and museums devoted to all things America, and you’ve already paid your entrance fees for all of it. Lastly, end up where it all started, Jamestown, Virginia. The first successful American British colony had some rough years, but they survived. And we’re all here today, in part, because of that.
Shots from the road: