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Easy rider: 5 Top USA Road Trip Routes To Cross Off Your Bucketlist

With diverse landscapes, astounding natural wonders and bucket-list experiences complemented by an extraordinarily vast network of roads to cruise along, the USA is (arguably) the world’s ultimate road-tripping destination. Sarah Duff put pedal to the metal to test out these five iconic routes*. 

1. Route 66 

The most famous of all US roads, Route 66, was built in 1926 as a cross-country route to link Chicago with Los Angeles. Decommissioned in 1985, Route 66 has been replaced with interstate highways, but you can still drive parts of the road that traverses the heartland of this massive country. 

Get your kicks on...

Spanning eight states, Route 66 passes through a huge variety of terrains, from the cornfields of Kansas to the open desert plains of New Mexico. And it’s on Route 66 that you’ll discover a slice of retro Americana. Think vintage motels, classic diners and quirky roadside stops, such as the world’s largest concrete totem pole in Foyil, Oklahoma, and the world’s largest ketchup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois.

DRIVE THROUGH: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California.

DON'T MISS: The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, home to half-buried painted and graffitied Cadillacs. It began as an art installation, in 1974, and is now one of Route 66’s most visited stops. Bring a can of spray paint and add your own design to the cars.

The Cadillac graveyard, Texas

2. Pacific Coast Highway 

One of the US’s most celebrated — and most scenic — drives is the 730-kilometre stretch of Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

Scenic bends on the Pacific Coast Highway

Once you get north of traffic-congested LA, you make your way through rolling fields and sunny vineyards before the scenery gets truly spectacular on an undeveloped stretch of coast past San Simeon, known as Big Sur. Here the highway is edged by ocean cliffs above surf-pounded beaches on one side and gigantic redwood trees and mountains on the other. Don’t rush through this drive — you need at least three days to take in the full splendour of this Californian treasure. 


DON'T MISS: A tour of Hearst Castle in the hills of San Simeon. This flamboyant and extravagant estate of newspaper magnate and film producer William Randolph Hearst offers a fascinating glimpse into the glamorous world of Old Hollywood. 

The Hearst Castle

3.  Desert borderlands 

If you’re after vast desert landscapes and empty roads off the beaten track, drive through west Texas, on the border of Mexico, and be astounded by the elemental scenery that has been the backdrop for dozens of movies. 

The route starts in Fort Stockton and heads through the Paisano Pass to Marfa, an offbeat art town in the middle of nowhere. Featured in films such as No Country for Old Men, Marfa was first put on the map when New York artist Donald Judd chose the tiny ranching town as his base in the 1970s, attracting other artists and, in time, art galleries, food trucks, trendy restaurants and quirky-cool hotels and boutiques. 

Hamilton Pool, Austin, Texas

Following Highway 67 south off Marfa, end up in Big Bend National Park — one of the least visited parks in the US, but one of its most geographically diverse — where you’ll discover craggy mountains, wildlife and birds such as coyotes and eagles, and plenty of hiking trails through deep canyons.


DON'T MISS: Prada Marfa, just outside the tiny village of Valentine, a short drive north of Marfa. It looks just like a Prada shop, complete with shoes and handbags inside, but it’s actually a piece of art — a permanent installation in the middle of nowhere.

Don't expect to get a Prada original here

4. Blue Ridge Parkway 

Pass through dense forests of fir and dogwood, rivers, waterfalls and rolling hills on the 750-kilometre Blue Ridge Parkway. This incredibly beautiful drive takes you through the Blue Ridge Mountains, from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in western North Carolina. 

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Experience America’s great outdoors at campsites and hiking trails along the way and, if you’re lucky, spot the deer and black bears that roam these forests. There are also charming little towns such as Blowing Rock and Little Switzerland to see, while the two cities on either end of the route (Charlottesville and Asheville) offer historical sights, great restaurants, art and live music. 

DRIVE THROUGH: Virginia and North Carolina

DON'T MISS: Biltmore Estate in Asheville is a must-see. The 19th century French Renaissance-style mansion is set on an 8 000-acre estate of beautiful landscaped gardens, a petting zoo, farm and restaurants. Explore on foot, by mountain bike or on horseback.

Biltmore Estate, Asheville

5. The Blues Highway 

The US is a country of music legends and the origin of some of the world’s most popular music genres, from jazz and blues to country and gospel. There’s no better way of exploring the country’s musical heritage than on a road trip on the Blues Highway through the Deep South. 

Downtown Memphis at night

Start in “Blues City” (Memphis) and stomp your feet to live blues on Beale Street. Next, head south on Highway 61 through the Mississippi Delta, stopping at Clarksdale for its juke joints and the Delta Blues Museum. Your final destination, 643 kilometres from Memphis, is the alluring city of New Orleans — the birthplace of jazz.

DRIVE THROUGH: Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana

DON'T MISS:  You can’t make a musical pilgrimage to Memphis and not visit Elvis’s mansion, Graceland, to pay your respects to the King of Rock ‘n Roll’s grave.

Going to Graceland?

Go here with Sure Travel and United Airlines

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United Airlines; Connecting the USA and SA

United Airlines flies daily from Johannesburg to Newark Liberty International Airport (New York/New Jersey); three times a week from Cape Town to Newark Liberty International Airport and three times a week from Cape Town to Dulles International Airport (Washington). 

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From these airport hubs United Airlines connects to more than 270 destinations across America, connecting South African travellers to all major destinations in the mighty US of A. 

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*This is an edited version of the article that was originally published in Sure Travel Journey Volume 2.3

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