If road trips conjure images of your childhood—with your family crammed in a sedan, a cooler at your feet jam-packed with sandwiches, do yourself a favor and go on an iconic drive. And we don’t just mean on four wheels. Today’s epic road trips can take you anywhere from a motorbike tour of the insanely remote Easter Island to a beach cruise in South Africa to a boat-and-blacktop combo in Alaska.
You see, if half the journey is getting there, why not maximize the adventure at every turn? Our contributors and editors have highlighted some of their favorite treks from around the globe. Trust us when we say you’ll never forget these unique trips.
Here are the best places to hit the road this summer.
India’s Leh-Sringar Highway has been referred to as the highest motorable road in the world, and while that distinction is debatable, it sure feels like it. Massive Himalayan peaks surround you the entire time, and the 260-mile road traverses multiple mountain passes, all topping out at over 14,000 feet. The route was used by pashmina-wool traders in the 17th century, and apart from a few stretches of blacktop in open valleys, it will seem as if time stood still: ancient Buddhist villages with prayer flags, small farms lining the lush Indus River Valley, and sheepherders tending to their flocks. Start in Sringar, the summer capital of Kashmir, and head east toward Kargil, a natural stopping point halfway along. The next day, you can visit the thousand-year-old Lamayuru Monastery, which is still home to Buddhist monks, and at the end of it all, you can drive up 17,500-foot-high Khardung Pass, just outside Leh, for the ultimate bragging rights. — Kitt Doucette
Tip to Tail in Sweden
One Week to the Arctic Circle
Most travelers target Stockholm, but Sweden’s smaller towns are quirkier and more soulful, and the stark countryside offers endless wilderness adventuring, from seaside to tundra. The country is deceptively long (think Seattle to Denver), so budget as much time as you can, but here’s how to do it in a week.
Days 1-4 in Sweden
After flying into Copenhagen, head to Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, with a cafe-heavy cobbled square and a 16th-century castle turned museum. Follow the coast to Gothenburg, where you can overnight at Salt & Sill, a floating hotel. The next morning, veer north toward Lake Vänern, Sweden’s largest body of inland water, where you can fish for monster salmon, rent a kayak in the town of Säffle, or charter a boat to explore Djurö National Park, a remote archipelago in the middle of the lake.
The Inlandsvägen, or inland road, is home to the highest concentration of quaint towns, set like constellations in a sea of spruce, alder, and pine. It’ll seem like the road goes on forever, but in Älvdalen, barely a blip in the forest, is Tre Björnas lodge, where you can overnight and wake up to fresh breads, cloudberry jam, and moose sausage. The drive to Östersund that day is just as long, but once there, the sleek Frösö Park Hotel is a welcome shot of clean, Scandinavian design.
Days 5-7+ in Sweden
The farther north you head, the sparser the landscape, so burn through some miles while contemplating the vastness of the tundra. Soon you’ll cross the Arctic Circle, and at the end is Hotel Jokkmokk, which serves Laplandic specialties like smoked reindeer.
Perched on the northern border with Norway, Abisko National Park is the epitome of pristine Arctic wilderness. The 280-mile hiking trail Kungsleden starts here and traverses open tundra and goes into worn black mountains dappled with lichen. Even if you don’t have time for the entire thing, hike the beginning for a closer view of Lapporten, the fabled gate to Lapland, or trek to the Gorsajökeln glacier, where you can stay in a mountain cabin. Afterward, grab the chairlift across to the summit of Mount Nuolja for a draft from the deck of the Panaroma Café.
A Float and Drive to the Far North
Alaska’s Marine Highway
The Alaska Marine Highway, beginning in Bellingham, Washington, and ending in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, is really no highway at all. It’s a series of ferry crossings that connect 30 ports and 3,500 miles of the most breathtaking coastline on the planet. To navigate it, you’ll cruise through the waters of the famed Inside Passage, with your truck onboard, watching as bald eagles soar above the trees while orcas breach off the bow. The boat stops every few hours, and you can get off, explore the area, and drive inland into the mountains. When it’s time to move on, just check the ferry schedule and off you go. — K.D.
It’s not quite finished, and may never be, but Chile’s Carretera Austral may be the ultimate long-haul drive.
The dueling volcanoes towering above the Chilean fishing hub of Puerto Montt are the first sign that this is no ordinary road trip. This is Mile 1 of the 770-mile Carretera Austral, the only artery through Patagonia’s wilder northern half. A few years ago, my partner and I set off with two other couples and one shared goal: to snake down this so-called Southern Highway in a modern-day caravan of three pearly-white Subaru Foresters, camping, hiking, and rescuing each other when things go wrong—as they inevitably do.
Dreamed up by Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s onetime dictator, in the late 1970s, the Carretera Austral has emerged in recent years as an iconic road trip in South America. Yet the misleadingly named “highway” remains very much a work in progress. Less than half of it is paved, and the parts that aren’t can be more theoretical than actual. In fact, on day two of our three-week journey, we had to ditch land altogether and drive our cars aboard a series of ferries down the foggy fjords between Hornopirén and Caleta Gonzalo, two quaint seaside villages.
Solid road began again in Pumalín National Park, whose temperate rain forests are like those of British Columbia, with taller peaks and deeper woods. After a few days hiking through its waterfall-covered hills, we forged onward past the port town of Chaitén—rebuilt after the 2008 eruption of its namesake volcano—and on to Queulat National Park, where a massive hanging glacier spews meltwater over the edge of a cliff. While camping on the nearby banks of Puyuhuapi fjord, we decided to bathe in a series of hot springs next to the frigid sea. As we unwound after a long day on the road, dolphins swam about below us.
During the trip, we were so intoxicated by each new vista that we didn’t even touch alcohol until our second week. But then we splurged. Chile is a wine country, but there are nearly two dozen cervecerías in this part of Patagonia, where microbrewers craft hop-heavy lagers with glacier water. So we stocked up on beer and food supplies in the area’s only real city, Coyhaique, and then zigzagged around the castlelike spires of Cerro Castillo, a massive granite peak. At Puerto Rio Tranquilo, a tiny adventure hub on the edge of a turquoise lake, we rented kayaks to paddle through a series of marble caves.
At a certain point, all of the beauty became a blur: Andean peaks, Caribbean-colored lakes, and sunbaked steppes. And then civilization returned in the form of the fishing village of Caleta Tortel, where wooden boardwalks connect a few cabins along a green fjord. Suddenly the only stop left before we reached the southern terminus of the Carretera Austral was Villa O’Higgins, a gaucho town that feels like the end of the world.
The Foresters limped in on spare tires, making funny noises, and with mud and dust covering nearly every inch of their white paint. It’s the sort of scene that might cause panic in a car-rental agent. We simply took it as a testament to how far we had come. — Mark Johanson
The World's Most Remote Ride
Easter Island by Motorbike
Most of this island’s 100,000 annual visitors come to view the moai, the mysterious human figures left by a Polynesian culture centuries ago. And most opt for packaged tours to the sites. But the best way to see the statues is by motorbike. The island is only 15 miles wide. The roads, while often dirt, are nearly always empty. And there’s something unmistakably wild about circling one of the most remote inhabited isles on earth. From Hanga Roa, the island’s only town, motor south to the ancient ceremonial village of Orongo before heading to the most iconic moai site, Ahu Tongariki. After a swim at the palm-shaded beach of Anakena, in the north, return to Hanga Roa via the interior road in time to tuck in to some tuna ceviche as the sun plunges behind the Pacific. — M.J
Riding Shotgun With Genghis Khan
Mongolia’s Rugged Steppe
There’s really only one east-west road in Mongolia, the as-yet-unfinished Millennium Road, which will one day traverse the length of the 1,486-mile-long country. Now, though, it’s a mostly dirt road that peters out in an endless landscape of rolling green hills. To drive a section of it over a few days, you’ll have to rent a car and a driver, but this is easier than it sounds—just ask around one of the guest-houses in Ulaanbaatar. Once you leave the city, you’ll get a true sense of just how vast the steppe is, home to the world’s last truly nomadic culture, with clusters of yurts along the road and camel trains in the distance. Bring camping gear and vodka, the former for most nights and the latter for welcoming hosts. In return, you may get a chance to toss back a shot of airag, fermented mare’s milk. If the yurt is empty, the highest honor you can pay a local is to help yourself to boortsog, the fried bread they often leave out for hungry travelers. — Berne Broudy
Touring British Columbia’s Wine Country
Five Days in Canada’s Okanagan Valley
Just across the Washington State border, in British Columbia’s verdant interior, is Okanagan Valley, a series of sapphire-blue lakes, soaring peaks, and microclimates that support nearly 200 wineries. And adjacent to all that wine is world-class hiking, rock climbing, and paddling. Here’s how to pair them all together on a 130-mile trip up Highway 97.
Days 1-3 in Canada’s Okanagan Valley
Start in Osoyoos, a tiny lakeside resort town located just across the U.S.-Canadian border. The city’s indigenous cultural center will get you acclimated with the area and its unique heritage, and you can spend the afternoon sampling the wines at Nk’Mip Cellars, the first indigenous-owned winery in North America. End the day with a hike up thousand-foot-tall McIntyre Bluff for an elevated panorama of the region’s vineyards, mountains, and lakes. Stay at the Coast Oliver Hotel in Oliver, the wine capital of Canada.
The next morning, head 40 miles up valley to Penticton, which is sandwiched between Skaha and Okanagan lakes, with a surplus of sand beaches perfect for swimming. If you want something more adventurous, drive 15 minutes outside of town to Skaha Bluffs, a sport-climbing mecca with more than 60 crags and over a thousand routes. The following day, tour nearby Naramata Bench, where more than 40 wineries are crammed into a narrow, 12-mile stretch of land between the sandy cliffs above Okanagan Lake and the former Kettle Valley Railway. Strong cyclists can do their wine tasting by bike, following the rail trail that links them all. Stay on the water at Penticton Lakeside Resort.
Days 4-5 in Canada’s Okanagan Valley
Forty-five minutes north of Penticton is West Kelowna, home to 13 vineyards with some of the oldest vines in the valley, and each has a dining or picnic option, most with lake views. The best is Red Fox Club at the Indigenous World Winery, which serves locally produced cheeses, cured meats, and sustainable fish alongside wines like the Hee-Hee-Tel-Kin White, a blend of gewürztraminer, muscat, and pinot gris. Farther north, in Vernon, you’ll find one of B.C.’s strongest SUP communities and a robust farm-to-table scene serving up meads and ciders. Decompress at the end of your trip at Sparkling Hill Resort, a wellness retreat and spa. — Jayme Moye
Italy by Fiat
A white-knuckle—and gastronomic—test
Let’s be honest: Touring the Italian countryside by auto isn’t exactly a novel idea—roads were practically invented here, after all. But it is one of those oversold experiences that somehow still lives up to the hype.
I was reminded of this in March while road tripping from Milan to Cinque Terre that pastel-colored conglomeration of seaside villages along the Mediterranean. The trip was a last-minute whim, and so my girlfriend and I hit the road in a rented Fiat with only a rough outline in mind. As we soon discovered, that may be the best way to explore the country.
Any cafe you stop at for a latte will likely whip up the best one of your life. Any random restaurant may lead to one of your most memorable meals. Plus, when you get road weary, it’s probably aperitivo time, that singular Italian tradition of pre-dinner drinks with a plate of cured meats, cheeses, and irresistible little sandwiches.
Driving through northern Italy, with the snowcapped peaks of Appenino Tosco-Emiliano National Park rising above, felt like cruising across Colorado—if Colorado were full of worldclass wines and gelato shops. This dawned on me after my third Aperol spritz on our second night.
The first day, we’d driven from Milan to Parma, birth-place of two of Italy’s most delicious exports: Parmesan cheese and prosciutto di Parma. The city, like any in Italy, is full of ancient buildings a soaring cathedral, and cobbled piazzas. But as a university town, there were no tourists, so it felt like being let into a little secret world. Plus, because Italy is, well, Italy, and everything is just so damn good, there’s no need to double-check Yelp or ask for restaurant suggestions. Just walk and explore, chat and discover.
Which is what we did after dinner and a sampling platter of the city’s namesake cheese. Wandering the narrow streets, we noticed a line of people waiting for gelato at Emilia’s Cremeria. Not one of them was a tourist, so we stood in back. After a five-minute wait, we were handed the most delicious, custardy zabaglione ice cream I’ve ever had.
The next morning, after touring 800-year-old St. Peter’s Church in the coastal city of Portovenere, we headed for Cinque Terre. Most tourists take the train that connects the villages, but I soon realized that nothing compares with navigating the winding, narrow roads that lead up from each town, over a ridgeline full of terraced vineyards, down to the next town. Driving along, it’s easy to understand why Italians are so keen on sports cars: The mountainous roads, with on-high views of the blue water below, were thrilling to speed on, even with an underpowered Fiat.
At each town, we stopped for a cappuccino or croissant, then cruised on. When we pulled into Santa Margherita Ligure, we hardly checked into the hotel before walking out for aperitivo. A spritz was calling, and maybe a tiny sandwich or two. As we left, the bellman asked if we needed a recommendation. “No thanks,” I said. “We’ll be just fine.” — Ryan Krogh
A National Park Tour for the Ages
Rocky Mountain to Glacier
There’s no shortage of routes you can devise to check off some of the West’s most unforgettable national parks. But perhaps the best is a roughly thousand-mile-long haul that starts in Denver and ends in West Glacier, near the Canadian border. You’ll begin with Rocky Mountain National Park, where you can swim in Emerald Lake in the shadow of Long’s Peak, and finish with Glacier National Park. Along the way, you’ll drive through Grand Teton, where you can do a two-day climb up the Grand or simply paddleboard down the Snake River.
Then fly-fish your way through Yellowstone, leaving time to take in a few of the park’s famous waterfalls and soak in a backcountry hot spring. When you arrive in Glacier, keep right on driving to the top of Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile-long marvel that takes you past glaciers, lakes, and bighorn sheep. By the end, you’ll have sampled a little bit of everything the wild West has to offer. — Gordy Megroz
Europe's Forgotten Coast
Portugal’s southern coast, known as the Algarve, is as stunning as it gets: 100 miles of fishing villages, limestone caves, insanely good seafood joints, and hidden-cove beaches. To get there, it’s easiest to fly into Lisbon, then head south. There’s no road that hugs the entire coastline, so you’ll need to drive the inland highway, detouring down narrow roads into tiny villages whenever the mood strikes, like to sample the bustling scene in Lagos, where you can explore the area’s grottoes, then grab seafood paella. If you have four days, it’s easy enough to run the whole coast. You can get your fill of beaches before ending your trip in nearby Seville. — Tim Sohn
A Different Kind of African Safari
Touring South Africa’s coast
When you live in Cape Town, safaris are basically weekend getaways. There’s also a version that has nothing to do with the African bush or spotting the Big Five. You can simply follow the coastline along the Western Cape, chasing waves and hanging out on white sand beaches. I learned this from my friends Ingram and Ryan, who grew up in Cape Town. After years of hearing their stories, I finally pulled the trigger and joined them for a four-day road trip along the southern coast, hiking, biking, and surfing as we went.
The original plan was to depart Cape Town for a low-key day of bodysurfing in Pringle Bay, just outside the city.
But a surf report texted from a mutual buddy—“the Berg is glassy perfection”— immediately detoured us to Muizenberg, a suburb on the south side of town. We grabbed boards and zipped into wetsuits, then paddled out. After catching some nice lefts, I noticed the green flag above the lifeguard tower had been replaced by a white one, the signal for a shark. Ingram calmly encouraged me to “paddle my ass” toward shore. I saw the fin in the distance as I collapsed onto the sand.
Cold beers and fish and chips at Tiger’s Milk, a sort of South African pub, took the edge off ahead of our two-hour drive to Grootbos, a 27-room luxury eco-lodge overlooking Walker Bay. Set on a 6,177-acre private nature reserve, Grootbos is home to a small ecosystem called the fynbos, a shrubland-like biome that is found on the southern tip of Africa—and nowhere else in the world. After a botanical 4×4 safari to see some of its 800 unique plant species, we fat biked across towering white dunes that lead to the sea. After more than a few over-the-handlebar spills while careen- ing down the vertical dunes, we reached the water, nostrils full of sand. A pod of dolphins appeared offshore.
Afterward, behind schedule as usual, we made the two-hour drive to DeHoop Nature Reserve just in time for a sun- downer boat ride on the wetlands before settling into whitewashed cottages. That night, under a starry sky, we fired up a braai—the South African version of barbecue—as Ingram and Ryan reminisced about childhood trips to DeHoop, one of the largest marine protected areas in Africa. From June to November, it’s one of the best land-based whale-watching spots in the world, and we were up at dawn to trek a portion of the 34-mile Whale Trail, a coastal route perfect for spotting the marine mammal. Along the way, we snorkeled the periwinkle-filled Hippo Pools, so called because they’re big enough for hippos to wallow in. But even in a hooded wetsuit, the waters were too frigid for me. We warmed up quickly on the trail, pausing every time one of us spied the spout or tail slap of a southern right whale. More than six hours later, we arrived at Lekkerwater Beach, where we had prearranged a 4×4 to make the hour-plus journey back to our cottages. Zebra and ostrich lurked in the distance as we feasted on potjie, a lamb stew cooked over the fire. Pinotage flowed freely,and I went to bed with a feeling that I’d never experienced in Africa before:safariing like a local.
Great Ocean Road: Australia
This 249-mile drive along the country’s southern coast is like California State Route 1 on steroids, with beachside towns, dramatic mountains, and curves—lots of them. Three days of driving has a week’s worth of highlights, including a detour to the Southern Ocean at Bells Beach, stops for koala and kangaroo sightings at Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, and rain forest hikes in Great Otway National Park.
Ticlio Pass: Peru
Crossing this mountain pass—the highest paved road in South America, at 15,807 feet—may give you altitude sickness, but the risk is rewarded with snowy peaks, sapphire lakes, and impromptu llama crossings. The route is 60 miles from Lima, an easy day trip, and native Andean culture is on display along the way.
Milford Road: New Zealand
This 146-mile round-trip drive into the South Island’s Fiordland National Park is full of Jurassic-size ferns, glassy lakes, and jagged peaks at every turn. And its end point, Milford Sound—with sheer rock walls that plunge into seawater full of fur seals, penguins, and dolphins—is stunning. It’s also a dead end, meaning you get to do it all over again.
Suhua Highway: Taiwan
The hairpin turns along this 73-mile stretch of road, carved into steep cliffs on the island’s east coast, are perfect for thrill seekers. With falling rocks and passing trucks, it can be exceptionally dangerous to get distracted by the blue Pacific waters below—but what a view it is.
Overseas Highway: Florida
This 113-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 1, which travels from Miami to Key West, is often called the Highway That Goes to Sea. You’ll understand why when you float above the blue Caribbean waters on 42 bridges that connect each key, every one of which has its own island vibe.
Wild Atlantic Way: Ireland
This 1,500-mile route, which traverses the entirety of the Emerald Isle’s West Coast, is full of hidden beaches, dramatic cliffs, and rolling hillsides. Every little Irish village is full of charm (and whiskey distilleries), and you can bite off practically any chunk and get a taste of the whole.