10 Awesome Short Road Trips in North America

There’s a unique charm to North America that can truly be appreciated by a road trip. Hitting the open road, exploring small towns through back roads, and finding hidden gems along the way are all part of the charm. Check out these 9 awesome short road trips in North America. All of these road trips can be done in under ten days – perfect for limited time off! If you’re inspired and have a bit more time to explore, check out these epic long road trips in North America.

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Toronto to Montreal, Canada

driven by Carolin of Happy When Abroad

Going on a short road trip from Toronto to Montreal (or the other way around) is the perfect way to explore Eastern Canada. Assuming you are starting in Toronto, you will begin your trip in Canada’s largest city, which is directly located on Lake Ontario. The metropolis offers numerous activities such as climbing up the famous CN Tower, strolling around the beautiful harbor front, or taking a boat tour to Toronto Islands. Once in the area, it is only a short drive to Niagara Falls – one of the most spectacular waterfalls on earth. As you continue your road trip, you will come along Algonquin National Park, the largest park in the province of Ontario. With countless lakes, hiking trails, viewpoints, and canoe rental stations, the park is a true paradise for outdoor lovers.

Boat near Niagara Falls. 

One of the best road trips in America
Niagara Falls is an incredible stop on this road trip. Photo by Happy When Abroad

The next stop on this epic road trip is Ottawa – the charming capital of Canada. Here it is recommended to visit Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal as well as the National Gallery. The last stop on the road trip is in Montreal, a place full of culture, business, and festivals. Make sure to visit the historic old town and take pictures of the city’s skyline at top of the Mont-Royal mountain. Depending on the number of days you want to spend at each destination, the whole road trip takes about 7-10 days. As the places on this road trip are relatively close to each other, the whole route from Toronto to Montreal, including all the stops mentioned, accumulates to about 10 hours of driving.

Vancouver to Calgary, Canada

driven by Mia of Walk A While With Me

Canada is well-known for its stunning scenery, and the most spectacular scenery can be found on the road trip through the Canadian Rockies, from Vancouver to Calgary. I go on this road trip every year, and yet I have never gotten bored of its breathtaking alpine views, vast forests, and occasional bear and moose sightings.

But before I get into all the top things to do and see in the Canadian Rockies, here is a brief outline of my 6-day road trip from Vancouver to Calgary:

  • Day 1: Vancouver to Whistler: 1.5-hour drive
  • Day 2: Whistler
  • Day 3: Whistler to Kamloops: 4-hour drive
  • Day 4: Kamloops to Banff: 5.75-hour drive
  • Day 5: Banff
  • Day 6: Banff to Calgary: 1.5-hour drive

First, you’ll start your road trip in the city of Vancouver. I recommend exploring Gastown, checking out the Vancouver steam clock, and walking along the Vancouver Seawall around Stanley Park.

Then, you’ll drive to Whistler, where you’ll spend a whole extra day exploring. While there are many things to do in Whistler, from shopping around Whistler Village to cycling the Whistler bike paths, I recommend checking out some of the epic day-long Whistler hikes.
From Whistler, you’ll drive to Kamloops, and I recommend stopping at both Joffre Lakes and Lillooet en route. The following day, you’ll drive from Kamloops to Banff. The places you have to check out include Revelstoke, Rogers Pass, and Yoho National Park.

Next, you’ll spend a whole extra day in Banff. While the essential stops include Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, I also recommend visiting the Johnston Canyon, shopping around Banff’s adorable town center, and going on the Banff Gondola. This short road trip is one of the most beautiful road trips in North America.

Boston to Cape Cod

driven by Shoba or Martha’s Vineyard Tourist

A road trip from Boston to Cape Cod is one of the best things to do in Massachusetts in the summer. Expect this road trip to take 7-10 days depending on how long you want to spend at the beach.

This trip starts and ends in Boston which is a international hub on the East Coast. Logan Airport in Boston is the regional airport for the entire New England Area. You can get from Boston to Cape Cod in a couple of hours but there is so much to see that you really should spend more time in each place. Expect delays in the summer months for weekend traffic to cross the bridges.

Plan to spend 2-3 days in Boston and must-do’s include walking the historic Freedom Trail which will take you to all the important historical monuments. Check out the North End for great Italian food as well as the obligatory Mike’s Pastry cannoli stop. Outside of Boston, Cambridge and Harvard Square are worth a visit. Technically Cambridge is its own city but it merges into larger Boston. If you visit only one museum in Boston, make sure it is the Isabella Gardener Museum which is a reconstruction of a Venetian villa!!

Plymouth is famous for the living history village Plimoth Plantation which recreates how the early settlers would have lived. In addition, a visit to Plimoth Rock where the Pilgrims supposedly landed is a must as is the reconstruction of the Mayflower vessel. Sandwich is a beautiful historic town on Cape Cod. Stay at the Daniel Webster Inn which is charming.

Take pretty Route 6A to Provincetown at the end of the tip of Cape Cod and an artsy buzzing town. It is also the gateway to the Cape Cod National Seashore which is a must-visit, especially Race Point which is both a beautiful beach and a lighthouse.

Cape Cod Seashore. Photo by Martha’s Vineyard Tourist.

From Provincetown go down the coast to Chatham which has beautiful beaches and houses. It looks like a Ralph Lauren advertisement. On Route 25, go from Chatham to Hyannis. Hyannis is another charming town that is famous for its connection to the Kennedy Compound. You can visit the Kennedy Library as well as walk the Kennedy trail. Hyannis also has high-speed ferries (or planes) that connect to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard if you would like to visit those islands.

From Hyannis, stop by charming Falmouth for its small-town feel and the fabulous Silver Beach. Alternatively, if you have had enough of charming towns and beautiful beaches, head back to Boston at this point! For visitors who wish to drive to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, the only car ferry is from Woods Hole which is a little past Falmouth. This quaint New England trip is one of the best short trips in America.

Raleigh to New Orleans

driven by Julia of The Cure for Curiosity

Take a road trip from Raleigh to New Orleans to experience some of the best cities in the southern US. This 950-mile route winds through a National Park, some of the most historically significant Civil Rights Movement sites, and four state capitals before landing you in New Orleans, the home of live jazz and the infamous Bourbon Street!  

You’ll kickoff this road trip in Raleigh, the City of Oaks and the heart of North Carolina. Proceed down to Congaree National Park, home to some of the tallest trees in the world. It sits right outside of Columbia – the state capital of South Carolina.  From Columbia, head to the riverfront city of Augusta and into Atlanta, the capital of Georgia. Here you’ll find endless tourism opportunities like the Georgia Aquarium, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, and the World of Coca-Cola.

Atlanta skyline. Photo by The Cure for Curiosity.

Once you’re ready, continue on to Montgomery, Alabama, the fourth state capital! Famous for its significant role in the Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery is the perfect place to brush up on your history at the Rosa Parks Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. From there, drive to the small port city of Mobile before moving on to Biloxi, where you can visit the Gulf Islands National Seashore and try your hand at gambling. One last short drive will take you into the fabulous New Orleans.

This short road trip travels through 6 states and hits a lot of highlights for all interests, from natural beauty to historical sites. Where you choose to dedicate your time will depend on what your interests are, but with a total driving time of ~15 hours, it’s best enjoyed by exploring each of the culturally rich cities along the way.

West Texas Road Trip

driven by Erin of Sol Salute

A west Texas road trip from Austin to Big Bend covers some of the most beautiful scenery in Texas. (Note: Houston also works as a good starting point for this itinerary.) 

There are two routes you can take. If you’ll be returning to Austin afterward, I recommend starting with the southern route and returning on the northern.  

The Southern Route will send you through the Hill Country and San Antonio before veering sharply southwards to Highway 90 where you will drive along the border the rest of the way. Stop Del Rio for delicious Mexican food and Langtry to see a real-life old western saloon.  

Drive straight through until you reach Big Bend. Now stay and enjoy for a while. I recommend spending four days in the park. Hike, cross the border into Mexico and enjoy the nearby Terlingua ghost town. 

A road trip through Texas is one of the best short road trips in America.
A road trip through Texas boasts incredible views. Photo by Sol Salute

From here, take FM 170 through Big Bend Ranch State Park on your way to Marfa. This scenic drive is called the River Road or El Camino del Rio because it hugs the Rio Grande the entire time. The views are epic. 

In Marfa stay for a few days. Plan your trip to be here on a weekend when most art galleries and restaurants will be open. This quirky small town is an artist’s oasis in the West Texas desert. See Prada Marfa and sleep in a retro trailer or yurt at El Cosmico. 

When you’ve had your fill of West Texas beauty, go home via I-10. The speed limit here of 80 will get you home much quicker than the interesting pit stops of Highway 90. If time allows, stop for a tour of Sonora Caverns. It’s beautiful and the perfect place to stretch your legs half-way home! 

Southwest USA Road Trip

driven by Amber of Wandering Wests

If you’re looking for a great road trip in the southwest that will maximize time spent exploring in National Parks, this is the trip for you. At just 4 hours of drive time, over 5 days, you’ll have plenty of time to fully experience 3 Southwest National Parks. 

The beautiful mountains make for a fantastic road trip back drop! Photo by Wandering Wests.

The caverns at Carlsbad National Park at why most people make this stop. However, there’s more to see than just the caverns. There’s a scenic drive around the park, where you may just see some Barbary Sheep. At night the bats take flight from the caverns, you can observe the spectacle from the park amphitheater. Nearby White’s City, NM has a restaurant, gift shop, and the only gas for miles – so fuel up here before moving on!  

Just 30 minutes from Whites City, NM is Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This is one of the lesser-known National Parks, but worth a stop on your road trip. The park has the tallest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak at 8,750 feet. If you’re looking for a more moderate hike than going to the summit of Guadalupe Peak, Smith Springs Trail, Devils Hall, and McKittrick Canyon are all beautiful. 

Rather than cut Las Cruces, NM out of the trip to get to White Sands National Park, take a little detour to the charming historic village of Old Mesilla. Learn about the history of the area, shop, and eat at one of the local restaurants. White Sands is about an hour’s drive from Las Cruces. You will be mesmerized by the vastness of the dunes. The best part is that you’re free to explore off trail! A favorite activity at this park is to bring a sled and go dune sledding. 

Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks

driven by Christina of Live A Wilder Life

When looking to take an adventurous road trip in America, not much else can compare to seeing three of the best national parks in the United States. Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National park are all within driving distance and doable in 7-10 days. You can start your national parks road trip at Grand Teton National Park to spend a day hiking around Jenny Lake or taking in views of the Teton Mountain Range from Colter Bay. Next, you’ll make the short one hour drive to Yellowstone to experience a completely different park. Yellowstone is enormous and impossible to cover in its entirety. You’ll want to spend at least two to three days hitting up the main highlights of the park. Any Yellowstone itinerary should include watching Old Faithful Geyser explode, walking the Upper Geyser Basin Loop, hiking to Fairy Falls and Grand Prismatic Overlook, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Grand Prismatic Spring. Photo by Live A Wilder LIfe

If you have time and are an animal lover, drive through the Hayden Valley or the Lamar Valley to try your luck at spotting bison, wolves, or bears. After Yellowstone, you’ll go North to visit Glacier National Park. Spend two days exploring and making sure to see Avalanche Lake, Lake McDonald, and to drive the Going to the Sun road. If you have extra time, make sure to spend time in the hip mountain towns of Jackson, WY, Whitefish, MT, or Bozeman, MT. The beautiful nature of this trip makes it one of the best short road trips.

San Francisco to Los Angeles, California Road Trip

Driven by Katherine of Bright Lights of America

Can you really check California off your US bucket list unless you’ve done a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles (or vice versa)? The Highway 1 cruise is a quintessential American road trip that showcases the beauty of California’s rugged coastline. The whole drive takes about 7 hours, but you’ll want to spread this trip out and stop in some cute Californian towns along the way. 

Start with the short drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz and spend the day trying the Boardwalk’s rides and restaurants, and visiting the sea lions that laze under Santa Cruz Wharf. Head to Natural Bridges State Beach to go hiking, tide pooling, and see thousands of Monarch Butterflies during the cooler months. 

You’ll want to spend a full weekend in Monterey and Carmel to really experience the stunning scenery, European-style shops, wineries, and restaurants, and the gorgeous coastline of 17-Mile Drive. Don’t miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it’s one of the best in the world. 

On your way to Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground, stop at Bixby Creek Bridge and marvel at one of the most photographed bridges in California. Spend the night camping or in a cabin, then visit Pfeiffer Beach to see Keyhole Rock, go for a hike, or visit the McWay Falls waterfall. 

Your next stop is in San Simeon, where you can visit the towering Hearst Castle estate. The 46-rooms are as opulent as European castles and the grounds include two gorgeous pools. Don’t miss neighboring Cambria for the Moonstone Beach and Boardwalk. 

Spend two nights in San Luis Obispo and hike Bishop Peak, do some ocean kayaking, off-roading on sand dunes, or visit an 18th Century Spanish mission. On the final stretch of your trip you can choose to stop in a quaint Dutch town called Solvang, spend a night in Santa Barbara, or make a beeline for Los Angeles! 

Santa Monica to Tucson

driven by Ale of Sea Salt and Fog

The American west coast is as varied as it is beautiful. Within a matter of days, you can experience sunny, ocean breezes, beautiful wildflowers, and stunning desert scenery. 

The best way to see this varied scenery is on a coast to desert road trip, beginning in California and ending in Arizona. Starting in Santa Monica, spend a day or two exploring the beaches and the iconic pier. Venice Beach is great for people watching, and Malibu beaches are perfect for sunbathing and surfing. 

Heading into Los Angeles itself, you’ll find plenty of activities to fill as many days as you want. The Getty Center is a fantastic, free museum with a great collection. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), is another great option. Grab lunch nearby at the Original Farmers Market, or in any of the trendy, Hollywood restaurants. 

Leaving Los Angeles, the scenery starts quickly changing. Stop in Palm Springs for a mid-century modern vibe. Palm Springs has a ton of thrift shops and record stores, shopping here is a blast. 

Less than an hour out of Palm Springs, stop at Joshua Tree National Park. You only need one day in Joshua Tree to see the best of the park. Must stops in Joshua Tree include the cholla cactus garden, Arch Rock, and Skull Rock. 

Leaving Joshua Tree, you’ll drive through Arizona to end up in Tucson. Here, Saguaro National Park is the crown jewel, and definitely worth the stop. The hills in Tucson are dotted in Saguaros, making for stunning hiking. 

You’ll need about a week to have the best coast to desert short road trip – it’s worth it. 

Seattle to Flathead Lake, Montana

driven by Gina of Travel Montana Now

One of the most beautiful short road trips to do in the Western USA is a drive from Seattle to Flathead Lake via North Cascades Highway and Highway 2. This route is the long way to get between the two destinations (14 hours without stopping, but you’ll want to stop!), but it is easily the more beautiful route. When you leave Seattle, you’ll head northeast to the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center. Stop and grab a map and then start one of the most beautiful and less-traveled drives in the Pacific Northwest along the North Cascades Highway (also known as State Route 20). This road takes you through the heart of North Cascades National Park where you’ll see towering mountains and turquoise-hued glacial lakes. Diablo Lake in particular is a must-see. Don’t miss pulling off the road and stopping at the Diablo Lake Overlook. After you get through North Cascades National Park, continue on your way to Winthrop to spend the night and enjoy the small town’s old west atmosphere.

The next day, it’s onto Sandpoint, Idaho. If you’re looking to break up your trip into more days, this is another great place to spend the night after your 5-hour drive from Winthrop. At the very least, give yourself a couple ofr hours to walk around the quaint downtown area and grab lunch, plus spend some time by the water.

After you leave Sandpoint, head toward Kootenai Falls in Montana. Take a hiking break to see the Kootenai Falls and also do the detour on the trail to walk across the very cool and scenic Kootenai Suspension Bridge. From Kootenai Falls, it’s then just a couple hours’ drive to Flathead Lake, an area of Montana that is perfect for a weekend getaway or a longer vacation. Marvel at the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and take in the mountain views surrounding beautiful Flathead Valley. 

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