Planning for your Road Trip: When to Go


Funny, isn’t it, how we assume that the best time to take any kind of trip is in the summer? But with such a diversity of terrain, climates, weather and road conditions, knowing the pros and cons of driving around different parts of America at different times of the year might just change your idea of when it’s best for you to embark upon your American road trip.

Spring, summer, autumn or winter? If you need just a few pointers to help you decide, here’s our brief guide to planning for your USA trip: the best time to go. Remember to check out the other parts of this series of posts on USA driving tips and what to pack.

Spring: There are definite benefits to taking your USA road trip during the spring. Temperatures and weather are generally good and unlike the summer months major tourist attractions such as the Grand Canyon (a short detour away from Route 66) are far less crowded but offer the same spectacle. The Blue Ridge Parkway, running between National Parks in Virginia and North Carolina will provide an amazing spring road trip as blossoming wildflowers gradually carpet the valleys and hillsides below the famous mountain range. If you’ve chosen to follow the Mississippi on the Great River Road for your American road trip, don’t miss the opportunity to stay in New Orleans, Louisiana during April for the Jazz Festival and the French Quarter Festival. Note that the American Spring Break (half-term) usually takes place in March, which means that many popular destinations on your road trip, and particularly in Florida, will be more busy than usual so you may have to book accommodation well in advance.

Summer: When better to get the top down on your convertible, feel the sun on your face and make that great American road trip? Whilst it’s true that the weather will be great in most parts of America, it’s worth remembering that everyone will want to be out enjoying the sunshine, so traffic in and out of the major cities and on the highways is likely to be plentiful; do you really want to be gridlocked in New York or Chicago on a baking summer’s day?  Planning on driving through Arizona or Nevada during June, July or August? Better make sure you have good aircon and a big cooler packed with iced drinks, because if you’re driving in desert regions the average daily temperature in these parts can reach more than 100oF. If your road trip happens to take you along Route 50 (aka ‘America’s Loneliest Road’), you really don’t want to break down in the summer heat. Summer is perhaps the best time to hit the coastal routes, for example from Florida to New Jersey on the east coast or taking the Oregon Coast Highway on the west.

Autumn: The autumn may not be the best time to embark on a road trip around Florida as hurricane season hits its height between August and October although, of course, no-one can predict when and where a hurricane might appear. A better bet is a road trip around New England. The six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut are renowned for their spectacular autumn foliage from September through until November and provide ample scope for a great American road trip. Alternatively consider a road trip along the California coast around September as this is harvest time in the vineyards of the Californian wine country between Santa Barbara and Mendocino. The autumn is a good time to drive Route 66, since the weather will still be temperate but not oppressive in the desert sections and again you will be rewarded with fantastic seasonal colours.

Winter: Winter has its attractions for an American road trip; Thanksgiving and Christmas are celebrated throughout and there is the promise of some great winter scenery. The question is: where to go? Unless you’re prepared with snow chains and a good deal of winter clothing it’s safest to stick to the southernmost states: northerly areas such as New England and parts of New York State can see two feet of snow fall in just a few hours. Thus Florida is a winner in winter (the Overseas Highway (Route 1) might be a useful inclusion in your road trip) as are southern California and most of Texas. Although it’s likely to be chilly, the winter is another good time to follow the Great River Road alongside the Mississippi. A rule of thumb to remember when planning your USA road trip for winter is that the higher your elevation above sea level, the colder it’s going to get, which means road trips involving mountain passes or through National Parks can become hazardous for those not used to driving in more challenging winter conditions.