Whether you’re a graduating senior or somewhere in your middle years of college, summer means freedom. And you simply can’t have an epic summer if it doesn’t include that American classic, the road trip. We’ve mapped out some of our favorite routes, along with suggestions for stops and activities. The first two are geared toward those driving west to east; the second two are shorter routes that won’t take you too far from your starting point. Don’t take us too seriously, though; the road trip is all about adventure, so don’t be afraid to make some of it up as you go.
West to East: Trace out the old Route 66
With the California gold rush and the advent of the automobile, Americans began to long for an independent way to the alluring West. Established in 1926, Route 66 linked Chicago and Los Angeles in what was the first official US highway system. It may no longer be a US highway, but you can still trace historical Route 66 backwards along its traditionally east-to-west route. To kick off your trip in true Route 66 style, check out the Route 66 Territory Museum in Rancho Cucamonga. If you want to stay true to the 1920s route, check out http://www.historic66.com for detailed directions: you’ll start out in Santa Monica, make your way east on National Trails Highway, and take the I-40 east into Arizona. From there, you’ll pass through Arizona, New Mexico, the northernmost part of Texas, and Oklahoma; then move north through Kansas and Missouri, ending up in Chicago. En route, stop in Albuquerque, N.M. for a meal at the Route 66 Diner, and check out Williams, Ariz. for a stroll down its historic main street. In Tulsa, Okla., be sure to stop at the World’s Largest Praying Hands at the entrance to Oral Roberts University. Or stop by the Cow Chip Throwing Capital of the World—Beaver, Okla.—for flinging “the frisbees of the prairie.” In St. Louis, walk across the route’s original Old Chain of Rocks Bridge built in 1925. If, at this point, you’re afraid you’ll never reach a big city again, Chicago’s Sears Tower, beautiful lakefront, and the free Lincoln Park Zoo aren’t far away.
West to East: Parks and Natural Beauty
From Washington, take Highway 2 east into Montana. Check out the beauty of Glacier National Park and, if you have time, cross the border into Canada and go up to Banff and Jasper National Park. Driving along the Icefields Parkway to see the breathtaking glaciers and the Canadian Rockies is worth even a short two-day trip. From Glacier in Montana, make your way down to Wyoming, and check out Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Jackson Hole is a bit tacky, but there’s amazing climbing for people of all skill levels, and camping for a night at Gros Ventres Campground gives you amazing views of the Tetons, especially at sunset. From Jackson Hole, drive through Wyoming so you can get amazing views of the Wind River Range (a bit to the south on 287 toward Lander, Wyom.). The rock formations are definitely worth a detour. Then, make your way back up to H ighway 90 and drive through South Dakota. There are tons of tourist traps—Wall Drug, the Mitchell Corn Palace, among others, and you’ll see billboard after corny billboard on the way. The Badlands are beautiful (take the hour-long detour loop and stop for some short day hikes), and you should definitely check out the in-progress monument of Crazy Horse, which is much more impressive than Mt. Rushmore. From S.D., make your way through N.D. to notch an other state off your belt, and then head to Minnesota, back to Highway 2. From there, drive to Itasca St. Park in Minnesota and see the headwaters of the Mississippi River. After walking across the river, you can head back south, following the river down to New Orleans, or you can get back on the 2 and keep heading east.
West Coast: Up Highway 1
If you are staying on this coast for the summer, why not make the drive from Orange County to San Francisco? If you have a little time to spare, be sure to drive along Highway 1 (officially called State Route 1). The road may be narrow and curvy, but the view is worth it. Start your trip with a little time in the sun at Laguna Beach or Newport Beach. On your way through the Central Coast, you can stop in Santa Barbara for beach time and surrey rides, and perhaps camp at one of the two state beaches there. Whether you go to San Francisco to hit up the tourist activities (Golden Gate Bridge, anyone?) or the nightlife (i.e. the Thai food restaurant that doubles as a karaoke bar or the numerous dance clubs), you are bound to have an incredible time. If you want to see it all, but are running short on time head to Coit Tower to see the most fantastic view the city has to offer. After San Francisco, you can break up the ride home by stopping in Santa Cruz to check out the boardwalk and beautiful beaches. You can also stop at Big Sur to relax after adventures in the big city. Get to your camp early so you can get a site overlooking the Pacific. Marina Kucic PO ‘12 described Big Sur as “the best of all possible worlds. You have mountains, cliffs, and beaches, which makes for fantastic views and fun times.”
East Coast: Route 1A
You can travel up and down the East Coast using Route 1A. Start in Portland—the cultural center of Maine—and visit the Downtown Art District and the Casco Bay Islands. Cliffs, beaches, ice cream stands, and saltwater taffy await you in York, Maine the next stop on the trip. In New Hampshire, stop at the famous Hampton Beach, to see one of the most famous New England beach spots. End this rambling trip along the coast in Boston, where the range of activities is virtually endless. Don’t forget to visit the North End, home to delicious Italian food.
Midwest/South: Follow the sound of music
These two regions host two of the biggest and most famous summer music festivals: Lollapalooza (Aug. 7-9) and Bonnaroo (Jun. 11-14). Lollapalooza, located in Chicago, is headlined this year by Depeche Mode, Tool, The Killers, Jane’s Addiction, the Beastie Boys, and Kings of Leon. Bonnaroo is held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn. The lineup this year features Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Phish, Andrew Bird, MGMT, and many others. Get a bunch of your friends together and camp nearby in order to get the full experience. If you want to make more of a trip out of either of these festivals, there are a number of surrounding areas to check out. From Bonnaroo, check out Nashville, a town full of music history. You can also head to the Tennessee/North Carolina border to check out the beautiful Smoky Mountains. From Chicago you can travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., one of the best college towns in the nation. While in Michigan, head over to Sleeping Bear Dunes on the North Shore of Lake Michigan to hang out by the beach, go hiking, and play in the dunes. Looking to spend more time in Michigan? Take the ferry to Mackinac Island, an old-time town where no cars are allowed.
Andrea Kretchmer and Katie Gosewehr contributed to this article.