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Feature photo: rmatei. Photo above: Jacob Enos.

Summer in the US and Canada is all about road tripping. Here are 7 of our favorites, some well known, others following country roads that only locals usually travel. All of them have plenty of room for improvisation.
Pacific Northwest to Montana

This big loop is all about National Parks, National Forests, and some of the most unique terrain and wildlife anywhere in the world. Taking anywhere from 2 to 4 + weeks, you can go from the coastal rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula all the way to the alpine montane, geysers, and hot springs of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

*Starting Point: Seattle or Portland
*Follow 101 to Olympic Peninsula
*Camping along Wild Coast
*Special stops: La Push (Good Camping, hotels, classic Washington surf spot), Hoh Rainforest
*Take the ferry from Kingston to Edmonds back to Seattle
*From Seattle, take I-90 East to Missoula area (7 hours) with good camping along Clark Fork River near Alberton
*Missoula to Yellowstone National Park via Livingston (89)
On return trip, head back from Yellowstone via 287 along Madison River

Nova Scotia Loop

This trip is a great choice for people who don’t like long driving days. All the stops are close to one another, and the loop features local towns and roads as opposed to interstates. Nova Scotia is “Canada’s ocean playground” – a land of salty old towns, friendly locals, and stretches of wilderness coastline along the North Atlantic.

*Starting / ending point: Halifax.
*Coastal Highway 3 to Peggy’s Cove.
*Stop in Mahone Bay. Check the Lahave Bakery, which also doubles as a hostel in peak season.
*Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Outstanding folk art galleries and veggie-friendly cafes scattered between the seafood restaurants and tiny B&Bs.
*From Lunenburg, cut inland via Bridgewater to Kejimkujik National Park for world class canoeing and camping.
*Follow Highway 8 north from Keji to Annapolis Royal.
*Detour west along the Annapolis Basin to Bear River.
*Heading east on Highway 1 to Kentville and then north to Cape Split for a classic day hike.
*Highway 1 will take you back east and south to Halifax.

Notes: This loop could be extended by following Highway 3 west from Lunenburg all the way to Yarmouth, on the western tip of the peninsula, where it connects to Highway 1. Tourism Nova Scotia offers further detail about both routes — check out The Lighthouse Route (south shore) and The Evangeline Trail (Fundy shore).

Click here for a dining and bar guide to the Halifax area.

Photo: joiseyshowaa

Southern Appalachia to the Sea

The south starts warming up nicely come May.

You can also find sweet tea and chefs that know how to cook collard greens and black eyed peas.

This loop has a good mix of local towns / culture as well as varied terrain and wilderness from the coast to the sea.

*Starting / ending point: Atlanta
*Special restaurant mention: Greenwoods in Roswell
*85 N to 316 to Athens
*441N from Athens through Clayton GA, Franklin, N.C.
*Excellent camping options in Nantahala National Forest
*Asheville via 74 / US 40
*Special brewery mention in Asheville: Pisgah Brewery
*Blue Ridge Parkway north from Asheville
*Linville Falls (outstanding backpacking in Linville Gorge)
*Continue North via Skyline Drive into Shenandoah National Park or take I-64 East to Charlottesville
*Richmond
*Wilmington via Raleigh( I-85 to I-40)
*Coastal drive to Charleston

Notes: For an alternative loop that leaves out Athens but takes your through Nashville and moves faster, take I-75 North from Atlanta through Chattanooga to Nashville, then reconnect to Asheville via I-40.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Canada’s wild western frontier offers some of the most intense but still accessible wilderness on the planet. It’s also among the coolest road trips, temperature-wise, during the summertime. From the innumerable coves off the coast, to the high peaks of the coastal range, a summer BC roadtrip is all about exploring the pacific northwestern terrain.

*Starting/ending point: Vancouver
*Hwy 99 to Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, then hop a ferry to Vancouver Island.
*West until you reach the coast, then head up Hwy 4 until you hit the surf town of Tofino. Spend a day on the waves (bring your wetsuit).
*Horseshoe Bay. East to the ferry terminal and ride it back to Vancouver.
*Whistler. North again on Hwy 99 until you hit Whistler. Some of the best trails for mountain biking, hiking, and camping in the world.
*Head north from Whistler on Hwy 97.
*The mountains will give way to gold miner’s country in Cache Creek, followed by Kamloops (the tournament capital of Canada).
*Kelowna, the center of Okanagan wine country.
*Special Mention: tour of Summerhill Pyramid Winery. Props if you can spot the mysterious Ogopogo, BC’s version of the Loch Ness monster, said to live in Lake Okanagan.
*Hells Gate – From Kelowna, head west. Don’t miss Hell’s Gate for a tram ride over the abyss.
*Continue until you join up with Hwy 1 (Trans-Canada) and make your way back to Vancouver.

Photo: chascar

Front Range to Montana

The high passes of the Rockies fill up during the summer with RVs, motorcycles, and everyone else enjoying the mountains, rivers, and open stretches of highway.

This loop features two major National Parks and true cowboy towns.

*Starting / ending point: Denver Metro Area (including Boulder, Ft. Collins)
*287 N. through Wyoming (Chief Joseph Highway)
*Truly off the beaten path exploration options (backpacking) in Wind River range
*Lander – Sinks Canyon is an excellent campground / first night’s place to stop if making a big push to Yellowstone or Tetons
*Continue 287 N to Tetons
*Special Mention: Dubois. True cowboy town. See if you can spot a local who isn’t driving a pickup truck.
*Teton National Park
*Yellowstone National Park
*Bear Tooth Scenic Highway – Hwy 212 winds its way over the spine of the Rocky Mountains at 10,970 feet, linking Red Lodge to Cooke City at Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast Entrance.
*Little Bighorn Battlefield for reenactment of Custer’s last stand

Notes: Additionally, Jackson, Wyoming (known by non-locals as “Jackson Hole”) — is less than an hour south of Teton National Park, and totally worth the detour. Jackson is one of the most unique towns in America, and has some of the most hardcore communities of skiers, snowboarders and adventure athletes in the world. Check the local terrain and you’ll know why.

Photo: Gret@Lorenz

Best of the Southwest

This road trip is one of the hottest on the map, but visitors will be surprised how much the temperatures cool off in the desert southwest, especially at high elevation. Bring layers.

More than any other loop, the Best of the Southwest has a high concentration of National Parks. Give yourself several extra days for camping / local options around Grand Canyon. This loop could easily be extended for an entire month or more.

*Starting / ending point: Phoenix, AZ
*North I-17 through Flagstaff on to Grand Canyon
*89 N to North Rim, Marble Canyon
*Various loops using 89 and 191 to visit Glen Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches.
*Mesa Verde – 491 South to 160 East into southern Colorado via Durango
*Pagosa Springs – excellent family hot springs
*South into New Mex. via Chama, to Santa Fe
*South on 285 through Roswell to Carlsbad Caverns
*South into Texas through Guadalupe Mountains Natl Park
*South to Big Bend National Park
*Northwest through El Paso to White Sands
*West on 10 to Tucson, then back up to Pheonix

Downtown Burlington. Photo: Tony the Misfit

Northern New England Loop

The Northern New England Loop is all about cooler temps, short driving days on winding country roads, and local hiking in the Appalachians.

This is a great choice for families with young kids or those looking for an easier road trip.

*Starting / ending point: Burlington, VT (or surrounding area)
*89 south through Waterbury
*Route 100 south (great winding country road), past Warren Falls swimming hole
*East on 4 through Woodstock
*Cross into NH at Hanover (Dartmouth)
*East to Lake Winnipesaukee and continue to Portland, ME
*Coast Route 1 past beaches, art towns, through Camden, to Acadia National Park
*North through Bangor and up to Baxter State Park
*Turn west through nowhere-land to Moosehead Lake Region
*Cross back into NH after Grafton Notch State Park
*Continue into Northeast Kingdom, VT
*Back to Burlington via Stowe and the Notch

Community Connection

What are some of your favorite summer road trips? These are ones we consider classics (and also ones that may see less traffic than others), but there are still great ones we left out, like Tahoe to Lost Coast in California, or the deep south, Mississippi to New Orleans.

Let us know some of your favorites in the comments below!

Road Trip Guides


 

About The Author

David Miller

David Miller is Senior Editor of Matador (winner of 2010 and 2011 Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism) and Director of Curricula at MatadorU. Follow him @dahveed_miller.

  • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

    So happy to see the Nova Scotia itinerary on here. My wife and I cycled much of this route last summer, but cars work too!

    Make sure to check out what’s probably the original location of LaHave Bakery, in the town of LaHave, right next to the ferry connecting the Lighthouse Route to Route 332 south of Lunenburg. Probably the coolest coffeeshop/bakery/general store I’ve ever seen.

    And if you’re looking for more, Cape Breton Island is incredible.

    • Devon

      Just wanted to note that the Coquihalla (BC Hwy 5) is now free. Tolls were removed last year.

  • http://collazoprojects.com Julie

    Love these itineraries.

  • Christine

    I’m glad to see part of the Appalachian mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway in particular made it onto this list!

  • http://www.visit-the-coqui.com Brian

    Some nice trips there. I did a similar Vancouver trip several years ago but also included Jasper before heading down south towards Hells Gate. Spent about 3 weeks doing the tour and it was absolutely awesome. Wildlife and scenery were just out of this world.

  • http://www.nileguide.com Nicole

    Awesome list…definitely makes you want to hit the road. Especially like the Best of the Southwest. Very timely since this weekend is free entrance to national parks! We just posted about road tripping through Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park on the NileGuidance blog: http://blog.nileguide.com/2009/07/14/road-trip-baby-zion-and-bryce-canyon-national-parks/

  • http://thetravelersnotebook.com David Miller

    thanks y’all. I’ve actually just done one half of the Pacific Northwest to Montana loop, and it’s my new favorite. You get to traverse huge ranges but the passes themselves are low and easy. More than anything, I love routes that follow long rivers for miles. The 90 follows the Clark Fork, and you’re just passing mile after mile of great places to pull off and camp, paddle, explore, swim. So sweet.

    • http://matadorabroad.com Tim Patterson

      I’d love to fish the Clark someday.

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

    All along the Texas border, from Brownsville to Candelaria.

    • http://thetravelersnotebook.com David Miller

      hey turner, we didn’t want to mess with texas.

  • http://taniastraveldiary.blogspot.com/ Tatiana

    What do you think about the Californian coastal drive: Big Sur etc? If it is not your favourite than it is not as good as other routes. Why? I have not travelled much in the USA, but I will I think. Time to start thinking what it is going to be.

    • http://thetravelersnotebook.com David Miller

      thanks for the comment Tatiana.

      The coastal 101 drive along Cali is a classic no doubt. The thing is, parts of it are actually foggier in summer than any other time, as well as being more crowded. The fall, once people have gone back to school (+ you have Santa Ana offshore winds) is the best time for a Cali costal drive. But it’s always worth it if you’re there and have the time.

      • Anna

        An alternative to the overly busy Cali 101 route is the Oregon coast — tons of cool stuff to see and do and if you make it all the way south to Crescent City, CA you can pop up Hwy 199 and go through Grants Pass and on to Crater Lake.

        • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

          I was gonna mention the Oregon Coast…it’s an absolutely beautiful and wild stretch of coastline.

        • http://thetravelersnotebook.com David Miller

          that’s word, Anna. Some great points to hike out too / camp along Oregon coast as well that will totally leave crowd behind.

  • http://matadorabroad.com Tim Patterson

    I’m glad the NEK of VT got a shout! Here’s my quick n dirty guide to the Northeast Kingdom:

    http://matadortravel.com/travel-guides/united-states/welcome-to-vermonts-northeast-kingdom

  • Frank

    Dang, if my car was in any shape to for cross-country road trips, I’d be on my way West.

  • http://www.dansadventure.co.uk Dan

    I would like to see what your estimated times for each trip were.

  • http://www.paul-sullivan.com Paul Sullivan

    Great selection. I made a SouthWest USA photography-based road trip back in 2005 (5000 miles!) which I still regard as one of the best car trips of my life. We camped too! These others sound amazing – they’re making me consider repeating the experience in another part of N America…

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    Fantastic itineraries David! I do love a good road trip. Small country roads are always better than interstates and other highways. It’s all about the journey, not just the destinations.

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    And I love that you included Vancouver and BC here! Just a tip, if you’re making the trip to Kelowna/Penticton, etc, take the Crowsnest highway (#3) instead of the #1/Coquihalla. For one, it’s free (Coquihalla costs money) and it’s much more scenic.

    An awesome roadtrip we did from Vancouver into the Albertan Rockies was #3 east through Osoyoos, then north up the 97 (then #1) to Salmon Arm, Revelstoke, Roger’s Pass in Glacier Nat’l Park, then through Yoho Nat’l Park into the Rockies.

    On the way back to Vancouver, come from the north (#99) through Lillooet, Mt. Currie, Pemberton then the Sea to Sky highway (still 99) from Whistler south to Van.

    Stunning.

  • http://musictravelwrite.wordpress.com Michelle

    These are great…can’t wait to head back West and do some traveling closer to home!

    All this talk about Montana (especially that photo essay not long ago) really has me wanting to visit.

  • http://bayarea-wedding-photography.com Amanda, traveling wedding photographer

    Just like Nicole mentioned, I’d highly recommend putting Zion and Bryce on your list if you do make it to Utah. They are both amazing ( Bryce on a smaller more delicate scale and Zion of a grand scale ) . I knew the Southwest would make this list ……….
    I did my first year of college in St. George UT in part to be close to the red rocks.

  • http://dreamalittledream.ca Scott

    I’ve lived in British Columbia my whole life and think your Vancouver itinerary is pretty good. Like Carlo said above take the #3 and stop in Manning Park for a picnic. If you have more time you can also go to Banff, through the Kootaney’s and hit up Nelson (just look at a map, pretty easy to figure out a route). You can do one or all three of those.

    You won’t be disappointed with BC

  • http://www.tripbase.com Katie, Tripbase

    Nice, some great travel tips here.

    Cool road trip planning tool here:

    http://www.tripbase.com/road-trip-ideas

    Enjoy and happy travels!

  • http://www.denver-colorado-tourist-guide.com Bil Coleman

    One of my favorite road trips began with a family visit. We flew into Traverse City, MI and rented a car. We visited with family for a couple days and then traveled up into the UP, first visiting Mackinac Island. We drove through Wisconsin, stopping when we saw something interesting. We spent a few days in South Dakota. I never realized there was so much to see in that state. The Badlands, the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Deadwood were some of the highlights. Devil’s Tower, Wyoming was a really nice stop. After Wyoming we took off for Fort Collins, Colorado to visit our daughter. From there we went up into Rocky Mountain National Park, one of our favorite places in the world. We flew home to Alabama out of Denver. … Nice memories.

  • Alaya

    Wow!!! now this is something i would love to do with my family. is there a way i can do this on a tight budget? I live in Philadelphia pa and i have my hubby and my three little kids ages 11,(boy) 8,(boy) and a bossing 3 year old(girl).

    I would rent a van and do this with them. but i need to know the cheap way of taking a nice family road trip.

    if anyone knows…send a message my way…thanks.

  • http://cerusso.blogspot.com C. Russo

    All of these road trips sound GREAT! I can’t wait to go on them. Hopefully one a year will work for me; being an undergrad student makes travel a bit of a hassle…argh.

  • Ed

    Cape Breton Island is not only incredible as Hal amen reports, it is actually the highlight of Nova Scotia. One could easily spend a week there alone though, so fitting it in with Lunenburg and Peggy’s Cove are a push for time, but certainly not impossible! When in Lunenburg, take a cruise on the Bluenose II – going to Lunenburg without cruising the BN II is tantamount to not going up the Eifel Tower in Paris, or skipping the Great Wall when in Peking.

  • giniajim

    The southwest corner of Colorado.  Colorado Springs, across Independence Pass, Aspen, Carbondale, Teluride, 4-Corners, Durango, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes and lots of neat places in between.  Its got it all; can’t wait to go back, do it again and spend longer!

    • ladywarrior

      I agree with you, but I think ANY PLACE in Colorado is breathtaking.  I miss it greatly!

      • giniajim

         No doubt!  My experience with Colorado is limited, but I’ve got friends there (virtual friends!) who love the place.  Its all supposed to be breathtaking as you said! 

  • KB

    For the Pacific Northwest to Montana.  Consider adding the leg from Lewiston/Clarkston to Missoula.  Travels alog the the Clearwater River, Nez Perce Trail and over the Loolo Pass.  Beautiful scenery and history.  Lolo pass is the headwater of the Missouri river and where Lewis and Clark first crossed the Rockies.

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