Driving Destinations: The Best Summer Road Trips in the United States

Summer is the perfect time to hit the road and explore the vast landscapes of the United States. With the freedom to stop wherever you please and the open road ahead, a road trip offers a unique way to experience the beauty and diversity of this country. Whether you’re craving coastal views, mountainous terrain, or expansive national parks, there’s a scenic route waiting for you. Here’s a guide to some of the most breathtaking driving routes and destinations in the U.S. you should consider for your next summer road trip. 

1. Pacific Coast Highway, California

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), also known as California State Route 1, is one of the most iconic scenic drives in the United States. Stretching over 600 miles from Orange County to Mendocino County, this route offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, and charming coastal towns, making it one of the best summer road trips in the United States. 

 Highlights: 

  • Big Sur: This stretch between Carmel and San Simeon is renowned for its dramatic cliffs, redwood forests, and the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. 
  • Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea: These quaint towns are perfect for a pit stop, offering picturesque scenery, delicious seafood, and the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. 
  • Hearst Castle: Located in San Simeon, this historic mansion is a fascinating detour with its opulent architecture and gardens. 

Tips: 

  • Plan for plenty of stops to fully enjoy the views and small towns. 
  • Be prepared for winding roads, especially through Big Sur. 

2. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles through the Appalachian Mountains, connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” this route is a haven for nature lovers and offers some of the most scenic mountain views in the eastern United States. 

 Highlights: 

  • Skyline Drive: This 105-mile road runs the length of Shenandoah National Park and offers spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 
  • Mabry Mill: One of the most photographed spots on the Parkway, this historic gristmill offers a glimpse into the past. 
  • Linville Falls: A must-see stop, these falls are accessible via several hiking trails and offer stunning photo opportunities. 

Tips: 

  • The speed limit is typically 45 mph or lower, so relax and enjoy the leisurely pace. 
  • Check for road closures, especially in early summer when maintenance is common. 

3. Route 66, USA

Route 66, also known as the “Main Street of America,” is one of the most famous highways in the United States. Stretching over 2,400 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, this historic route offers a nostalgic journey through America’s heartland and is one of the top summer road trip destinations. 

 Highlights: 

  • Chicago: Start your journey in this vibrant city with its iconic skyline and deep-dish pizza. 
  • Cadillac Ranch: Located in Amarillo, Texas, this quirky art installation features half-buried, graffiti-covered Cadillacs. 
  • Grand Canyon: A slight detour to this natural wonder is well worth it. 

Tips: 

  • Route 66 has been replaced by the interstate system in many areas, so use a detailed map or GPS to stay on the historic path. 
  • Embrace the kitschy roadside attractions and vintage diners along the way. 

4. Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50-mile scenic drive through Glacier National Park in Montana. This engineering marvel traverses the Continental Divide and offers some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in North America, making it one of the best summer road trips in the United States. 

 Highlights: 

  • Logan Pass: The highest point on the road, offering stunning views and access to several hiking trails. 
  • Lake McDonald: The largest lake in the park, known for its clear waters and beautiful surroundings. 
  • Wildlife Viewing: Keep an eye out for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bears. 

Tips: 

  • The road is typically open from late June to mid-October, depending on weather conditions. 
  • Arrive early to avoid crowds and secure parking at popular spots like Logan Pass. 

5. Skyline Drive, Virginia

Skyline Drive runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. This scenic drive offers stunning mountain views, abundant wildlife, and access to numerous hiking trails, making it a fantastic summer road trip destination. 

 Highlights: 

  • Thornton Gap: A major access point with visitor facilities and trailheads. 
  • Dark Hollow Falls: A popular hike that leads to a beautiful waterfall. 
  • Big Meadows: A great spot for wildlife viewing and exploring the park’s natural beauty. 

Tips: 

  • The speed limit is 35 mph, allowing for a leisurely drive with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. 
  • Check for road closures and park alerts, especially in early summer when maintenance is common. 

6. Overseas Highway, Florida

The Overseas Highway (U.S. Route 1) stretches 113 miles from Miami to Key West, Florida, crossing over 40 bridges and offering stunning ocean views. This unique route takes you through the Florida Keys, a tropical paradise and one of the best summer road trips in the United States. 

 Highlights: 

  • Seven Mile Bridge: One of the longest bridges in the world, offering panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. 
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: Located in Key Largo, this park offers snorkeling, diving, and glass-bottom boat tours. 
  • Key West: The southernmost point in the continental U.S., known for its vibrant nightlife, historic sites, and beautiful sunsets. 

Tips: 

  • Summer is hurricane season, so check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. 
  • Allow extra time for stops to explore the unique attractions and enjoy water activities. 

7. Great River Road, Mississippi River

The Great River Road follows the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles through 10 states, from Minnesota to Louisiana. This scenic byway offers a diverse array of landscapes, historic sites, and cultural attractions, making it one of the top summer road trip destinations in the United States. 

 Highlights: 

  • Hannibal, Missouri: The boyhood home of Mark Twain, with several museums and historic sites dedicated to the author. 
  • Memphis, Tennessee: Known for its rich musical heritage, including Graceland, Beale Street, and the National Civil Rights Museum. 
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: Famous for its vibrant culture, cuisine, and historic French Quarter. 

Tips: 

  • Plan your route and stops ahead of time to make the most of your journey. 
  • Summer can be hot and humid, especially in the southern states, so pack accordingly. 

8. Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming

The Beartooth Highway (U.S. Route 212) is a 68-mile drive that runs between Red Lodge, Montana, and the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. This route is known for its high elevation, alpine scenery, and stunning views, making it one of the best summer road trips in the United States. 

 Highlights: 

  • Beartooth Pass: Reaching an elevation of 10,947 feet, this pass offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. 
  • Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness: Provides numerous opportunities for hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing. 
  • Yellowstone National Park: Extend your trip with a visit to this iconic national park, home to geysers, hot springs, and diverse wildlife. 

Tips: 

  • The highway is typically open from late May to mid-October, depending on weather conditions. 
  • Be prepared for rapidly changing weather and high-altitude conditions. 

9. Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile scenic drive that follows the historic Natchez Trace, a travel corridor used by Native Americans, European settlers, and traders. This route offers beautiful landscapes, historic sites, and recreational opportunities, making it a top summer road trip destination. 

 Highlights: 

  • Emerald Mound: One of the largest Native American mounds in the United States. 
  • Cypress Swamp: A unique natural area with a boardwalk trail through a cypress-tupelo swamp. 
  • Nashville, Tennessee: The northern terminus of the parkway, known for its vibrant music scene and cultural attractions. 

Tips: 

  • The speed limit is 50 mph, allowing for a relaxed and leisurely drive. 
  • Plan for stops to explore the numerous historic and natural sites along the way. 

Whether you’re craving the salty sea breeze, the majestic mountains, or the charm of quaint villages, these scenic driving routes in the United States offer something for everyone. Each destination promises unforgettable experiences and stunning views that will make your summer road trip truly memorable. These routes are among the best summer road trips in the United States and are perfect summer road trip destinations. So pack your bags, fill up the tank, and set out on an adventure to explore the world from the comfort of your car. The open road awaits! 

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