Travelling the American Dream - The 10 US Road Trips to Beat All Road Trips
From the beaches of Big Sur to the famous Route 66 – GoCompare Van Insurance have pinpointed the ultimate bucket list of US road trips for anyone.
Whether you’re a thrill-seeking adrenalin junkie who can’t wait to raft down dangerous rapids, a music lover searching for the home of the blues or a sun-hunter looking to soak up the rays on some of America’s most picturesque beaches – there’s a US road trip for everyone. The question is, which is right for you?
To help you find your perfect road trip, GoCompare has gathered information on everything prospective road–trippers need to know - from the cost of van hire, fuel, food and accommodation for the recommended duration of the trip, to distance travelled, average temperature and even currency conversion rates.
Ready to fuel your Wanderlust? Check out the 10 trips below:
Highways, Skyways and Byways to Heaven
Badlands National Park
A short but stunning trip through the Badlands National Park offers fourteen different viewpoints across distinctive rock formations, ending up at the historical Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Top sights include:
- Badlands Wall - The Badlands Wall is the site of some amazing rock formations. The ridge runs through the park and is ever changing due to erosion over time.
- Big Badlands Overlook - A stunning site overlooking the Badlands National Park, ideal for a photo opportunity.
- Notch Trail – This scenic hiking trail through the park will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the nature of The Badlands.
- The Badlands Loop Scenic Byway – Exit the park via The Badlands Loop Scenic Byway, one of the most recognised scenic byways in America and frequently named amongst top 10 lists.
Costing £1,005/$1,293.90 and covering 51km, this trip is doable in just two days and well worth it to explore the natural beauty of South Dakota in all its glory.
The Road To Hana
The only US state comprised entirely of islands, this trip is perfect for those ready to say “Aloha!” to the alluring paradise that is Hawaii. The Road To Hana will lead you through the island of Maui and all of the astounding beauty it has to offer. From enticing waterfalls and coves to unspoiled beaches and fresh-water caves to explore – you won’t want to leave this idyllic island. Key stopping points include:
- Twin Falls – A popular stop as the first waterfall on the Road to Hana, these gorgeous falls are well worth the beautiful hike and offer a serene swimming location.
- Kaumahina State Wayside Park – A beautiful lookout point and Instagram opportunity, this park offers picturesque views across Maui's North Coast. The stop is also a handy rest stop providing bathrooms, a picnic area and trails to detour through the forest.
- Wai’anapanapa State Park – An area known for its history and legend, the black sands and pebbles found at Pa'iloa Beach are likely to surprise you. This spot also offers the chance to explore fresh water caves when you follow the loop trail, though you'll need a permit to explore or camp.
- Hana Town - The end of the road - Hana is a peaceful town on the water known to some as a place for the Gods. The town has a rich heritage and is worth stopping at for a few days. From here, there's also the option to extend your trip further into Maui to experience more stunning beaches and surfing opportunities.
The total cost of the trip comes in at £1,327.68/$1,709.33 covering 82km in a recommended four days. With daily food costs for the trip tallying up to only £33.35/ $42.94 and the cost of van hire at just £49.30/ $63.47 per day – the biggest expense for this adventure will be the flights.
New York City to Niagara
From the bright lights of the Big Apple to the astounding natural beauty of Niagara Falls and back, this two-week trip will take you through an Amish Village, the beautiful American countryside and a few big cities on the way. Key sights on the way include:
- New York City – The start and end of this road trip – spend a few days taking in the sights of the city that never sleeps before you embark on your journey to Niagara.
- Amish Village – Take an authentic Amish Village tour in Lancaster, Philadelphia; learn about how the Amish community lives and works and experience their culture.
- Niagara Falls – Experience the word famous Falls by boat or helicopter and take in their astonishing beauty - a once in a lifetime experience
- Toronto – Take in the sights of the city from the top of the CN tower and spend a day exploring the Toronto Islands to view the city skyline away from the hustle and bustle.
- Boston – The perfect opportunity for the authentic American baseball experience at Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, before taking an American History lesson on the Freedom Trail of American Revolution sites.
The full trip tallies up at £1,950.17/$2,510.77, covering 2100km with a recommended 11 driving days over the fortnight. The cost of flights make up less than half of the overall expenditure, but due to the length of this trip, petrol and hotel costs will contribute significantly to your overall outgoings.
San Juan Skyway
The ultimate journey across America’s Wild West taking in Old Western towns and picturesque national parks and peaks. With only two driving days across the 10-day trip, there will be plenty of time to explore the wonders of the San Juan Skyway. Stopping points include:
- Durango – Take a walking tour of the saloons and historic homes of this Western town set in the picturesque beauty of the snow-capped Rockies. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is also worth a visit - a national historical landmark that allows you to take a scenic steam locomotive ride into the San Juan Mountains.
- Mesa Verde National Park – Home to hundreds of cliff dwellings built by the Anasazi People between A.D. 450-1300, Mesa Verde is a World Cultural Heritage Park designated by UNESCO and has over 4,500 archaeological sites to explore.
- Lizard Head Peak Vista Outlook – A viewpoint over the 13,113-foot Lizard Head peak from which you can admire the eroding volcanic rock formation.
- Red Mountain Pass - The stunning 11,000 foot high Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton is called "The Million Dollar Highway". It remains unknown whether this stems from the cost of building the highway or because of the value of the gold ore beneath it.
The total cost of this trip is £1,739.54/$2,239.59 covering 380km through the astounding Rockies. The recommended trip length is 10 days, with the bulk of the costs originating from the £1,004/ $1,2792.61 return flights.
Columbia River Gorge
Follow the Columbia River Gorge through the awe-inspiring viewpoints, stunning waterfalls and dense forests that Oregon has to offer. With activities from hiking to water sports on offer, this trip is a nature lover’s dream. Key stopping points include:
- Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint – Take a picture perfect break at this cliff-top panorama 725 feet above the Columbia River - the fourth largest in the USA.
- Waterfalls - The byway covers the base of five spectacular waterfalls to enjoy, the largest of which, Multnomah, is one of the tallest in the USA at 620 feet. For those who fancy a hike there is also the option of the beautiful Horsetails Falls Trailhead, which winds past 5 further waterfalls.
- Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail - This trail descends the mountains and crosses the Bridge of Gods to Washington. There is also the option to stop off for campgrounds, pubs, kite boarding and windsurfing. A section of road, the Twin Tunnels Trail, is also sectioned off for pedestrian and cyclist use only allowing safe and scenic views.
- Rowena Loops – Recognisable from many car commercials, the breath-taking scenic descent is well worth a stop to take in the remarkable views and snap some pictures.
At £1,189.93/$1,531.99, this journey is on the lower end of the US road trip price scale and with only one driving day across the recommended six day trip length, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
For beach lovers out there Ocean Drive is the ideal road trip. Covering four scenic and serene Oregon coastal towns, the journey makes times for water sports, hiking, whale watching and plenty of relaxation. The key stopping points can be found below:
- Seaside – A family friendly town, larger than Cannon Beach but less scenic, with fairground rides, water sports, biking and hiking to enjoy.
- Cannon Beach – This idyllic seaside town is perfect for some down time soaking up the sun. Home to independent bookshops, cute cafes, galleries and record shops, time here will leave you feeling very relaxed.
- Yachats – A small surfing village named the best place to stay on the Oregon coast; Yachats is worth dedicating a few days to. The shoreline is made of basalt rock as a result of volcanic activity 50 million years ago, and for nature lovers, there are plenty of hiking trails to immerse yourself in.
- Newport – An adventure lover’s paradise - whale watching tours, surfing, kayaking, hiking, biking, fishing and crabbing are all available in this scenic Oregon town.
This trip comes in at £1,194.89/$1,538.37 all in, covering 214km, the recommended trip length is five days to allow plenty of time to soak up the gorgeous ocean scenery. The total hostel cost for the trip comes in at a reasonable £120.28/ $154.86 with fuel costs of only £10.28/ $13.24.
The ultimate road trip for any music lover, travel 2300km up the Blues Highway all the way from the bustling New Orleans, Louisiana to the end point of Highway 61 in Wyoming, Minnesota. The stretch from New Orleans to the Blues City of Memphis is an unforgettable once in a lifetime experience for any blues fan. Key stops on the road include:
- New Orleans, Louisiana – The lively city is filled to the brim with music, offering some great jazz bars and legendary clubs.
- Clarksdale, Mississippi – The claimed birthplace of the blues has been home to many famed blues musicians. The Ground Zero Blues Club, co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, is a must visit. Be sure to time your trip to the town to fall between Wednesday and Saturday night, the rest of the week has been known to be a little quiet.
- Graceland, Memphis – A true must for any Elvis fan, the star’s house is preserved as it was in the 70s for your perusal with lots of photo opportunities.
- Memphis – The home of The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the city is well loved by blues followers. While here, also take the time to enjoy live blues music in local clubs and dinner at one of Memphis' over a hundred barbecue restaurants.
- Nashville, Tennessee – For fans of country music, the Country Music Hall of Fame is well worth a visit.
Costing £2,305.13/ $2,967.76 and taking 20 days to complete, this road trip requires a recommended 12 days of driving to soak up all the sights the highway has to offer.
The classic American road trip across America’s ‘Mother Road’ will take you from East to West covering some of the best cities in the US. Beginning in Chicago and ending at Santa Monica Pier, this trip is ideal for explorers who crave a true taste of America, taking in plenty of popular sites on the way. Some key stopping points include:
- St Louis, Missouri - Be sure to stop off at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, City Garden and the famous Gateway Arch. If you have time and you fancy a thrill there's also the option to spend a day at Six Flags St. Louis.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico - Stop at Midpoint café, marking the midpoint of your Route 66 journey, on the way and then head into the city to enjoy the colourful hot air balloons above.
- The Grand Canyon – A staple for any bucket list, explore the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon before heading on to Las Vegas via the Hoover Dam.
- Las Vegas, Nevada – Set aside a few days for gambling, partying and even taking in a show or two in Sin City.
- Los Angeles, California - End the trip in the land of the stars - Los Angeles. Santa Monica Pier is the end of Route 66, providing the perfect opportunity to relax on the Baywatch style beaches before going on to discover the city of Angels.
Costing £3,316.42/$4,269.76 and lasting a recommended 29 days, this is the second longest of any US Road Trip on our list and covers seven states. The length of the trip increases the overall cost as the prices of hotels, van hire and food rack up. As a result, accommodation alone will cost £1,348.68/$1,736.37 for this epic cross-state adventure.
One of America’s most iconic drives, the route through Big Sur along Highway-1 will immerse you in some of California’s most picturesque coastal areas, through bedrock cliffs with inspiring ocean views to gorgeous sandy beaches. Some main stopping places include:
- Hearst Castle - Stop at Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach and McWay Falls on the way for some beautiful photo opportunities and a scenic beach break before heading to Hearst Castle. The castle sits at the top of a hill by the highway, a great stop for a spot of history.
- Santa Barbara - Head into the city of Santa Barbara to explore "The American Riviera", enjoy some good food and wander the beautiful gardens of the Ganna Walska Lotusland.
- Malibu - Soak up some sun in Malibu at the gorgeous El Matador Beach, enjoy time with nature on a hike through Solstice Canyon and check out celebrity mansions home to the A-List of LA. Not to mention there’s plenty of venues for a great night out too.
- Los Angeles - LA is home to Hollywood, theme parks, beaches, studio tours, The Walk of Fame, shopping hotspots and more - the end of the road trip will give you a chance to explore to your heart's content!
The Californian dream road trip will cost you £1,351.80/$1,740.39, covering 145km of gorgeous coastline across the recommended four day journey. The return flight is the most expensive factor in this adventure, contributing £1,064/$1,369.86 to the overall cost, meaning that once you’re out there budgeting shouldn’t be a problem.
The Pan-American Highway
The daddy of all American road trips, the Pan-American Highway spans an impressive 48,000km and takes 281 days to complete. The world’s longest driving route takes you from the Arctic to the Antarctic with a short break in the road at the rainforest area of the Darién Gap. Some key stopping points include:
- Vancouver - One of Canada's most densely populated and ethnically diverse cities, Vancouver has lots to explore for those interested in arts, science and culture. From Stanley Park, to the Lion's Gate Bridge, Vancouver is worth dedicating a few days to.
- San Diego - California's Beach City offers the perfect opportunity for some down time. Besides the idyllic beaches, the city also offers the thrill of water sports and theme parks alongside buzzing nightlife.
- San Antonio – From The Alamo to the waterparks - San Antonio offers a varied trip suitable for all ages.
- Mexico City, Mexico - The capital of Mexico offers an expanding culinary scene, museums to explore, bold murals and boat trips along the ancient canals.
- Darien Gap, Panama – The only part of the expansive road trip you can't drive through. Yaviza offers access to the province, however scenes of habitat destruction are evident. There are a number of issues in the region that make exploration not for everyone, however for travellers looking for a challenge the waterways and hiking trails offer an enticing adventure.
- Lima, Peru – The Peruvian capital is the oldest civilisation in America. The city offers museums, archaeological sites, beaches, nature reserves, nightlife and more to uncover.
- Santiago, Chile – One of the final stops on this epic journey, the capital of Chile offers the buzz of a metropolitan city with stunningly picturesque views across the Andes. Activities here include taking in museums, admiring grand architecture and exploring the pedestrian malls.
A road trip not for the faint of heart, the Pan-American Highway will cost you a whopping £30,149/$38,815.63 but promises to be an unforgettable trip of a lifetime. Taking a recommended 281 days to complete with 248 driving days, this is a trip for the dedicated traveller.
The full interactive tool detailing 48 of the world’s most epic road trips suitable for any budget can be explored here, with an infographic version available here.
“We wanted to find some of the biggest, most unforgettable road trips in the world,” said Matt Oliver, from Gocompare.com van insurance, “Each trip has its own personality – there are trips through snowy mountains, salt flats, dense forests and across beaches. There really is something for everyone. We wanted to provide a tool to make the adventures more accessible, so anyone can tackle them.”
Notes to editors:
*1GBP= 1.287 USD – correct as of 10/07/2017
Full methodology and sources are available upon request.