Want to do a road trip in America but don't know where to start? Check out this advice from Lonely Planet's travel experts.
Fill up the gas tank and buckle up – the USA is an unforgettably crazy trip. And there’s no better way to get to know this enormous, energetic and engaging country than by hitting the road, Jack.
IF YOU LIKE...
Towering forests, deep canyons, alpine lakes, chiselled peaks, alien-looking deserts and unspoiled beaches – there’s no shortage of spectacular landscapes unscrolling before your windshield in the USA. Hop out of the car for an afternoon hike, morning paddle or all-day communion with nature.
- Fall Foliage Tour: Breathe in New England’s natural beauty during its showiest season.
- Grand Teton to Yellowstone: Quintessential Western national parks in the Rocky Mountains.
- Four Corners Cruise: See the Southwest’s canyon country from rim to rim.
- Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks: Drive across the Sierra Nevada’s highlands.
Start on the East Coast, home of America’s revolutionary 13 colonies. Go west, following scouts’ trails across the Great Plains and over the Continental Divide to Pacific shores. Dig up the country’s Spanish colonial roots mixed with indigenous traditions across the Southwest.
- The Civil War Tour: Follow in the wake of men and women who fought in the USA’s bloodiest conflict.
- On the Pioneer Trails: Where homesteaders once rolled their ‘prairie schooners’ and daring Pony Express riders galloped.
- Highway 49 Through Gold Country: Ramble the hurly-burly boomtowns of California’s 19th-century gold rush.
- On the Trail of Lewis & Clark: America’s original cross-country trip.
Coast to coast, there’s endless fun for anyone travelling with kids, including eye-popping theme parks, hands-on science museums, zoos and aquariums. Or focus your road trip on the great outdoors: beaches and national parks rank among the most popular destinations for families.
- Acadia Byway: An island idyll in New England, most bewitching in summer.
- The Great Smokies: Wildlife spotting, historical train rides, waterfall hikes and kitschy Dollywood.
- Black Hills Loop: A summer-vacation rite of passage for uncountable American kids.
- Disneyland & Orange County Beaches: Mickey’s ‘Magic Kingdom’ is a short drive from SoCal’s cinematic coast.
With 5000-plus miles of coastline along two oceans and the Gulf of Mexico, there’s enough sand to satisfy all kinds of beach lovers here, from the rugged and wild shores of New England to the sunny, surfable strands of Florida and Southern California.
- The Jersey Shore: It’s a nonstop party with Atlantic boardwalks, carnival fun and funnel cake.
- Highway 1: Springbreak beaches and peaceful islands and inlets down in the Sunshine State.
- Pacific Coast Highways: Kick back in quirky beach towns on California’s coast, equal parts sunshine and rainbow mist.
- Highway 101 Oregon Coast: For lighthouses, rocky bluff s, jewel-like beaches and Pacific horizons.
In the USA’s biggest, most diverse cities, high and low culture collide in a heady blow-up of sights, sounds and tastes: star chefs’ kitchens to food trucks, symphony halls to underground punk clubs, museums to graffiti-art murals, and much more.
- Coastal New England: Bop through Boston on this seaboard drive – it’s not too much of a detour from NYC
- Route 66: Link the skyscrapers of Chicago and glamorous Los Angeles with a chain of other great American cities.
- Pacific Coast Highways: Cruise up the West Coast from San Diego to Los Angeles, San Francisco and beyond, where Portland and Seattle await.
Down-home cooking is the cherry on top of any classic American road trip. Make a mess at a Maine lobster shack, plow through BBQ in Texas, order ‘Christmas-style’ enchiladas at a New Mexico diner or find farm-to-table goodness in the Midwest. What’s for dessert? Pie, oh my.
- Pennsylvania Dutch Country Amish bakeries, all-you-can-eat suppers, and pretzel and chocolate factories.
- Vermont’s Spine - Route 100: Roadside apple orchards, dairy cows and microbreweries.
- Cajun Country: Where rustic Cajun spice mixes with sophisticated Creole cooking.
- San Francisco, Marin & Napa Loop: California’s locavore heaven, with famous wineries, green farms and fresh seafood.
NEED TO KNOW
The only foreign phones that work in the USA are GSM tri- or quad-band models. Buy pay-as-you-go cell phones from electronics stores or rent them at major airports.
Wi-fi is available at most accommodations and coffee shops. Average rates at city cybercafes are US$6 to $12 per hour. Internet access at public libraries is usually free.
Gas stations are everywhere, except in some remote desert and mountain areas and national parks. Expect to pay US$3.15 to $4.25 per gallon.
Car Rental Express (www.carrentalexpress.com)
Budget: Less than US$100
Hostel dorm bed: $25–40; campsite: $10–40; cheap motel room: $50–100
Roadside diner or take-out meal: $10–15
Hit the beach, find a park and keep an eye out for discount days at museums
Two-star hotel room: $100–200
Casual sit-down restaurant meal: $25–40
Rental car: from $30 per day, excluding insurance and gas
State and national park entry: $5–25 (some free)
Top End: Over US$200
Resort hotel room: from $250
Three-course meal in top restaurant: $75–100
Theme-park entry: $40–100
This is an extract from Lonely Planet USA’s Best Trips (2nd Edition) by Sara Benson, et al. © Lonely Planet 2014. In stores now, RRP: NZ$44.99.