Educational travel doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, it can be a joy ride—if you know where to go. Hop in the car and strap on your seatbelt for a road trip on one of these ten historic roads in the United States. Trust us, this is far more exciting than any lesson your history teacher taught you.
New Mexico’s Turquoise Trail
This National Scenic Byway, featuring beautiful views throughout New Mexico, links Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Golden, Madrid and Cerrillos—three of the towns that this road passes through—house several abandoned mines from the 1800s. Several small town festivals, quirky museums, and local art galleries dot the drive. The road also passes through countryside rich in hiking, horseback riding, and climbing, so take time to stop the car while driving this historic road.
Of all the famous roads in the United States, this one may be the most well-known. Called “The Mother Road,” “The Main Street of America,” and “The Will Rogers Highway,” this road stretches from Santa Monica, California to Chicago, Illinois, across eight states and three time zones. Route 66 is no longer the straight-shot road it used to be. To follow it in its entirety you’ll need detailed, turn-by-turn instructions to connect a series of interstates, state highways, and rural residential roads.
Million Dollar Highway
Rumor has it that it cost $1 million a mile to build this 75-mile roadway across Western Colorado’s mountain passes, but other people say that it contains $1 million worth of gold ore. Regardless of the origins of its name, this is a stunning drive between the mining towns of Silverton and Ourary, which passes by abandoned mining operations and winds past a landscape thick with flowers and wildlife.
Great River Road
Following the path of the Mississippi River, this historic road marks the paths of several significant cultures that helped shape the United States into the country it is today. It passes through river towns and metropolitan cities with stops to appreciate historic sites and cultural artifacts as it relates to several Native American cultures, early French voyagers, and the Underground Railroad.
The Lincoln Highway
Originally stretching from New York’s Time Square to San Francisco, The Lincoln Highway was America’s first transcontinental highway, conceived in 1913 with the car specifically in mind. It passed through 13 states and played an important role in the movement of goods across the country. Like Route 66, it can still be traversed, but you’ll need to take several alternatively named highways to do so.
Historic Highway 99
This north-south route was originally used as a horse and stagecoach trail extending from Mexico to Canada. It was an important route in California, and was used particularly as a route for Dust Bowl immigrant farm workers who had to make their way throughout the state. Today, large portions of the road are made up by California’s State Route 99, Oregon Route 99, and Washington’s State Route 99.
US Route 40
Started in 1926 with the creation of the numbered federal highway system, Route 40 carried transcontinental traffic through the midsection of the United States. At the time, it was the best way to get from New Jersey to California. At one time, Route 40 ran 3,157 miles from Atlantic City to San Francisco, but today it officially ends at Silver Creak Junction, Utah. Even with about 800 miles gone from the original route, many sections of the highway are recognized as scenic byways.
Historic Columbia River Highway
This scenic drive, beautiful any time throughout the year, was a significant technical achievement during its time. It successfully married impressive engineering work with the sensitive landscape around it, making it one of the first roads to feature cliff-face road building, utilizing modern highway construction techniques. Known by many as “The King of Roads,” the Historic Columbia River Highway passes by many impressive waterfalls worthy of attention.
Natchez Trace Parkway
Passing through Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, the Natchez Trace Parkway was marked by the footsteps of Native Americans, Kaintuck boatmen, post riders, government officials, and soldiers as they made their way from the Mississippi Territory to the United States as it was marked at the time. Today the road passes through forests, cypress swamps, and farmland and is marked by several historically important sites.
Religious Freedom Byway
This 195-mile road located in Maryland has several branches that reach toward the Potomac River, thus incorporating some of the nation’s oldest churches. Some people find that driving this road is a spiritual pilgrimage as it passes by the site of the first Roman Catholic Mass held in America as well as Maryland’s colonial capital, Historic St Mary’s City. Others will appreciate the journey for the beautiful countryside.
- JoAnna Haugen