The best part of a road trip is making detours along the way. Pre-planned stops to see classic attractions and unexpected adventures are what make a road trip truly great. But taking the absolute most epic road trip across America? That's easier said than done. Luckily, we know our fans are a wanderlust-y sort, so with the help of Holiday Inn, we turned to them to show us their favorite places to go on a road trip.
Because we can't possibly fit EVERY single amazing place into one epic cross-country American road trip, we've singled out the best of the best, based on user submissions to our "America's Most Epic Road Trip" contest with Holiday Inn. These hidden gems and perennial favorites are user approved and Roadtrippers tested. Buckle up, roll down the windows, and turn up the radio, because we've got the definitive route for the most epic American road trip.
Arches National Park is one of the most jaw-dropping geological wonderlands in America, so it's no wonder that it was the second-most popular place users added to their trips in our contest. Plan to spend a day exploring the many arched rock formations. A few highlights are Balanced Rock and Tunnel Arch. If you take Exit 204 towards Cisco, it will take more time to get to the park but the drive way more scenic. The park can get pretty busy during the day, but it empties out just before sunset, when you can get some amazing photos.
From Arches, hit up Rocky Mountain National Park. With more than 300 miles of hiking trails, epic fields of wildflowers, alpine lakes, and wildlife around every corner, this is one of America's most beautiful woodlands. The Trail Ridge Road is a must-drive! It takes you to an impressive elevation of more than 11,0000 feet. Another great trip is the hike along Estes Cone Trail. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking. It's a pretty lengthy hike at four to five hours, but it's definitely worth it.
Then it's on to Tucumcari, New Mexico! After all that national park adventuring, it's time to chill out in an authentic Route 66 town, just off of I-40. There are tons of great diners to eat at here, and loads of retro motels, such as the Blue Swallow and Motel Safari. And make sure to grab a bite at Del's: You'll recognize it 'cause it's got a massive cow on top of its sign. Take some time to walk around and snap loads of pictures of the vintage Route 66-era neon signs.
From New Mexico, hop the border into Texas and drive down o the Alamo. Every year, more than 2.5 million people visit this important piece of history. Back in 1836, a band of Texans held out for an impressive 13 days inside the Mission against the centralist army of General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Even though the Alamo ultimately fell to Santa Anna's forces, those brave men who defended the Mission have gone down in history as American heroes and defenders of liberty. The Alamo is located directly in the middle of San Antonio, right next to the Riverwalk (which is a bustling riverfront neighborhood full of restaurants, bars, and cafés).
After San Antonio, head to the French Quarter in New Orleans, for a taste of some insane Louisiana nightlife. Here you can drink on the streets thanks to New Orleans's open container law. Be prepared if you visit during football season: The crowds can get pretty crazy after a Saints game. Bourbon Street is one of the wildest streets in America (in a good way), and the French Quarter itself is full of gorgeous architecture that will make you feel like you're walking back in time through an eighteenth century French tropical colony.
As if New Orleans nightlife weren't enough, your next stop is Miami's South Beach. Developed back in the 1910s, South Beach became a boomtown, attracting loads of tourists to its beaches and Art Deco hotels, nightclubs, and restaurants. South Beach is perfect for people-watching and for immersing yourself in gorgeous retro architecture. The food on Ocean Drive is alright, but overpriced for tourists. Get off the strip to find some real gems, such as the iconic Cuban restaurant Versailles.
Then drive up the coast and head toward Savannah, Georgia. Settled in 1733, Savannah boasts one of the country's largest historic districts. The riverside hamlet was spared by General Sherman's troops when the mayor of the city allowed Sherman's men to have the run of the city in exchange for leaving it intact (Sherman had a habit of torching every town he went through during the Civil War). Because of the mayor's bargain, Savannah has retained her antebellum charm. When you visit, absolutely go to Forsyth Park, an incredibly lush public park that you could easily spend the entire afternoon in. Savannah also has some great ghost tours, including one that's also a ghost tour/pub crawl.
Hop back on the highway, and head north to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although this park is beautiful to visit all year-round, the fall is a particularly amazing time to soak in the scenery. When you visit, plan to spend time exploring the abandoned resort town of Elkmont in the park. Also, Cades Cove is a perfect spot for a picnic and for viewing the park's wildlife. And don't leave before you have a chance to walk up Clingmans Dome. At an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet it provides breathtaking panoramic views of the park. It's free to visit, and is the most visited national park in all of America.
You can't take the most epic American road trip without visiting our nation's capital. Washington D.C. is home to incredible historical architecture and some truly mind-blowing museums, most of which are free! If you only have a day, hit up the National Mall, but be prepared for a long walk, and don't forget your sunscreen and some water. Here, you can enjoy a picnic surrounded by Washington's most iconic memorials, or visit a museum or two right off of the Mall. Also, between the Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History, there's a pretty great fountain where you can cool off. The best time of year to visit is either fall or spring: You'll still find crowds, but the changing colors of the foliage in fall is a can't-miss, as is cherry blossom season in spring.
Get back on the highway, and drive north towards New York City, where you can grab a boat to Ellis Island and experience the journey so many immigrants have made over the years. If you only have time to do one thing in NYC, do yourself a favor and visit the Statue of Liberty. Plan to spend time wandering around the museum and enjoying the views of the harbor and Manhattan. Of course, if you have time to do more than just one thing in NYC, the city is renowned for its delicious restaurants. Go to Chinatown for dim sum or Little Italy for pasta, and save room for some Chocolate by The Bald Man.
Next up is Boston. Again, there are just way too many awesome places to visit in this city, but if you have to go to one, Fenway Park is one of the city's most popular attractions. It's the oldest Major League Baseball stadium, having opened in 1912, and it's a hallmark of Boston. You can grab some beer on Yawkey Way, or sit up on the Green Monster... and don't forget your baseball glove to catch a ball! Even though the beer vendors close up shop during the seventh inning, "Who's on First" on Yawkey Way will continue to serve into extra innings. A couple other notable Boston attractions are Faneuil Hall, where you can eat everything from clam chowder to North End pizza, Chinese food, BBQ, and loads of desserts. Also, the Freedom Trail is a walkable tour of Boston's history. Oh, and the aquarium is one of the best in the world. If you have kids, also hit up the Science Museum. There's just so much fun to be had in Beantown!
Another can't-miss spot is upstate New York's Niagara Falls. The falls can be very misty in the morning, but that's when you can avoid the crowds. If you have the chance, take a ride on the Maid of the Mist boat, which takes you right up to the falls. If you need a place to spend the night, the Red Coach Inn is a lovely historic hotel with an excellent onsite restaurant. Also, head over to the Canadian side of the falls... there are more food options there. But, don't forget your passport!
From Niagara Falls head across to the Midwest and visit Cloud Gate in Chicago. This public sculpture has become a symbol for the city. It was designed by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor, and is remarkable for how it was welded together. Comprised of 168 stainless-steel plates, there are no visible welding seams because of how much it was polished. You can take some pretty epic photos here at sunrise. The "Bean" (as it's called) is in the AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, in the Loop area of Chicago, which is a great place to grab a drink or a bite to eat.
From St. Louis, head north towards Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota. Nothing says “America” more than Mount Rushmore. But, there’s also more to do here than just see the carved mountain memorial. There’s an adorable little tourist town nearby, where you can learn about the making of the monument. Plus, there’s good places to eat. Sometimes there’s a laser light show after dark at Rushmore, so check with the park to see if there’s one on the calendar when you visit. If you want a great spot for a picture, head to the Grand View Terrace. And be aware that there's going to be lots of tourists from June through August, so traffic might be an issue during this peak season.
After Rushmore, it's straight on to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. This was the first national monument, established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. You may remember it from the Steven Spielberg sci-fi film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It's a pretty phenomenal geological wonder, and even more incredible in person. After you pay the entrance fee, you can visit the monument for seven days. There’s a lot to explore here, including learning about the cryptozoological mythology of the monument and surrounding area. If you take the scenic road on the north side of I-90, you’ll get a great view of the tower.
Next stop is Grand Teton National Park, home to one of America’s most beautiful lakes, Jenny Lake, as well as the majestic Teton mountains. If you visit in summer, it can get pretty hot during the day, but then cool down considerably at night, so be sure to pack accordingly. If you drive in from the South Entrance you’ll get a fantastic view of the Tetons as you approach the park. Another great tip is to hop on a boat and take it across Jenny Lake, and from there, hike a mile to Inspiration Point for one heck of a panoramic view.
Then it’s just a few-miles drive to Yellowstone National Park, and seriously, this park is no joke. It’s a geothermal playground of epic geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, and deep boiling pools. The entire park is one big adventure. Also, be prepared to see wildlife everywhere, including roaming herds of buffalo, that will walk right past your car. Some can’t-miss Yellowstone wonders: Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Falls, and of course, Old Faithful. Definitely grab lunch at the Old Faithful Inn, one of the world’s oldest and largest log buildings. No wonder it was the third most-added stop on our fans' Most Epic Road Trips!
The next major national park on the most epic American road trip is Glacier National Park in Montana. The Kootenai and Blackfeet Native American tribes consider the land this park protects to be sacred, and when you visit, you’ll see why. The immense beauty of Mother Nature here is indescribable. There’s a great Red Bus tour that will take you along the Western Alpine, and a boat tour of Lake McDonald. Also check out Many Glacier, which offers incredible views of the remaining glaciers.
From Glacier, head west to Olympic National Park. This national park is home to coastline, beaches, rainforests, alpine lakes, glacier-capped peaks, forest valleys, and a primeval, ancient wilderness.There’s really something for everyone: from hiking and backpacking to walking along the beach and taking wildflower meadow picnics. If you have the opportunity, absolutely drive along Hurricane Ridge. This is the park’s most accessible mountain area, and the views are insane.
Yes, Crater Lake is beautiful. Yes, you should see it. However, it is a long haul from Eugene or any of the major stops off the 5, so you'll want to plan accordingly and expect to take a full day to visit and drive back from this attraction. From high atop the rim of Crater Lake, you can see just how magical the world really is. A hike down to the water reveals new beauty. The water is so blue and so deep, it’s no surprise that it’s the deepest lake in America, and one of the deepest on Earth. That’s why it’s one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon.
Surrounded by cliffs almost 2,000 feet high and boasting a picturesque island with a violent volcanic past, Crater Lake is also home to hikes through old-growth forests, and cross-country ski trips in the winter months. Many of the roads and facilities close during the winter, but the park is open and accessible all year long.
Crater Lake is located in southern Oregon, which is also home to the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the stunning Rogue River, the Oregon Caves and vineyards, and chocolatiers and cheesemakers galore.
This world-famous scenic drive is a 31-mile portion of old Highway 101, which parallels Freeway 101 with its 51,222 acres of redwood groves. It is by far the most outstanding display of these giant trees in the entire 500-mile redwood belt and is accessible to all with convenient services provided along the way. The Avenue of the Giants is surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world. Take time to picnic, camp, hike, swim, fish, raft, or bike in the cool hush of these ancient redwood forests.
Rent a bike from one of the touristy bike rental places and take it across the Golden Gate Bridge to Salsalito. There, you'll find cute shops, places to eat, and fun bars, and you can jump on a ferry back across the bay. You get outstanding views of the Bay, of San Francisco, of Marin County and the Ocean. There's parking on the San Francisco side as well as the Marin County side. Fair warning- it gets very windy on the bridge so hold on to your hats, caps, and any loose items you wear. If you're a photographer, it's kind of a dream bridge because there's always dramatic fog. Fun fact: Before it opened in 1937, during its construction the city laid a safety net under the floor of the bridge. It was massive and stretched the length of the bridge. The net saved over 19 men from falling to their deaths. Those guys became part of a very exclusive club, known as the “Half-Way-To-Hell Club.”
Then it’s straight on to Yosemite National Park. It's one of America’s most awe-inspiring parks, and also one of its most popular. The best time to visit to avoid the seasonal crowds are after Labor Day and before Memorial Day. Plan to spend time floating down the Merced River if the weather is nice, and see if you can get a permit to climb Half Dome. From the minute you enter the park, you’re immediately surrounded by massive sequoia trees and there are loads of must-see spots hidden within the forest: Bridalveil Fall, Mirror Lake, and Glacier Point, to name a few.
After exploring Yosemite, hop back in the car and visit the Santa Monica Pier, which is open every day of the year, and features free admission. There are loads of fun rides at the pier, including roller coasters, and a historic Carousel from 1922. You'll also find an old-fashioned soda fountain and an aquarium... or just stroll along the pier to watch the street performers and listen to musicians, and then make your way out onto the sand.
The Las Vegas Strip is a world unto itself. First, it’s the third destination on this most epic American road trip that has no open container law (the other places being Savannah and Bourbon Street), which means you can walk around with a foot-tall margarita while you casino hop. This is a fantastic place for people watching, and there are loads of shows and some pretty delicious restaurants. Visit the Heart Attack Grill if you have time... the waitresses wear nurse uniforms!
From Vegas, drive to Monument Valley. This is home to what’s arguably the most iconic landscape of the American West.If you go to The View Hotel and pay $10 per person, you can get some insane pictures of the valley from the Visitor Center balcony. This is absolutely an essential stop on any great American road trip.
Rounding out the most epic American road trip is a visit to Grand Canyon National Park, the most popular spot that showed up in our Holiday Inn contest submissions. Drive between Grand Canyon Village and Desert View for some amazing scenic overlooks. The National Park Service takes exceptional pride in this park and does an amazing job at keeping it well-maintained and clean. A few insanely cool hikes are the hike down South Kaibab Trail toward Phantom Ranch, the North Rim hike to the river, and the South Rim Trail, which provides unbelievably beautiful sunsets.
There you have it: The most epic American road trip as voted by road-trippers just like you during our Most Epic Road Trip contest, powered by our friends at Holiday Inn. Happy travels!
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