If you’re reading this, then we’re sure you’ve probably spent a fair amount of time daydreaming about just how awesome road tripping across North America would be. The good news is, the continent is HUGE so you’ll never run out of amazing things to see, but the bad news is, narrowing down where to go can be a tough decision… We’ve compiled a list of the absolute best road trips in North America so you can worry more about the when and less about the where!
North America has an insane variety of landscapes, from the magnificent snow-capped mountains of the Canadian Rockies, the vast prairies of the South Dakota Badlands, and the tropical golden-sand beaches of Baja California. There is something for everyone, with loads of interesting cities, towns, and villages, to break up your journey.
Keep reading as we’ve got a list of the most epic North American road trips coming your way. Some of these are so incredible you’ll no doubt have heard of them, but, since we’re not your ordinary travel website, we’ve thrown in a few wild cards too *winks*
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Pacific Coast Highway – United States
|Suggested length||6 days|
Who hasn’t heard of the Pacific Coast Highway? This incredible route is known for being one of the most scenic roads on the planet. You can feel the cool, California sea breeze running through your hair, while you take in the mountains, forests, and stunning coastline. The road trip starts in San Francisco where you can walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and enjoy some fresh seafood on Pier 39. It ends in San Diego, home of the legendary San Diego Zoo.
The Pacific Coast Highway is without a doubt one of the best road trips in North America and even though the route start-to-finish takes around ten hours, we recommend stretching it out to at least six days. Luckily, California is pretty mild weather-wise, so you can enjoy this trip at any time of the year. But for the best weather, plan to drive it between late spring and fall, avoiding July and August if you wanna skip the crowds.
Of course, you can stop anywhere you want, we do have a few suggestions though! Stop over in Santa Cruz to experience that high-stoke surf culture and to ride on some of the world’s greatest off-shore breaks. Monterey Bay is a great place for families because the Monterey Bay Aquarium is LIT. Spend the night sleeping under the stars amongst the iconic redwood trees in Big Sur (campsites get booked up pretty quickly, so book well in advance), and you definitely have to check out McWay Falls, a magical waterfall that flows right onto the beach! To top it all off, head on over to Los Angeles to get your Hollywood on.
Route 66 – United States
|Suggested length||2 – 4 weeks|
We’ve got another iconic route for you (maybe even the most famous road in the world???) it’s none other than the one and only… Route 66! This road trip is not for the faint-hearted – or for anyone in a bit of a rush. You’re looking at covering just under 4,000 km of road and crossing eight US states. Starting in Chicago, Illinois, and ending in Santa Monica, California, you can make this trip in two weeks at a squeeze, although four is the ideal to make the most of the sights.
What makes this road trip one of our best road trips in North America, aside from crossing through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona along the way, is the sheer history of the road. Since it was built in 1926, “The Mother Road” has been walked on by Dust Bowl migrants fleeing to California for a better life, used by the American military during World War Two, and in its height of fame in the 50s, was frequented by Midwest Americans heading on vacation. Today, the road has changed a lot, but you can still drive over 80% of the original route!
There is so much to see and do on Route 66, from cities like St. Louis, Oklahoma City, and Albuquerque, to natural sites like the Mojave Desert, Petrified Forest National Park, and the Mississippi River. But, what Route 66 is really about, is eating a hamburger and fries at a classic roadside diner, and checking out the quirky attractions like the world’s largest rocking chair in Illinois, or the Cadillac Ranch in Texas. The best time to drive Route 66 is between late spring and early summer or in the early fall.
The Great River Road – United States
|Suggested length||10 days – 2 weeks|
The Great River Road is another long road trip that spans through a whopping 10 states! This National Scenic Byway is around 4,800 km long and follows the Mississippi River from start to finish. If you were to drive it straight in one go, it would take around 36 hours from north to south, but, you should note that the full route runs on both sides of the river. Most people give it between ten days to two weeks for the whole road trip, but, if you were to only drive on one side of the river, it’s doable in as little as four days (at a pinch). Fall is by far the best time to drive the Great River Road. You’ll get to enjoy the beautiful colors, and the numerous festivals and farmer’s markets that will be popping up left, right, and center!
Start off your journey in Minneapolis, Minnesota, kayaking on the Chain of Lakes and hitting up the Mall Of America. Then, make your way through Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Take a couple of days in Louisiana, to party it up on the streets of New Orleans before driving back to Minneapolis on the other side of the Mississippi River! There are plenty of scenic river towns along the way, as well as a whole load of history. You can check out a list of all the museums and historical sites you’ll find along the way here.
Since the Great River Road isn’t one long route, but a series of well-marked roads and highways, you are really free to change it up and customize your itinerary! Some of our top spots on the journey are the National Brewery Museum found in the Potosi Brewery in Wisconsin (yes, you can sample the beer), LeClaire, Iowa, where you can ride a historical Mississippi river boat, and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. While you’re in Tennessee, you also HAVE to visit Graceland, the home of the “king” himself, Elvis Presley.
The Loneliest Road in America – United States
|Finish||Great Basin National Park|
|Suggested length||3 days|
Coined as the “Loneliest Road in America”, we actually think this route is one of the best road trips you can take in the whole of Northern America! This route (which goes through Nevada) is actually a smaller portion of the much larger U.S. Route 50, but there’s something about the dramatic landscapes and vast open road that make this part extra special. Spring or early fall are the ideal times to drive this scenic route as it can get a little too toasty in the summer.
The Loneliest Road is over 600 km long and will take you over six hours to drive if you do it all in one go. Its short length makes it perfect to squeeze into a long weekend, or a regular old two-day weekend (if you have no choice!). It starts in Nevada’s capital, Carson City, where you should spend a day or two to visit the Nevada State Museum and to take the short drive to nearby Lake Tahoe, which has things to do in both summer and winter.
Because this road trip is relatively short, most people end up making the same stops. These are Dayton, Fallon, Austin, Eureka, and Ely. The trip ends at Great Basin National Park, an area filled with pine trees, lakes, streams, and awe-inspiring limestone caverns, like the Lehman Caves. Close to Fallon, you’ll have incredible views of Sand Mountain and if you have enough time, you should spend the night camping at the Pinon Flats Campground for some seriously amazing stargazing!
The Cabot Trail – Canada
|Suggested length||3 – 5 days|
The Cabot Trail is a just-under 300 km route that goes around the best part of Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s not only considered as one the best road trips in North America, but the world! This incredibly scenic route is littered with hiking trails, dramatic ocean views, and cultural heritage sites! From start to finish, it takes roughly five hours, but to take advantage of the hiking, whale watching, water sports, and quaint fishing towns and villages, you’ll want to plan for at least three to five days.
It’s better to visit the Cabot Trail in the peak of fall (the first and second week of October) to enjoy the red, orange, and golden-yellow colors of the changing seasons to the max! The road can be steep and curvy, with steep drops throughout the route. Because of this, we recommend driving around clockwise so you’re on the inner side of the road, away from any cliff edges. Another top safety tip is to be on the lookout for moose, hitting one of these will NOT end well (for you or the moose).
Our things to do along the way are visiting Margaree Harbor to check out the Margaree Salmon Museum and to try your hand at fly fishing on the river, whale watching in Pleasant Bay, and hiking the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands. You should also take BIG advantage of the freshly available lobsters and crabs at every opportunity that comes your way!
Baja California Sur – Mexico
|Suggested length||5 – 7 days|
While there’s no “official” Baja California Sur road trip, driving along Mexico’s stunning tropical peninsula is unbeatable! There’s everything from fun party towns, idyllic white-sand beaches, and quaint fishing villages. The best time to road trip Baja California Sur is between December to May, you’ll get to experience cooler, drier weather, AND be clear of the hurricane season. If you want to see Whale Sharks on the peninsula’s eastern coast, then the season is from June to December!
The route we’re going to suggest is a big loop, so feel free to start wherever you want. However, since La Paz and Cabo San Lucas both have international airports, you’ll probably end up starting from and hiring a car there. The places we suggest stopping at are Todos Santos, La Paz, La Ventana, Santiago, and Cabo San Lucas.
Some of the highlights on this road trip are swimming with whale sharks in La Paz, hiking up the Pedregal for the best views of Cabo San Lucas (and some heart-pumping cardio too), and learning to Kiteboard in La Ventana. For anyone who loves a bit of the tropics, this is one of the best road trips in North America, hands down.
Door County – United States
|Suggested length||2 – 3 days|
You may not have heard of Door County, Wisconsin, but this sweet little county sits on a peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. It’s filled with quaint little towns and picturesque views (and a whole load of adventure). Driving is by far the best way to experience the sleepy little towns and villages that line the water’s edge, and a road trip around Door County is an awesome way to spend a weekend.
Take the Door County Coastal Byway around the peninsula starting in Sturgeon Bay, making stops at Fish Creek, Sister Bay, Ellison Bay, Washington, and Bailey’s Harbor. Door County is beautiful from May to October, with the spring bringing cherry blossoms, wildflowers, and fewer crowds, and the fall bringing amazing colors and crisp, cool days. The summer undoubtedly has the best weather, but this is peak season, so there’ll be more people around, and more people means higher prices.
Some things you absolutely CANNOT miss in Door County are cider tastings in Ellison Bay, taking in the views of Cana Island Lighthouse just north of Bailey’s Harbor, and having a sunset picnic on Sister Bay (with some of Door County’s famous cherry pie, of course). Door County has lots of events throughout the year like the Door County Beer Festival, the Door County Wine Festival, and the annual Cherry Fest – these guys just love their festivals! So if you pan, try to time your road trip with one of these. We definitely think a road trip in Door country is one of the best (if not one of the most underrated) road trips in North America!