Viewfinder Travel Blog

Planning an American road trip

Summer and road trips go together like cookies and milk. Whether your style is windows up, top down, or RV, it doesn't matter how you road-trip, it just matters that you go. Because the United States is one of the largest countries in the world, planning a road trip isn't always as easy as packing up and going; you've got to decide where to go, what route to take, and where to stop along the way. Here are some recommendations for a few of the most iconic road trips in America and tips for how to make your trek worthwhile.

Route 66Without question, Route 66 is the most iconic road trip in America. The road has been one of the most important highways in America's history, dating back to the early 1900s. It also is one of the longest routes, running more than 2,000 miles between Los Angeles and Chicago. If you're limited on time, I suggest picking one stretch of the road for your adventure. My favorite takes you through Arizona and New Mexico. The landscape is stark, ranging from dense forests to arid deserts to red-rock mesas. Not to mention it features some great pit stops, such as Topock Gorge, Standin' on the Corner Park and Jack Rabbit Trading Post, which is considered an iconic Route 66 landmark. Some of the detours on this stretch also are exceptional, such as the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest National Park. Keep a full tank of gas and snacks on hand, as there are long stretches of Route 66 without services.

Blue Ridge ParkwayThe Blue Ridge Parkway is just 469 miles running through North Carolina and Virginia, but it's not a road trip you'll complete in a day (especially since the maximum speed limit is 45 m.p.h.). Not that you'd want to rush the drive—especially when you'll experience views stretching across multiple states and well-known peaks such as Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi. Asheville, North Carolina, makes for a great base for this drive, since it offers several different entry points and you can travel both north and south. Some highlights that are accessible from Asheville include the 800-foot Glassmine Falls, Grandfather Mountain, Craggy Gardens, and Linville Falls/Gorge.

Pacific Coast HighwayThe Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a stretch of California State Route 1 that runs along the California coastline between San Diego and San Francisco, and beyond. Odometers will clock the drive at about 500 miles, but if you're doing it appropriately, you should take a week or two at least. The most scenic part of the route is in Central California through Big Sur. I recommend starting in Monterey and driving south through Big Sur to Pismo Beach, spending at least one night in Big Sur. Can't-miss stops along this drive include Pfeiffer Beach (especially at sunset), Hearst Castle, Bixby Bridge, and lunch or drinks at Nepenthe, which offers some of the most beautiful sweeping views in Big Sur. Spend a night or two at the end in San Luis Obispo County, which is home to the great wine tasting region of Paso Robles.

Columbia River HighwayThe Columbia River Highway, in Oregon, is the shortest of all these road trips; it easily can be completed in a day, since it's only 75 miles long. This route was the first scenic roadway in America, with construction beginning more than 100 years ago. It's also one of the most accessible, beginning just east of Portland and stretching east to The Dalles (which also is in Oregon). The Columbia River Highway is renowned in part for its engineering, hugging the natural landscape of the Columbia River Gorge, but also for the sweeping views and unique natural attractions it provides in such a short span. No. 1 on this list: Multnomah Falls, one of 77 waterfalls that line the Oregon side of the Gorge. Other notable landmarks include Crown Point and Bonneville Dam.

Below find some tips as you're planning these and other road trips this summer.

Road Trip Tips

Pack your own snacks. Road trips don't exactly cater to healthy lifestyles. Stopping at fast food restaurants and gas stations is convenient, but too much of that food will leave you feeling gross. Instead, pick up healthy snacks from your local grocery store (or even make your own) before you leave. Also, bring a small cooler you can fill daily with ice—this is a great spot to store your own lunches and drinks.

Leave some breathing room in your itinerary. On just about every road trip, you're bound to come across roadside attractions, scenic overlooks, and other detours you didn't plan to stop and see. Build flexibility into your itinerary so you don't feel stressed about stopping along the way.

Utilize mobile apps designed for this type of travel. One of the great things about travel today is that you can plan an entire trip with nothing more than your mobile phone and/or tablet. If there's something you want to do or know about, undoubtedly there's an app to help you out. SitOrSquat, for instance, helps you find public restrooms (it even has a rating functionality). Expedia has an app, too; ours caters to road-trippers by offering exclusive hotel deals you only can get from your tablet or mobile phone.

Make your own roadside emergency kit. It's always a good idea to travel with your own roadside emergency kit. You can buy these kits online or at a local store, but I recommend compiling your own setup that is unique to you and your car. Some items you may consider including: a flashlight with extra batteries, jumper cables, small tool set, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, emergency road triangles, and fluids for your car, just to name a few. Hopefully you'll never have to use the kit, but it pays to be prepared.

What are some of your favorite road trip routes across America?