There's nothing quite like taking to the open highway in the summer in America. After all, the U.S. was built on epic cross-country treks.
Get steeped in history, see some of the country's most stunning scenery, visit some of America's most interesting towns and cosmopolitan cities; we've put together a dozen road trips to inspire you.
So check your oil and tire pressure, and your air conditioning. Here are 12 of the best, most scenic road trips in the U.S.
(Photo: Andrey Bayda / Shutterstock.com)
1. Alaska Highway
The historic Alaska Highway actually starts in British Columbia, and winds its lonely way through the Yukon Territory. It originally ended in Delta Junction, but you can continue on to Fairbanks. The trip is about 1,459 miles.
The Alaska Highway, or the ALCAN, starting in Dawson Creek, B.C., is paved but sections are often under construction. There's no shortage of beautiful scenery and wildlife along this trip.
Stops along the way include the Liard River Hot Springs, the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum in B.C., and the sign post forest, above, in Watson Lake in the Yukon.
Photo: Reinhard Tiburzy/ Shutterstock
Stretch this road trip out even further by driving another 487 miles from Fairbanks to Anchorage, past Denali National Park, home to North America's highest peak, shown here. From Anchorage you can also traverse the beautiful Kenai Peninsula on Hwy. 1 to Homer, Alaska, where you can see Orcas in the bay.
2. Blue Ridge Parkway
This 469-mile drive that connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina is controlled by the U.S. National Parks System. It takes you on a cultural trip of the region's living traditions -- Appalachian crafts and music, Cherokee traditions, agricultural history. Above, the Linn Cove Viaduct along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
There's abundant scenery and wildlife, and plenty of historic sites along this trip. Above, Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park.
Along the way, see some of the oldest mountains in the world, Whitewater Falls, and Linville Gorge. Above, a crescent moon shines above a primitive church in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
3. Canada to Mexico
Jamie Jensen, author of Road Trip USA, recommends this trip from the Canadian Rockies to the Sonora Desert, through Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona.
Start in Canada's Jasper National Park, above, taking in its crystal blue glacial lakes.
Stop in Whitefish, Montana, a resort town in the Rockies and gateway to Glacier National Park.
The route takes you through the Flathead Indian Reservation, and the Flathead National Forest. The area is filled with opportunities for fishing, camping, mountain biking and hiking.
Cross the Salmon River in Idaho and take a side trip to Craters of the Moon National Park.
Through the high desert of Nevada, past the Great Basin National Park, the route takes you to Las Vegas, where you can get your fill of urban pleasures before heading to Arizona.
Photo: Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB / Shutterstock
In Arizona, see Hoover Dam, the Titan Missile Museum, and the Biosphere II in Oracle, Arizona, above.
Photo: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock
4. The Deep South: Charleston to New Orleans
Travel bloggers Laurence and Jessica Norah detail this trip from Charleston to New Orleans, taking in the history and cultural traditions of the deep South. Starting in Charleston, S.C., above, savor the flavors and sights of this historic city, sun on the beach, and get a tee time at one of the many outstanding golf courses.
This route takes you to Savannah, Ga., one of the most charming and beautiful cities in the country, and a popular tourist destination. Above, a tree-lined road at the historic Wormsloe Plantation in Savannah.
The route has a fun and historical itinerary as you visit Atlanta, Ga. and Mobile, Ala., then on to Selma, where you can visit the Old Cahawba Ghost Town just outside of Selma on the Alabama River. Stop at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, above, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and marchers met with violent resistance in the Selma to Montgomery march, part of a series of civil-rights protests in 1965.
This trip ends in New Orleans, where you can visit the French Quarter, check out the old cemetaries, see the riverboats, and enjoy the music and fine food. To see the full Deep South itinerary, visit FindingtheUniverse.com.
Photo: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock
5. Denver to Glacier
You can get scenery overload on this epic journey from the mile-high city, all the way to Yellowstone National Park. If you've got the time and the grit, continue on from Yellowstone, visiting the old boomtowns of southeast Montana, and on to Glacier National Park. Above, Denver's Chalk Art Festival, which takes place this year in June.
Photo: Arina P Habich / Shutterstock
The route takes you through Rocky Mountain National Park, above, crossing the Continental Divide on the country's highest paved road. From there, head to Estes Park, Colo. and on to Laramie, Wy., Wind River County, and Jackson, Wy.
Jackson is the gateway to the Grand Tetons, above, and Yellowstone National Park.
Pass through towns like Virginia City, and Missoula in Montana, and visit Fairmont Hot Springs on your way to Glacier National Park. There, you'll take Going to the Sun Road, above, into the park, one of the most scenic roads in America.
Yellowstonepark.com outlines this route as two loops, with itineraries and the best places to stop.
6. The Loneliest Road: Colorado to Lake Tahoe
Road Trip USA outlines this route as all the way from Maryland to San Francisco, but this 1,066-mile leg from Pueblo, Colo., heading west to Lake Tahoe, should satisfy your scenery craving. It takes you over the Rockies, past Crested Butte, above, and Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. See snow-covered peaks, blue lakes, and alpine meadows of wildflowers along the way.
From Colorado you'll enter Utah, which is loaded with national parks, including Arches, above, and Canyonlands.
Nevada's U.S. Highway 50 earned the name "Loneliest Road in America" because it passes through a vast barren landscape that is mostly uninhabited, according to travelnevada.com. The emptiness makes it a favorite among motorcyclists. You'll pass a number of mountain ranges, old mining towns and Sand Mountain, above, in Fallon, Nevada.
Stop in historic Virginia City, Nevada, above, before heading into the Sierra Nevada to the deep blue waters and snow-capped mountains of Lake Tahoe.
Photo: Dan Holm / Shutterstock
7. The Oregon Trail
This is a designated national historic trail that traverses west across six states for 2,000 miles, starting in Independence, Missouri, and ending in Oregon City, which is south of Portland. You can still see the wagon wheel ruts where pioneers with wagons walked for weeks on end in search of lush farmlands of the west.
Above, the Oregon trail parkway in Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska.
Learn the history of these determined pioneers and the Native Americans who lived here. Visit Fort Laramie, above, in Wyoming. Near Guernsey, Wyo., stop and see Register Cliff, one of three large "registers of the desert" where western-bound emigrants carved their names on rock.
Cross the Snake River at Glenns Ferry, Idaho, above. In 1869 Gustavus Glenn built a ferry boat so that his wagons and others could cross the Snake River. At this time, traffic on the Oregon trail was heavy in both directions.
In eastern Oregon, visit the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, where Earth's history is preserved in one of the most complete fossil records on the planet. See the colorful rock formations and walk through the painted hills, above.
Finish up in lively Portland, where you can visit the museums and enjoy the coffee shops, microbreweries, restaurants and galleries.
Head on over the the National Park Service site for a detailed description of the 2,000 mile Oregon trail.
Photo: Joshua Rainey Photography / Shutterstock
8. Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West
This is a shorter road trip, just 150 miles from Miami through the Florida Keys on Route 1 ending in Key West. Above, colorful artwork on display along the popular Calle Ocho in Miami's historic Little Havana.
Photo: Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock
Route 1 takes you through the Keys and across the Seven-Mile Bridge, above, which is just one of 42 bridges you'll cross.
Don't rush this trip -- enjoy the beaches and fine hotels on the Florida Keys, have a piece of key lime pie, and adapt to the laid-back lifestyle. Finish in Key West, above.
9. Olympic Peninsula-Pacific Coast Washington/Oregon
Start in Washington's capital, Olympia, above, in the shadow of Mt. Ranier. You'll actually head north, not south, on Hwy. 101 to drive the loop around the Olympic Peninsula. See lavender fields in Sequim, veer west past Dungeness, where there is an abandoned fishing community from the 1890s. You'll then turn south down the coast and toward the Oregon border.
There's plenty of scenery and hiking opportunities. Within the Olympic National Park itself, you can drive through the lush Hoh Rainforest, above, one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S.
Take in the lonely coastline of Washington. Near the Washington-Oregon border, you reach Cape Disappointment State Park, a 1,882 acre camping park at the south end of the Long Beach Peninsula with two miles of beach, two lighthouses, an interpretive center and hiking trails. Above, Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park. Visit this site for a list of attractions and stops along the route.
The second leg of the trip, down the coast of Oregon is another 363 miles. In Oregon, Hwy. 101 hugs the coast the whole length of the state. Stop in Newport along the way, and visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which has a glass tunnel into the open sea, above.
Photo: Steve Estvanik / Shutterstock
10. Pacific Coast Highway, California
Driving the entire coast of California from Crescent City to San Diego is over 1,000 miles and takes you to some of the most famous and scenic places in the state, including towering redwoods, picturesque beach towns, world-famous cities and beach-side rollercoasters. Above, the town of Mendocino, Calif.
Photo: Alison de Grassi/visitmendocino.com
Technically, California's Route 1 doesn't go the whole length of the state; in some places you'll be on Hwy. 101 and Interstate 5 to complete the trip. But you will come to the Golden Gate Bridge, above, where you can park and cross it on foot, taking in the views and ocean breezes. Spend some time in San Francisco: dine in the world-class restaurants and enjoy the many sites and shopping in unique neighborhoods.
There are dozens of spots along the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego to watch the surfers in action. Above, a pro surfer competes in the Mavericks Invitational Surfing event near Half Moon Bay.
Photo: Jeff Smith - Perspectives / Shutterstock
Ride the rollercoaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and have a margarita in the seaside town of Capitola, above.
As you continue south, stop at The National Steinbeck Center, a museum and memorial dedicated to the author John Steinbeck, in Salinas. Go for a hike in Big Sur, and take a tour of Hearst Castle in San Simeon. You'll veer from the coast for awhile, but return to it and enjoy the beach towns of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Santa Monica, above. The entire route takes you through Los Angeles and San Diego, near the Mexico border.
11. West Virginia's Midland Trail and the New River Gorge
Leave the interstate behind on the 180-mile Midland Trail, which traverses west to east, border to border, across West Virginia on the historic Route 60. Above, the New River Gorge bridge.
The Midland Trail is rich with scenery, waterfalls, pioneer history, outdoor adventure, local arts and crafts and great West Virginia food. You'll pass through the capital city of Charleston and Hawks Nest State Park to White Sulphur Springs on the Virginia border. Above, the Glade Creek grist mill at Babcock State Park near Fayetteville W.V.
Visit the West Virginia tourism bureau for more info.
12. Route 66: Chicago to California
No road trip list is complete without this one, of course. At over 2,500 miles, Route 66 may well be America's most iconic highway, evoking memories of the early era of the automobile, steeped in the nostalgia of roadside motels, mom-and-pop gas stations and open expanses free of strip malls. Start in Chicago, where many people launched their trip with coffee and breakfast at Lou Mitchell's Restaurant, above.
Photo: StockPhotoAstur / Shutterstock
Route 66 crosses eight states. From Illinois, where you can stop at a variety of historic gas stations, you drive through Missouri, cross the Meramec River, and pass the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba and the 66 Drive-In theater in Carthage. In Kansas, you'll see fun stops like this restored station in Galena.
Photo: StockPhotoAstur / Shutterstock
There are dozens of historic spots as you cross Oklahoma, then enter Texas. Above, the Historic U-Drop Inn, in Texas, a former diner built in 1936 features art deco architecture. The U-Drop's distinctive architecture appears as an autobody and paint shop image in the 2006 animated film "Cars."
Photo: T photography / Shutterstock
After crossing the Texas panhandle, you'll drive across New Mexico and Arizona. Above, the historic US Post Office in Oatman, Arizona. Along this route, you could take side trips to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.
Photo: Michael Urmann / Shutterstock
In the deserts of California, you'll pass through Needles and Barstow, and drive past the Amboy Crater. You could take another side trip to Death Valley National Park. The route ends in the Los Angeles area. Above, a sign marks the end of Route 66 at the Santa Monica Pier. The National Park Service has a list of historic sites along Route 66, state by state, with information on each one.
Photo: Daniel Vine Photography / Shutterstock