Best Road Trips in North America

Carlsbad, New Mexico, to Buena Vista, Colorado

Activities: Sand sledding, peak bagging, summer skiing

Skip the overcrowded Carlsbad Caverns National Park in favor of New Mexico’s rugged Brokeoff Mountains Wilderness Study Area, which has remote trails that wind through cacti, agaves, and soaptree yuccas. Then it’s 140 miles north through Lincoln National Forest to the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument. It’s too hot in summer to camp, but there are six miles of trail for trekking and plenty of sand for sledding. Join up with U.S. 285, your route for the rest of the journey, and head north to Santa Fe and the ample hiking and biking in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Range. End the day with a soak at Ten Thousand Waves spa, a southwestern take on a classic Japanese onsen. Continuing north, be sure to climb the gentle volcanic slopes of San Antonio Mountain immediately off the highway on the New Mexico side of the state border, then hit up Calvillo’s restaurant in Alamosa, 50 miles farther north, for amazing Colorado-style huevos. Outside Salida, click into your backcountry skis for a late-season skin up Monarch Ski Area, or ride the 36-mile Monarch Crest Trail for some of the best singletrack in the country. Then just 25 miles north of Salida, you’ll find the small town of Buena Vista, a prime location for bagging fourteeners and kayaking the Arkansas River. Stop by Brown Dog Coffee for a strong brew: you’ll need it to get up Colorado’s highest peak, nearby 14,440-foot Mount Elbert.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Boone, North Carolina

Miles: 193
Activities: Paddleboarding, trekking, boiled peanuts

It would take two weeks to do justice to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile, two-lane byway with endless Appalachian views and easy access to some of the South’s best adventures, but you can knock out its stunning North Carolina section in a handful of days. First up? Trekking to LeConte Lodge, a hike-to backcountry inn that sits at 6,400 feet in the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Be sure to stop and enjoy the 80-foot cascades along the Rainbow Falls Trail as you head out. From there, follow the parkway into Asheville to paddleboard or fly-fish the mellow French Broad River before sipping a few pints at some of the city’s 30 craft breweries. If you have the legs, the region is home to some of the best singletrack in the East, like the jump-heavy Green’s Lick Trail in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. From town, head north past 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell—the tallest peak east of the Mississippi—to the Roan Highlands, where the Appalachian Trail crosses a series of treeless peaks covered with native grasses. Knock out the 5.5-mile hike along the trail to the Overmountain Shelter, an old barn with a sleeping loft that’s a favorite of through-hikers.

Quebec City to Saguenay Fjord and Back

Miles: 448
Activities: Tubing, via ferratas, cycle touring

With its hilltop châteaus and charming old-world-style streets, Quebec City is a worthy road trip, but it’s even better as a jumping-off point for a 450-mile lollipop-shaped route through the province’s intense glacial-carved topography. Head north on Quebec 175 to Saguenay, population 145,949, stopping along the way to rent a tube and float among the hardwoods lining the calmer sections of the Jacques-Cartier River that cuts through 260-square-mile Jacques-Cartier National Park. Then it’s on to the showstopper—the road-and-ferry loop known as the Route du Fjord, a 187-mile lap around the beluga whale-filled waters and 1,000-foot-high granite walls of Saguenay Fjord. Three via ferratas race along the cliffs in the 123-square-mile Saguenay Fjords National Park, including La Grande Dalle, a 656-foot-high ramble across a gigantic vertical slab. Before heading back to Quebec City, stop at the Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux campground, on the fjord’s northern bank, to cast for Atlantic salmon, and spend the night in the camp’s 20-foot-diameter glass dome tucked among the pines high over the water (from $198).

Miami to Key West, Florida

Miles: 171
Activities: ­Saltwater fly-fishing, reef diving, conch fritters

The drive from Miami International Airport to Key West makes for a bona fide tropical road trip, with dozens of state parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and plenty of roadside seafood shacks. Get out of the city fast, stopping only to load up on conch fritters at Alabama Jacks on County Road 905A. Once you cross the sound to North Key Largo, hike under the sea grape trees and mahogany mistletoes of Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. After switching over to famed Route 1, snorkel among the angelfish at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and dive to a Spanish shipwreck at Cannon Beach. Cheeca Lodge, in the village of Islamorada, has bounced back from 2017’s Hurricane Irma with $25 million in restorations and renovations, and it’s still one of the region’s best base camps from which to prowl the backwater flats for snook, bonefish, and tarpon. Once you’ve caught your limit, it’s on to Key West and mile marker zero. Connect with the folks at Southernmost Sailing School, who can show you your bowline from your clove hitch and take you out to see the dolphins.