The following itineraries span the entire length of this incredibly diverse country, from the historic cities of the east, to the deserts of the Southwest and the jaw-dropping Rocky Mountains. Given the vast distances involved, you may not be able to cover everything, but even picking a few highlights will give you a deeper insight into America’s natural and historic wonders.
Only when you traverse the American West will you begin to grasp just how big – and rich in natural beauty – this nation is. Come in summer to enjoy the sunshine and take three to four weeks to complete this trip, making a loop from San Francisco by car.
1 Yosemite National Park, CA
Just a 3hr 30min drive from San Francisco, you won’t forget your first tantalizing glimpse of the rocky domes, peaks and waterfalls of Yosemite Valley.
2 Death Valley, CA
Leave the snowy Sierras for the lowest, hottest and driest area in North America, with vast dunes and flaming red rocks.
3 Zion National Park, UT
Cross over into Utah to explore this spectacular park, with a fifteen-mile canyon hemmed in by reddish walls of sandstone.
4 Grand Canyon, AZ
Dip south into Arizona to take in the less crowded northern rim of the Grand Canyon, America’s most awe-inspiring natural wonder.
5 Monument Valley, AZ/UT
The iconic Western landscape, with giant fingers of rock soaring up from the dusty desert floor like ancient cathedrals on the Arizona–Utah state line.
6 Arches/Canyonlands national parks, UT
Back in Utah, make time for the delicate sandstone arches and myriads canyons, mesas and buttes of these two neighbouring parks.
7 Grand Teton National Park, WY
It’s a winding 500 miles north to Jackson and Grand Teton in Wyoming from Arches; from the desert to high alpine Rockies, with the jaw-dropping, jagged Teton ridge at the forefront.
8 Yellowstone National Park, WY
Grand Teton merges into Yellowstone, the granddaddy of the national parks, crammed with wildlife, bubbling geysers, lakes and wild, untrammelled scenery.
9 Craters of the Moon, ID
Break the long journey back to the West Coast with a stop at Idaho’s Craters of the Moon, a stark landscape of lava fields and sagebrush steppe grasslands.
Hot, sultry, rich in history, culture and some of the greatest music made in America, the Deep South is perhaps the most beguiling part of the USA. Take two or three weeks to see the highlights, travelling by car or by bus, and end up on the beaches of south Florida.
1 New Orleans, LA
It’s impossible not to fall in love with this gorgeous city, with its romantic French Quarter, indulgent food, jazz heritage and famously ebullient citizens.
2 Mississippi Delta
Soak up the blues heritage in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a five-hour drive north of New Orleans, before leaving the state via Tupelo, the home of Elvis.
3 Montgomery, AL
Continue east to the fascinating capital of Alabama, laced with monuments to Martin Luther King, Civil Rights and Hank Williams.
4 Atlanta, GA
Make the short journey northeast to the buzzing capital of the South, birthplace of Martin Luther King and home to US icons CNN and Coca-Cola.
5 Charleston, SC
Over in South Carolina, this is perhaps the finest old town in all America, enriched by the culture of the nearby Sea Islands.
6 Savannah, GA
Cut back into Georgia to absorb the charms of Charleston’s raffish but equally ravishing cousin, a city of moss-tangled squares and historic homes.
7 St Augustine, FL
Drop south into Florida to see the oldest town in America, founded by the Spanish in 1565.
8 Miami, FL
The Florida coast is studded with great beaches and attractions such as the Kennedy Space Center, but it’s hard to top Miami and fabulous, Art Deco South Beach.
9 Key West, FL
End up travelling spectacular US-1 across the Keys to America’s party-hard Caribbean outpost.
This three-week tour gives a taster of the USA’s iconic landscapes and cities from the East to West coasts, travelling from New York to Los Angeles along sections of historic Rte-66.
1 New York, NY
America’s biggest city is home to Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the Met, Madison Square Garden, the Empire State, Harlem, Brooklyn Bridge and Jay-Z.
2 Chicago, IL
America’s third city boasts some serious skyscrapers, top museums, live blues, the Cubs and the Bears, and those deep-dish pizzas.
3 Springfield, IL
Immerse yourself in all things Abraham Lincoln at the Illinois state capital, now a virtual shrine to the great American president.
4 St Louis, MO
Head south to this old city on the Mississippi, and take the train to the top of the Gateway Arch, a momentous feat of engineering.
5 Route 66
Travelling southwest from St Louis to Oklahoma City be sure to take the Americana-rich remaining stretches of the most iconic US highway.
6 Santa Fe, NM
As you continue west on I-40 across New Mexico, detour to the state capital, a glorious ensemble of Spanish adobe and baroque.
7 Grand Canyon
I-40 cuts across Arizona via Flagstaff, gateway to one of the grandest, most mind-blowing natural wonders in the world.
8 Las Vegas, NV
Around four hours’ drive west of the Grand Canyon lies America’s playground, a confection of mega-casinos and pool parties in the middle of the desert.
9 Los Angeles, CA
You’ve made it: watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica Pier or wacky Venice Beach before soaking up the sights in Hollywood.
The northeast and especially New England is rich in history, stunning scenery and invariably empty roads the further north you get. This two- to three-week tour is best experienced by car, but buses are a possible alternative.
1 Washington DC
The nation’s capital is crammed with world-class museums and monuments, from the Capitol to the White House.
2 Philadelphia, PA
The city of Benjamin Franklin is home to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the cheesesteak and Rocky.
3 New York, NY
The largest city in the USA drips with global icons, from the Empire State and Brooklyn Bridge to the Statue of Liberty and Broadway theatres.
4 Hartford, CT
Visit the Connecticut capital to pay homage to Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and the astonishing art at Wadsworth Atheneum.
5 Nantucket, MA
Take the ferry to the “Little Gray Lady”, a once great whaling community still redolent of the era of Moby-Dick.
6 Provincetown and Cape Cod, MA
Take a day or two to explore the historic towns, tranquil beaches and fish shacks of this hook-shaped peninsula.
7 Boston, MA
New England’s lively capital drips with colonial history, but also boasts enticing restaurants, top art museums and some of the USA’s best sports teams.
8 White Mountains, NH
Across into New Hampshire the mountains become bigger and wilder, perfect for hiking and biking, and culminating in mighty Mount Washington.
9 Acadia National Park, ME
Maine’s coastline of wooded bays and small villages snakes northeast to this pristine section of rolling, mist-shrouded hills, fir forests and lobster pounds.
The north–south journey along the Pacific starts in the rainy, forested northwest and ends at the southern deserts of California (with extensions to Tijuana and Vancouver at either end). You could travel by trains and buses as well as by car.
1 Seattle, WA
The home of grunge, Microsoft and Starbucks is now a booming city, with Pike Place Market, the stunning Chihuly Garden, huge salmon and gourmet coffee.
2 The Cascades, WA & OR
Travel inland through the Cascade Mountains, where the giant, snow-capped volcanic cones of Mount Rainier, Mount St Helens and Mount Hood loom over the horizon.
3 Portland, OR
Rent a bike and cycle Oregon’s hippest city, soaking up the art, organic food, microbrews and kooky shows.
4 Crater Lake, OR
Achingly beautiful national park, a vast, waterlogged crater surrounded by a spectacular snowy rim.
5 Redwood National Park, CA
Travel south along the Californian coastline, taking in these giant natural beauties.
6 San Francisco, CA
One of America’s most appealing cities: historic, progressive, beautifully sited and home to the Golden Gate and Alcatraz.
7 Big Sur and Hwy-1, CA
The coastal road between San Francisco and Los Angeles is a scenic, surprisingly wild route of misty cliffs and untouched beaches.
8 Los Angeles, CA
Take your pick of iconic ’hoods: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice Beach – or just hit Disneyland and Magic Mountain.
9 San Diego, CA
Visit the zoo, SeaWorld or simply hang out at the beach at California’s laidback southern capital, the gateway to Baja.
Cross the country on the lesser travelled – but blissfully untouched – northern route, taking at least two weeks to drive between Chicago and Seattle.
1 Madison, WI
The capital of Wisconsin also happens to be the most attractive college town in the USA, just 2hr 30min drive northwest of Chicago.
2 Badlands National Park, SD
It’s a long day of driving across the Great Plains to the Badlands, a truly desolate, magical place, especially at sunrise.
3 Black Hills, SD
Forested mountain plateau rising above the plains, home to Mount Rushmore and the equally monumental Crazy Horse Mountain.
4 Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND
Drive into North Dakota to explore the wild, untouched and multicoloured badlands created by the Little Missouri.
5 Little Bighorn, MT
Cross into Montana to visit one of America’s most poignant battlefields, where Custer’s 7th Cavalry were trounced by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
6 Butte, MT
This shabby old mining town in central Montana is a treasure trove of once grand architecture, old diners and even Cornish pasties.
7 Glacier National Park, MT
Northern Montana is dominated by this sensational preserve of glaciers, snowy peaks, alpine lakes and historic lodges.
8 Idaho Panhandle
I-90 cuts across this narrow section of Idaho, laced with inviting hiking and biking trails and home to the genuine Western town of Wallace.
9 Cascade Loop, WA
End up in Washington, touring the peaks and valleys of the mighty Cascade Mountains before arriving at Seattle and the Pacific Ocean.
Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners
Planning your trip to USA
Everything you need to plan where to go and what to do.
The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.