8 Iconic Road Trips as Minimalist Maps in the United States
There is nothing quite like the quintessential American road trip along the highways and byways of the United States: seeing residents in small towns going about their businesses; watching children waiting for school buses on a chilly morning; visiting landmarks; and seeing some of the most spectacular natural beauty in the world — all of which evoke the inexplicably incomparable feeling of freedom and have inspired countless movies, books and songs…
8 Iconic Road Trips as Minimalist Maps in the United States
…and although I have undertaken three major road trips within six months — and enjoying each one of them, accompanied by some of those aforementioned songs — I am always ready for the next one.
A series of “minimalist maps” for eight of the most iconic road trips in the United States has been created — and this article from NetCredit can ultimately inspire you, lending initial insights and compelling you to launch more detailed research pertaining to these gems which interest you.
I have been given express written permission to use the images in this article. Verbatim text from the aforementioned article is in quotes above each “minimalist map”, with brief notes added by me for some of the destinations below each “minimalist map.”
1. Pacific Coast Highway
“This cliff-hugging drive down the central California coastline takes in stunning coastal views, seaside villages and a huge dose of classic Americana. Begin by driving over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge on your way south to Santa Cruz, where the spirit of the 60s lives on. Cruise along the coast to Monterey, where you can jump out and do a spot of whale watching before moving on to Big Sur, a rural mountain community beloved by artists and hippies alike. Then it’s on to the beautiful sandy beaches of Malibu and the glamour of La La Land, before reaching the border city of San Diego.”
I have driven virtually this entire route during summer vacation while I was attending college earning my Bachelor of Arts undergraduate degree — but it was only a small part of a much longer route: I drove from Seattle to San Diego to San Antonio. The purpose was to deliver a car a cousin of mine owned while he was serving in the military, as he wanted his car — so I drove it to him.
I wound up purchasing that car later that year, which was a wise investment on my part.
Anyway, the scenery along the western coast of the United States is simply breathtaking. Give yourself at least ten hours to allow for leisurely stops along the way if you are driving on the Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. You will want to take plenty of photographs.
2. Route 66
“Possibly the most famous road trip of them all, Route 66 stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, taking in some of the most quintessentially American sights you could hope to see. Sadly, the so-called Mother Road is no longer part of the US highway system and many parts of it have fallen into disrepair. But don’t let that deter you! Motor west from Grant Park towards St. Louis, on your way to classic Route 66 landmarks like the Eisler Brothers General Store and Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch. Explore Santa Fe before arriving in Arizona, where the Painted Desert awaits. The ghost town of Calico is your final stop before reaching Santa Monica Pier, where you can take a ride on the iconic Ferris wheel.”
I have been on portions of Route 66 — including during my road trip between Atlanta and las Vegas last year, much of which I still have yet to document. I intend to post articles with photographs documenting my experiences…
…but I was not far off of this historic route when I decided to sample some green chile stew while I was in Albuquerque; or when I stayed for the first time at a Tru by Hilton hotel property in Oklahoma City, which was the first hotel property opened for the brand.
If you do happen to find yourself on historic old Route 66, will you stop by this place? If so, can you eat three 72-ounce steak meals in 20 minutes?
3. United States Highway 20
“This epic coast to coast highway is America’s longest road. It stretches from from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon, taking in 12 states and cutting through the heart of America. The Finger Lakes makes a relaxing first stop before you rock on to Cleveland. Around the halfway point, don’t miss Nebraska’s Ashfall Fossil Beds, where you can let your inner Indiana Jones run wild. Then the trip takes you on a scenic drive through the Lamar Valley to spot bison and revel in the spectacular scenery of Yellowstone National Park, all before crossing the Cascades to land in Newport.”
I have driven on United States Highway 20 in the Boston area and at Yellowstone National Park; but I did not drive across the country on it.
If you have not already done so, you must visit Yellowstone National Park. Need I really say more?
4. Florida Keys
“This classic, laid-back drive from Miami to Key West is perfect for those looking to chill along the way. You’ll pass through the island paradise of Key Largo, the gateway to the Florida Keys. Stop and take an Everglades tour before enjoying a meal in Marathon. Next up, you’ll hit the Seven Mile Bridge, the Keys’ longest and most famous bridge. Along the way, take in the crystalline turquoise waters as you approach Big Pine Key, the largest of the Lower Keys. Take a glide through mangrove trails looking for dolphins and tropical birds before you finally land in Key West, where Hemingway once lived.”
As many times I have been to Florida — quite literally hundreds of times — believe it or not, I have never driven south of Homestead.
This is the only route featured in this article on which I have never driven on any portion. I hope to change that one day.
5. Hana Coast
“If you’re looking to blow some tension away, this is the road trip for you. Taking in 52 miles of Maui’s dramatic eastern coast, the route delivers black sand beaches, cascading waterfalls and a couple of hair-raising cliffhanger moments. Be sure to visit the Garden of Eden Arboretum, the lush 25-acre tract that featured in the opening sequence of the Jurassic Park film. For spectacular nature scenes and outdoor activities, you’re spoiled for choice on this journey; don’t miss the dramatic Lower Puohokamoa waterfall and Waianapanapa State Park.”
The Road to Hana can be rather winding, with sharp curves which often narrow to one lane — and traffic is in both directions.
Give yourself at least three hours to navigate this legendary route — and drive carefully.
6. Blue Ridge Parkway
“If it’s the great outdoors you’re looking for, the Blue Ridge Parkway has it all. This road connects Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains, two of the most popular national parks in the US. Starting in Charlottesville, Virginia, it won’t take long before you reach Shenandoah, with 200,000 acres of trails, forests, caves, mountains and waterfalls waiting to be explored. If that’s not enough action for you, a little further down the road is Humpback Rock, which offers a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But perhaps the most awe-inspiring sights await you at the end of the route, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”
With the exception of two sections which were closed due to construction, I drove the entire length of Blue Ridge Parkway just last month. I intend to post additional articles with trip reports and plenty of photographs.
7. Four Corners
“The Southwest is home to a unique mix of beautiful horizons and landscapes, carved out by nature and time. The trip starts in Flagstaff, from which you head east to the incredible Petrified Forest National Park. The next must see is Monument Valley, spectacular in itself, but also home to the exact point at which Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico meet – so that’s your Instagram post for the day sorted. The last leg of this drive takes you through the stunning San Juan Mountains to the ski resort town of Telluride. Park the car and finish the journey with a breathtaking gondola ride to Mountain Village.”
Although I have yet to have visited the other points of interest along this route, please read this article pertaining to my experience at Four Corners Monument.
I enjoyed my visit, as it was on my way to Las Vegas — but do not consider this a destination worthy of a long drive. Instead, incorporate it with the other points of interest along the way.
8. Seward Highway
“By far the most northern state, Alaska offers some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. This short but spectacular two-hour drive starts in Anchorage and journeys through some incredible natural wonders. Drive through the cliffs of Chugach State Park, then watch as the landscape turns from mountains to wetlands. Don’t miss the glaciers of Portage Valley and the gold-bearing Canyon Creek. At the end of the road is the harborside town of Seward and Resurrection Bay, where you can watch for seabirds and enjoy the huge variety of marine wildlife.”
I have driven the entire length of this breathtakingly scenic route and stayed overnight in Seward, where I boarded on a modest sized boat and watched whales while dining on fresh Alaskan salmon for dinner off the shores of Kenai Fjords National Park.
Do not be surprised to see Dall sheep on the hillsides and mountainsides along the way while driving on Seward Highway.
Not that other countries are not memorable; but let’s face it: the United States is jam-packed with many more iconic yet unsung and underrated road trips — each awaiting your discovery of surprises which you may never have imagined. Whether you have tried such gastronomic local specialties as horseshoes in Springfield or hot browns in Louisville; visited such goofy monuments as a water tower which is shaped like a peach but looks more like the derrière of a baby; or have been to the geographic center of the 48 contiguous United States — an article with a trip report of my experience is forthcoming — there is no travel experience which is quite like the American road trip that will reward you with memories of a lifetime which you will never forget.
Which road trips in the United States do you believe were missing from this list? Also, please recall your favorite road trips in the Comments section below.
All photographs ©2018 by Brian Cohen.