PHOTO: Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas is one of the stops along I-40 (Photo via Flickr/CGP Grey)
There’s nothing more all-American that a cross-country road trip. And goodness knows the route you take makes a big difference on the overall experience. Good planning will determine whether it’s boring interstates along the way, or a scenic route filled with slices of true Americana, fascinating history or incredible natural wonders.
The shortest distance is 2,482 miles and a straight drive would get you there in 36 hours. But, isn’t the whole point of a road trip chilling out and enjoying the time together with your travel companions while taking in the diverse landscape?
For coast to coast road-tripping, I-40 W is a favorite. It’s a short four-hour shot up I-26 from Charleston to Asheville, North Carolina to pick up this picturesque highway. And here are just some of the amazing sites that decorate the path of your westbound journey.
Biltmore Estate-Asheville, North Carolina
Somehow you think you’re in the English countryside when you arrive at the 8000-acre grand Biltmore Estate surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Built by George Vanderbilt in 1895, the French Renaissance property includes a magnificent 250-room chateau, 75 acres of spectacular gardens, a conservatory, bass pond, boathouse, miles of hiking trails and even a mountain winery.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee and covering more than a half-million acres is Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mountain range’s name refers to the signature smoky, misty haze shrouding the peaks and valleys, which means just driving through this incredibly scenic park gives visitors many opportunities to pull over for some majestic lookout views.
Known as the country music capital of the world, Nashville is home to the Grand Ole Opry. Opened in 1925 as a simple radio broadcast show, the site has since evolved into a live entertainment venue that made country music famous. And if country music‘s your thing, you’ll also want to visit the large and impressive Country Music Hall of Fame.
You can’t drive the I-40 route without stopping at Graceland, the home of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. The most popular attraction in Memphis, Graceland has a grand reopening scheduled for early March of 2017. Travelers can tour the music legend's private mansion, journey through Elvis’s life and last but not least, visit his grave site. While in Memphis, don’t miss out on its famous barbequed baby-back ribs. Wet (sauce) or dry (rub), they’re a Memphis specialty.
Hot Springs National Park
Located in Hot Springs Arkansas, America’s first spa consists of naturally flowing thermal mountain waters long believed to possess healing cures. Bathhouse Row with its eight European-style spas is considered one of the grandest collections of bathhouses in North America. Along with its 47 hot springs and miles of hiking trails, the park is a great relaxation break on a coast to coast journey.
Spectacular Cadillac Ranch, just a few minutes west of Amarillo, Texas was created by billionaire Stanley Marsh who enlisted the help of artsy hippies from San Diego to create this quirky artistic sensation. Photographers love its ten half-buried Cadillacs covered in graffiti, and it’s been called one of the most random, yet intriguing artistic roadside displays found in the country.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Famous for its yearly International Balloon Festival, there’s a lot more to this high-altitude desert city. Historic Old Town founded in 1706 by the Spanish is the city’s cultural center with more than 100 fun boutiques and galleries in its 18th-century neighborhood, along with restaurants offering traditional Mexican fare. Another great area pit stop is the Sandia Peak Tramway, which transports riders across three miles of beautiful mountains to the Sandia Peak of the Cibola National Forest. The 15-minute gondola trip provides absolute stunning panoramic views.
Painted Desert and Petrified Forest
In northeastern Arizona right off I-40 is the amazing Painted Desert and Petrified National Forest Park. Overlooks provide perfect views of world-renowned petrified sites. Veering off the beaten path gives visitors a chance to see fossils, ancient petroglyphs, wildlife, wildflowers, and vast vistas spanning more than a hundred miles.
Grand Canyon National Park
Once you hit Flagstaff, Arizona, it’s only an hour’s drive north to one of the seven wonders of the natural world, the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping Grand Canyon. Everyone must see this magnificent chasm at least once in their lifetime. The mile-deep natural landmark carved by the Colorado River is one of the deepest gorges on Earth. Layered with multicolored rock, the massive canyon offers stupendous vistas that remain forever etched in the minds of those who see it.
For those who’ve seen the Grand Canyon, another option is to venture a mere 30 miles south from Flagstaff to visit the stunning red rock towers of mystical Sedona. The Yavapai-Apache tribe considers this area to be sacred, and seven supposed energy vortexes with healing and cleansing properties draw spiritualists and other curious individuals from all over the world to Sedona. Arizona is known for its spectacular sunsets and one not-to-be-missed can be viewed from Sedona’s Airport Mesa. This overlook offers stunning panoramic views with a spectacular palette of colors splashing across the sky and surrounding mountains as the sun disappears from the horizon.
Mojave Desert Region
For those who’ve never visited the Mojave Desert in southwestern California, it’s quite an eye-opening experience. Stretching along 150-miles through desolate arid landscape, this iconic western desert features singing sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, salt flats and places with fascinating names such as the Devil’s Playground. Civilization eventually reappears at Barstow, a kitschy classic desert town with a railroad museum and historic “Mother Road” (Route 66) Museum. And only nine miles to the north is the old silver mining ghost town of Calico that provides a glimpse into the West’s historic prospecting days.
The final destination on the coast to coast journey is Los Angeles, with all its glitz and glamour. Like Charleston, the City of Angels is a worthy attraction in its own right, but, road trips are all about the journey, not the destination.