What could be more American than taking a road trip? The USA has changed greatly since Jack Kerouac roamed the highways, but getting out on the open road remains intoxicating. We’ve chosen five majestic road trips that showcase some of America's finest natural landscapes, history and music.

Los Angeles to Vancouver

Leave Los Angeles and get on the 101 coast highway to enjoy southern California at its most striking. This is not the fastest route to San Francisco, but no traveller should be in a rush. After all, California is the land of the laidback. It can be hard to tear yourself away from San Francisco itself, a city of great charm and stunning views – not to mention the best burritos in America – but there's plenty more to see. Back on the Pacific Coast highway you find northern California is changing, the land getting more lush while the coast is wilder.

Your next stops are Portland, Oregon, one of the coolest cities in the USA and a centre of alternative culture, and Seattle, Washington, a blustery port city full of creative energy three hours' drive north. Seattle is home to the Microsoft-funded Experience Music Project, a state-of-the-art museum dedicated to popular culture. Prodigal sons Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix both get deserved attention. Continue on the 5 from here and you'll cross the border into Canada, reaching Vancouver in around three hours.

Pigeon Fort to Memphis, Tennessee

This route starts in Pigeon Fort, Tennessee, location of Dolly Parton’s surprisingly engaging theme park, Dollywood, and five miles away from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where there’s excellent hiking and fishing, and historic sites to explore.

Once you've exhausted "the Smokeys", get on highway 24, stopping in Chattanooga, an attractive small city on the Tennessee River, en route to Nashville. This is an ugly city full of beautiful music, although East Nashville now offers a viable alternative to the Tennessee capital’s desolate downtown.

Your final destination, Memphis, Tennessee, is just over three hours' drive down the Music Highway. This great southern city has had a profound influence on American music and is home to Gracelands (Elvis’s mansion and now an enjoyably tacky museum), Sun Studios (a small museum commemorating where Elvis and many others got their start) and the Stax Museum of American Soul (where Otis Redding and many other R&B greats began their careers). You'll also find the excellent National Civil Rights Museum here, which is structured around the site of Dr Martin Luther King’s murder. The city boasts many bars although, oddly, few good live music venues. Luckily there are a host of impressive BBQ restaurants to compensate. Sticky fingers, y’all!

Blues clubs on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Houston to New Orleans

There's plenty to recommend the Lone Star State's largest city, Houston – great museums, epic rodeo and all kinds of music, from opera to blues to country, rock and rap – but its sheer size and intensity ensure you’ll eventually want to hit the road and head east. In less than a two-hour drive you can find contrast in Beaumont, a gracious small city with sizeable amount of early-twentieth century architecture.

Keep heading east and you'll cross into Louisiana, where things start to get seriously swampy. Aim to stay in Lafayette, a small city that is the epicentre of Cajun Country. Here you can find bars and dance halls playing Cajun and zydeco music, and restaurants serving gumbo and jambalaya.

From Lafayette you can take either the 10 – the main highway – or the 90 – the old road – to New Orleans. The 10 is faster and takes you through epic swamps while the 90 rolls through small town Louisiana, but both routes are a treat. On reaching New Orleans, the greatest live music city in the world, we recommend you park the car as soon as possible, head for Frenchman Street and join the party.

Chicago to Yellowstone

Extreme weather and striking architecture characterise Chicago, one of our top places to visit in the USA this year. The city's attractions could keep you occupied for weeks, so be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to explore.

When it’s time to leave the soaring skyscrapers behind, get on highway 90 and head for Minneapolis, a lively Mid Western city that is a day’s drive away. The city's many charms include some of the best cycling routes in the USA.

Continue your journey northwest on the 94 and you'll hit Fargo, a city with more charm than the movie and TV series suggest. From here the drive takes you through the vast emptiness of North Dakota and into Montana’s gorgeous, expansive ranch land. Roll further along the 94 and you'll reach Yellowstone National Park. This is America at its most epic, with some of the most impressive geothermal activity and wildlife in the world. If you want to continue your trip by road, don’t approach the bears or buffalo...

The colourful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wyoming, United States of America, North America

Tuscon to Austin

Our final route starts in the desert city of Tucson, Arizona, an atmospheric place with a lively arts scene and superb architecture – make sure you check out Hotel Congress, an historic building that has been stripped back to its 1930s fittings.

The trip proper starts as you drive east on highway 10. Initially you'll pass through fields of cactus before the desert gets raw and barren. After five hours you briefly cross into New Mexico to reach White Sands National Monument. This astonishing landscape, quite lunar in its eerie white sand dunes, is unlike anywhere else in the USA.

Trundle on down the highway you'll enter Texas. Pass El Paso, the border city twinned with Ciudad Juarez in Mexico (you'd be ill advised to pop over for a quick visit), and aim for Austin. It’s eight hours' drive, but you'll want to head straight out into the warm and inviting Texan night.

Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, book hostels and don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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