Published August 27, 2012
The United States is so full of history and culture that it is nearly impossible to experience everything, but one way to cover more ground is to hop in your car and drive. Follow the roads along a hiking trail and a trail you learned about in history class to experience these once-in-a-lifetime road trips:
The Appalachian Trail
If you aren't looking to walk 2,100 miles from Maine to Georgia, you can still see some of the best spots on the East Coast from your car window. Start in northern Maine and check out the Presidential Range in New Hampshire and the Green Mountains of Vermont. Travel through the Berkshires and take a side trip to the Big Apple, if you so desire.
Cut across the western tip of New Jersey or cross the Delaware Water Gap. Journey through Pennsylvania, from the industrial Lehigh Valley to Pennsylvania Dutch Country before you reach Gettysburg and Civil War battlefields. Continue across the Mason-Dixon Line into Maryland and then West Virginia — stopping at Harpers Ferry along the way.
Then, make your way through Virginia. Catch Skyline Drive and pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway at the end of Shenandoah National Park. You can take the Blue Ridge Parkway from Roanoke, Va., into North Carolina. Check out Biltmore, the largest privately-owned house in the United States, in Asheville. Take in Great Smoky Mountains National Park before driving into Georgia and continuing to the trail's end in Atlanta.
Route 66, also referred to as the main street of America, extends more than 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was established in 1926 but removed from the U.S. Highway System in 1985. Take a leap back in time and spend eight to 14 days enjoying the journey rather than the destination. You can't drive the original route all the way without switching, but you can still get the experience.
From Chicago you will travel almost 300 miles diagonally through Illinois to St. Louis. Stop at the limestone Meramec Caverns. Pass through the southwest corner of Kansas into Oklahoma. Drive through the Texas panhandle, where I-40 has replaced much of old Route 66. Drive through New Mexico, then visit the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest in Arizona. Don't miss your chance to see the Grand Canyon on your way to California. Once you get to Los Angeles, travel to the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica to the end of Route 66.
The Oregon Trail
Start your 2,000-mile trip in Independence, Mo. The National Park Service has state-by-state driving directions. The trail passes through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and Idaho on the way to Oregon. You can hike, bike, camp or ride on horseback at various parts of the journey. See Nebraska's Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff national monuments, which served as path markers for the pioneers.
If you would rather embark on a 3,200-mile, coast-to-coast trail filled with monuments and natural wonders, start in Provincetown, Mass. at the tip of Cape Cod and make your way toward Plymouth Rock. Enjoy the scenic Mohawk Trail through the upper Connecticut River Valley as you cross into New York.
Visit Niagara Falls, take a detour to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Cut across 45 miles of northwestern Pennsylvania into Ohio. Continue through Indiana and stop at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Continue west through Nebraska and travel a little off the road to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. Then, continue into Wyoming on your way to Yellowstone National Park and reconnect with the historic Oregon Trail in Idaho. Finally, make your way to the end of the Oregon Trail in Oregon City.