Classic American road trips are a must-do for any traveler. They take you through stunning landscapes, bustling cities and sleepy villages alike.
One of the world’s most iconic road trips is Route 66, commonly referred to as “Mother Road.” Stretching across nine states from Chicago to Santa Monica, this iconic route has become one of America’s signature drives.
1. Route 66
Route 66 is one of America’s most iconic highways, having been constructed in 1926 and featured in nearly every popular medium from movies to literature to music – becoming a part of American culture itself.
The road was originally intended to be a straight, paved highway with minimal curves and suitable driving conditions regardless of weather. Unfortunately, this vision wasn’t realized until the Great Depression hit.
Though much of the original highway has since disappeared, there are still remnants of its past in Illinois. Notable among them are the iconic Muffler Men – fiberglass titans of retro roadside kitsch!
Along Route 66, there are many historic towns and cities to explore – offering a glimpse into life in the 1930s and 1940s. Additionally, there are several museums dedicated to documenting Route 66’s legacy.
Route 66 has become so important to America’s history that there are a number of preservationists working tirelessly to preserve it. They organize events, raise funds, and protect sites, monuments and landmarks along the road.
Traveling down the Mother Road is an unforgettable journey through diverse landscapes, such as deserts of the Wild West and California’s famed coast. Plus, don’t miss out on any national parks or other attractions that make this country so unique.
2. The Grand Canyon
Arizona’s Grand Canyon, a World Heritage Site, is an impressive 277 miles (460 km) long canyon formed by the Colorado River over millions of years. It’s also home to numerous natural attractions and wildlife species.
For the full Grand Canyon experience, it is recommended to spend at least two or three days there. Nevertheless, you can still get a glimpse of the park in just one day.
When visiting either the North Rim or South Rim, make sure to stop at some of the scenic overlooks. You can either drive yourself there independently, or take the shuttle service.
In addition to the stunning views of the canyon, you’ll also be able to identify its distinct rock layers. These formations have been preserved almost perfectly and tell an intriguing geologic story.
At Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, you can spot wildlife like mule deer and desert bighorn sheep. You might even get lucky enough to spot a California condor flying around Grand Canyon Village!
Before embarking on your Grand Canyon trip, ensure you pack the appropriate clothing for the weather and terrain. Comfort is key so opt for lightweight clothing and shoes that allow for movement. Furthermore, bring a backup battery for your smartphone as you’ll likely spend a lot of time taking photos and videos.
3. Monument Valley
Monument Valley – synonymous with the romantic spirit of the Wild West – is a must-stop on any desert road trip through America’s Southwest. Situated along the Arizona-Utah border, this red sand desert is known for its towering sandstone formations that will surely capture visitors’ hearts.
No matter whether you take the scenic 17-mile drive yourself or join a tour group, you won’t miss any of the iconic rock formations that are synonymous with the region. There are 11 numbered stops along the way and it is recommended to spend at least 2 to 4 hours taking in all the beauty.
Monument Valley attracts most visitors during the summer and on certain holidays, but it’s worth checking out the park in spring or fall when crowds are much smaller. Temperatures tend to stay mild throughout these seasons with highs in the 60’s and lows around 40degF.
Monument Valley’s majestic spires and buttes provide a striking backdrop, with East Mitten, West Mitten and Merrick Butte all making for stunning photos. Elephant Butte itself – an immense sandstone monolith – should also not be missed on your tour.
Accommodations can be found both inside the park and outside. Goulding’s Lodge and The View hotel are two excellent choices, while Kayenta, a small town nearby, has several hotels and restaurants to choose from.
4. National Parks
No matter if you’re looking for an epic cross-country journey or a quick stop through some of America’s renowned national parks, the options are endless.
Woody Guthrie famously sang, ‘There’s nothing quite like an American road trip’. Indeed, America is made for them with its stunning landscapes and myriad historic and cultural sites to discover.
Traveling through America’s National Parks can be an awe-inspiring journey, offering breathtaking wilderness areas and historic landmarks alike. With more than 800 national parks to explore, there is something for everyone on this incredible journey.
National parks are home to hundreds of species and boast some stunning landscapes. Some even qualify as International Dark Sky Parks, allowing visitors to observe the Milky Way galaxy up close.
Experience the parks on foot, and with some careful planning and research you can customize your itinerary to fit your individual needs. Most national parks offer hiking trails of various difficulty levels – from easy and family-friendly routes to more challenging routes suitable for advanced hikers.
5. The American Desert
The American Desert is a vast region of dry land stretching across America from Arizona to Nevada and Utah. It’s widely considered one of the world’s most picturesque regions, with stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife.
The Desert is a geographical feature of North America formed over millions of years by the gradual heating and cracking of Earth’s crust along fault lines cut into its bedrock. These fault lines have created mountains and sinkholes alike, giving rise to spectacular landscapes.
These mountain ranges form part of the Basin and Range Province, a larger geological region. As these mountain ranges move northward and southward, they cast a rain shadow over basins, preventing clouds from carrying water to lower-lying areas.
This lack of precipitation has been a major factor in the creation of deserts, forcing all forms of life to adapt and thrive. Animals such as burrowers, kangaroo rats, and insects have thrived in these conditions by seeking shelter in protected hideaways.
Desert exploration offers plenty of attractions, from visiting national parks like Zion and Monument Valley to ghost towns like Oatman along Route 66. Plus, you’ll come across numerous adobe-style dwellings as well as unique hoodoo formations throughout the area.
6. The Mississippi River
The Mississippi River has played a prominent role in America’s history, providing the backdrop for many stories set along its 1.2 million miles of watershed that runs from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Mississippi River is the second longest river in North America, and its tributaries make it the fourth. It traverses 10 states and drains 41 percent of continental United States.
Historically, the Mississippi River served as an important transport link connecting southern states to the rest of America. Steamboats became increasingly popular during the early 1800s, enabling goods to be shipped far beyond Appalachia’s mountains.
In the 20th century, levees and other channel improvements made the Mississippi more navigable. Nowadays, barges and ships transport nearly 175 million tons of freight annually along its upper reaches.
Fishermen and outdoor adventurers alike rely on the Missouri River as a vital resource. It boasts 25% of North America’s fish species, including more than 400 different kinds of native trout.
Along its banks are hundreds of species of birds, turtles, snakes and amphibians that call it home. As an important bird migration destination and one of North America’s most ecologically significant rivers, the Mississippi has become home to many unique wildlife.
The Mississippi River is full of hidden gems to discover, and taking a road trip down its Great River Road will offer visitors an entirely new perspective of this iconic American waterway. From small towns that birthed music genres such as blues and soul to vibrant cities bursting with culture, the Mississippi River should not be missed on any classic American road trip itinerary.