There’s a lot of America out there. It’s a big, beautiful country with so much to see. And when you fly to your destination, you’re missing most of it—the landscapes, the views, the small-town diners, the quirky roadside attractions. You lose the chance to experience all the special little stops that exist in between the big cities. To get to know America, you have to drive through it in an RV.
The cross-country trip is the supreme example of the journey as the destination.
“I discovered I did not know my own country,” John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley explaining why he hit the road at age 58.
“Travel usually implies seeing a place once and moving on; but this became a trip in which I made lists of places I’d return to—Prescott and Sedona and now Gallup, New Mexico where I’d happily go mountain-biking or hiking in the high desert or visiting the people who possessed the country before we claimed it as ours.
“Kentucky, well-tended and fenced, and the soft green of its fields and hills, the sight of horses and farms, made it seem an orderly Eden, parklike—another place to return to. This part of the state was rich in classic names—Lebanon and Paris, but Athens and Versailles had been tamed into Ay-thens and Ver-sails.
“Ten days into my road trip I began wondering if I were perhaps pushing it a little too hard. But wasn’t the whole point to keep going down the proud highway? The thrill is in the moving, gaining ground, watching the landscape change, stopping on impulse.
“At one point, bowling along the open road, the Supertramp song Take the Long Way Home came on the radio. Listening to music while driving through a lovely landscape is one of life’s great mood enhancers. And hearing the line, ‘But there are times that you feel you’re part of the scenery,’ I was in Heaven.”
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The journey and not the destination is the joy of RVing. Taking your RV on the open road and experiencing breathtaking views along the way can make for the one-of-a-kind vacation your family is looking for. Highways can guide you along the coast to take in ocean views at sunset. Others wind you through the mountains exploring history.
A lot goes into planning a great road trip from finding the best diners along your route and the quirkiest roadside attractions to queueing up road trip songs that make the trip. It’s all about the journey.
I can tell you scenic roads to take, where to camp, where to eat, and where to stop (I can even tell you where to find the world’s largest roadrunner or pistachio nut), and help you make the best road trip playlist.
With that in mind, I put together this Great American Road Trips Guide to help you find some inspiration. Discover favorite routes to drive plus some of the best stops along the way.
And remember: These are just jumping-off points. Once you’re on the road, you’ll think of other parts of the country you want to see. Along the way, you might even stumble upon a road that takes you even farther off the beaten path. If you do, follow your wanderlust. Trust me—it’s worth it!
Known as one of the nation’s best and most beautiful drives, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles across Virginia and North Carolina. It follows the Appalachian Mountains—the Blue Ridge chain, specifically—from Shenandoah National Park in the north to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south. Because the Blue Ridge Parkway connects two national parks, it’s easy to visit both during your drive.
West Texas winds transform an ever-changing landscape of sand dunes at the 3.840-acre Monahans Sandhills State Park. The field of dunes begins south of Monahans and stretches north into New Mexico. Opened in 1957, the state park harbors a peaceful Chihuahuan Desert playground where people can explore the rolling landscape, slide down the hills, picnic, camp, and take in extraordinary sunrises and sunsets.
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Kloesel’s Steakhouse & Bar, Moulton, Texas
It was hard to believe the locals when we were told that one of the best restaurants around was Klosel’s. After some hesitation, we stopped for lunch en route to the little brewery in Shiner and give it a shot and what a pleasant surprise. The food was truly amazing and good value. Great atmosphere and friendly service. We have eaten here over the years numerous times and have always been impressed with their food and staff. Particularly love their chicken fried steak—and desert.
Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called “America’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads.
You’ll pass through small fishing villages, National Wildlife Refuges to reach the little-visited, remote Holly and Cameron beaches. Take a side trip down to Sabine Lake, or drive onto a ferry that takes visitors across Calcasieu Pass. Throughout the trip, expect to see exotic birds; this area is part of the migratory Mississippi Flyway.
In a state that’s home to the Hamptons, Finger Lakes, Appalachian Trail, and Big Apple it’s no surprise that small communities like Woodstock fall to the back of the mind. To assume that Woodstock is only notable for its namesake 1969 music festival (that didn’t occur there) would be a major blunder—the three-day festival was held on a dairy farm in nearby Bethel. In reality, Woodstock is a charming little Catskills oasis where fewer than 6,000 residents prop up an art, religion, music, and theater scene worthy of national attention.
The stretch of Interstate running from Minneapolis, Minnesota, through the heart of the North Dakota Heartland is fantastic if you’re big into grain silos and livestock. Otherwise, nobody’s confusing a drive down I-94 with one of America’s most scenic routes. Then, out of the blue, it happens: About an hour east of the Montana border—and a seemingly endless four hours from Fargo—the Earth drops out from under the highway and mountains somehow appear out of nowhere. This is how you’ll know you’ve reached Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a plains-state paradise often forgotten in the world of Arches and Bryce Canyon. The three-unit park is surprising not just in its grandeur but also in its very existence in a state few know much about.
At 6,288.2 feet, Mt. Washington is the highest peak in New Hampshire. Ride in style to the summit on a historic cog railway that has been operating since 1869. Grades average 25 percent! Keep your eye out for hikers on the Appalachian Trail which crosses the line about three-quarters of the way up. Enjoy far-reaching panoramic views at the summit on the Observatory deck on a nice day. The visitor center has snacks, restrooms, and a post office. And, don’t miss the Mount Washington Weather Museum.
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A short trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations anywhere. Your itinerary includes the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (established 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). You’ll be consuming a lot of meat so be sure to stop for breaks. Proceed in any order you please. Lockhart has one more stop in store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978).
Many of the towns in northwestern Indiana’s Amish Country date back 150 years or more. Among these is tiny Shipshewana known for an enormous flea market where 1,000 vendors peddle their wares twice a week from May through October. Due to the Amish lifestyle you can almost believe you’ve stepped back in time a century or more. To learn about Amish history, tour Menno-Hof. Through multi-image presentations and historical displays, you’ll travel back 500 years to the origins of the Amish-Mennonite story.
A huge swath of Arizona seems to have been designed by cartoonists, from the trippy Dr. Seuss waves of the Vermillion Cliffs to the splaying cacti of Saguaro National Park. But Monument Valley is where nature gets serious. This is a land of monolithic red sandstone bluffs seemingly carved by the gods where enormous spires emerge so far in the distance they’re shrouded by haze even on a clear day. Each crevice tells a story and every ledge is its own unforgettable vista.
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While Monument Valley is undoubtedly national park-worthy, this is a Navajo Tribal Park and I hope it stays that way. It’s a place rooted in ancient Native religion and serves as an expansive gateway to the wondrous desert landscapes of both Utah and Arizona.
Life is a Highway
Life is like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind
Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I wanna drive it all night long
Come on. Give me give me give me give me yeah
—recorded by Tom Cochrane from his second studio album, Mad Mad World (1991)