Nine of the best road trips in the USA

As you'd expect from the land of the automobile, the USA has some of the best road trip routes on the planet.

Load up a rental car and get going!

From two-day jaunts to epic multi-week adventures, there are hundreds - if not thousands - of epic road trips in the USA. Choose one of these best American road trips as the focus of your travel or make your roadie the icing-on-the-top of a city itinerary. Either way, you'll discover more of the 'real USA' - small towns, quaint museums, local food specialities, wildlife and scenery that'll fill every corner of your Facebook or Instagram feed.

Your New Zealand driver license is valid in all states except Georgia, which asks for an International Driving Permit (IDP). Many USA main roads are dual carriageway, which simplifies the adaption to driving on the right. The road rules can vary between states, so be aware that speed limits, age limits and drink/drug driving laws may change when you cross a state line. Google search makes it easy to check the driving laws for the states you'll be visiting.

Best road trips on the East Coast and Midwest

For these driving adventures, you can fly Air New Zealand non-stop from Auckland to either Houston or Chicago, then connect to your domestic airport with our alliance partner United Airlines. All your USA flights, both international and domestic, can be booked through our website. From 29 October 2020, fly non-stop between Auckland and New York* - very handy for a couple of the road trips below.

* Subject to final regulatory approvals and crewing agreements.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia to North Carolina

While it would take you only nine hours to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Charlottesville in Virginia to Asheville in North Carolina, the whole point of this USA east coast road trip is to travel sedately, savour the scenery and feel the Blue Ridge Mountains vibe. Those who know this Appalachian roadie well say it demands five days, although you could certainly stretch it out for longer - especially in autumn, when the colours add another layer of gorgeousness to the landscapes.

Highlights of this Appalachian road trip:

  • Oak forests, misty mountains, sparkling mountain streams and black bears in the Shenandoah National Park
  • Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest retreat, the beautiful grounds of the University of Virginia and the Taubman Museum of Art
  • Live bluegrass and mountain music at the Blue Ridge Music Center - banjos, fiddles and guitars
  • Waterfall walks, hiking over Rocky Knob and seeing the view from Jumpinoff Rocks
  • Hard cider, grits, smoked ham, pork ribs, braised rabbit and other types of Appalachian soul food
  • Driving on Linn Cove Viaduct around Grandfather Mountain, then hiking over Mile-High Swinging Bridge
  • Precious gems at the Museum of North Carolina Minerals and rhododendrons in Craggy Gardens
  • Appalachian arts and crafts at the Folk Art Center in Asheville
  • The Great Smoky Mountains for hiking and wildlife spotting

Great Lakes Road Trip - Traverse City to Copper Harbor

Covering 500 miles (800km), this route includes Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas, as well as three of the Great Lakes - Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior. It starts at Traverse City, a one-hour flight from Chicago.  Winter's the only season to avoid, because of ice and snow on the roads. While some travellers do this spectacular trip in three days, a week would be better to enjoy all the beaches, forests, waterfalls and food experiences that will come your way.

Highlights of this Great Lakes road trip:

  • Stack-ups for breakfast (English muffin with lots on top); cherry pie at the Grand Traverse Pie Company
  • Watching hang gliders at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
  • Driving through the Tunnel of Trees, a stretch of heritage highway linking Harbor Springs to Cross Village
  • Kielbasa, pierogi, and zurek at the historic Legs Inn, which has panoramic views of Lake Michigan
  • Headlands International Dark Sky Park for amazing stargazing
  • Crossing the Mackinac Bridge, the third-longest suspension bridge in the world
  • Tahquamenon Falls State Park, for waterfalls and wildlife
  • Kitchi-iti-kipi in Manistique, a crystal-clear natural spring
  • Fish and chips at Minisng, farm-to-table at The Marq in Marquette and pastries at Irontown Pasties
  • Kayaking at Miners Castle Beach, hiking to Miners Falls and driving up Brockway Mountain, one of the USA's highest roads

Boston to Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cape Cod in New England is one of the USA's legendary places. It's been linked to many famous people - John F. Kennedy, Samuel L. Jackson, Gregory Peck, Dan Aykroyd, Tommy Hilfiger and Taylor Swift, just to name a few.  And the best way to get to Cape Cod is to drive from Boston, because there's a lot of history, scenery and great local food to find along the way. Although the drive from Boston to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod is only 185km, you can easily spread this trip over a few days.

Highlights of this Massachusetts road trip:

  • Sandwich Glass Museum, for glass art and history that stretches back to 1825
  • Edward Gorey House, an old sea captain's home that's dedicated to the life and works of Edward Gorey, a famous US writer, illustrator and designer
  • JFK Memorial at Hyannis, a town that's steeped in Kennedy family history
  • The historic Brewster General Store, for tasty food and enthralling merchandise
  • Chatham Lighthouse, overlooking a beautiful white-sand ocean beach
  • Every kind of pie you can ever imagine at Marion's Pie Shop in Chatham
  • Lobster rolls at the Friendly Fisherman, open in the summer months
  • Boat trips to Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard
  • The immense dunes of the National Seashore, for hiking and biking
  • Marconi Wireless Station, site of the first transatlantic wireless communication between the USA and Europe
  • Highland Light, another gorgeous lighthouse in North Truro
  • Commercial Street in Provincetown, nearly five kilometres of historic wooden houses, shops, restaurants and opportunities for fun

Best road trips on the West Coast

To do these West Coast road trips, fly Air New Zealand non-stop from Auckland to either San Francisco or Los Angeles, then connect to your domestic airport with our alliance partner United Airlines. All your USA flights - both international and domestic - can be booked through our website. Connections also available from Air New Zealand serviced domestic airports.

Yellowstone to Glacier National Park to, Montana and Wyoming

With a national park at each end and numerous smaller wilderness areas in between, this all-American road trip is big on wildlife and outdoor activities - perfect for a holiday with kids. There's also the allure of western cattle farming heritage, to ensure you can find an excellent steak in every town. Allow at least two days for this journey. Places to stay between the national parks include Big Sky, Ennis, Bozeman, Butte, Deer Lodge and Missoula. Before you depart, add an extra highlight to your trip by driving the spectacular Beartooth Highway at the north end of Yellowstone Park - some call it America's most beautiful road.

Highlights of this Montana to Wyoming road trip:

  • Big Sky, a town known for its music, food and nearby hiking trails
  • Riding on the Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky Resort for bigger-than-big views
  • The fishing-crazy town of Ennis, where you can rent a kayak and go paddling on a lake
  • Whiskey tasting at Willie's Distillery in Ennis
  • Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, for spectacular sightseeing underground
  • Soaking in naturally-heated water at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort
  • Hiking to Boiling River, where a hot spring flows into the river
  • Museum of the Rockies, which is full of dinosaur fossils
  • Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, where you can learn about the western cattle industry
  • The National Bison Range, a wildlife area that's home to bison, elk, bighorn, pronghorn, bald eagles and coyotes

 

Grand Circle Tour, Utah and Arizona

This top American road trip is a way to see a lot of visually-spectacular national parks in just two weeks, or maybe a little longer if you want to take your time. It includes Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Grand Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park and more. You can start and finish in Las Vegas, making it easy to blend two radically different kinds of entertainment - manmade and nature-made.

Highlights of this Utah & Arizona road trip:

  • The world's largest natural arch, The Narrows and Angels Landing in Zion National Park
  • Crazy spire-shaped rock formations in Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Driving Highway 12, one of the most scenic drives in the world, and hiking at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • The amazing Waterpocket Fold at Capitol Reef National Park to see slot canyons and other incredible rock formations
  • The mind-boggling landscape at Goblin Valley State Park - goblins galore!
  • The Needles and Island in the Sky, an out-of-this-world mesa, in Canyonlands National Park
  • Landscape Arch, Balanced Rock and the Double Arch in Arches National Park
  • Pueblo cliff dwellings, the immense Cliff Palace and petroglyphs in Mesa Verde National Park
  • Monument Valley Scenic Drive, with its impressive buttes and mesas
  • The Grand Canyon, the most famous natural formation in the world

Wild West Roadie - Denver to Yellowstone

This great American road trip road trip captures the spirit of the USA's pioneer soul with forest, river and mountain scenery that will have everyone in your touring party gobsmacked. You'll see a big slice of Yellowstone National Park, as well as legendary Wild West places like Jackson and Cody. You'll need to keep your camera ready for sightings of deer, bears, wolves, bison, elk and pronghorn antelope.

Highlights of this Colorado to Wyoming road trip:

  • Boulder, to see historic Pearl Street and hike the amazing Flatirons mountains
  • Estes Park, home of the haunted Stanley Hotel - there are ghost tours every night
  • Cheyenne, the capital city of Wyoming, to visit the Old West Museum, feed bison at Terry Bison Ranch and snap selfies with the artistic big boots around the city
  • Casper to explore Fremont Canyon in a kayak - see two billion years of history in the orange and red canyon walls
  • Grand Teton National park - hiking trails and kayaking around the channels of Snake River
  • Colorado and Wyoming food specialties, like jerky, white chicken chili, chicken-fried steak, farmed elk, bison burgers, trout and (only for the fearless) Rocky Mountain Oysters
  • Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis - there's a free bath house or you can pay to visit a hot spring complex with water slides, saunas and a choice of pools
  • Jackson Hole - see the Antler Arches in downtown Jackson and visit the elk refuge
  • Cody in Wyoming, named after the original William (Buffalo Bill) Cody, for dinner with a show at the Cody Cattle Company
  • Geothermal and wildlife wonders in Yellowstone Park from the east entrance (open from May until August)

Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles

You can't go wrong by choosing the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles; some say it's best road trip in the USA. As well as a spectacular parade of beaches and bays, historic seaside villages, forests and wine-making areas, there are heaps of opportunities for family fun. Whether you're travelling in a campervan or rental car, make sure you don't hurry this journey - the road's not fast, but it's hugely rewarding.

Highlights of this Pacific Coast Highway road trip:

  • San Jose to visit the Winchester Mystery House and get a look at Silicon Valley
  • Ano Nuevo State Park to see elephant seals and hike some trails
  • Santa Cruz to time-travel back to the 1960s for seaside fun park thrills
  • Monterey's aquarium, whale watching and Point Lobo State Natural Reserve
  • Big Sur, as seen in the final episodes of Mad Men, for hot spring baths at the Esalen Institute, as well as beaches, parks and falls
  • San Simeon to eat oysters and calamari, visit Hearst Castle and look for sea mammals from the boardwalk at Moonstone Beach
  • Hiking at San Luis Obispo and delicious clams at Pismo beach
  • Surfing, or watching surfers at Ventura Beach, followed by vintage shopping at second-hand stores
  • Eyeing up the fancy beach houses while you stroll along Malibu Beach; sunset cocktails and dinner at a restaurant with ocean views

 

Best southern road trips

For our recommended Texas road trip, you can fly Air New Zealand non-stop from Auckland to Houston, then pick up your rental vehicle from the airport. The Florida Keys road trip is almost as easy; after you arrive in Houston, connect to Miami with our alliance partner United Airlines. All your USA flights - both international and domestic - can be booked through our website. Connections also available from Air New Zealand serviced domestic airports.

Ultimate Texas Road Trip

Hit the road to explore the second-largest state in the USA. You might be seeing cactus and desert in your imagination, but the reality is an immense range of landscapes - from fields of wildflowers and prairie grasslands to rivers, canyons and swamps. There's a lot of history here too - remember the Alamo? Yep, Texas has the Alamo Mission, plus many other sites that are linked to compelling stories from the pioneering past.

Highlights of the Ultimate Texas road trip:

  • The Texas State Capitol, a mind-blowing historic landmark in Austin, followed by Tex-Mex food at Matt's El Rancho or Valentina's
  • Lady Bird Lake hiking and biking trail, right in the middle of Austin
  • Swimming at Barton Springs Pool and seeing the pioneer lifestyle at Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms
  • Fredricksburg for wildflowers, vibrant painted churches and great shopping along historic Main Street, plus a visit to the LBJ Ranch, home of the 36th President of the USA
  • Historic Fort Stockton, the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum and Instagram shots of the Giant Road Runner in Fort Stockton
  • Hiking amazing Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park - the walls are nearly half a kilometre high!
  • Soaking in rustic hot pools on the edge of the Rio Grande River
  • A quick trip to the Mexican village of Boquillas del Carmen for lunch
  • Ancient cave paintings and hiking to the Rio Grande at the Seminole Canyon State Park
  • The Alamo Mission, historic Pearl District and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio
  • The world's largest bat colony at the Natural Bridge Caverns

US Route 1 - the Florida Keys

Cruising the Overseas Highway from Miami to Key West is one of the best road adventures you can have in the USA. In the 1800s, Florida Keys beaches were home for 'wreckers', who made their living breaking down wrecked ships. It was also pirate territory, so there's plenty of history to enjoy while you're lapping up the white sand, turquoise water and palm trees. Pack your snorkel, mask and fins for this trip, and don't forget to keep tally of the 42 bridges.

Highlights of a road trip from Miami to Key West:

  • Key Largo, the first island you'll come to, for snorkelling or kayaking then a seafood dinner in front of an astounding sunset
  • Key Lime Pie at the Blind Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory on Tavernier Key
  • Selfies with the giant lobster at the Rain Barrel Sculpture Gallery
  • Diving into history at the Diving Museum on Islamorada
  • Morada Bay, for white sand, palm trees, aquamarine water and rum punch
  • A flight of beers at the Florida Keys Brewing Company
  • Hand feeding a giant tarpon (type of fish) at Robbies, a legendary bar and restaurant on Islamorada
  • Visiting the Sea Turtle Center, where they care for sick and injured sea turtles
  • Zooming over Seven Mile Bridge between Knights Key and Little Duck Key
  • Photographing tiny native deer on Big Pine Key
  • Sitting under half a million dollars at No Name Pub (the dollar bills are stuck all over the walls and ceiling)
  • The home of Ernest Hemingway in Key West, now a museum
  • Boat trips from Key West to the Dry Tortugas National Park, to see a 19th century fort and protected coral reefs