U.S. Highway 50
U.S. Highway 50

8 Historic U.S. Road Trips

Iconic routes to explore our nation

BYJoAnna Haugen
Since cars and roads first met, American families have been infatuated with the road trip. With the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, that love accelerated. The 41,000 miles funded by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 made it easier than ever for families to hop in their vehicles and take off for a quick excursion or a long vacation. Today, Americans’ passion for the open road prevails. There are tens of thousands of miles of scenic roadways, creating an opportunity to piece together the perfect trip. If the journey is just as meaningful as the destination, then few things beat a drive on one of these historic routes, spanning coast to coast.
 
Lincoln Highway
(approximately 3,400 miles)
Formally dedicated in 1913, the Lincoln Highway was one of the earliest transcontinental highways. It stretched from New York’s Times Square to San Francisco and passed through 13 states. Over the years, numerous realignments were made to the route, and today it can be traversed via several alternatively named highways. Highlights of this route include historical sites along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor in south central Pennsylvania, the Dixon Arch spanning the highway in Nebraska, and the School Street Bridge in Vacaville, California. Plan to spend at least a few hours in Philadelphia, home to the Liberty Bell and Valley Forge National Historical Park. And in Fort Wayne, Indiana, check out a replica of Lincoln’s log cabin in Foster Park.

Highway 99, Modesto to Fresno
(97 miles)
This California drive is short in comparison to other road trips, but it is a way to see and experience the state’s Central Valley from a new perspective. Start in Modesto, where the past is frozen in time at the McHenry Museum, complete with an old schoolhouse and general store. In Atwater, stop by the Castle Air Museum, where several restored military aircraft are on display. Much of this drive passes through countryside, so keep an eye out for markets and farms that have tasting rooms or offer tours. Two great stops include the Beekman & Beekman Honey Farm and the Buchanan Hollow Nut Company. Then, wrap up your California dream drive in Fresno.
 
Route 6
(approximately 60 miles) 
The route that runs through Cape Cod encompasses everything that characterizes charming New England: miles of seashore, quaint beach towns, and plenty of seafood restaurants. Settled in 1637, Sandwich is the oldest town on the Cape. The town boasts an impressive collection of preserved buildings and homes, including a working 1908 carousel at the Heritage Museums and Gardens. Make a stop along the Cape Cod National Seashore at the Marconi Station Site, which commemorates the place where the first radio message was transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean. In South Dennis, take a detour on Route 6A (known as the Old King’s Highway). This will take you along the north shore through picturesque coastal towns, including Dennis and Brewster, featuring historic neighborhoods and homes that belonged to sea captains. Brewster also is home to the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, which offers insight into the local ecology and wildlife. End this New England road trip in Provincetown, where nothing beats a meal at the Lobster Pot, known around the world for its fresh seafood.
 
Blues Highway
(657 miles)
Celebrating the best of blues and country music that shaped the South, U.S. Route 61 is made for music lovers. Begin in Nashville, Tennessee (appropriately known as “Music City”), where the Grand Ole Opry is located. Next, hit up Memphis to visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and walk in the footsteps of artists like Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Isaac Hayes. In Tunica, Mississippi, the Blues Visitors Center & Museum offers insight into why the city is known as “The Gateway to the Blues,” and those visiting in October should check out Bridging the Blues, the Delta’s biggest blues celebration featuring hundreds of musicians. Finish this trip in New Orleans, Louisiana, home to the Jazz National Historical Park, which offers walking tours, demonstrations, and live music.
 
Oregon Trail
(approximately 2,000 miles)
From the windswept plains of Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon, much of this route still looks as it did when pioneers set out for the Wild West in the mid-1800s. Today the Oregon Trail encapsulates a number of different roads, but the highlights are the same. At nearly 300 feet, Chimney Rock was a common route marker in Bayard, Nebraska. Independence Rock in Wyoming was known as the “Great Register of the Desert” because thousands of people scratched their names into it. In Soda Springs, Idaho, check out the natural geyser of carbonated water — used for medicinal purposes by the trail’s original travelers — now controlled by a timer to erupt on the hour.
 
Santa Fe Trail, Booneville to Santa Fe
(approximately 856 miles)
Originally a rough trade route across the Great Plains, the Santa Fe Trail dates back as early as 1200 A.D. and has carried thousands of commercial traders between western Missouri and New Mexico over the years. Today, much of the trail can be traversed via U.S. Highway 50, which is dotted with numerous plaques noting relevant landmarks. This route starts in Booneville, Missouri, and goes all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Stop in Council Grove, Kansas, which has retained much of its old-time charm. In Fort Larned, the National Park Service protects a well-preserved fortress — the Fort Larned National Historic Site — that was in use from 1859 until 1878, as well as a set of wagon ruts where the Santa Fe Trail passed through. And Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in North America, is awash in pueblos, museums, and other cultural sites that offer insight into days gone by.
 
Journey Through Hallowed Ground
(approximately 175 miles)
Stretching from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, this road trip highlights a number of historically significant places from the American Revolution and the Civil War. Start at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s private estate, which showcases his mansion, inventions, and beautiful country gardens. Also nearby, you can tour Ash Lawn-Highland, the home built by James Monroe. Head north through Barboursville, Virginia, and visit James Madison’s Montpelier, which sits on 2,650 acres of protected land. And then it’s onward to Manassas National Battlefield Park and Paris, Virginia, both of which were noteworthy during the Civil War. A memorable end to this trip is Gettysburg, where as many as 51,000 soldiers were casualties.
 
Route 66
(2,448 miles)
No list of U.S. road trips would be complete without mention of Route 66. Known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, this route winds from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, passing by dozens of quirky Americana stops. Start a trip at the famous Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant in Chicago, which has served piping hot donut holes since 1923, then cross into Missouri. While there, check out the historic Chain of Rocks Bridge, which has an incredible bend built into it. After passing through the short 13 miles of the Mother Road in Kansas, head to the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma, where retro cars and collectibles elicit feelings of nostalgia. Crossing into Texas, stop at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, where several colorful cars were “planted” in the desert as public art in 1974. At least one night should be spent in Tucumcari, New Mexico, which is peppered with classic neon-signed motels. Make a stop in the commercial district of Seligman, Arizona, which began growing when Route 66 passed through in 1926, and then journey on to California, where the unofficial end of Route 66 is marked by a plaque in Will Rogers State Historic Park.
JOANNA HAUGEN is a freelance writer and adventurous expat currently living in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Chain of Rocks Bridge, Missouri
Chain of Rocks Bridge, Missouri
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
If You Go
More info: Most historic roads and trails have affiliated associations that are rich with information, updated travel tips, and detailed maps. The U.S. National Park Service (nps.gov) also offers advice for planning trips on many of these routes. 
 
Before you go: Stock up on AAA Maps, TourBooks, and TripTik© routings to help make the most of your road trip. AAA Travel agents can even help you plan your route and interesting stops along the way.
 
Learn More
Let a AAA Travel agent help you plan your historic road trip by visiting AAA.com/travel or calling toll-free 1-888-870-9392.
Welcome to AAA Highroads
To enjoy customized local content, please enter your ZIP Code below.
Zip Code
AAA Arizona proudly serves AAA members in the state of Arizona
×