We all know that you can get your kicks on Route 66, but you can also get said kicks on any of the other thousands of asphalt pathways that connect most parts of the American landscape — from the mountain to the prairie, from sea to shining sea. While America’s natural landscapes are truly a wonder to behold — Big Sur, Monument Valley, Appalachia, and the Keys may come to mind — there’s more out there than just scenery. Here are six variations of the classic American road trip that you can mix and match, so your journey is so interesting that you may forget to ask, “Are we there yet?”
Mother Nature may have carved out the Grand Canyon and other geological wonders, but some humans have carved out some of their own wonders as well. For example, Gutzon Borglum and his team blasted, picked, and sculpted their way through the Black Hills of South Dakota to create Mount Rushmore, one of America’s most popular road trip destinations. In St. Louis, the Gateway Arch still welcomes westbound road trippers the way it originally did decades ago, as a monument to westward expansion. The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor still stands as an icon of arrival after a long journey, may it be on an old immigrant ship a hundred years ago, or today in the comfort of your own car. And if you’re into the novelty, you can head to the man-made Four Corners Monument, and place each of your four limbs in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah and at the same time.
I spy with my little eye… something weird. Two of the greatest things about the American spirit are our sense of humor and our curiosity — and both come together perfectly when it comes to off-beat roadside attractions. From the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Kansas to the Missouri’s World’s Largest Rocking Chair, there’s no shortage of American roadside kitsch. And if you’ve ever been on I-90 or I-95, you know just where to find entire emporiums of kitschy souvenirs to buy and bring home — Wall Drug and South of the Border, respectively — since they have billboards announcing their location from hundreds of miles away. The Roadside America website and iPhone app are excellent ways to find the nearest offbeat attraction, wherever you are.
It’s been called “America’s Best Idea,” and it really is: the National Park System. America’s national parks are known around the world as some of the planet’s best, and when you visit one, it’s clear to see why: they make nature more accessible with an infrastructure geared towards road trippers. Friendly park rangers know their parks well, and can easily suggest what you can do given the amount of time you want to spend — may it be weeks, or a couple of hours as you pass through. Getting an annual pass is just $80 per year, which is quite a bargain considering it gives you access to any of more than 2,000 federal parks and recreation sites in the country. A friend and I went on a road trip ourselves with a tent in the trunk, and bounced from Badlands National Park to Yellowstone to Grand Teton to Canyonlands to Arches to the Grand Canyon — all without having to pay an entrance fee (after acquiring the pass).
Food can often define a region, and in a country as big as the United States, there are many regional cuisines to be had. You can drive all through New England looking for the best lobster roll or clam chowder, or drive to New Orleans and Cajun country in search of the perfect gumbo — if you’re not already full from the dozens of roadside crawfish stands along the way. Road trips through Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas could go in circles as you sample every barbecue joint out there. Likewise, road trips through the Southwest and California seem endless if looking for your favorite Mexican-inspired dish.
If you know about the world of geocaching, you know that there are over a million “treasures” — or geocaches — hidden around the world. Several thousands of them can be found right here on American soil, and you just have to know where to look — there always seems to be one nearby. If you’re going on a road trip and want to find a geocache far away, search the database for one thousands of miles from your starting point, and make it your cross-country mission to get there. There will also be plenty of other geocaches you can find along the way to keep you from getting bored.
America may be young when you compare it to the millenary existence of European countries, but it’s not like we don’t have a rich history ourselves. There’s countless historical sights in the United States, from the colonial-era Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, to the former Civil War battleground of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania, to the Alamo in San Antonio, a symbol of the Texas Revolution against Mexico. Your journey across the country can also be a journey back in time, spanning over 200 years. And if you want to go back even further — by millions of years — there are several paleontological sites around Texas, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and other states, where you can check out a fossil or two.