There’s no better time than the fall to embark on the great American road trip. Here, six iconic routes coast to coast—some of winding mountain passes, others with wide-open stretches through the desert expanse—where you can witness some of the most scenic corridors of the U.S. through your car window.
Road Trip 1 — Coastal Route 1, Maine
Couple the best of leaf-peeping season with dramatic coastal views by venturing up Maine’s Route 1, from the New Hampshire state line to Acadia National Park. Start with a picnic lunch at Fox’s Lobster House in York just outside the historic Nubble Light on Cape Neddick. If it’s warm enough, pop over to Ogunquit for a stroll along the cliff-hugging Marginal Way. Once you’re back on Route 1, consider a detour down the finger-like peninsulas of the Harpswell region, or check out the roadside clam shacks, quirky general stores, and antique shops of Boothbay Harbor. Ending at Mount Desert Island, cap off your road trip with a drive up to the peak of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point along the North Atlantic, before resting your head at the supremely elegant Claremont Hotel.
Road Trip 2 — The High Road to Taos, New Mexico
What the High Road to Taos Byway lacks in distance, it more than makes up for with its density of incredible landscapes and cultural attractions. In Chimayó, you can visit the 19th-century Santuario de Chimayó, a pilgrimage site reputed to have healing powers. When you’ve built up an appetite, sample traditional New Mexican dishes at Rancho de Chimayo, then satiate any cultural cravings by shopping for native arts and crafts in the towns of Ojo Sarco, Cordova, and Truchas. In Las Trampas, you’ll see one of the state’s best examples of Spanish Colonial architecture: the 18th-century mission church San Jose de Gracia. For a quintessential dose of Americana kitsch, pass by Johnnie Meier’s Classical Gas Museum in Embudo, which has thousands of gas station-related paraphernalia, including vintage gas pumps and old neon signs. Final stop: Taos. With over 100 ski pistes, the town is a haven for winter sports. But it’s also rich with Native American culture with a UNESCO-designated adobe Taos Pueblo built in the 14th century.
Road Trip 3 — San Juan Skyway, Colorado
Looping around Colorado’s mightiest mountainous corridor, the 232-mile San Juan Skyway runs through the San Juans and its pretty Victorian mining towns. Start in Durango with a stroll along the rainbow trout-filled Anima River, then continue toward Silverton for heart-stopping views of the state’s “14ers” (mountain peaks that clock in over 14,000 feet in height). Along the Million Dollar Highway, you’ll pass by dizzying drop-offs of Red Mountain Pass, Silverton’s Old Hundred Gold Mine, and the eerie Animas Forks Ghost Town. Stop in Ouray for a hike down the Box Canyon Waterfall, or zip over to Telluride for a stunning gondola ride up to the Saint Sofia lookout (have lunch at Allred’s up top). Either way, book a night at Mountain Lodge Telluride before rounding back to Durango. When you do, check out the Ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park on your way.
Road Trip 4 — Highway 101, Oregon
Oregon’s Highway 101 is arguably one of the Pacific Coast’s most dazzling drives. Departing from Portland, head west to Cannon Beach to snap photos of its famous sea stacks and a meal at Wayfarer Restaurant. Continue south to Oswald West State Park for hiking trails of different difficulty levels, then take a tour of the hundred-year-old Tillamook Creamery, which sees over one million annual visitors. (And don’t worry, bites of the cheesemaker’s famous cubes are included.) Spend the night at the Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa. On your approach to Brookings, keep your eyes peeled for the region’s natural formations—the Devil’s Punchbowl, Cape Perpetua, and the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor—as your road trip winds down.
Road Trip 5 — Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachia
Though the legendary Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) cuts through three mountain ranges along 469 miles, the most traveled segment stretches from Charlottesville, VA to Asheville, NC. It’s a swath that takes about nine hours to conquer at the 45-mph speed limit—and that’s without accounting for pit stops. And boy, are there plenty of those. The BRP officially begins in Shenandoah National Park outside of Charlottesville (you can stay at the new Graduate Hotel outpost there). The highway’s concrete milepost markers are clear indicators of where you should stop: scenic overlooks, visitor centers, and major intersections. Some of these include the massive Humpback Rocks at milepost 5.8, the Peaks of Otter at milepost 86, and the Mabry Mill, an old blacksmith shop and eatery at milepost 176.
Road Trip 6 — Pacific Coast Highway, California
No road trip hit list would be complete without mention of California’s iconic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Whether you begin in San Diego or San Francisco, the 700-mile journey promises to deliver unforgettable postcard-worthy views of the Golden State. From the Golden Gate Bridge to Half Moon Bay, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk to Big Sur’s Bixby Bridge, and Hearst Castle to Pismo Beach, the list of attractions off the PCH are plentiful—and that’s even before reaching Southern California. A few hotels found along the route, like Post Ranch Inn and Cavallo Point Lodge, are destinations in their own right.
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