Whether you are looking for solitude at an alpine lake in the Rockies, being surrounded by ancient forests in California, or camping along the rocky shores of the coasts, there are a bounty of treasures to discover in North America. And the Best way to discover them all? A road trip!
Keep reading for inspiration for your next adventure. This is the year for making memories. Let’s plan the best road trip in (North) America!
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We find ourselves caught in a conundrum. With all of the travel restrictions, we know it will be a while before we fly. But what about planning a road trip?
Ordinarily during challenging times we find a way to process it all by getting away. We search for far flung corners of the earth, reading The Travel Blogs, and calculate how long we can actually afford to be away from our lives. Because sometimes we need a little distance to get some perspective.
And yet, just when we have the greatest need for a break, travel restrictions are making that option less tenable.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand these steps are for the long-term good. But in the short-term, we are finding fewer options to effectively stave off the gnawing hunger for adventure.
Considering all of this, the logical question is:
Start Planning a Road Trip Now?
I would like to make the argument that this is the best time to start planning your next trip.
To be sure, we are not recommending anyone take risks and travel before it is safe. We have no plans of going anywhere ourselves until the pandemic has subsided. So, is this a good time to plan your next trip?
Absolutely! In fact, the longer we go without a needed break the more we think about it.
It’s like being on a diet. It’s easy to stay committed in the beginning. But very soon, you begin to notice the cracks in your resolve.
Like a catch in your throat at the mention of chocolate. Or you realize that you are rewinding a cheeseburger commercial.
The point is, there is nothing that draws us more to what we love as when we have to do without it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. As if our hearts could be any more fond of traveling.
Start Planning a Road Trip Now!
Although this may not be a good time to take a trip, this is the best time to be planning one.
I mean, look at your Pinterest board! It is full of places you want to go. Why not have a plan in place for when the right time comes?
There will be a time when we can venture out again. When we can stretch our legs and get moving.
In reality, the restrictions are going to be released slowly. The more densely populated areas are going to take the longest to return to normal.
And just like coming off of a diet, we don’t want to waste all of our hard work by going to an extreme. We need to have a plan that is sensible and safe.
So, how will we avoid large crowds, save some cash, and still have a great adventure? We gotta plan a road trip. And not just any road trip. This one has to be epic.
How to plan the Epic Road Trip!
We have taken road trips all over the world, so what we know is these are four necessary parts of planning a perfect road trip.
It starts with a good cup of coffee. This will be your companion from the research portion through to the end of the journey.
Next is the fun part. Deciding where to go. Choosing a destination.
In this blog we have narrowed it down to 7 choices. But this is just a small offering of all of the destinations you can choose – at least when it is safe to do so.
Choose a map. We wouldn’t have named this website Maps Over Coffee without the correlation to these two essentials.
We have used Google Maps since it is the easiest way to convey to you electronically. But there are many others you can choose from.
You will want a map that is fully functional even outside of cell range. Read a full review of Guru Maps for offline navigation written by someone who has used it extensively around the world.
But besides digital maps, there are traditional ways of navigation. These include physical, paper maps. From the standard Road Atlas to maps that cover topography and trails.
I prefer these since I an always refer to them as part of the journal of any trip.
Finally, you gotta have a mixtape. Custom made for each route. Because it isn’t just about the destinations. It’s about the memories attached to your senses.
Each soundtrack should be unique. That way each of these songs will transport you to a place, time, and memory that will last your lifetime.
Criteria for this Road Trip
- Because we are proceeding with caution, we want to avoid crowded places as much as possible. So priority one is to find things to do in sparsely populated areas.
- Secondly, we need to travel economically. Sure times are tough. But if we are sensible, we can still take a break without breaking the bank.
- Thirdly, we could probably all use a bit of R&R after months of restrictions. But we want to stretch our legs a bit and get some exercise in. So we want to strike a balance between the two.
- Which brings us to our fourth point. We will also need options for splurging. You will save a ton of money by backpacking and camping along the way. So don’t feel bad for spending a bit more on something that would bring some comfort to an otherwise rigorous road trip
In a nutshell:
- Avoiding crowds
- Mix of adventure and relaxation
- Budget friendly (with a few splurge options)
So, let’s see how our top 7 match this description.
The 7 Best Road Trips in America – (At least, they will be when we can go.)
7. Quintessential Utah Parks
Soundtrack: Utah Road Trip on Spotify
Coffee: River Rock Roasting Company La Verkin, UT
Colorado and Utah are as different as any two planets in the solar system.
If you’ve ever driven west through Colorado you know when you reach Utah without any signposts. The entire scenery changes. The highway flattens out. And massive red rocks replace the walls of the Rocky Mountains.
This was one of our favorite road trips of all time. Although we didn’t take this exact route, these are some of the stops we will include in the next one.
Following the above map will take you through 7 of Utah’s great parks.
This route starts in Zion National Park. I recommend at least 2 days there. More if you have the time.
And if you enter from Springdale on Highway 9, you are led through the Zion – Mount Carmel Tunnel. This tunnel is carved with windows that overlook the park itself and transport you to unexpected beauty.
What you choose to explore from there is almost limitless. From hiking Walter’s Wiggles, Scouts Landing (Angels Landing was closed at the time of this writing) or any of the myriad other trails, you will be blown away by the scale and awesomeness of this desert gem.
Impossible vistas, waterfalls, and streams may have been the last thing you would have expected in a desert. Let alone set in such a serene valley.
And that is just the beginning of a road trip that explores slot canyons and slick rock alike. Whatever your idea for adventure is, you will find it in one of these Utah Parks.
For things to do along the way, check out this article about places to visit in Utah outside of the National Parks. While you’re at it, you could find other parks to visit. Like Antelope Canyon, only a couple of hours away from Zion National Park.
Where to stay
Camping: While you can search through each of the Park’s websites, there is an easier way. The most complete compilation of campgrounds, RV sites, and backcountry camping visit the Dyrt website.
Splurge: If you want an all inclusive package that includes horseback riding and skeet shooting, check out Zion Ponderosa Ranch just outside of Zion National Park.
Where to eat
Moab brewery. Especially after a long, active road trip. This was one of our favorite places to eat in Utah. Maybe because finding beer is rare, let alone a craft beer at the end of a long road trip. And after eating granola bars and oatmeal for a week, you can’t reward yourself more than a perfectly seared steak to wash it all down.
6. Colorado Rockies Road Trip
Soundtrack: Colorado Rockies Road Trip on Spotify
Coffee: Kind Coffee Estes Park, CO
Rocky Mountain National Park will always be special for us. It was our first backpacking trip. You could spend a lifetime here and not see everything. But Colorado has so much to see. And this road trip is a smorgasbord of a visual feast.
You’ll discover refreshing natural hot springs and stunning vistas for quiet contemplation.
Or if you are feeling adventurous, you have come to the right place. From 5.8 climbing routes to class 5 rapids, Colorado offers a smorgasbord of grueling physical activities.
For example, if you could choose one place to take a Whitewater rafting trip, it would have to be a 2-day trip down the Arkansas River.
You will want the first day to warm up for the class V rapids that take you 1,000 feet under the Royal Gorge.
You can also take a hut-to-hut trip. In warmer weather hike between huts with 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. Or if you want an introduction to bikepacking, San Juan Huts has a biking option. Both have cross country or snowshoe trails as well.
But if you are looking for amazing hikes with the family, check out this post for the best hikes in Boulder with kids. These are some great routes for anyone looking to explore the natural beauty of Boulder.
But not every detail needs to be planned out. If you pack for it, there are plenty of opportunities for spontaneous exploration.
In fact, we found one of our favorite backpacking trips during a road trip through Colorado.
We simply stopped into a local outdoor store in Durango and bought a National Geographic trail map. While we were there, we asked our cashier where the locals like to backpack.
He gave us a couple of options, but one of his suggestions sounded perfect. He gave us directions and off we went.
We were rewarded with possibly the most secluded campsite nestled among craggy peaks and beaver ponds. (The beavers may have saved our lives. But I’ll write about that one later.)
Where to stay
Colorado has so many camping options. From free dispersed campgrounds to full RV sites, there is something for everyone.
If camping isn’t an option, we have found great condos and houses on snowboarding trips. This could be an ideal choice when traveling with small children.
Where to eat
This road trip ends at our favorite brewery. We love Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery for two reasons: excellent craft beer, and the best burger you can sink your teeth into. And on Monday nights you can get both with fries for under $10!
5. Essential California Driving Route
Soundtrack: California Road Trip on Spotify
Coffee: OHM Coffee Roasters Napa Valley, CA
As much of California that has changed in the last 200 years, much of it remains as it has been for 2,000. Explore the natural beauty that has drawn explorers and wanderers for centuries.
While “All the gold in California is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills,” the real treasures are still arrayed in their original majesty.
This road trip starts in wine country with a brief peek at the coast before sending you into the heart of the Sierras.
There are sights, sounds, and even smells that will strike you as impossibly pleasant. You will never forget your first breath stepping out of your car at Muir Woods.
Surrounded by ancient giants, the gentleness is all encompassing. But the air. It smells fresh, clean, invigorating. It is a naturally occurring hyperbaric chamber. With organic air freshener.
But that is just the star of the trip. Just around the corner you can go down the 313 steps of Point Reyes to whale watch from an historic lighthouse.
This should be enough to prime you for the rest of the trip. Not one to disappoint, the National Parks in California are truly special.
Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks alone would be more than enough of a road trip if you wanted to stay in one place.
Both offer an experience that, while spectacular in pictures, has never quite been captured like it will be to experience for yourself.
And finally a trip up Highway 1 along the coast is a climactic conclusion to this epic road trip. It’s no wonder so many explorers decided to stay.
Where to stay
Don’t miss camping in any of these parks. Check out Hipcamp for options from tent camping to glamping to cabins along your route.
Where to eat
Russian River Brewery Brewing Company. Not only is it a Mecca for craft beer aficionados, it offers a pub-style restaurant to get your fill before heading into the wilds of California.
4. New England Solitude Road Trip
Soundtrack: New England Road Trip on Spotify
Coffee: Frontside Coffee Roasters North Conway, NH
If you’re on the east coast, it is tough to get away from hordes of people. You will have to plan your trip in the off season, or go farther than most want to go.
That is where this New England Road Trip itinerary comes in. You will start by hiking the Presidential Mountains in New Hampshire. Mount Washington had one of the highest recorded wind speeds of 231 mph!
But if you camp below the tree line, you should be safe from such imposing wind. Take a couple of days exploring the trails before continuing on your way.
Next, you will explore Katahdin National Park. There you can hike a few miles and honestly have the bragging rights that you hiked to the end of the Appalachian Trail.
And Acadia is a gem on the Atlantic coast. Hike along the rocky shores. Or follow the trails to higher vantage points to get a better glimpse of the surrounding beauty.
With mild temperatures in the summer, these parks make an ideal getaway. Spend your days hiking up mountains with views of the coast. Spend your night in a campsite or cabin.
But if you are into winter sports, there are plenty of opportunities nearby. From snowshoeing to snowmobiling, this landscape supplies all you need.
Where to stay
The Blackwoods campsite in Acadia is beautiful. But we found the facilities a bit sparse. There are paid showers outside of the park. Check out the reviews at the Dyrt.
Where to eat
The Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor has the best Veggie burger I have ever tried. I am no longer vegetarian, but I would go back there just for that burger.
And if you find yourself within 50 miles of The Holy Donut, you must go. If you have never heard of potato donuts, this will change your life.
3. Michigan Pinkie to the Upper Peninsula Road Trip
Soundtrack: Michigan Pinkie and Upper Peninsula Road Trip on Spotify
Coffee: BLK\MRKT in Traverse City, MI
I don’t know how anyone can hide an entire state, but Michigan has to be the best kept secret.
Did you know that it has the most coastline of any other state in the United States? Or that they have white sand beaches, Caribbean blue waters, and farmer’s roadside stands with fresh cherries?
These are just a few of the gems that make for an unforgettable road trip.
This route starts at the Surf Shop in Grand Harbor and follows the west coast to Sleeping Bear State Park.
After picking up some needed supplies in Traverse City, you can kayak out to Power Island. The water is crystal clear and you can see the bottom 20 feet below you.
Once you get to the Upper Peninsula, you are really social distancing. Look for a roadside stand selling smoked trout to snack on along the way.
Finish up and spend some time at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Be sure to visit Log Slide Overlook where they used to roll logs down to Lake Superior to be shipped to logging mills.
You are welcome to run down the 200 foot dunes. But climbing up will be an event.
Where to stay
Where to eat
Short’s Brewery. Grab some pub grub and an Huma Lupa Licious. You are in Michigan after all. You will know what that means after this road trip.
2. Olympic National Park to Tofino, BC Road Trip
Soundtrack: Pacific Northwest Road Trip on Spotify
Coffee: Rainshadow Coffee Roasting Company Sequim, WA
At the time of this writing this trip can’t be completed due to travel restrictions related to Covid-19.
But when we are able to traverse borders again, make this road trip a priority.
That is, if you like camping in old growth forests where the fog rolls in and out like a movie special effect.
Or if you like camping at the confluence of a river and an ocean where both harbor seals and sea otters patrol.
I could go on, but there is still even more to explore on this road trip. Because the next part we have yet to experience, but will definitely go next chance we get.
After camping, you’re going to head to Canada. Don’t worry. They’re nice.
Plus the Pacific Wilderness gets even more Pacific-y and Wilderness-y.
But first, you have a ferry to catch. If you time it right this will shave off around 4 hours of driving. (The above map does not show this since the ferry is not running during the pandemic. I will update when this changes.)
Alternatively, you could take the overland route and visit the North Cascades National Park along the way.
Once you get to Tofino, the sky’s the limit for adventure and/or chilling. Between the crashing waves of the Pacific and the serenity of the old growth forests, you can satisfy your craving for adventure and solitude on the same trip.
From hot springs on the beach to whale watching. Hiking, biking, kayaking, and even surfing are all on the activity board.
But you don’t have to be physically active the entire time.
Take time to take it all in. As the waves count the seconds, the forest counts the centuries. One is the heartbeat and the other the spaces between.
And the accommodations range from affordable camping to some of the most luxurious all-inclusive resorts available.
Where to Stay
To fully recharge, don’t miss an opportunity to stay at one of the the 12 best campsites in Tofino.
Alternatively you could find a cozy cabin. Or splurge with a couple nights at the Wickaninnish Inn. Or sell a kidney and stay at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. (This is not medical advice. Please ask your doctor if selling a kidney is right for you.)
Where to eat
Check out the reviews on Vancouver is Awesome. We have not yet been, but as soon as we do we will update our own list.
1. Glacier, Banff, Yoho, Jasper Road Trip
Soundtrack: Northern Rockies Road Trip on Spotify
Coffee: Montana Coffee Traders Columbia Falls, MT
Ok, so I have to establish a couple of things.
First off, this is another foray that goes into Canada. And we will just have to wait out the pandemic before we can go.
Second of all, this is the only recommendation that we have not been to any of the destinations.
Bonus Reading: 24 Hours in Banff National Park
I think it is important to know that we are not yet finished traveling. Just like you, despite all of the amazing places we have seen, we know there is so much more to discover.
There are 2 places in this world that I have dreamt of going to for as long as I can remember. And I think psychologically I have held back as I don’t know if I can handle the overwhelm of the senses.
This road trip is one of those two bucket list destinations. There is a reason this route is one way. I think you’ll agree there is no sense in planning on returning.
That sounded ominous.
What I mean is I think I will want to stay. As in live there. For a really long time.
The first time I saw a picture of Lake Louise, I was sure it was fake. It turns out that the lake is just very photogenic.
And just one of many water features in this part of the Rockies. Endless rivers, waterfalls, and swimming holes have carved themselves into the landscape.
Although this route is designed as a road trip, so much of it will need to be discovered under your own power.
Whether you plan to car camp, backpack, or set up base in a more refined setting you are sure to be perfectly situated under a sky spilling stars onto the surrounding mountains.
For more information, Banff and Beyond is a website based in the area. They have amazing pictures with in depth descriptions.
Where to stay
Where to eat
What do you think? Any one of these 7 road trips are bucket-list worthy. And I am sure we could add to this list.
The point is to get the gears going. To take our mind off of what we don’t have, we can spend our time dreaming about what it will have.
In the meantime, we want to help you get to your next destination as soon as possible. But we also want you to enjoy the journey.
There is a lot more to the perfect getaway than jumping in the car and going.
If you take the time you have now to research. Not only can you get everything ready. Not only will you be set.
But when the time is right, you can go!
If you are looking for a primer on car camping, check out our detailed article that will guide anyone to turn a road trip into an epic one.
The road begins where the highway ends. We’ll see you out there.
If you want more help in planning your next road trip, be sure to sign up for our newsletter. We have so much in the works, much of it will only be released by email.
What are your suggestions for the best road trip?