5 Must-Do American Road Trips
Lisa McElroy—It’s spring, and that means it’s time for the most iconic of American vacations: a good old-fashioned road trip. Whether you’re traveling by Ferrari, minivan, RV, or motorcycle, grab your keys and set out on one of these roadie adventures.
Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways
Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (Photo: Oleksandr Buzko/Alamy)
There’s nothing like the iconic Rocky Mountains, and there’s no better place to see wildlife (from bears to wildcats) and fairytale scenery along winding mountain roads (sans guardrails). To take in the best of the best, check out the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway. Begin on U.S. Highway 34 in Grand Lake and follow the Colorado River south through several small towns — talk about something straight out of an old-timey Western! After several hours, head down State Highway 1 to take in the incredible view of the rugged Upper Gore Canyon along a portion of the highway locally known as Trough Road. The Trail Ridge Road Scenic Byway (U.S. Highway 34) runs through Rocky Mountain National Park, world-famous for sweeping vistas of crags and valleys. Trail Ridge Road is the highest road in the United States that is paved for its entire length; much of the drive is above the tree line, so you’re likely to see marmots, bighorn sheep, and moose. After a couple of days on the road, end your trip at Winter Park Resort for world-class mountain biking and hiking before holding your breath as you drive back down a steep mountain pass.
South Carolina’s BBQ Trail
Hite’s Bar-B-Que in South Carolina’s Lexington County (Photo: Hite’s Bar-B-Que)
Let your appetite be your guide. You have not done barbecue until you’ve done barbecue this way. Why? Not only is South Carolina the birthplace of barbecue, but it’s the only state to feature the official four barbecue sauces — mustard, vinegar and pepper, light tomato, and heavy tomato. The South Carolina BBQ Trail Map, segmented by region and listing almost 250 barbecue joints, will guide you through the Palmetto State. Customize your road trip to find the best picks — like Hite’s Bar-B-Que, Ronnie’s Ribs, Carolina Barbecue, or Q2U BBQ Pit — whether you’re traveling through the mountains, the midlands, or the coast. It should be on every foodie’s bucket list.
Alaska’s Seward Highway
Seward Highway with the Chugach Mountains in the background, Kenai Peninsula (Photo: Design Pics Inc./Alamy)
Tremendous wildlife-spotting and glacier views set this road trip apart from all others. Head outside of Anchorage and drive along Turnagain Arm, a shallow inlet where you can often catch the amazing sight of resident beluga whales close to shore as they follow salmon, hooligan, and other fish heading for tributary creeks and streams. Driving south, you’ll follow the Chugach Mountains, home to moose, Dall sheep, and bald eagles. Pullouts along the route are perfect for wildlife-viewing stops, and numerous trailheads dot the roadside for those ready to explore a little farther on foot. As you reach the end of Turnagain Arm, you’ll come upon countless alpine glaciers — more than 50 in the surrounding mountains alone, with some accessible by foot or boat. Take the opportunity to explore the wondrous terrain: Byron Glacier is a popular day hike, and popular boat trips toPortage Glacier provide ideal glacier viewing. A short, 30-minute boat trip puts travelers in full view of glacier ice crashing into Portage Lake.
New York’s Finger Lakes Region
Landscape of the Finger Lakes Wine District of New York State in autumn (Photo: DBA Images/Alamy)
New York state’s Routes 5 and 20 are steeped in history: They started as foot trails established by Native Americans thousands of years before the American Revolution. Today, New York’s famous, historic east-west corridor offers a road trip with lots of high-adrenaline adventure: think hiking under waterfalls, biking, hang-gliding, hot air ballooning, and more. Foodies can enjoy farm-to-table dining options, aCheese Trail and Sweet Treat Trail, and cooking classes at theNew York Wine and Culinary Center. And, as if cheese and dessert trails weren’t enough, there’s a Finger Lakes Beer Trail — the region’s new hot spot for brewers and distilleries that utilize local fruit and grain. Cruising through at the end of summer? Don’t miss the Great New York State Fair.
Wyoming’s Wild West
I-80 in Southern Wyoming (Photo: James McLaughlin/Alamy)
While breathtaking scenery and outdoor adventures are in endless abundance in the state of Wyoming, it’s the colorful local history of the Old West that makes this 425-mile, five-day trip. Starting in Cheyenne, catch a rodeo at Cheyenne Frontier Days, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo; in mid-July, head over to Fort Laramie and the Grand Encampment, a ghost town built around an old copper mine. From Cheyenne, drive north to Douglas, then to Casper to visit the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center to learn about the state’s many trails, including the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Pony Express Trail. In Buffalo, book a room at The Occidental Hotel — where Butch Cassidy used to stay — then explore the old mine in Gillette before ending in Sundance, the town that bestowed its name on Cassidy’s right-hand man.
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