For anyone who loves adventure a road trip encompasses the epitome of explorative travel. Unrestrained by a rigorous itinerary, and offering the flexibility to detour at a moment’s notice, hitting the road with just a tank full of gas is incredibly liberating.
Having spent some time driving through the United States I’ve collated, what I believe to be, the ultimate route for your southern U.S. road trip.
Leave your comments below if you have any additional waypoints to add to my list.
WAYPOINT ONE – MIAMI FLORIDA
Sun-kissed beaches and Art Deco inspired streets make Miami the obvious starting point for an ultimate southern U.S. road trip. With palm-lined streets and a vibrant Hispanic influenced nightlife and cuisine culture to boot, you’ll find it hard to hit the road and leave this hip, happening city.
Affectionately known as “the Hostess City of the South”, Savannah, GA, was the site of the last British colony in the New World. Out of towners will notice the slow pace of life that the locals relish, so don’t expect the rush through the city, take your time and soak in its many sights.
Savannah is the perfect base for bird-watchers and ornithologists who are keen on catching sight of feathered fowl migrating north and south, take a trip over to Harris Neck National Wildlife Reserve which is just 50 miles out of the city
In Savannah you’ll a find true taste of southern comfort flavours with fresh seafood and delectable pastries amongst the most popular, make a point of eating local whilst you’re there
Drink a shot of absinthe at a historic speakeasy bar
Take a stroll through historic Forsyth Park or visit the Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, creator of Girl Scouts of the USA
WAYPOINT THREE – CHARLOTTE NORTH CAROLINA
There’s a lot to savour in Charlotte, not least the melting pot of influences that make uptown Charlotte a most modern and forward-thinking place.
Described by Lonely Planet as a ‘Megalopolis’ it’s the largest city in North Carolina and the second biggest banking centre (after New York) in the entire U.S.A.. With hotels in Charlotte for every budget it is well worth calling in to see what all the fuss is about.
Conquer the twists, turns and drops aboard the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster that is Fury 325, at Carowinds amusement park
Stay for more than just one day and take on the class II-IV rapids by raft or kayak at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, home of the largest man-made whitewater river in the world
Catch an action-packed major league game – the NFL’s Carolina Panthers play in Bank of America Stadium
Try one of North Carolina’s varied barbecue styles at a Charlotte institution like Bar-B-Q King, Bill Spoon’s Barbecue, or Queen City Q
READ MORE WANDERLUSTERS TRAVEL GUIDES
WAYPOINT FOUR – NASHVILLE TENNESSEE
For singer-songwriters who love the soulful sound of country music, a trip to Nashville is the ultimate pilgrimage.
Steeped in musical history the city noted for its addiction to whiskey and country tunes boasts attractions like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the revered Grand Ole Opry. If nothing else you’ll find kitschy souvenirs a plenty at both.
Boot shop by day and honky-tonk by night, Robert’s Western World offers the ultimate taste of true Nashville hospitality
Discover local talent at a karaoke joint, WannaB’s in Downtown is a great option if you don’t take your singing career too seriously
Explore the displays of the Jonny Cash Museum and marvel at one of the city’s most visited attractions
Although not noted for its parks and trails Nashville has plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities to offer, the Percy Warner Trails are a great place to start
WAYPOINT FIVE – NEW ORLEANS LOUISIANA
Unique, exciting, extravagant, and historic are just a few words to describe New Orleans. With a mixture of culture, tradition, scandal, and folklore, this city is one of the best in the United States in which to let your hair down.
No other time of year quite matches the enthusiasm of Mardi Gras, as tourists from around the world descend on the city every March to participate in the numerous parades that wend their way through the streets.
A soaring, majestic, 18th century ecclesiastical masterpiece, the St Louis Cathedral is a breath-taking sight
On Bourbon Street in the French Quarter it’s Fat Tuesday every night so put on your colourful beads and make like its Mardi Gras
Take five in Jackson Square and soak in the stunning late-18th-century Spanish architecture, with elaborate wrought-iron designs festooning the wraparound balconies
Head to Domilise’s, a New Orleans institution since 1918, and sink your teeth into a PoBoy sandwich
WAYPOINT SIX – HOUSTON TEXAS
Down-home roots blend effortlessly with oil-fuelled wealth in Houston, Texas where cowboy boots are the norm and flipflops are always in season. After a vibrant stay in historic New Orleans, Houston’s high-cultured metropolis will appear ultra-modern but this rootin, tootin city isn’t without its charms.
Hotels in Houston are varied and plentiful so you probably won’t need to book in advance; fly by the seat of your pants and see what last minute rates you can get in the city’s most fancy of establishments.
Home to more than 400 space artifacts, the Space Centre Houston offers an educational day out for all ages. The many exhibitions have provided insight into new and emerging STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields since opening in 1992
Featuring a collection of more than 6,000 animals including elephants, red pandas, chimpanzees and rhinos the Houston Zoo is a must-see when you’re in town. Use the free GPS-enabled smartphone app to enhance your experience.
For those who love to exercise outside, the city’s stretch of the Buffalo Bayou (an entire 52-mile waterway that starts in Katy, Texas, and winds its way to Houston’s River Oaks area) is ideal
WAYPOINT SEVEN – SANTA FE NEW MEXICO
As well as a thriving arts scene Santa Fe boasts opera, theatre, and symphony in abundance, so it’s the perfect southern U.S waypoint for anyone looking to soak up a little mid-west culture. Yet while it’s artistic inclinations are indeed the main attraction, it’s timeless soul and storied past remain at its core.
Native American influence is evident in the shops that line the busy streets of Downtown and the seductive charms of the surround desert landscapes inspire the more adventurous to head out of town to explore.
Go to the the Farmer’s Market (at the Railyard on Saturday and Tuesday mornings) and stock your Airbnb rental with locally raised, free range meats and eggs, organic breads, berries, and greens
Visit Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch (sixty-three miles north of Santa Fe) — and tour Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio — a private, meticulously preserved adobe that the artist purchased from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1945 — which O’Keefe lived in until 1984
Explore the newly opened venue for Santa Fe art collective Meow whose creative enthusiasm and dedication to creating “immersive experiences that transport audiences to fantastic realms” has begun to revolutionize the way “Santa Fe Art” is being viewed.
WAYPOINT EIGHT – FLAGSTAFF ARIZONA
Vintage neon signs and the seasonal smell of pines are just two of the charming features that make historic Flagstaff a must-see on the ultimate route for your southern U.S. road trip.
Surrounded by forests and sitting in the shadow of Arizona’s highest mountain, 12,634-foot Humphrey’s Peak, the city draws visitors during all four seasons.
A cinder cone located just north of Flagstaff, the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking and cycling trails wend their way through the Bonito lava flow (formed c 1180), and up Lenox Crater (7024ft)
The Pioneer Museum is a cultural gem that shouldn’t be missed. Built in 1908 with volcanic remains from the nearby Mt Elden eruptions, this stone house served as the Coconino County Hospital for the Indigent and was known as the ‘poor farm’ until its closure in 1936
WAYPOINT NINE – GRAND CANYON ARIZONA & UTAH
Possibly the most notable natural attraction in the entire United States, the Grand Canyon goes hand in hand with the Las Vegas experience. While the neon lights of Sin City are juxtaposed against the splendour of the Grand Canyon’s natural form, in my mind Arizona’s geological anomaly wins the prize for most awe-inspiring.
Get your guide to planning a day trip from Las Vegas here.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is known for offering a more immersive opportunity to witness the majesty of the region. With fewer accommodation options and minimal facilities, this is place to go if you want to explore the canyon in solitude
The 12 mile round-trip route of the noted Bright Angel Trail is possibly one of the most iconic things to do in the Grand Canyon. Those who don’t think their fitness is up to it can opt to traverse the trail by mule
The Havasu Falls are a desert oasis within the arid Arizona desert; complete with crystal blue waterways and gushing falls that add an almost surreal quality to the dry canyon backdrop
READ MORE WANDERLUSTERS TRAVEL GUIDES
WAYPOINT TEN – LAS VEGAS NEVADA
Las Vegas, you’ll either love it or hate it. I really don’t think there are many for whom the thought of spending a week or two in Sin City inspires mediocre excitement or mild contempt.
One of the most notable draws of the Las Vegas strip is the magnificent fountains at the Bellagio. Erupting in a mesmerizing aquatic display 1,214 jets hurl water 460 feet in the air, choreographed to a classical soundtrack
A shopping trip to Caesars Forum is nothing short of spectacular. Aside from the wealth of high end retailers offering up their enviable threads, Caesars hosts a live show set in the watery kingdom of Atlantis. The pyrotechnics and vibrant costumes make you feel as if you’re part of the action! This hourly show is a must see and best of all…it’s FREE!
In my opinion no one should visit Las Vegas without taking in a Cirque du Soleil show. For more then 20 years the acrobatic artistry of the Cirque has been entertaining guests with illusion, acrobatic feats, and a sensual artistic energy. With several venues and shows to choose from there’s something on offer for everyone
WAYPOINT ELEVEN –DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
The largest national park outside of Alaska, Death Valley is an almost unfathomable place. The park’s 3.3 million acres /1.34 million hectares encompass mountain-size sand dunes, below-sea-level salt flats, mysterious singing rocks, and colourful sandstone canyons.
Not for the faint of heart Death Valley is a landscape of extremes. It’s known to be the hottest and driest place in North America so make suitable provisions and check the weather forecast before your visit.
TOP THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Offering an awe inspiring, panoramic view of North America’s lowest point (Badwater Basin), Dante’s Peak is the ultimate in drive-by tourism. Perched atop the Black Mountains at 5,475 feet, Dante’s view is tall and wide. Both of Death Valley’s elevation extremes, 282 feet below sea level and 11,049 feet above, can be seen in a single glance
Teakettle Junction marks the 21st mile on the Racetrack Road in Death Valley. A mystifying point of interest, it is said that tea kettles were hung here by early settlers to inform traveller’s that water can be found nearby
Mosaic Canyon is one of the scenic highlights of Death Valley; its trail shows off plenty of colourful slick rock and polished marble as it winds up a narrow, high-walled canyon
WAYPOINT TWELVE – YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Just by standing in Yosemite Valley and turning 360 degrees you can see more natural wonders in a minute than you could in a full day pretty much anywhere else in the world.
Rising almost 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, Half Dome is the most iconic feature of this Californian National Park. Free-climbers have conquered its sheer vertical southwest face, but those without the nerve to battle a vast rock wall can hike the 8.2-mile Mist Trail from the valley floor to the top of the dome.
TOP THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Yosemite’s waterfalls are at their most spectacular in May and June. When the snow starts to melt (usually peaking in May), visit Bridalveil, Ribbon, or Yosemite Falls for the best views
Explore the three sequoia groves that sit within the national park and discover the history of the trees that grow there. The Grizzly Giant tree, whose base measures 96 feet around, has been estimated to be one of the largest in the world
Photography enthusiasts shouldn’t miss these 90-minute guided camera walks offered four mornings (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) each week by professional photographers
WAYPOINT THIRTEEN – SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA
Of all the urban centres on America’s western shore, San Francisco is my favourite. So I highly recommend that you finish your epic southern U.S. road trip here.
Arguably the most beautiful city in the state of California, perhaps even the entire country, downtown streets rise on impossible gradients to reveal stunning views, and fog rolls in on a moment’s notice to envelop everything in mist. Book an Airbnb in advance and make sure you allocate at least three days to explore before you return home.