10 Great Self Drive Tours in the USA

Self-Drive Tours in the US

Last updated on: Oct 15, 2020

(Last Updated On: October 15, 2020)

I absolutely love road trips! In fact, self-drive tours in the USA with my family formed my earliest travel memories.

Related post: Safe Driving Tips for a US Road Trip

If you’re just getting started with exploring the US, here are 10 great road trips that reveal the spectacular beauty of the US.

#1. Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to Seattle

The Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 101, is one of the most scenic roads anywhere in the world. The drive from San Diego, CA, to Seattle, WA, on Highway 101 is approximately 1,500 miles and takes about 25 hours nonstop, so a minimum of two weeks is needed to reasonably make the journey.

Must visit places along the drive include:

California

San Diego

  • Gaslamp Quarter
  • Balboa Park
  • San Diego Zoo
  • USS Midway Museum
  • Embarcadero
  • Old Town San Diego
  • Mission Beach

Los Angeles

  • Hollywood and the Walk of Fame
  • Hollywood Sign
  • Getty Center
  • Griffith Park
  • Malibu
  • Universal and Warner Bros. studios tours
  • Disneyland
  • Beverly Hills
  • Rodeo Drive
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Santa Monica Pier and Beach
  • Arts District
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Venice Beach

Santa Barbara

  • Stearns Wharf
  • Old Mission Santa Barba
  • Cabrillo Bike Path

Big Sur State Park

Carmel-by-the-Sea / Monterey

  • 17-Mile Drive
  • Cannery Row

San Francisco

  • Napa Valley
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Pier 39
  • Union Square
  • Lombard Street
  • Chinatown
  • Alamo Square
  • Twin Peaks
  • Muir Woods National Monument
  • Alcatraz Island
  • Redwood National and State Park

Oregon

  • Gold Beach
  • Tillamook
  • Cannon Beach

Washington

While most of the Washington route is not along the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s a scenic route, allowing you to also visit the cities of Long Beach and Olympia.

Of course, Seattle is a great American city and a nice endpoint for a Pacific Coast Highway trip.

Seattle

  • Pike Place Market
  • Original Starbucks
  • Snoqualmie Falls
  • Mt. Rainier
  • Puget Sound
  • Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls

For a shorter route, a great option is driving the California section of the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to San Francisco.

Related post: 4 Great Stops for a West Coast Road Trip

#2. Las Vegas to Antelope Canyon

There is no better state to take a self-drive tour in the US than Arizona! With iconic natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon, Havasu Falls, Red Rock Country, and Antelope Canyon, you’ll be treated to one breathtaking vista after another.

Related post: The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip

Starting in Las Vegas, you can drive east to visit several amazing places along the way, including:

Nevada

Las Vegas

  • Las Vegas Strip
  • Fremont Street Experience
  • The Bellagio fountain show
  • Neon Museum
  • Arts District
  • Nightlife
  • Emerald Cave kayaking
  • Lake Mead

Arizona

Grand Canyon

  • Havasu Falls
  • Skywalk at Eagle Point
  • Bright Angel Trail
  • Grand Canyon rafting

Page

  • Antelope Canyon
  • Horseshoe Bend
  • Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
Antelope Canyon - Top 10 Self Drive Tours in the USA
Antelope Canyon

Sedona

  • Hiking
  • Tlaqueplaque Arts & Shopping Village
  • Vortexes
  • Chapel of the Holy Cross
  • Verde Valley

Related post: Top 5 Day Trips from Sedona, Arizona

#3. Seattle to Glacier National Park

Known as the emerald city, Seattle is one of the most beautiful American cities due to its waterfront setting and mountain greenery. Pike Place Market, Puget Sound, and the are just a few of the notable places to see.

From Seattle, you can take a scenic drive east toward Glacier National Park on a route of approximately 550 miles and 9 hours nonstop.

Highlights of the route are:

Washington

Spokane

  • Riverfront Park
  • Manito Park
  • Spokane Falls
  • Mt. Spokane State Park

Idaho

Coeur d’Alene

  • Coeur d’Alene Lake
  • Mineral Ridge National Recreational Trail

Montana

Flathead National Forest

Glacier National Park

  • Going to the Sun Road
  • Lake MacDonald
  • Hiking trails
Glacier National Park - Self Drive Tours in the USA
Glacier National Park

If you’re looking for more, drive across the border from Montana to visit Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Related post: Why Now is the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

#4. The Carolina Coast

It’s no surprise that the Carolina Coast is popular for beachgoing and water activities, given that much of North and South Carolina can both be described as “lowcountry”, which means a low-lying country or region.

The beaches of the Outer Banks occupy the majority of the Atlantic coastline of North Carolina, so that’s where the best beaches are in that state.

Related post: Great Outer Banks Beach Towns for Families

South Carolina has a number of beach resort areas to choose from, including Myrtle Beach, Kiawah Island, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, and Hilton Head.

Myrtle Beach is the most popular beach area in South Carolina with North Myrtle Beach being a preferred spot for families. The other beach areas have a lot to offer as well. Kiawah Island and Hilton Head are upscale beach and golf towns offering a wide variety of luxury homes and rentals as well as activities

Kiawah Island is located closer to Charleston, while Hilton Head is located closer to Savannah, GA. Hilton Head is consistently rated one of the best vacation destinations in the world.

Both Folly Beach and Isle of Palm are beach towns near Charleston, SC, that offer a wide stretch of sand and a more laid-back vibe than Myrtle Beach.

During your tour of the Carolinas, add in stops to historic Charleston and possibly Savannah, depending on your route.

#5. Major Cities of Texas

Though Texas is one of the largest US states, much of the population is clustered in a four cities: Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio.

Not to be missed is the Texas Wine Country, which makes Texas the fifth largest wine-producing state in the country. At the heart of Texas Wine Country is Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country AVA (American Viticultural Area), it is the second largest certified Viticultural Area in America with well over nine million acres.

Highlights of this trip include:

Dallas

  • Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
  • Arts District
  • Klyde Warren Park
  • Nasher Sculpture Garden
  • Deep Ellum
  • Fair Park
  • African American Museum
  • Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

Austin

  • Zilker Park
  • Umlauf Sculpture Garden
  • Tejano Walking Trail
  • Try tacos at Torchy’s
  • Stubbs Bar-B-Q
  • North Loop
  • Texas State Capitol building
  • Wine tastings on Main St. in Fredericksburg (1.5-hour drive one-way); there are several wine shops such as Grape Creek Vineyards.

Houston

San Antonio

  • The Alamo
  • San Antonio River Walk
  • San Antonio National Historical Park
  • Natural Bridge Caverns
  • Japanese Tea Gardens

Outside the four major cities, another trendy place to visit is Marfa. A six-hour drive from San Antonio, Marfa is a small desert city in west Texas that is also an arts mecca.

It’s the place where you can snap Instagrammable photos at ‘Prada Marfa‘ and possibly catch a glimpse of the Marfa Lights phenomenon.

When visiting Marfa, you should definitely pay a visit to Big Bend National Park for its gorgeous scenery.

Related post: Amazing Things to Do When You Visit All 50 States: Part 2

#6. The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands stretching about 120 miles off the southern tip of the U.S. state of Florida.

Highlights of a trip to the Florida Keys include:

Key Largo

  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
  • Everglades National Park
  • Sundowners
  • Harry Harris Park and Beach
  • Dolphin watching
  • History of Diving Museum

Islamorada

  • Founders Park
  • Alligator Reef Light House
  • Islamorada County Park
  • Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Marathon

  • Sombrero Beach
  • Crane Point Museum & Nature Center
  • Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters

Big Pine Key

  • Bahia Honda State Park
  • National Key Deer Refuge
  • Blue Hole

Key West

  • Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
  • Southernmost Point of the Continental US
  • Duval Street
  • Mallory Square
  • Fort Zachary Taylor
  • Smathers Beach
  • Key West Key Lime Pie Company

Related post: Amazing Things to Do When You Visit All 50 States: Part 1

#7. New England road trip

Given that the New England states are so geographically small, it’s quite easy to visit many of them from any of them. Therefore, New England makes one of the best places to do a self-drive tour of the USA.

A great place to start is Boston, where you can explore the city’s rich history and venture to other parts of the state such as Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

Jordan Pond - Self Drive Tours in the USA
Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park in Maine

From Boston, it’s an easy drive north to these places of interest:

  • Salem, MA – famous for the 1692 witch trials
  • Manchester, NH;
  • White Mountain National Forest;
  • Burlington, VT – home of the famous Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
  • Green Mountain National Forest;
  • Kennebunkport, ME;
  • Portland, ME; and
  • Acadia National Park

Newport, RI, and Hartford, CT, are also worth checking out. Those are an easy drive south of Boston.

#8. The Great Lakes to the Finger Lakes

As the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world, the Great Lakes offer some of the most beautiful views. For this road trip, begin in Chicago and end in the Finger Lakes Region of New York.

Chicaco, IL - Self Drive Tours in the USA
Chicago skyline

Highlights of this trip:

  • Magnificent Mile and Downtown Chicago
  • Notre Dame University’s Golden Dome
  • Studebaker National Museum
  • Toledo Museum of Art
  • Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
  • Presque Isle State Park
  • Erie Canalway
  • Niagara Falls
  • Ithaca, NY
  • Wine tasting at Belhurst Castle in Geneva, NY

Related post: 9 Midwest Beaches You Should Visit This Summer

#9. Utah & Colorado

Utah and Colorado are two gorgeous states with more national parks than you can probably name.

Start your trip in Denver and spend a few days in the mile-high city. Be sure to visit the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

After exploring Denver, head to the breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park to hike the Dream, Emerald, and Nymph Lakes and visit Alberta Falls and the Continental Divide.

The gorgeous White River National Forest and McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area in Colorado are well worth a visit, too.

McInnis Canyons - Self Drive Tours in the USA
McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area in Colorado

In Utah, drive to the iconic Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Zion National Park.

Highlights of this trip:

  • Denver, CO
  • Garden of the Gods
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • White River National Forest
  • McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area
  • Arches National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • The Narrows
  • Natural Bridges National Monument
  • Park City, UT
  • Great Salt Lake State Park

During winter time, Utah and Colorado are fantastic ski destinations, with resorts such as Keystone; Breckenridge; Aspen; Vail; Beaver Creek; Telluride; Snowbird; Deer Valley; and Park City.

Related post: Top 5 Day Trips from Sedona, Arizona

#10. Drive through Tennessee

Maybe I’m biased as a native Tennessean, but it’s hard not to cross this state when traverse the south.

Though Tennessee is not one of the most populous US states, it is one of the most decentralized states with population centers in four different areas of the state: Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.

Driving from one end of the state to the other is roughly 500 miles or 7 hours nonstop across Interstate 40, and the state offers a lot of beautiful natural scenery.

Must visit places include:

Memphis

  • National Civil Rights Museum
  • Beale Street
  • Slavehaven Underground Railroad Museum
  • Stax Museum of American Soul Music
  • Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum
  • The Peabody Hotel
  • Graceland

Nashville

  • Grand Ole Opry
  • The Parthenon and Centennial Park
  • Jack Daniels Distillery
  • Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
  • Belmont Mansion
  • John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge
  • Citizens Bank
  • Cameron-Trimble Neighborhood
  • Cummins Falls State Park (83 miles east of Nashville)

Chattanooga

  • Tennessee Aquarium
  • Rock City Gardens
  • Ruby Falls
  • Lookout Mountain
  • Tennessee River Park

Knoxville

  • University of Tennessee
  • Market Square
  • Ijams Nature Center
  • Tennessee Theater
  • Old City

Gatlinburg

  • Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
  • SkyBridge
  • Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
  • Dollywood
  • Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook
Gatlinburg SkyBridge

Safety precautions

Before traveling anywhere in the US, check the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center to track the status of COVID-19 cases by state and county. The site also has tabs for global destinations as well as for ‘Critical Trends’, which displays the hot spots and trends.

Ensure you have enough sanitizing supplies for the duration of your trip, including wipes, sanitizer, and alcohol. Consider portable travel urinal devices if you are traveling in rural areas or to avoid public restrooms.

Electric hand dryers in restrooms were already shown to spread viruses and germs prior to COVID-19, so using a restroom with them is a higher risk than those without them.

Getting there

Research whether your drive involves toll roads and obtain an EZ Pass or equivalent toll collection system if you need one, as many toll roads will not feature in-person collection.

Consider renting a vehicle:

For accommodations-on-the-go, you can rent an RV through sites such as Outdoorsy, which can provide even greater flexibility and cost savings.

Rent an electric vehicle from companies such as SIXT and skip the gas stations altogether. Many electric cars can go the same distance on a single charge as gas-powered cars, and you can use apps like PlugShare to plan your trip around available charging stations.

Some Marriott hotels even have on-site charging stations, which can save valuable time and money.

Where to stay

Consider staying in bed-and-breakfasts, vacation rentals, or with friends and family to limit your exposure to a greater number of people.

Upon entering your accommodation, wipe down all surfaces, especially high-touch areas like door handles, light switches, remote controls, and thermostats.

If you stay in accommodations with daily cleaning service, skip the cleaning service during your stay to avoid cross-contamination and a higher risk of exposure.

Avoid places where people congregate indoors. If you’re at the airport, flying on an airplane, or using public transportation, you can’t avoid doing so, but you can still follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines to minimize your risk.

If you fancy driving around the entire US, this map shows you the best route to take to hit every state and most major attractions. You can start at the place you are closest to and go for it!

Have you done any self-drive tours in the USA? What has been your experience traveling the US?

Author Profile

Taryn White
With 75+ countries and all 50 U.S. states crossed off her list, Taryn's wanderlust and wanderlist continue to grow! She loves historic places, off-the-beaten paths, and beautiful beaches. Follow her pursuits on Instagram and www.tripwishlist.com.

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