An American road trip is a perfect way to get to know the US. While there are a handful of major cities with good public transportation, it’s very difficult (or impossible) to explore the rest of the country without a car.
Granted, there are some awesome cities, but if that’s all you see, you’re going to have a very limited understanding of the US and the people who live here.
People and landscape vary dramatically from one part of the country to the next. While we can try to explain it, you’ll never understand how dramatic this difference is unless you experience it for yourself…
The All American Road Trip
Let’s start things off with one of the most beautiful and historical parts of the country: New England.
We went to see the fall foliage and loved it!
This is one of the best parts of the country to see the changing colors in fall, but there’s lots of natural beauty all year round. There are mountains, forests, and plenty of ocean all within a very small area. Beyond that, there are a lot of the most historical monuments in the country.
Where is New England?
New England is a region in the Eastern US that includes Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. It’s bordered by New York State and Canada.
Boston is the largest city, but for the most part, New England consists of small towns and villages that date back to the 16 or 1700’s. Most of them have a strong sense of identity and have remained small and independent rather than merging into larger cities.
Where to go
When you look at the map, New England seems small…
Well, it is, but it also has a lot to see and do. We spent about three weeks on the road and still feel like we missed a lot. The same will probably happen to you. You’ll just get a glimpse of the region and want to come back to spend more time in the places you enjoyed the most.
There’s also the weather to consider. Some places are much better to visit when the weather is good, so you may want to spend more or less time if you happen to get really good or bad weather.
To prepare for these inevitable facts, you should narrow down what you want to see as much as possible and allow plenty of extra time between destinations. This will give you a chance to stay a couple more days if you really love someplace.
Ocean Or Mountains?
This should be your biggest consideration when planning your American road trip. The northern parts of New England will give you more lakes and mountains, while the southern parts are along the ocean. Both are beautiful but they’re different.
We took a circular route and got to see both, but, like we said, three weeks wasn’t enough time to see it all so unless you’ve got 4-6 weeks, we’d recommend choosing one route.
We love Vermont. It’s similar to the other states in Northern New England, but there’s also a unique vibe that’s a little difficult to explain.
It’s a primarily a rural state with no large cities, but it’s also one of the most liberal places in the country. People that live there often have family roots in the state that go back generations and they take pride in that.
We found most people friendly and open to visitors. But, we imagine that it would always be obvious if you’re not from there. We heard that you have to live there for a few generations to be considered a local…
Put all that together and you get a fascinating state that’s great to explore.
Brattleboro is a great little town in the South that’s worth a visit. In the North is Burlington, a college town along Lake Champlain. In the middle is the Mad River Valley, popular skiing region with beautiful foliage in the fall and amazing food options.
Just South of Burlington, Vermont is the Mad River Valley. We read about the gorgeous foliage and while we were there we found the tasting place… This is a small market specializing in Vermont made foods. There’s beer, cider, wine, syrup, cheese, and sooo many other things. But, the cheese really blew us away and this platter was a perfect way to try some of it… 😋⠀ . 📍Mad River, Vermont 🚙 Road trip
New Hampshire is a small state but it stretches from North to South, giving it a lot of variety in things to see and do.
The Northern route will take you through beautiful forests and mountains offering fantastic foliage during the fall and skiing in the winter. Beyond that, you’ll get a lot of the New England charm that the rest of the area has, but with a uniquely independent spirit.
The state motto, “Live free or die,” captures the spirit of the state pretty well…
If taking this route be sure to stop at Polly’s Pancake Parlor for the best pancake’s of your life. Most ingredients are made fresh on their farm and they offer a wide variety of pancake styles. Your server even prepares them for you.
Joshua first visited about ten years ago and on this trip, we went out of our way to visit again. Megumi was skeptical, but afterward, she understood why…
Totally worth the trip!
Massachusetts is best known for its coastal areas. This densely populated region has Boston, which is the largest city in New England, and Cape Cod which is a popular summer destination.
Boston has lots of history, great seafood, and students. MIT, Harvard, and Tufts are located just outside the city, heavily influencing the culture. The historical monuments can teach you a lot about US history and as a city, it’s big, but not overwhelming. If you want to just see the highlights, you can do it in a couple days, but if you really want to get a feel for the city you should allow more time.
Cape Cod has lots of small towns, villages, and miles of beautiful seashores. For people who live in the region, this is a prime vacation spot and many people go every year. Fair warning, it gets really crowded during peak tourist season. It’s generally expensive and heavily revolves around the tourist industry.
While best known for Boston, Cape Cod and other coastal regions, Massachusetts is a big state beautiful landscapes to go along with the cities and beaches.
If you’re not that interested in the coast, you may want to explore the Berkshires, a part of Western Massachusetts known for food and arts.
Connecticut is a beautiful state to drive through—especially along the coast. Like the rest of New England, there are a lot of small towns with long histories that have their own unique charms.
But, Connecticut varies dramatically from one area to the next. The north and east are a mixture of farms and small towns, while the southwest has many densely populated small and mid-sized cities that are part of the New York City Metropolitan area. In fact, you may want to consider staying in this area if you visit New York. You can explore the small towns and still get into the city very easily.
If you take the coast from east to west, you’ll get to see the contrast right before your eyes. Small towns based on the ocean and tourism slowly transform into bigger cities, like New Haven, before becoming more like suburbs of New York City.
Although it’s the smallest state, Rhode Island is beautiful and filled with water. Newport, one of the most popular tourist spots, is along the Atlantic coast and was once full of vacation homes of some of the wealthiest families in the US. These huge mansions are now museums situated along the cliff walk—a long path along the rugged coast.
It’s an ideal stop along the coast.
Maine is a big, beautiful state with lots of coastlines. It’s the largest New England state and the largest city, Portland, has just under 70,000 people. You’ve probably heard about Maine lobster, which is a huge industry in the state…
That means you can have fantastic lobster and other seafood in many shapes and forms pretty much everywhere.
The most popular Southern Destination is Bar Harbor, which is a gateway to Acadia National Park. If you can make it all the way out there, we highly recommend the park. It sits on an island off of the mainland and has a mix of both mountain and oceans. Sunrise and sunset can be gorgeous and offer amazing views when it’s clear.
As for the towns, we loved the Camden area. Small towns with great food are surrounded by mountains and oceans. The hiking near Camden gave us incredible views…
The North is a mixture of small towns, natural beauty, and wilderness. If you’re really interested in getting out in nature away from it all, this is a great place to do it.
In the center of the state, you’ll find the largest cities, Augusta and Bangor. One thing we’d recommend is the Orono Bog inside of the Bangor forest. There’s a mile long boardwalk that takes you out into the wetland, which is beautiful to see.
Explore New England
The reason we’re starting off our American road trip advice with New England is that it’s one of the best places to explore by car. If you’re from a different country this is especially true because it will show you a very different side of the country. While most of the US is big and new, this region is small and historical.
There are many small towns with a strong sense of identity. While you can find other towns like this in different parts of the country, they are very heavily concentrated in New England.
Then, there’s the nature…
Beautiful coastline, multiple lakes, and forests. There are mountains perfect for skiing in the winter or hiking in the summer.
And the food…
Anyway, you get the point. If you’re up for an American road trip, New England is one of the best pleces to start.