The US has many iconic road trips. You could even say that the US 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 embark on a road trip each year. But rather than follow the crowd, there are plenty of incredible routes, both short and long, that are further off the beaten path.
Yahoo Travel investigated some spectacular road-trip routes that you may not have known existed:
Big Bend Scenic Loop, Texas
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 species of bird 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 4×4 tours, to canoeing mountain biking and fishing.
Related: 10 Best Apps for Road Trips
Colorado Scenic Byway
For wildlife lovers, there is no better destination to road trip 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 the 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 criss-cross the region. Don’t miss the town of Hot Sulphur Springs where you can take a healing dip into the natural spas.
Hana Coastline, Maui, HI
Starting in Kahului, the 52-mile road to Hana winds its way, sometimes precariously, around the breathtaking Maui coastline. With the ocean on one side, sometimes crashing onto black sand beaches, and 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 up 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, where you can watch the giant orange ball slip slowly below the ocean horizon.
Montana to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
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 stop and 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.
Bourbon Trail, Kentucky
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 take in numerous distillery tours and tastings along the way including Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Knob Creek and the Buffalo Trace Distillery, where you can learn about the history of bourbon whiskey 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, Zip lining and caving.
The BBQ Trail, South Carolina
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 between over 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 ever foodie challenge.
The Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway, Utah
This wondrous 480-mile circular route is only accessible from Spring to Fall due certain parts of the trail being 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 species of Dinosaur. This is just one of many Dinosaur museums along the route. The 3 to 4 day journey will then take you in a loop through several national parks, including Arches National Park, the world’s greatest display of over 2,000 naturally formed rock arches, before joining the Colorado River Scenic Byway with picturesque river and mountain views.
Lake Michigan Gold Coast, Michigan
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 US. Seemingly endless stretches of pure white sand beaches and soaring sand dunes and punctuated with quaint little historic towns, lake side wineries and lush hilly landscape. The drive up to Glen Arbor, taking the coastal road, is around 190 miles but will take almost 4 hours. The perfect distance for a weekend getaway.
Dalton Highway, Alaska
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, using the supply route along the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. Stop offs are few and far between, but warning signs cautioning of avalanches, rockfalls and even bears are frequent! Transversing 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 wolf pack. Anyone attempting this extreme road trip is advised to be prepared as cell phone service along the route is non existent.
Eureka, California, to Coos Bay, Oregon
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 forrest 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 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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