Famous American Roads for Your Travel Bucket List
Who doesn't love checking off their bucket list, especially if it’s for something fun? With cabin fever at an all-time high from the pandemic mandates, many people are taking to the roads as the best way to social-distance and still get out and about.
It’s time to get back in touch with the benefits of road trips. Clear your mind of everyday stressors, get inspired by nature, see something new, build memories, and return grateful for your home when you come back to your own comfy bed.
We’ll highlight a variety of road trips from across the United States and then help you choose whether you want to dust off your own car or buy car insurance for one week and grab a rental.
Top Five Famous Roads to Drive
The best drives and the best stops along the way, from shortest to longest, include a few you’ll certainly know, but also perhaps there are a few that will expand your horizons.
#1 – Drive the Brandywine Valley
Who says a road trip has to necessarily be a week to 10 days? A “starter” or “tester” road trip is perfectly fine, especially if you’re just starting to get out of your house after quarantining, or you don’t want a trip that’s long enough to warrant worrying about lodging.
This 19-mile road trip through Pennsylvania and Delaware is all about history and beauty, tracing the Brandywine River on a look through scenic chateau country featuring historic summer estates, twisting narrow wildflower-lined roads, and overarching oak and tulip trees.
Make your way to Rte. 100 and follow the narrow road until it connects to Rte. 52, which takes you back to your start. Spring and fall are the best times for this drive, especially to catch some brilliant fall foliage.
#2 – Drive the Pacific Coast Highway
One of the best coastal drives in the world is along a 123-mile stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Drive southbound to be closer to the ocean and give yourself four or five days to truly enjoy the views as well as the charming towns along the way.
Highway 1 is an exhilarating experience. There are no guard rails at the edge; little room for error if oncoming traffic swerves in your direction. So stay extra alert, and pull over to a safe place to really enjoy the vista.
But avoid the PCH in July and August if you can as that’s its super-busy time.
#3 – Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
America’s longest linear park, completed in 1987 and one of the finest scenic drives, runs 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It links Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, running along the spine of the Blue Ridge, a major mountain chain that’s part of the Appalachian Mountains.
Miraculously, you’ll have a billboards-free journey as you’re enjoying the isoprene (that’s what the trees release into the atmosphere to make the Blue Ridge “blue”). You can drive the Parkway in one day, but take at least two days to really enjoy it. The Blue Ridge Parkway Association suggests three days, of course!
This isn’t a road trip for speedsters, for several reasons. The speed limit is mostly 45 miles per hour, but it drops to 35 and 25. There are twisty hairpin corners, high elevations, steep grades, and the fog that veers from misty to hazy. You’ll also be sharing the road with bicyclists, who are frequent on the Parkway.
Mid-May to mid-September is the best time for this drive inorder to see the blooming wildflowers in the spring and the vibrant leaves in the fall.
#4 – Drive the Great River Road
The Great River Road actually runs from the Canandian border to the Gulf Coast, but sections in 10 states have been designated as National Scenic Byways.
Focus your journey on the 2,000-mile stretch from Memphis, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana. This includes the Natchez Trace Parkway, which follows an old Native American trail for more than 400 miles and features a number of ancient burial grounds.
There are also numerous monuments and museums along the way that highlight Black history in the area.
It would be ideal if you could stretch out the drive for over a week to soak in all of the history, culture, blues music, and other attractions. And the ideal time is September for “Drive the Great River Road Month!” In addition to beautiful fall scenery, there are scads of fall festivals, farmers markets, and more agritourism attractions going on.
#5 – Drive Route 66
This iconic original highway from Chicago to Los Angeles is 2,451 miles. It has been replaced by an interstate highway system, but over 85 percent of the original road still exists.
You’ll pass through dozens of old-highway towns and vast desolate desert plains. And if you love road-side attractions, you’ll be in heaven. You can still “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” like jazz musician Bobby Troup did in 1946 when he penned the popular road song while driving west to seek fame and fortune in L.A.
The best time to do it? Late spring-early summer or in early fall to avoid winter weather as well as the higher number of travelers over the summer holidays.
What to Drive for a Road Trip
Here are a dozen choices for recommended road-trip vehicles, and who they’re best suited for:
- Toyota Corolla – for the basic road-tripper
- Kia Sedona – for the whole family
- Chevrolet Suburban – for the minivan-phobic
- Ford Flex – for a family size SUV
- Mazda5 minivan – for the mileage-conscious family
- Ford Expedition, Ram 1500 – for pulling a trailer
- Mazda Miata – for a twosome and a winding road
- Volkswagen Beetle convertible – for open-air fun
- Chrysler 300 – for big car comfort
- Subaru Outback – for a throwback station wagon
- BMW 328d or Toyota Prius – for the ultimate MPG
- Range Rover – for luxurious adventure seekers
If you already own one of these, great! If not, maybe you want to try a rental.
How to Insure for a Road Trip
One con about renting a car is the cost of rental car insurance. It can potentially add as much as $30 to your daily rate, depending on which types of insurance you buy.
If you’re planning to rent, you should do your research, comparison shop, and then reserve ahead. Don’t let yourself be talked into expensive insurance at the rental counter when you may not even need it.
If you already own a car, your car insurance policy might extend to rental cars. So review your policy and check in with your car insurance agent. Or you may already have coverage through your credit card, so review your card’s benefits and check in with the credit card company.
And if neither your car insurance policy nor your credit card offers coverage, you may be able to purchase your own insurance at a cheaper rate than what the rental car company offers. Most major carriers offer temporary insurance, ranging from $10 to $25 a day. Be sure to shop around for that, too.
You may also want temporary car insurance if you’re borrowing someone’s car for the road trip:, the car insurance coverage the owner has isn’t enough to make you comfortable. You may want to increase the liability coverage, or add collision and comprehensive coverage.
Final Road Trip Tips
You have your destination and your transportation. Here are a few last tidbits on how to make your road trip even better.
What to Pack
- Don’t forget your license and registration
- Car insurance policy and contacts information
- Phone chargers/USB cord
- Hand sanitizer, tissues, and sanitizing wipes
- Emergency kit (jumper cables, tire pressure gauge, flashlight, spare headlight bulb, gloves, screwdrivers, first-aid kit)
- Sustenance kit (energy bars, bottled water. A cooler with sandwiches, drinks, and healthy snacks is even better)
- Map, so you have multiple options for navigation, especially if something happens to your GPS
- Reusable shopping bag and garbage bags
How to Drive
- If you’re taking your own vehicle, inspect the headlights and taillights and be sure the front and rear windshield washer jets are working properly. Clean your windshield, side mirrors, and door and rear windows.
- Also examine your vehicle’s tires and coolant/antifreeze level.
- Reduce your risk of distracted driving. Stay sharp, and avoid using your phone. Tidy up so loose items don’t fall into your view or turn into projectiles if you have to brake fast. Don’t let a chat turn into an in-depth conversation in which you lose your driving focus..
- Fight drowsy driving. Get a good night’s rest. Take a break every two hours. Drink water to stay hydrated. Use music to stay awake. Don’t take medications that cause drowsiness.