If you want to go on an epic USA road trip, there’s no better choice than taking a scenic drive, and van life camping along the way. Driving in a camper van or RV gives you the flexibly to make stops at National Parks, Monuments, and all the greatest urban destinations.
You can camp stealth in the city, or try free camping on one of the countries many bureau of land management locations. In this roadtrip handbook we’ll give you 10 scenic drives you cannot miss, and the best camping locations along the way.
On The Road Again
How many movies and books have centered around the protagonists setting off on an adventure while road tripping around the USA? The thought has been ingrained into our brains as a trip of a lifetime – and for good reason.
When we were younger, we heard all of our friends mentioning their plans to road trip through the USA. We would look at maps, planning our routes even though we were too young to drive or go anywhere without our parent’s permission.
But now that we’re older, the dream of taking a road trip around the USA hasn’t dwindled. In fact, burning desire has only gotten stronger. So, you know that you want to travel around America in a car with your closest friends, but where do you start?
Today we’re going to be looking at everything you need to know before starting off on your road trip. We’ll cover why road trips are different when it comes to the USA, what you need to pack before you set off on the adventure, and the best routes to follow.
A road trip can be an invaluable experience full of fond memories and exciting adventures. But what people don’t mention is how difficult the trip can be if you’re not completely prepared beforehand.
Contrary to popular belief, a road trip around the USA does not only consist of hopping in your car and setting off into the sunset. You need supplies, a suitable vehicle, and at least a slight idea of where you’re heading.
We’re here to help you find your way and get you ready for your road trip. Get excited – after our article, you’re going to be one step closer to embarking on the road trip you always dreamed of!
Why US Road Tripping Is Different
You can take a road trip anywhere in the world worth exploring, but road tripping in the USA is an entirely different experience altogether. Seriously, ask anyone who has had the pleasure of doing just that!
There is so much to offer in this amazing country that it is impossible to see it all in just one trip, which is why you have to do your research to find what you want to see most.
Road tripping is a core part of American culture. Many people use road trips to learn more about themselves, their country, and the world that they’re living in. Most Americans will take a road trip at some point in their life, but what’s special about it is that no one will have the exact same experience.
One of the most interesting facts about road tripping in the USA is that almost every state offers a different climate.
One moment you’re wearing your thick winter coat and blasting the heating while driving through Detroit, and the next you’re wearing your sunglasses and tank tops through Los Angeles.
While a usual road trip wouldn’t offer much in the way of varying climates and weather, the USA has plenty of twists and turns for you to endure. You’ll need to be prepared for every area you travel across. Think winter coats, sunscreen, wooly sweaters, and sunglasses!
Another great factor of road tripping through the USA is that there is so much to do and see that you can choose what landscapes you want to see.
It’s improbable that you’ll be able to see everything that you want to during one road trip, so you have the opportunity to research and find the best routes for you.
Many road trips outside of the USA are very limited and sometimes you are forced to visit sights that you’re not very interested in.
Road tripping in the USA does not offer this issue; however, as there are so many different possibilities for you to choose from.
Swap and change your route to ensure that you’re only seeing what you want to.
Make the most out of your road trip around the USA rather than forcing a smile at the tenth boring statue you’ve seen on your holiday.
Road Trip Checklist: USA Edition
There are a few things that you need to remember to pack before embarking on your road trip. Some are essential items while others are considered optional, although we think that you should bring as much useful equipment that you can get your hands on.
Let’s take a look at the essentials that you need to bring with you, as well as things that you don’t necessarily need, but we highly recommend.
License and registration
You’re going to be in your car for the majority of your road trip, so you need to bring along your license and registration in case you get pulled over.
Different states offer different punishments for not carrying this with you, and the situation will be blown way out of proportion.
So, for your sake, carry your license and registration with you.
If you get halfway to the starting point and find out that you don’t have your documents, turn around and go and get them. It is not worth risking traveling without them.
Similar to the point above, you should carry with you all of the necessary documents that you need.
This includes your insurance documents, although you hope not to need them.
However, if something happens in which you do need to use your insurance, it’s worth having them with you just in case.
You’re going to be relying on your car heavily during your road trip, and things go wrong with cars all the time.
A car manual can help you find out what’s wrong with your car much quicker than the internet can, so make sure it’s stored away in your car somewhere.
You never know when you’ll need to identify an ominous flashing light!
Traveling by car puts a lot of pressure on your tires, and there is always the possibility that one is going to go flat.
You cannot drive on a completely flat tire, so you need a back-up plan in case you need to change a tire. You should also learn how to change your tire and make sure that you have all of the equipment necessary!
Your spare tire also needs to be in top condition, so if you’ve used it before you might need to get it checked with a garage before setting off.
Roadside emergency kit
A roadside emergency kit contains helpful things such as booster cables, light sticks, reflective clothing, protective covers, a warning triangle, whistles, tire pressure gauges, window breakers, and much more.
They are all in one kits that can help you in a number of different situations that you might find yourself in.
Make sure you have one in case the worst happens.
Weather appropriate clothing
As we mentioned above, different states offer different climates. Once you plan your journey you’ll be able to see the types of climates that you’ll be traveling through. Do the research and find what temperatures it’s going to be during your stay in each area and pack clothing appropriate for each climate.
There will not be much worse than choosing between buying an entirely new wardrobe on the road or wearing your winter clothes throughout incredibly hot climates.
Water and food
Chances are that you’ll be eating and drinking the delicacies of the different areas that you’re visiting, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need food and water for the journey. You might find that you’re driving for over five hours to your next destination with very minimal stops between.
You can carry gallons of water in your trunk in case you need it in an emergency. Just be careful not to leave the water in direct sunlight as this could be dangerous. You’ll always benefit from keeping some snacks in the car as well in case you become stranded.
Another in case of emergency essentials, you should keep a few bucks in the car in case you need to purchase gas. Ideally, you would have all of your gas money in one place so that you don’t accidentally run out before your trip ends. You never know when a gas station isn’t going to accept a card!
Should Have Items:
National and State Parks Pass
If you’re planning on visiting parks such as the Grand Canyon, the Hot Springs, or Niagara Falls, you might want to bring your park pass with you.
The pass covers entrance fees to many national and state parks so that you don’t have to pay at the gate.
You might also get discounts if you’re going to be visiting enough parks, so you should look into getting a pass if you think it might benefit you.
In case of an emergency where you’re stranded, you should opt for a flashlight.
Your phone battery becomes invaluable in a situation like this and you don’t want to be wasting it by using the phone flashlight.
Many sources would recommend that you bring two flashlights in case one falters on you, and don’t forget enough spare batteries.
As we mentioned earlier, water bottles are a great addition to any road trip.
You can fill them up when they get low to ensure that you’re always hydrated throughout your journey.
If you’re traveling through hot climates, reusable water bottles will be essential for keeping you comfortable.
Bugs are never fun, particularly in the summertime.
If you don’t want your road trip to be plagued with bug bites that itch and sting, you should invest in some bug spray.
It’s inexpensive and might just become invaluable on your trip throughout the USA.
As much as we’d love to say otherwise, our phones are a big part of our lives and we use them for almost everything.
Maps, answering questions, and taking pictures are just some of the things our phones can do for us during a road trip.
When we rely so heavily on our phones, the last thing we need is for them to run out of juice.
For this reason, you should always carry at least one power bank during your road trip. Remember that you’ll need another power source to keep the power bank charged up too.
Portable wifi is so smart and clever, yet not that many people know that it is possible to carry your wifi around with you.
If you don’t have unlimited data or your roaming charges are ridiculously high, a portable wifi disc could solve all your problems.
We highly recommend them for staying connected while away from home.
Preparing Your Vehicle: A Checklist
We’ve already touched upon the importance of getting your vehicle road trip ready, but you cannot be too prepared when it comes to your car. You’ll need plenty of essentials hidden away in your car for when you need them most, which we’ll take a look at now.
Positioning your maps
Unless you’ve embarked on the exact same road trip before, you’re not going to know where you’re going without a map. This might be on your phone or shown on a GPS tracker. Nowadays, the latter is more popular and therefore you will need a phone stand that positions your phone somewhere that you can see it easily.
Make sure to keep your phone in its holder throughout your entire journey, unless you want to run the risk of getting pulled over for being on your phone while driving.
Checking fluid levels
Under the bonnet are several tanks that need to be full of fluid before you begin your road trip. Check your oil levels, radiator fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid before you set off. If one of these fluids runs out mid-journey you’ll have to waste your time finding somewhere to buy a top-up, all the while wishing that you had done the prep work before.
The air pressure in your tires needs to be correct to ensure that your car is using its gas efficiently as possible. You can find the correct pressure in your car manual, so check the number and make sure that your tires are filled up only to this amount. You should check the tire pressure every 1,000 miles you travel.
Professionals also suggest that you rotate your tires before reaching 8,000 miles, and replace your tires after 25,000 to 50,000 miles. If you think your tires might need one of these treatments, it’s best to get it done before you start your road trip.
If your brakes are making a high-pitched sound every time you use them, it might be a sign that your brake pads are wearing thin. This is completely the opposite of what you want while you’re traveling, so if you hear a noise don’t try and ignore it. Just get them fixed sooner rather than later.
Light em up
You can get pulled over and fined if your lights are not working properly, so check them all before your trip. You can check them yourself by walking around the car while the lights are all on. If you need to check the brake lights, back up near to a wall and use your mirrors to see if the lights are illuminating the wall. If they aren’t you need to replace the bulbs. Check the turn signals as well.
Enlist a professional
If everything that we mentioned above sounds a little taxing for you or you don’t have enough time to give your car a once over, you can drive it to the nearest garage and ask them to give it a look. They’ll be able to tell you if anything needs fixing or replacing before you begin your road trip. It will also give you peace of mind that you’re using a trusted vehicle.
It might be beneficial to opt for some breakdown cover so that you know you can call someone if you’re left stranded. It is not too expensive and the breakdown cover comes in handy in the worst situations. We hope that you won’t need it, but you’ll be glad that you have it if you do.
If you don’t opt for breakdown cover, you’ll need to carry some emergency supplies in case you need to fix something wrong with your car. Jump leads can be beneficial if your battery dies on you, duct tape is invaluable in some car catastrophes, and a luminous jacket can help people see you and potentially help you.
American Road Trips: 21 Of The Most Iconic Routes
Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
The Trail Ridge Road winds through the Rocky Mountain National Park, reaching heights of 12,183 feet in the air. There is plenty of wildlife to see during this road trip including elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.
The Trail Ridge Road is often described as the highway to the sky, and many people who have traveled it have marveled at the changes they felt thanks to the elevation. There is a Victorian hotel near this spot which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. If you’re a horror lover, definitely give the Stanley Hotel a visit!
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Michigan
One of the shorter road trip routes on our list, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is only 7 and a half miles long. It passes the eastern side of Lake Michigan and you can see magnificent sand dunes as well as the infamous lake.
If you’ve wanted to visit Lake Michigan, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is an excellent drive to incorporate into your road trip. The detour also allows you to take on the challenge of climbing up the 450-foot sand dune.
Hana Highway, Maui
We personally want to visit anywhere that you can get a t-shirt saying ‘I survived the road to Hana’. The 52-mile road from Kahului to Hana takes visitors around two and a half hours to cross, and it offers some amazing views along the way.
There are mango trees, roadside stalls, and towering forests surrounding you. You can also admire the vibrant blue ocean surrounding the island! Once you complete Hana Highway you’re rewarded with the tiny town of Hana.
Here you can find the red sand beach where nudists and monk seals reside in perfect harmony. The seals are endangered, but they are thriving in Hana. There are also the Seven Sacred Pools to visit.
Silverado Trail, California
The next road trip idea is for all of the wine lovers out there. The Silverado Trail travels the edge of Napa Valley, showcasing the vineyards of over 40 wineries. Here you’ll be able to find the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar, famous for their 1973 Cabernet.
You can even book in to stop here and go for a wine tasting session of your own! There are also plenty of restaurants for you to choose from, with gorgeous menus that are bound to compliment your new wine bottle perfectly.
The High Road, New Mexico
Starting in Santa Fe, The High Road is 56 miles long and ends in Taos. While the distance might not seem very long right now, you’ll be stopping more than you think! There is a scenic backdrop after every photo-op here, so you’ll be posing and capturing memories until dusk.
Your lovely photos will be thanks to the wildflower meadows, deserts, forests, and ancient Indian pueblos that you pass. You can stop as many times as you like, but remember that the road ends at the Rocky Mountains, and you don’t want to miss those canyon views.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Carolinas and Virginia
Driving across the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll see almost 500 miles of Appalachian overlooks. The road twists and turns through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks.
You won’t be without plenty of stops along the way, and this is the perfect road trip to embark on in any season possible. With over 50 species of birds, the Blue Ridge Parkway is also great for bird watchers and nature lovers.
There are even mines that you can stop at and have a tour of, giving you the opportunity to pan for minerals straight from the Appalachian mountains themselves. Emeralds, topaz, and rubies are among the minerals you can find here.
Bluebonnet Trail, Texas
Driving from Austin to Houston offers you the most sublime scenery possible, and people are often surprised at what they find on the trail. Seven interconnected lakes chain together for you to marvel at on your journey. One of which is Lake Buchanan, a place that is often shown from the perspective of many artists.
The Bluebonnet Trail is best visited in months March through May when the bluebonnet flowers are in full bloom. Miles of wildflowers are perfect for photographing and enjoying the sunshine.
Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Enjoy the city skyscrapers on one side of you while the lake on the other remains peacefully. With so much to see and marvel at, you will want to drive incredibly slowly over the 26 miles of Lake Shore Drive.
The Willis Tower can also be seen here, which is the tallest building in the world! People even claim that this is the greatest architectural road in the world, so you don’t want to miss the buildings here. Definitely incorporate the Lake Shore Drive into your road trip.
Going to the Sun Road, Montana
Isn’t the name of this road-tripping spot just enough to get you excited? It is a public works project that stretches all the way from the Glacier National Park to the Continental Divide on the Rockies. You’ll be able to see snowy mountains, meadows, and lakes on the way too.
The sights here are really something, and the memories you make here are bound to be unmatched. It’s a great place to take photographs and get up close and personal with snowy peaks. The snow threatens to reach insane thickness during the winter, so you can only travel over the Going to the Sun Road from May to October.
Route 12, Utah
Fancy a challenge with some magnificent views? You won’t get a t-shirt saying you survived the Highway to Route 12, but we feel like you should. Route 12 travels between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks for 124 miles.
Aside from the red rock canyons reaching up towards the sky, there are plenty of small towns to stop in and take in the culture. The only problem is that these are somewhat tricky to find, so you’ll need a map and a lot of attention.
Finally, you can drive along The Hogback, a narrow road winding along the cliff-hanging ridgeline of the mountains. If you’re an adventure seeker with a craving for good sights, Route 12 is a great choice.
Route 66, Chicago and Los Angeles
We’ve all heard about Route 66 in songs and films, and the romanticized route is still one of the most used road trip locations in the USA. There is plenty of history on this old road that you can enjoy, and the diagonal road shows you some of America’s more typical sights.
If you want to get a feel for the USA and only have one road trip to do it in, Route 66 will tell you all you need to know. Route 66 is over 2400 miles long, so it’s up to you if you travel all of it on your road trip. You’ll be passing some major cities, including Oklahoma City, Santa Fe, and Arizona.
Route 66 is one of the most well-known road trips you can go on, so there is plenty of information and literature for you to read before embarking on the long adventure. Plus, how amazing would it be to say you drove along Route 66!
Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
The Kancamagus Highway travels through the White Mountains and boasts plenty of trees to admire. You heard us right, the trees are the star attraction of this road tripping destination. There are 36 miles to enjoy the beautiful colors of the scenery.
Different species of trees are planted here, so no two leaves are the same. The colors are something else in the autumn time, but spring is also a popular time to come here. In the springtime, there are vibrant flowers popping up between the trees as well.
You can also stop near the highway and take a short hike to Sabbaday Falls. Here you’ll find a three-tiered waterfall that is truly a sight to behold.
U.S. 1, Florida Keys
As soon as you see an image of the U.S. 1, you’ll be raring to get there as soon as possible. Leave the mainland and travel along the 120-mile road, finding a plethora of beach bars and watersports along the way. If you’re an island buff and love the ocean, the Florida Keys are for you.
The highway is positioned just over the water, so it’s like you’re traveling through the water itself. The water is so clear that you can see underwater coral reefs from the comfort of your car. We love that you can travel from island to island thanks to the chaining bridges.
Ocean Drive, Newport, RI
Enjoy the historic mansions and marvelous views from Narragansett Bay as you travel over the 10-mile route of Ocean Drive. There is plenty to learn about on this short but sweet journey, and history lovers should incorporate this journey into their road trip.
There are cottages and opulent homes that were built for titans, and you can see what people for so many years have called the community for the rich. There is also the Brenton Point State Park that you can visit and enjoy the view out across the Atlantic Ocean.
Highway 143, Tennessee
Another setting across the Appalachian Mountains, Highway 143 allows you to enjoy the world’s longest uninterrupted stretch of grass planes. There are also gorgeous purple flowers that sprout in the early summertime.
The 50 miles of Highway 143 might not be the most fascinating place on our list, but it is a much more scenic route than you’d see in the majority of the USA nowadays. Highway 143 is relatively close to Blue Ridge Parkway, so you can easily incorporate these two sights into one road trip.
17-Mile Drive, California
Although called the 17-Mile Drive, this road only reaches ten. It winds around California’s Monterey Peninsula and belongs to a private Pebble Beach golf community. The cliffs are something to marvel at, but even more impressive are the harbor seals that reside near here.
As the road is privately owned, there is a toll of $10.25 to get in. However, the sunsets that you can witness over the ocean are more than worth the entry fee. There is even an aquarium that you can visit with a petting pool and a million-gallon tank, housing bigger sharks than you’ve surely ever seen in your life.
Park Loop Road, Maine
Park Loop Road is a way through the Acadia National Park and takes a mere hour to complete. That is if you weren’t interested in seeing all the 27-mile road has to offer. The high cliffs surrounding the coastal line are so interesting and beautiful that you might just want to stay here all day.
You can see a cavern right near the ocean, called the Thunder Hole, that explodes every time a wave crashes into it. Although this might not sound too interesting on paper, you have to see the white foam imploding from the cavern in person. There is also the chance to lobster fish and catch your dinner for the night.
North Shore Drive, Minnesota
Driving from Duluth towards Two Harbors, you can notice the shoreline of Lake Superior. There are also seven state parks, so you have a pick of the bunch which ones you want to visit. You can also find plenty of shoreline towns with restaurants and unique shops to enjoy.
If you’re feeling active you can take the Superior Hiking Trail and get up close and personal with the area, boasting plenty of waterfalls and unique nature. There is also plenty of wildlife species for you to spot and admire, and a lighthouse to tour.
Olympic Peninsula Loop, Washington
If you’re looking for a destination that has every sight that you could possibly want to see, the Olympic Peninsula Loop is the one for you. From snowy peaks to tide pools, rainforests to wildlife inhabited waters. The road trip is 445 miles long and has plenty of food and experiences to enjoy.
Starting in Seattle, you’ll head uphill into the Hoh River rainforest. From here you can climb Hurricane Ridge and find the San Juan Islands. When the tide is low enough you can also explore the Olympic beaches and go rock pool hunting. Ever seen a starfish in real life?
Highway 101, Oregon
The entire coast of Oregon has been preserved to ensure that road trippers have the purest, magical experience possible. There are 300 miles of beaches that you can visit from Highway 101, so if you like a beach vacation this is certainly a great option for you.
You can also enjoy the views from the fierce cliffs and explore the small towns in Oregon. Highway 101 strings all of these areas together, so it is the ideal road trip if you want to learn all about the state of Oregon. You can link Highway 101 seamlessly into your road trip to the USA, exploring the coasts of neighboring states as well.
Anchorage to Valdez, Alaska
Follow the Glenn and Richardson highways to complete this road trip adventure. You’ll see glaciers and mountain ranges with peaks reaching as high as 14,000 feet. The route is 300 miles in total, featuring a drop from Thompson Pass to sea level. The Keystone Canyon waterfalls are simply beautiful.
Conclusion: Hit The Road, Jack
Now that you know more about road tripping in the USA, what are you waiting for? From Hana Highway to U.S. 1, you’ll be embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. Wherever you plan to travel, the sights in your future will be ones that you won’t be able to forget.
The great thing about road tripping is that you can string together as many sights and journeys as you want. For instance, take Highway 101 and continue up to Washington, exploring the coast there as well. Alternatively, head south towards California all the way to Los Angeles. There are countless choices and they’re all up to you.
After you’ve decided your route, you need to make sure that you’re ready for anything that you might encounter. There are some things you need to take with you, such as cash and your driving documents, and things that will aid you if you get into trouble. These might include flashlights and power banks.
The states that you’re exploring will determine how you prepare for your trip. Make sure that you pack weather-appropriate clothing and get your vehicle set up ready for the long journey. When in doubt, ask a professional to look your car over for you. They’ll ensure that your car is in the best condition possible to carry you through your entire road trip.
Road trips require a lot of preparation before you embark on them, and you need to do this to keep your adventure as fun and enjoyable as possible. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore the amazing sights of the USA – and don’t forget to send us a postcard!