Photo by iStock. Design by Erik Mace for Yahoo Travel.
The U.S. has many iconic road trips. You could even say that the U.S. invented the road trip as a form of vacation.
Which makes sense, considering the country is known to have some of the best scenic driving routes anywhere on Earth. From the Pacific Coast Highway through California to Route 66 running from Chicago to Santa Monica, these drives have become part of many a bucket list.
This year, AAA revealed that one in four Americans embarks on a road trip each year. But rather than follow the crowd, there are plenty of incredible routes, both short and long, that are farther off the beaten path.
Yahoo Travel investigated some spectacular road trip routes that you may not have known existed:
1. Big Bend Scenic Loop, Texas
Scenic road FM 170 along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas. (Photo: Blaine Harrington III / Alamy)
This spectacular 250-mile route through western Texas skims the Mexico border and the path of the Rio Grande. The route, from Presidio to the Rio Grande Village, carves its way through the Big Bend Ranch State Park — a rugged desert wilderness area bigger than Rhode Island. With over 300 different bird species living in the park, it is a haven for birdwatchers. Or for those seeking a more exhilarating experience, the park is packed with outdoor activities, from rafting, horse riding, and 4x4 tours to canoeing, mountain biking, and fishing.
2. Colorado Scenic Byway
This Colorado route is full of great scenery and plenty of hiking and fishing along the way. (Photo: Dave and Les Jacobs/Blend Images/Corbis)
For wildlife lovers, there is no better road trip destination than through Colorado, where you are likely to catch a glimpse of bears, wolves, birds of prey, and many other forest-dwelling animals. The Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway runs 80 miles from State Bridge to Grand Lake, cutting directly through Rocky Mountain National Park. With several high-altitude lakes along the route, trippers can stop for a spot of boating or fishing, not to mention the multitude of excellent hiking trails that crisscross the region. Don’t miss the town of Hot Sulphur Springs, where you can take a healing dip in the natural spas.
3. Hana Coastline, Maui, Hawaii
The twisty, turny, tropical Hana Highway. (Photo: National Geographic Image Collection / Alamy)
Starting in Kahului, the 52-mile road to Hana winds its way, sometimes precariously, around the breathtaking Maui coastline. On one side is the ocean, sometimes crashing onto black-sand beaches; on the other, the dense jungle with soaring waterfalls, rock pools, and dramatic cliff faces. You can stop on the way to grab some fresh tropical fruit from a roadside stand or park and challenge yourself to a hike through the Pua’a Ka’a State Park. Try to time your drive to Hana to make it for sunset and watch the giant orange ball slip slowly below the ocean horizon.
4. Montana to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
See geysers, waterfalls, and plenty of wildlife as you tour Yellowstone. (Photo: iStock)
Begin your journey in Bozeman, Montana, by taking a dip in the geothermal hot springs before starting the 135-mile trip through Yellowstone National Park, across the state border into Wyoming, and down to the historic Old Faithful geyser. Breathtaking panoramic views and incredible wildlife spotting will keep you entertained the entire ride. Stop along the way for a hike to a waterfall, rafting, birdwatching, or just to take in the scenery. At your destination, check out one of Old Faithful’s impressive, almost hourly eruptions, where up to 8,500 gallons of water is projected 145 feet into the air.
5. Bourbon Trail, Kentucky
Visit distilleries and learn all about what goes into making expertly crafted bourbon. (Photo: Bob Krist/Corbis)
A great option for those wanting to make overnight stops along a route is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, connecting Louisville, Bardstown, and Frankfort in a large triangle. Trippers can enjoy tastings along the way at the distilleries of eight famous bourbons, including Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, and Buffalo Trace, where you can learn about the history of bourbon and its manufacturing process. For those interested in more than just the liquor, there are tons of other activities to take part in, from ATV rides, horse trekking, and riverboat cruises to hiking, ziplining, and caving.
6. The BBQ Trail, South Carolina
Can’t get enough brisket, ribs, and pulled pork? Eat your way through South Carolina’s BBQ Trail. (Photo: Magalie L’Abbé/Flickr)
Aside from taking road trips, there is another pastime that has become just as synonymous with American culture — the art of barbecue. So what better way to vacation than to combine the two activities. While Texas and Kansas are both big contenders on the “World’s Best BBQ” front, South Carolina is actually the birthplace of this fabulous food genre. The South Carolina Barbecue Map offers trippers the opportunity to customize their tour among more than 250 BBQ joints, so whether you want to journey to one or attempt to tick all of them off your list, the BBQ Trail might just be the greatest foodie challenge ever.
7. The Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway, Utah
Yampa River, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado. (Photo: Tim Fitzharris/Minden Pictures/Corbis)
This wondrous 480-mile circular route is accessible only from spring to fall, as certain parts of the trail are cut off by snow in the winter. Beginning just over the Colorado state line, in the town of Dinosaur, you can check out the Dinosaur National Monument Visitor Centre, featuring thousands of fossils from lots of different dinosaur species. This is just one of many dinosaur museums along the route. The three- to four-day journey will then take you in a loop through several national parks, including Arches National Park, the world’s greatest display of naturally formed rock arches (more than 2,000), before joining the Colorado River Scenic Byway with picturesque river and mountain views.
8. Lake Michigan Gold Coast, Michigan
There are plenty of beaches and lighthouses — including the iconic Big Sable Point Lighthouse — on the coast of Lake Michigan. (Photo: iStock)
Starting the journey in Grand Rapids, the drive up the Gold Coast of Lake Michigan is one of the best secret road trips in the U.S. Seemingly endless stretches of pure white-sand beaches and soaring sand dunes and punctuated with quaint little historic towns, lakeside wineries, and lush, hilly landscape. The drive up to Glen Arbor, taking the coastal road, is around 190 miles but will take almost four hours. The perfect distance for a weekend getaway.
9. Dalton Highway, Alaska
Enjoy some impressive Alaskan scenery — like the Brooks Range — as you cruise along the Dalton Highway. Bonus: no traffic! (Photo: Sunny Awazuhara- Reed/Design Pics/Corbis)
Alaska Highway 11, also known historically as the Dalton Highway, is a 414-mile road that cuts through Alaska’s dramatic landscape from just north of Fairbanks all the way to Deadhorse, close to the Arctic Ocean. This road trip is not for the faint of heart. Most of the route is gravel and is largely used by huge 18-wheelers, on the supply route along the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. Stop-offs are few and far between, but warning signs cautioning of avalanches, rockfalls, and bears are frequent! Traversing the Yukon River means wildlife is plentiful along the thoroughfare, and aside from the odd grizzly, you might just encounter a herd of caribou or a wolf pack. Anyone attempting this extreme road trip is advised to be prepared, as cellphone service along the route is nonexistent.
10. Eureka, California to Coos Bay, Oregon
Follow the famous PCH as it snakes along the California and Oregon coastline. (Photo: Dan Hershman/Flickr)
While the Pacific Coast Highway is the West Coast’s most iconic roadway, the 250-mile journey from Eureka in Northern California to Coos Bay on the central Oregon coastline is just as spectacular. Starting out in the historic Redwood Empire region of California, visitors can check out the historic old town or even venture up into the national forest to check out the towering redwoods in person. From there the journey weaves along the stunning coastline, with white-sand beaches, sand dunes, and even the dramatic forest-scapes where Jurassic Park was partly filmed. Once across the Oregon border, there are places to kayak, fish, and hike at almost every turnoff. You can even take a brief detour inland to one of Oregon’s fabulous wineries.
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