11 Scenic American Road Trips to Take This Spring

From coastal drives to national parks, these American road trip ideas are perfect for a spring vacation.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, Skyline Drive
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The weather is warming up, and the late winter rains have turned trees green and fields into wildflower wonderlands. It’s the perfect time to take a drive, either to a familiar favorite or a new destination.

Whether your preferred landscape is mountains, deserts, forests, plains, or coastal views, there’s a road trip in this country for you. Explore historic sites, regional food, wineries, or nature, all from the front seat.

We’ve put together a few suggestions, starting in exciting locales and ending up in beautiful destinations, with hundreds of scenic miles in between. We cover national parks, where spring presents the ideal time between summer crowds and winter cold, as well as jaunts through marshes, mountains, and springtime blooms.  

There’s flexibility built into these suggested itineraries, with possible extensions if your schedule allows. It’s always a good idea to download your route from Google Maps to use offline, or pack a paper map just in case you find yourself out of range. 

Gas up the car, and away we go. 

01 of 11

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua tree national park at sunset

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Nothing beats a U.S. national park in the springtime, and that's doubly true on the West Coast. A scenic drive through Joshua Tree National Park could span 50-plus miles if you drive straight through, so plan on spending at least four hours traversing the park as you’ll want to take detours to enjoy panoramic views, climb on massive rock formations, stroll through the cactus garden, marvel at an oasis, and find the perfect Joshua Tree landscape for your souvenir photos.

There are several ways to enter the park, but let’s say you’re starting in Palm Springs. Drive East on I-10 for about an hour to Cottonwood Springs Road (exit 168) and the park’s south entrance. Your first stop will be the Visitor Center for a map, and then on through the Colorado Desert environment, around sea level. You’ll see ocotillo, with their tall branches tipped by bright red blossoms. Stop at the Cholla Cactus Garden and walk along its paths, but don't get too close to the prickly plants.

Soon you’ll see the “tree” that gave the park its name, coined by early Mormon settlers who likened its branches to arms outstretched in prayer. Take a side trip to Keys View — its 5,000 foot elevation provides a striking panorama. As you wind through the park on its well-paved roads, you’ll notice campsites, picnic tables, wildlife, and an increase in elevation to the cooler Mojave Desert environment as you head toward the west entrance off Highway 62 in Joshua Tree Village. The highway meets I-10 — from here, head west toward Los Angeles or east toward the Coachella Valley.

02 of 11

Miami to Key West, Florida

Overseas Highway, Florida Keys
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Florida is synonymous with spring break and there's no better time to travel the Keys. This drive, preferably taken in a convertible with the top down, covers about 150 miles, but the timing depends on your stops along the way. Take US-1 south, heading through historic Coconut Grove, past the University of Miami, and on along either South Dixie Highway (US-1) or Ronald Reagan Turnpike (toll road), past the farms of Homestead to Florida City and US-1 South, which turns into the Overseas Highway. Look for Mile Marker 126 to help you count down the distance to Key West.

Key Largo will be the northernmost town of the Keys and possibly your first stop. Make a stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first undersea park in the country, which offers snorkeling, scuba diving, glass-bottom boat tours, and more.

Islamorada begins the middle Keys, a favorite of fishing fans and a great place to browse for souvenirs. On to Marathon Key, actually 13 islands, known for loggerhead turtles and its Dolphin Research Center. South of Marathon, US-1 crosses the Seven-Mile Bridge which links Marathon with the Lower Keys.

Enjoy the view of the surrounding waters as you drive across the bridge, and look over at the original railroad bridge, severely damaged in 1935’s hurricane season, commemorated in the Hurricane Memorial in Islamorada. On the other side of the bridge, you'll see Bahia Honda State Park. You may want to stop and explore the wildlife at the National Key Deer Refuge in Big Pine Key before reaching your destination of Key West. Enjoy the ambience of this unique town, stroll along Duval Street, or visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.

03 of 11

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, Skyline Drive
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Skyline Drive takes you 105 miles through the park along the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. About an hour and a half from Washington, D.C., this springtime road trip through nature is the perfect contrast to the capital’s museums and monuments (though the D.C. cherry blossoms are worth a peek before you go). Waterfalls, spring wildflowers, hiking trails, wildlife, picnic areas, and 75 scenic overlooks will add hours of enjoyment to your park visit, so take your time on this popular road trip.

Entering at Front Royal on US-340, one of the park’s four entrances, the road climbs to Dickey Ridge (mile 4.6), where the Visitor Center provides exhibits, maps, and an orientation film. Mileposts on the west side of the road beginning with 0.0 at Front Royal help locate points of interest along the way. They continue to 105 at the southern end of the park at Rockfish Gap. Take your time and stop at the well-marked scenic overlooks, starting with the Shenandoah Valley Overlook at mile 2.8, where you can see the Shenandoah River as it winds through the valley. See it also at Hogback Overlook at mile 20.8, where you’ll also be able to view the Alleghenies and Massanutten Mountain.

Continue enjoying the panoramic views from the various overlooks, stop for a short hike, or learn more about the park at the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, at milepost 51 across from Big Meadows, an open area with campgrounds and spring wildflowers. At the Bearfence Mountain parking lot, hikers can take a trail to the summit for a 360-degree view. Where Skyline Drive ends at Rockfish Gap, the Blue Ridge Parkway, a trip of nearly 500 scenic miles, begins.

04 of 11

Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana

Grand Teton National Park, Spring, Wildflowers
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Although parts of these two national parks are 100 miles apart, it’s possible to visit them both in one trip. You may want to stretch it over a few days, though, to really take your time sightseeing. Grand Teton National Park, at about 310,000 acres, is near the Wyoming town of Jackson, with Jackson Hole Airport located within the park at the base of the Teton Mountains. Just north, Yellowstone National Park covers over two million acres, with its famous geysers, mud pots, and hot springs.

Spring in Grand Teton sees the annual wildlife migration, with elk, bison, deer, and moose heading for their summer homes. The park’s mountains, valleys, forests, and rivers come alive after the winter thaw, and wildflowers begin to dot the landscape. Be sure to stop at one of the visitor centers in the park to learn about its history, wildlife, and environment. You may want to spend a night before setting out on the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway toward Yellowstone.

Heading north, you’ll be entering Yellowstone at the southernmost of its five entrances. You’ll pass Lewis Lake, waterfalls, and arrive at the Grant Visitor Center. Be sure to check the park’s website or convenient app regarding road conditions, especially in early spring. Head west to the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center to learn about the famous geyser and see it erupt. Watch for the park’s abundant wildlife that includes bighorn sheep, bison, elk, moose, deer, black bears, coyotes, and mountain lions. If time allows, you can continue your national parks road trip by heading farther north to Glacier National Park in Montana.

05 of 11

Seattle to Newport, Oregon

Astoria-Megler Bridge, Oregon, Springtime
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You may find Seattle a bit rainy this time of year, but you'll see fewer crowds and lower rates. After dining on seafood, strolling through Pike Place Market, and seeing the sights over Puget Sound, head southwest towards the Oregon coast and the lovely town of Astoria. The trip begins on I-5 and is about 180 miles, passing enormous pine trees, green forests, and towns, taking about three and a half hours until you cross the four-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge spanning the Columbia River and enter Astoria, where you should spend the night and take some time exploring in the morning.

The historic town is set where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, and the Maritime Museum’s displays show the challenges of ships navigating the area. Once a center of fur trading and canneries, Astoria’s historic homes still stand, and the town almost seems lost in time. Don’t miss the view from Coxcomb Hill and the Astoria Column, dedicated in 1926 to honor Astoria’s early settlers.

Set out from Astoria along US-101, heading south along Oregon’s coast, and plan for many stops along the way at observation points, towns, state parks, beaches, or simply to enjoy breathtaking views of rugged coastline and crashing waves. Ecola State Park, with its sandy beach, tide pools, picnic areas, and hiking trails would be an appealing place to stop. Other beaches, wildlife preserves, and fishing villages will beckon you along the way, turning the 133-mile trip from Astoria into a full day. Relax in Newport, visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and dine on fresh seafood at sunset as you decide on your next stop. Willamette Valley wineries? Portland? More coastal towns? State Route 20 heads inland and US-101 continues south for your next adventure.

06 of 11

Rapid City to Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park, Springtime
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Rapid City is not only a great destination in itself, with art galleries, restaurants, and historic sites. It’s also the gateway to Mount Rushmore, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and Badlands National Park, where this road trip will take you. Fossil beds, rugged mountains, wildlife, and striking rock formations create a unique environment.

The park is about 60 miles east of Rapid City, and South Dakota Route 44 is a scenic road through open prairie, farms, small towns, and ranches along Rapid Creek, a tributary of the Cheyenne River. You’ll drive through the Buffalo Gap National Grassland before reaching the entrance to Badlands National Park, two miles north of the town of Interior on Highway 377. From there, the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway (SD-240) takes you through the park along 31 miles of stunning scenery that includes buttes, cliffs, spires, and overlooks where you’ll be amazed by the stretch of landscape before you.

Plan to spend several hours among the varied terrain and scenic beauty of the park. Hike one of the many trails, and stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn more about the park. Don’t leave without a stop at Pinnacles Overlook, especially striking at sunset. For your return to Rapid City, take SD-240 west to the town of Wall and then head west on I-90 for a quicker route.

07 of 11

New York City to Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May, New Jersey, Springtime
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There’s always something to do in New York City, and after you’ve seen the shows, walked through the museums, and had your fill of the best bagels, get behind the wheel and head south along the Jersey Shore. You’ll probably leave the city via the Holland Tunnel to cross under the Hudson River to New Jersey. Stay on Route 78, and then take I-95 after you cross Newark Bay. After Perth Amboy, take the Garden State Parkway for a more scenic drive closer to the coast. Whew! You're out of the city.

The entire route is around 160 miles, and you’ll pass through some well-known beach towns that are worth a jaunt off the Parkway, so allow plenty of time. Asbury Park is where Bruce Springsteen got his start, and other beach towns, long popular as summer getaways, include Belmar, Spring Lake, Point Pleasant, and towns on Long Beach Island, a narrow barrier island that parallels the coast. For a more scenic route closer to the ocean, take Route 9 when it branches off around Toms River. Atlantic City, home to hotels, restaurants, casinos, beaches, and its historic boardwalk is next along your route. Its Steel Pier amusement park offers rides, games, and food.

Nearing the southernmost end of New Jersey, you’ll reach Wildwood with Adventure Pier, 1950s style motels, diners, and retro entertainment. Just a bit further, but seemingly a world away, Cape May offers Victorian-style homes, quaint cottages, boutiques, galleries, and history dating back to the 1600s. Walk among its historic buildings and spend a night in one of its inns or bed and breakfasts before returning to New York or continuing south on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, which can accommodate cars.

08 of 11

New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana, Springtime
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Once you’ve had your fill of beignets and oysters Rockefeller in New Orleans, consider a springtime getaway up the road to Louisiana’s capital. This southern road trip is only about 100 miles, but with so much history and beauty along the way, you should plan on making it a full-day trip. 

Take I-10 west out of town and I-310 south to LA-18, a scenic road that hugs the Mississippi. Stop along the way at cemeteries, churches, and any picturesque places that catch your eye. Then, merge onto LA-3213 N, cross the river, and make a slight left onto US-61 N to pass through the town of Gonzales, also known as the “Jambalaya Capital of the World,” where there’s a festival dedicated to the dish every May. Stop by The Jambalaya Shoppe for a special helping of the town’s signature meal.

Get on I-10 W in Prairieville from US-61 N and follow it for about 25 minutes to Baton Rouge. Enjoy some time in the city, and perhaps spend the night after your long day of driving. You might consider touring the LSU Rural Life Museum, which documents the cultures of 18th- and 19th-century rural Louisianans. For a faster return, take I-10 east, or continue west on I-10 to Lafayette, Lake Charles, and beyond.

09 of 11

San Antonio to Austin, Texas

Texas Hill Country, Blue Bonnets and Indian Paintbrush Wildflowers, Spring
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If you happen to be in San Antonio in April, don’t miss Fiesta, a century-old celebration honoring the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto with parades, flowers, food, and entertainment. Enjoy the River Walk and restaurants while you plan your Texas-style road trip to the state capital of Austin. Wildflowers and the spring landscape make this meandering drive one of the most beautiful routes to Austin (just don't expect it to be the quickest). Head west on I-10 out of the city, and then west on I-410 to TX-16 north (Bandera Road) for a scenic drive through Hill Country.

The town of Bandera, home to dude ranches and farms, was once a center for cattle drives, thus its title as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” From there, head north on TX-173 and TX-16 to Fredericksburg, a Texas city with a German heritage dating back to its first settlers in the mid-1800s. Wineries and authentic German cuisine make this an attractive stopping point. If you have time, stop in Enchanted Rock State Natural Area to see its pink granite dome and striking rock formations.

Austin is about 80 miles east on US-290, but if there’s time for one more detour, you might want to visit Pedernales Falls State Park just six miles north of US-290 about halfway to Austin. Known for entertainment, food, and nightlife, Austin is called the “Live Music Capital of the World.” You may want to spend a night to see what it’s all about. When it’s time to leave, you can take a direct route back to San Antonio on I-35 south, making the trip in under an hour and a half.

10 of 11

Phoenix to Flagstaff, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona, Highway, Springtime
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Spring is lovely in Phoenix, with April temperatures in the mid-80s, ever rising as summer approaches. Flagstaff, at 7,000 feet of elevation, sees cooler temperatures in the low 60s during spring. The drive begins on I-17 north through the Sonoran Preserve and continues through the desert landscape for an hour before reaching our first suggested stop, Arcosanti. The small, experimental town is an architectural and ecological marvel worth an hour or two's exploration.

Then, continue up I-17 to the Montezuma Castle National Monument. These well-preserved prehistoric cliff dwellings were the homes of the Sinagua people for more than 400 years.

Continue northeast on I-17, then take AZ-179 north to Sedona along the Red Rock Scenic Byway, with about 15 miles of stunning scenery that includes rugged sandstone rock formations tinted red by the presence of iron. Spend some time in the small town, explore the shops and restaurants, or hike among the rocks to feel the energy some refer to as vortexes.

Take AZ-89A north toward Flagstaff, but don’t miss Slide Rock State Park, especially during wildflower season. In just over 30 minutes, you’ll arrive in Flagstaff, set in the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest. Explore the historic downtown on a walking tour and rest there for the night before heading back to Phoenix or on to Grand Canyon National Park, Wupatki National Monument, Petrified Forest National Park, or one of the other national or state parks accessible from the gateway of Flagstaff.

11 of 11

Los Angeles to Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake's Boulder Bay, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

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No list of scenic road trips would be complete without one of the most beloved — the Rim of the World Scenic Byway. The 110-mile trip takes drivers along the cliffs of the San Bernardino Mountains from one breathtaking view to the next.

Begin at Cajon Pass off Interstate 15, between the San Bernardino Mountains to the east and the San Gabriel Mountains to the west, about an hour east of Los Angeles on Interstate 10. This drive takes you through some of the most scenic spots in California’s Inland Empire area, with plenty of photo opportunities at lookouts like Silverwood Lake Overlook off State Highway 138.  

If there’s time to spend in Lake Arrowhead, off State Route 173, we highly recommend a tour on the Lake Arrowhead Queen paddleboat to really get a good look at the lake and its scenic shores. Stay overnight at Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa for a relaxing evening of lakeside dining and alpine views from its private beach.

Join State Route 18 for your drive east toward Big Bear. Embrace your mountainous surroundings and stay at one of the chic cabins at Noble + Proper. Go for a hike on the Castle Rock Trail to catch unparalleled views of Big Bear Lake. Before you head back to L.A., grab a poke bowl and orange-guava smoothie at Tropicali, Big Bear’s popular restaurant on the Rim of the World with Hawaiian-style trappings. 

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