The Ultimate Road Trip Guide
Adventurer & Photographer
Photo by Emily Taylor
Is an American road trip right for me?
For most people, yes! But before you decide to embark on a cross-country road trip, consider the following questions:
– Are you okay driving long distances, for example 5 hours of driving per day for several days or weeks?
– Will you be alright sleeping in a different bed every night?
– Are you open to the unexpected?
Road trips have no guarantees. One day, you might get a flat tire, but then you might have the most incredible conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop while you wait for the mechanic. With every unforeseen challenge comes opportunity. Driving in the United States and Canada is a fairly safe experience, with an excellent highway system that connects national parks and major metropolitan cities. The impressions many have of the dangerous and questionable characters one meets on the road tend to be overblown. You will definitely see the country’s best scenery when renting a car spending time on the road. While it might not always be very convenient, you will experience a sense of American freedom while meeting many locals on your journey. Remember the old saying, “it’s the journey, not the destination.”
Photo by David Rule
Planning a Trip to National Parks
Visiting national parks and driving long distances on the open road makes for a vacation of a lifetime. Plan ahead by starting with a map or even a road trip app for your mobile device. Investing in a reliable printed map is a good idea, too, as your phone may not always have service in remote areas. If you’re traveling from outside the United States, be sure to check out these tips for planning a trip to America.
Here are three things you should plan ahead:
1. CHOOSE YOUR ROUTE
You can either make it roundtrip or point A-to-B road trip with different stops along the way. The advantage of starting and ending in the same area is often better for airfares and car rentals. However, you have the opportunity to see more by beginning and ending in different places.
2. RESERVE YOUR VEHICLE
Reserve a rental car at least four to six weeks in advance at the airport where you will arrive. Picking up a rental car at the airport is a fairly process. Buy insurance so that you are fully covered, or check to see if one of your credit cards offers free car rental insurance (many do!). If you choose to get an RV, you’ll need to find an independent operator as you can’t rent these vehicles at most airports. Also be sure to should calculate extra budget and insurance and remember that larger vehicles like RVs require more driving skills and experience. The benefit to RV travel is that you have more space on the road for the whole family and you’ll save money on traditional lodging accommodations and hotel stay.
3. DECIDE WHERE TO STAY
Make hotel reservations or camping reservations early. In some of the more crowded national parks, like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, reservations may be required to stay in the park overnight. Check out our individual itineraries page or keep reading below to learn more about the best times to make a reservation. Some public camp sites in the United States are first-come, first-serve, but many campgrounds prefer you to make reservations in advance. For reservations inside national parks and state parks, visit the individual park sites for more information.
Photo by Dino Reichmuth
Road Trip Ideas and Itineraries
To help make planning your road trip across America easy, we’ve put together a list of our favorite road trip routes. All of these road trip ideas can be mixed and matched to create the itinerary that’s perfect for you. These itineraries cover suggested overnight stays, distance between stops, activities to check out along the way and local secrets. Get planning!
1. AMERICAN SOUTHWEST ROAD TRIP ITINERARIES
Covering the incredible national parks of Arizona and Utah, these are fantastic first-time road trips for anyone who wants to see the Grand Canyon and other iconic natural wonders of the American southwest.
2. FROM SEATTLE TO THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS AND BACK
Experience a 10,000-foot elevation change as you voyage from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains during this road trip of epic porportions. visiting the states of Washington, Montana, and Idaho. Get a big bang for your buck with this extensive journey, traveling through the North Cascades and Mount Rainier National Parks.
3. A COAST TO COAST ADVENTURE
The Epic Coast to Coast Itinerary takes adventurers from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the golden coast of California. Traveling in a line across the United States from east to west gives visitors the opportunity to see everything from countryside to bustling cities, national parks and hidden small towns. This is the ultimate way to see all America has to offer and everything in between.
4. NATIONAL PARKS AND THE MIDWESTERN ROUTE
From Chicago all the way down to the tip of Texas, this road trip will take you on an adventure vertically down the center of the United States. In this trip you will visit America’s second city, see a number of great parks, and even visit the home of Elvis along the way!
5. THE HIDDEN WEST COAST
The northwest is one of the United States’ great treasures. From rocky coastlines to fog-shrouded mountains, desert basins, and eclectic cities, this trip will give you an experience of some of the best this country has to offer. In this unique part of the country, you can start your day skiing world-class slopes and end it watching a California sunset over the Pacific Ocean. On this road trip, you’ll see the northwest, California, and Idaho!
6. NATIONAL PARKS AND THE COLORADO PEAKS
Colorado has some of the most staggeringly diverse and beautiful landscape in the world, and you will be seeing it all as you travel along the spine of the Rocky Mountains during this road trip itinerary. You’ll head down into the desert basin, before heading north again to Pikes Peak.
7. THE NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SOUTHEAST
The deep south of the United States is full of rolling forested hills, flowing rivers, rich coastal marshes and sun-soaked beaches. Let’s not forget the charming, historic cities and towns you’ll find along the way. In this trip across the American southeast, you’ll do everything from spotting incredible wildlife to having the meal of a lifetime.
8. THE NATIONAL PARKS AND THE MIGHTY EAST COAST
This trip along the American east coast will take you to some of the most famous cities in the world like Boston and New York, as well as coastal hideouts and national parks with gorgeous views. It’s no wonder why this is one of the most popular regions in the United States for people to live and visit.
9. YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, UTAH AND IDAHO
Have you ever seen a bison before? During this trip through Yellowstone National Park and beyond, you just might! Visit four amazing states, two national parks, and one superb national monument. This classic western road trip takes you along the Rocky Mountains and down into the high plains for miles of jaw-dropping scenery.