There is something poetically American about heading down the open road. With nearly 4 million miles of American road to navigate, you can weave in and out of awe-inspiring natural wonders, pass through small towns and bustling cities, taste different cuisines, and discover rich histories. While you’re at it, you can experience the romance–or, if you’re anything like the family from Vacation, the headaches–of the Great American Road Trip.
However, as most anyone who has spent more than two hours in a car will know, the United States is also home to many miles of highway that feel like purgatory (Ohio). Avoid those soul-sucking routes and give in to profound wanderlust with these five amazing road trips.
To quote famed beatnik Jack Kerouac, “nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
For The Wonder: Four Corners (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, And New Mexico)
Sites: Petrified Forest National Park – Canyon de Chelly National Monument – Monument Valley – Mexican Water – Trail of the Ancients – Mesa Verde National Park – San Juan Skyway – Telluride – Mountain Village
The Southwest is home to a unique mix of beautiful landscapes: some so strange they seem to have emerged from Salvador Dali’s imagination, some so shockingly picturesque you might think you’re dreaming. You’ll spend most of the trip with your mouth gaping open in awe of these incredible sights, so give yourself time to get out of the car and explore them, spending at least two days to do this 525-mile drive.
Starting in Flagstaff, Arizona, head east on Interstate 40 until you cross into the Petrified Forest National Park, home to the astonishing Painted Desert and Crystal Forest. Continue east on I-40 and then venture to the north on U.S. 191 to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The Navajo have built structures right into these 1,000-foot cliffs, making their home there for nearly 5,000 years.
Keep going north on U.S. 191 to 59, a Navajo Nation road which takes you into Monument Valley. Make a left onto U.S. 160, a right onto U.S. 163, and coast as you pass through the iconic scenery straight out of countless westerns. Next, head south back towards U.S. 160, then east to Mexican Water. Here, you’ll find here the exact point at which Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet, and excitedly beam for Instagram with various body parts in all four states at once.
Next, as you reach Cortez, Colorado, you’ll happily find yourself on a portion of the National Scenic Byway, Trail of the Ancients. This route follows the culturally and historically significant sites of the southwestern Native Americans. Stop at Mesa Verde National Park to explore preserved Puebloan cliff dwellings.
Jump back on the road and double back west to find Colorado 145 north as you make your way to Telluride. The last 75 miles of this drive follows the San Juan Skyway, another National Scenic Byway, that winds you through the stunning San Juan Mountains. Route 145 comes to a halt in the small ski resort town of Telluride. Ditch your car and wander the streets on foot. End your trip with a free, and breathtaking, gondola ride up from Telluride to Mountain Village.