The Ultimate Road Trip: Uncovering the Best Road Trip Destinations Along the Pacific Coast Highway, Cape Cod, Olympic Peninsula, and More!
Are you craving the thrill of the open road? Look no further than this captivating article, showcasing the ultimate list of best road trip destinations around the globe. From the breathtaking Pacific Coast Highway in California to the enchanting Lofoten Islands in Norway, prepare to be mesmerized by stunning vistas, winding roads, and unforgettable adventures. Fasten your seatbelt, roll down the windows, and join us on an exhilarating journey as we explore these incredible destinations that are sure to ignite your sense of wanderlust.
Pacific Coast Highway - California
Recommended car: To have an exhilarating driving experience, you can book a convertible like a Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro to drive up the coast. This type of rental car is perfect if you want to enjoy the California sun and feel the freedom of the open road.
The famous Pacific Coast Highway is considered one of the best drives in the United States for good reason. It starts in San Diego and offers breathtaking coastal scenery as you make your way up through California. Along the way, you can visit Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Hearst Castle, and then follow the iconic Highway One towards the charming coastal town of Monterey. Finally, you'll reach the famous City by the Bay, San Francisco, where you'll find plenty of exciting areas to explore. If you want more ideas, you can read our full Highway One itinerary.
Useful tips: Make sure you're well-prepared before you embark on this stress-free and enjoyable trip up the coast.
With the refreshing smell of salt air blowing through your car windows from all directions, a leisurely road trip on Cape Cod provides a true sense of relaxation and offers a glimpse into the region's history before it became a tourist destination. Many of the homes and churches along the tree-shaded roads are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, allowing you to visit and spend time in some of the oldest towns and explore the most quaint shops and restaurants in America. Starting from Mashpee and heading towards Provincetown, Massachusetts, you'll experience the charm of Cape Cod.
Whether you choose to reach the peninsula by car ferry from Seattle or by road from Olympia, spending a few days driving through the Olympic Peninsula feels like going back in time. You'll witness the remnants of an ancient era when dinosaurs roamed and lush vegetation covered the land. Valerie and Valise, a popular travel site, recommends dedicating three days to fully enjoy this wild road trip destination in the Pacific Northwest. Take the time to hike Hurricane Ridge, explore the Hoh Rainforest, and soak in the hot springs. If you're a Twilight fan, make sure to stop in Forks. However, the real star of this trip is the breathtaking beauty of Mother Nature. You can also read about the most iconic book set in every state for more information.
Glacier National Park
This day trip is available for only a few months each year, from mid-June when the snow is plowed and finally melts away. However, when this window opens, taking a road trip to Montana's Glacier National Park and experiencing its famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must. Along the way, you might be lucky enough to see a family of bears crossing the street or spot a mountain goat or two in their natural habitat. You'll definitely encounter numerous epic waterfalls, including the most beautiful ones in the state. As you drive along this 50-mile stretch of road, your eyes will be treated to sweeping vistas that are perfect for capturing panoramic photos on your smartphone. If you stay at the magnificent West Glacier KOA, located just three miles away from the start of Going-to-the-Sun Road, you'll have the opportunity to make this two- to four-hour trek multiple times and immerse yourself in the spectacular beauty that is unique to this area. Glacier Park is also part of the Highway 2 road trip, which is a great option if you want to travel across the northern United States.
Grand Teton National Park
Since Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone are in close proximity to each other, most road trips to one will likely include a visit to the other. However, if you're looking for something shorter, consider the Grand Teton Loop. This stunning 42-mile loop will take you to the scenic Snake River Overlook, where you can capture your own version of an Ansel Adams photograph using your smartphone or DSLR camera. One of the highlights of this loop drive is Signal Mountain. From its summit, which is 1,000 feet above the valley, you'll be treated to panoramic views of the Tetons, Jackson Hole, and Yellowstone National Park. Throughout your road trip, you'll also encounter remarkable wildflowers that add a vibrant pop of color to your Teton photos. If you're traveling in an RV, you can explore the best RV parks in every state.
Embark on a memorable road trip and experience the enchanting beauty of Monterey, Pebble Beach, Carmel, and Big Sur all in one day, just like travel photographer Kirsten Alana did. During her road trip, Alana had the opportunity to enjoy a private tour of the wine cellar at Casanovas in Carmel, admire the work of famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, and gaze in awe at the Lone Cypress on the famous 17-mile drive. This 250-year-old tree is considered one of California's most magical road trip destinations and holds the same significance for the Monterey Peninsula as the pyramids do for Egypt or the Eiffel Tower does for Paris.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile journey that connects two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. It is the most visited road controlled by the U.S. National Parks System. This epic trip is breathtaking at any time of year, but during autumn, when the colors of the leaves change and vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows dominate the landscape, it becomes even more enchanting. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque drive and road trip destination in the continental United States.
San Juan Skyway, USA
This 380km drive through Colorado's dramatic San Juan Range takes you past gushing streams and waterfalls in the spring, bright wildflowers in the summer, and snowy slopes in the winter. However, the most spectacular time to experience this fabulous route is during autumn when the landscape is ablaze with the colors of yellow, orange, and red leaves. It's one of the reasons why Colorado is considered one of the most beautiful states in the USA.
Red Rock Country - Arizona
Recommended Car: It is advised to book a standard car such as a Volkswagen Jetta or Chrysler 200 when visiting Red Rock Country. This type of rental is perfect for a short drive packed with enchanting geological features.
Take a straight 145-mile journey along Interstate 17, with a minor detour on Route 179 (Red Rock Scenic Byway) and 89a to Flagstaff, Arizona, or head north-south to Phoenix. This unique road trip destination is part of our top 10 list. Compared to other dense green, orange, and colorful forest-filled journeys, this trip takes you through vast, seemingly endless desert terrains and magnificent skyscraper-like rock formations that crown the horizon, making you feel like you're on another planet. During your drive, make sure to stop and admire the Montezuma Castle National Monument, an ancient cliff dwelling, or visit the Slide Rock State Park to experience a natural waterslide carved into the rock, adding an exciting touch to your journey.
Useful tips: Keep in mind that while the Red Rock Scenic Byway takes only 20 minutes to drive, some stops along the way require a $5.00 use pass for access.
Columbia River Gorge, USA
Travel east out of Portland, Oregon, and you'll find yourself on Interstate-84, winding its way beside the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. This 112km stretch of road can easily be covered in one day, but taking a few more days will allow you to fully appreciate the area. Take your time to savor the views of the USA's second-longest river and its many dramatic waterfalls.
Portland, Oregon © Shutterstock
The Garden Route, South Africa
The slender coastal plain between Mossel Bay and Storms River Mouth, known as the Garden Route, offers a beautiful and easy introduction to South Africa. As you drive, you'll be surrounded by mountains and vineyards on one side, and rocky shores and sandy beaches on the other. The most dramatic section of the coast is found at Storms River Mouth. Take a break from driving and embark on some trails, with the sound of waves crashing against the rocks as your backdrop.
The Garden Route in South Africa © LMspencer/Shutterstock
For adventures in South Africa, try Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips.
Costa Smeralda, Sardinia
Sardinia's beautiful northern coast, known as the Costa Smeralda or "Emerald Coast," boasts dramatic headlands and turquoise waters. This area is the island's best-known resort, famous for its opulence and glamour. If you visit in late spring or early autumn, you can enjoy the beautiful weather, uncrowded beaches, and quieter roads.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Driving across the perfectly flat white expanse of the world's largest salt lake, it's easy to believe you're on another planet. After rainfall, the salt flats transform into an enormous mirror reflecting the mountain peaks that surround the area. When dry, the surface appears as a brilliant white expanse similar to ice. At night, the landscape is illuminated by the eerie white glow of the moon. There are plenty of adventures to be had in Bolivia, and you can start by embarking on beautiful journeys across the country.
South Island Circuit, New Zealand
The South Island of New Zealand offers remarkable landscapes that are sure to leave you in awe. Driving around the island at your own pace allows you to fully appreciate the diverse vistas that unfold before you. The drive between Te Anau and Milford Sound is particularly stunning, as it crosses tranquil Fiordland and the Southern Alps.
I believe that Finnish Lakeland is one of the most underappreciated places in the world to visit.
When we think of Finland, our minds naturally gravitate towards Lapland, which is undoubtedly a great destination in its own right. However, let's not overlook the absolute beauty of Finnish Lakeland!
With 187,888 lakes interconnected by beautiful bridges, this is one of the most unique road trips you can experience. During our visit in the autumn season, we were surrounded by fantastic colors.
What's also amazing about a Finnish Lakeland road trip is the opportunity to explore the little towns and villages along the way.
One of our favorites was Savonlina, which is home to the most northern medieval stone fortress still standing, known as Olavinlinna. It was a truly cool experience!
How long does it take?
Finnish Lakeland is quite vast, so the duration of your trip is flexible. We spent around 4-5 days driving through Finnish Lakeland, stopping at various little towns. If you're only road tripping this part of Finland(not the whole country like us), you can hire a car in Helsinki and embark on a big loop before returning to the city.
Highlights of the trip
The bridges: One of the unique features of Lakeland is the interconnectedness of its lakes through beautiful bridges, making for a picturesque and scenic road trip. It's also a great opportunity to capture stunning drone shots!
Great quality roads: Finland is well-known for its well-maintained roads, making driving easy and enjoyable. Plus, there are no road tolls!
Read Also: If you want to learn more, check out our Top Travel Tips.
How cool are these roads!
The Lofoten Islands
At the top of our list of incredible road trips around the world are the breathtaking Lofoten Islands in Norway. To truly experience the beauty of these islands, having your own vehicle is a must. The best part is that wild camping is legal in Norway, so you can either rent a campervan or embark on a brave adventure with a tent, and find some incredible spots.
One of the highlights of a road trip in the Lofoten Islands is the stunning views that surround you every day. The beauty of every corner of the islands cannot be emphasized enough. It is a paradise for photographers and a great place to visit any time of the year, as the landscape changes dramatically with the seasons.
We visited during the winter season, which offered cold, frosty, and snowy conditions. This created epic views and allowed us to experience the prime season for the Northern Lights. One of the standout towns in the Lofoten Islands is Reine, which is famous for its charming red houses against a mountainous backdrop. The views in this small Norwegian town are truly awe-inspiring.
Another great thing about a road trip in the Lofoten Islands is the absence of crowds. The viewpoints and areas we visited were relatively quiet, giving us a sense of discovering these beautiful locations for the first time. Driving through the islands is a unique experience, with spectacular bridges connecting them and providing unique landscapes along the way. If you have a drone, this is the perfect place to capture stunning driving shots. The roads are not busy either, sometimes leaving you feeling like you have the whole place to yourself. Don't worry about the remote location; there are plenty of good motorhome and campervan rentals in Norway.
How long does it take?
One of the beauties of a road trip is that you can customize its duration according to your preferences. We managed to drive through the Lofoten Islands in two days, but that was because we were covering a lot of ground, exploring all of Scandinavia. If you want to embark on the amazing hikes available in the islands, you will need more time. Keep in mind that some hikes may not be possible during the winter months. In general, we suggest allowing yourself 3-4 days in winter and 4-5 days in the summer season.
Highlights of the trip
- Visiting Reine: This picturesque town boasts one of the most beautiful views we have ever witnessed.
- Epic beaches: The Lofoten Islands are home to some of the most stunning beach views in the world. Even in winter, the beauty of the beaches is on a whole new level.
- Feeling secluded: Driving in a place where it feels like no one else is around gives you the sense of being an explorer, discovering somewhere truly unique and new.
Cabot Trail, Canada
This 298km road takes you through the magnificent Cape Breton Island, which is arguable the most beautiful part of Nova Scotia, Canada. The northern section of the trail, passing through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, is the highlight. Here, you can encounter bald eagles, moose, and black bears. Take your time on this journey to explore charming small villages that still bear the French and Scottish influence.
Northeast coastline, Brazil
For beach lovers, this road trip takes you between the beautiful Jericoacoara, with its white-sand beach and turquoise lagoon, and Salvador, which rivals Rio in terms of its natural magnificence. Along the way, you will come across endless kilometers of unspoiled beaches that are among the most stunning in the world. From sheltered reef beaches to wilder ones backed by mountainous sand dunes and palm trees, this is the untouched beauty of Brazil.
For adventures in Brazil, try Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips.
Embarking on a road trip is an exhilarating experience, and with so many breathtaking destinations to choose from, narrowing down the options can be a daunting task. From the winding path of the Pacific Coast Highway in California to the picturesque landscapes of the Lofoten Islands in Norway, the world is abundant with awe-inspiring road trip routes. Whether you're a nature enthusiast seeking the untamed beauty of Glacier National Park or a beach lover yearning for the enchanting Garden Route in South Africa, there is a road trip destination to suit every adventurer's taste. So, fuel up, hit the road, and prepare to create unforgettable memories as you venture through some of the best road trip destinations the world has to offer.
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