Florida Man on the Run

The Ultimate Desert Road Trip Playlist

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Every good road trip needs a playlist. That’s especially true if your driving through a desert, where the miles may seem endless. This desert road trip playlist is one I used to help tick off the countless miles across Utah and Nevada a few years ago. The 50 songs on this desert road trip playlist come from a variety of eras and should help you navigate hot desert days or cool desert nights. When deciding on the songs I wanted to put on this list, I used the following criteria:

  1. No more than two songs by any artist
  2. Songs from many different eras
  3. Not required to mention cowboys, horses, deserts, the wild west, etc

The first two weren’t very controversial when I introduced my mom (the traveling partner on this desert road trip) to the list. However, there was a bit of back and forth over whether a song needed to mention something related to our topic. Since I was the creator, my argument won out. Ultimately, I wanted songs which felt right or flowed well with the other songs. Now, I did include songs on this desert road trip playlist that mentions those mainstays. So if you came here looking for desert songs which have cowboys, horses, deserts, etc, then you’ll find some of those too.

What better way to hit the open road that with an awesome desert road trip playlist
You’ll have many miles of road like this ahead of you

Overall, I think this playlist hits all of my requirements and came out fantastic. That doesn’t mean it is perfect by any means. When you finish reading, let me know in the comments what songs I missed or what your favorite song on this list is! If you trust me, then you can download the entire desert road trip playlist on YouTube Music!

1960s and Earlier: The First Desert Road Trip Songs

The desert songs found in this section all come from the 1960s or earlier. The earliest ones on the list are clearly your cheesy, themed songs. However, there are some absolute classics on this list. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the nine songs from this time period that made my list.

Route 66 – Bing Crosby

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I’m not sure how you could start with any other song than Route 66. Originally written in 1946 by Bobby Troup and recorded by Nat King Cole, I prefer this cover by Bing Crosby. The sound is more in line with what a desert road trip needs.

Jingle, Jangle, Jingle – Tex Ritter

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Jingle, Jangle, Jingle is a fun little song from way back in the 1940s again. For those looking for a desert road trip playlist song including some spurs, I’ve got you covered. I found this song while playing Fallout: New Vegas which features a pretty great soundtrack of its own.

Long Lonely Highway – Elvis Presley

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It would be wrong to include songs from the 60s and earlier and fail to include some Elvis. I had considered Viva Las Vegas, but felt that Long Lonely Highway felt more appropriate to on this desert road trip playlist. Since you’ll be driving many long miles, Long Lonely Highway fits right in.

Big Iron – Marty Robbins

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This is my favorite song from this era. Big Iron is classic song of the fight between an outlaw and the ranger coming to collect his bounty. There were quite a few songs by Marty Robins I though about including on this list including El Paso. If you’re looking for a whole album of western songs, you can’t go wrong with Gunfighter Ballads by Marty Robins.

Up Around the Bend – Creedence Clearwater Revival

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Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of my favorite bands from the 60s. Up Around the Bend is a quick little jam that definitely brings to mind a constant thought I had while driving through the desert. What could be around that bend, or over that hill? Who really knows, but you’ll find out soon enough.

The Sound of Silence – Simon and Garfunkle

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The first draft of this desert road trip playlist didn’t initially include this song. However, as we drove across the Nevada desert we recalled all the moments of absolute silence we had experienced so far. My mom had suggested this song and I added it when I got a quick moment of LTE. Silence is ever present across the desert, so I think it was a good addition.

Nights in White Satin – The Moody Blues

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Unlike the previous song, this one was a bit more controversial with my mom. Strong discussions were had about it being a song that fit the desert theme at all. To me it was all about the feeling of driving across the emptiness late at night. Make sure to let me know in the comments if you me or my mom are right about it being on this playlist!

Born to Be Wild – Steppenwolf

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Picking up the pace some with Born to Be Wild. Hitting the open road, escaping expectations, finding something new are all embodied in this classic hit by Steppenwolf. Can’t go wrong with rolling down the windows and blasting this to all the scrub brush around you.

Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones

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One of the Rolling Stones absolute classics, Sympathy for the Devil is a fitting end to the 1960s era of these songs. The rolling piano, cuts from the guitar, and Jagger’s voice all combine into a song that you can easily listen to as you cut across the desert.

1970s: Desert Road Trip Playlist’s Greatest Era

The 1970s is full of amazing hits that would be right at home on any desert road trip playlist. In fact, there were so many songs that I wanted to include on this list and couldn’t because I needed to spread it out across the eras. No other band on this playlist embodies the desert road trip better than the Eagles, and yet I still limited them to just two songs. This is the heart of the playlist, so sit back and enjoy.

A Horse With No Name – America

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To me this is the most iconic of desert songs, A Horse With No Name is known by pretty much everyone. There is no better way to enter the 1970s than with this absolute classic. There was no way that this song could have been left off of this list.

Peaceful Easy Feeling – Eagles

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There are any number of stellar Eagles which could be on this desert road trip playlist. While the other song I included was a must have (see it later on the list), this one was a much harder choice. Take It Easy, Life in the Fast Lane, Desperado, the list truly does go on. The Very Best of Eagles is perhaps the perfect album if you’re wanting a single collection that embodies the vastness of the American West.

Long Hard Ride – The Marshall Tucker Band

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Long Hard Ride is a song that needs to be played loud, so don’t be afraid to turn it up. Put your foot on the accelerator and let this instrumental track take you put some of the long miles behind you.

Gimmie Three Steps – Lynyrd Skynyrd

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Lynyrd Skynyrd was originally represented on this playlist with Free Bird. My mom felt that was a little overdone (and she had heard it a million times), so I sought out another Skynyrd track. Gimmie Three Steps fit the bill ideally, telling the tale of a man with the wrong woman at the wrong time and his quick escape into the night.

La Grange – ZZ Top

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Songs about small Texas towns are certainly fitting on this playlist and none is better than La Grange. Inspired by the same brothel that later would be subject of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, La Grange embodies the ZZ Top sound and is perfect for unwinding on the highway.

Highway to Hell – AC/DC

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If any band knows about deserts, its AC/DC who hail from the land of the outback. Highway to Hell is one of those songs that lends itself perfectly to rocking out as your burn across the desert.

Runnin’ with the Devil – Van Halen

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The second appearance of the devil on this playlist comes courtesy of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. If you’re crossing the desert in the summer, you’re certainly going to feel like your running with the devil. Just be careful you don’t get burnt and stay hydrated in that heat!

Over the Hills and Far Away – Led Zeppelin

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I don’t think any playlist is complete if it doesn’t include at least one Led Zeppelin track. I decided on Over the Hills and Far Away because of the mellow intro to the song that eventually picks up the pace and really drives you forward and down the road.

LA Woman – The Doors

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LA Woman is the longest song on the entire playlist and easily one of the best. Perfect for those long hours on the road, LA Woman asks you begs you to just enjoy the journey and not worry about the final destination. It’s simply a perfect song for a desert road trip playlist.

Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers

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One of those songs that encompass the spirit of hitting the road like no other, Ramblin’ Man by The Allman Brothers is a must for just about any road trip playlist. To me that is especially true when riding through the desert where that open spirit is even more prevalent. Not to mention the guitar across the entire song is simply sublime.

Ventura Highway – America

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America makes its second appearance on this playlist with Ventura Highway. Though the eponymous highway doesn’t actually exist, the song invokes the desire in everyone to travel west and see what is available for you out there. It’s a feeling that encompasses everything about taking a road trip through the desert.

After Midnight – Eric Clapton

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This is another one of those desert songs that best fits the theme if you’re driving late into the night. Just follow Clapton’s advice and let it all hang down. Not need to be all buttoned up out on the road.

Travelin’ Prayer – Billy Joel

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I have always been a big fan of Piano Man, yet somehow had never heard this song until just recently introduced to it by my mom. This was one of her favorite traveling songs and I think you’ll find it fits perfectly in this desert road trip playlist.

Renegade – Styx

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Renegade speaks to a life being lived on the run, always being wanted. For the better part of a century, that was a life lived by many across the deserts of the American West. Styx nailed that feeling of being wanted with this song and it deserves its spot on this playlist.

Hotel California – Eagles

Perhaps no song on this list is more well known than Hotel California. While the other Eagles song was a bit more difficult, this was one of those desert songs which was a lock for this playlist. No song better captures the ideas of being lost on the highway and finding a respite. Yet, like many things such an oasis isn’t all its cracked up to be. It’s a fitting way to leave the 70s behind.

Upheaval Dome at Canyonlands National Park would be a great place to visit and stretch your legs while listening to your desert road trip playlist
Maybe you’ll find a place like Upheaval Dome from Canyonlands NP while on your trip

1980s: Heart of the Desert Road Trip Playlist

The 1980s marked a transition period for much of the world including the music scene. That’s no different here with this playlist. While there are still plenty of hard rock songs that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the 70s, the beginning of a musical transition are taking place. Not to mention, the 80s portion of this playlist starts off in the best way possible.

Wanted Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi

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If you want to feel like an outlaw, just put on Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi. While this isn’t a song about the old west, the idea of being on the road and riding hard are relevant. At times in the desert, you’re going to feel like a wanted man or woman. Be sure to turn it up when it comes on and rock out.

Sharp Dressed Man – ZZ Top

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ZZ Top makes their second appearance on this list with Sharp Dressed Man. Perhaps their most iconic song, it is one that just fits this playlist well. Hard to go wrong with the boys from Texas.

Paradise City – Guns N’ Roses

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After a while driving through the desert, you’re gonna wanna find your own Paradise City. Just make sure you don’t lose your mind in the desert before you get there. Guns N’ Roses were one of the defining bands of the 1980s and Paradise City one of the most memorable songs of the era.

Viva Las Vegas – The Dead Kennedys

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The other reason I didn’t use Viva Las Vegas by Elvis is because the version by The Dead Kennedys is better. The up tempo and hard driving version is perfect for speeding across the desert tarmac. Even if you aren’t heading to the neon lights of Las Vegas, you’ll enjoy this version of the song.

Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins

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From one of the classic movies of the 80s, Danger Zone is a perfect fit for a desert road trip playlist. Top Gun was one of my favorite movies as a kid and listening to Danger Zone is full of nostalgia and a trip down memory lane. Make sure you’re strapped in tight as you speed off into the Danger Zone.

Panama – Van Halen

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This song was written about a car that David Lee Roth saw at a race in our favorite little desert town of Las Vegas. The imagry from the lyrics help put you in that desert state of mind, seeing the heat coming off the road as you get comfortable in your seat. No playlist at all should be without Panama.

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Taking a road trip is often about getting away from the day to day grind. The ability to make choices as they come to us and grab a hold of our freewill. That’s what makes this classic from Rush such a perfect song for this playlist.

Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

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Tom Petty hails from near my hometown and was a big favorite of my mom. Free Fallin’ is a perfect song about being out west and escaping to Los Angeles. After the previous up tempo songs, Tom Petty brings us back to a slower pace where you can take some time to enjoy the scenery around you.

Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads

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Keeping the pace a bit more mellow, you might be inspired to follow the advice of the Talking Heads and jump on that Road to Nowhere. A desert road trip is all about the journey in the end, not necessarily the destination.

1990s: Modern Desert Road Trip Songs

The 1990s offers a change of pace from much that has come before on this list, yet you’ll still understand and feel the connections. The 1990s were a time of growth across the country and especially the American west. While I was raised on the 70s and 80s, it’s the 1990s where my own personal musical tastes begin to take root.

I’ve Been Everywhere – Johnny Cash

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No road trip playlist can be missing I’ve Been Everywhere by Johnny Cash. While not an original of his, this is the version I’m most familiar with. It also serves as a great interlude between the 80s and 90s since it’s sound is unlike either.

The Way – Fastball

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This is probably one of the earliest songs that I associated with escaping your life and hitting the road. The cd we had got constant play when I was younger and is still something I put on when I want to dive into the 90s sound. Fastball was never a huge hit, but this song captures the essence of escaping better than just about any other.

Walkin’ on the Sun – Smashmouth

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On this list as much for its title (walking through the desert will feel like your walking on the sun) as it’s relevance to society’s changes and greater commercialization through the 90s. If you’re looking to escape, why not include a song talking about all the reasons why you need to drive off into the desert.

Turn the Page – Metallica

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This is another song where I had multiple options for inclusion. At the end of the day, I think Metallica’s version is just a superior song. This hard charging number about life on the road is a must have for this playlist.

Scar Tissue – Red Hot Chili Peppers

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The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of my favorite bands, so it pains me that it takes so long to get to them on this playlist. There were a ton of songs I considered for this spot, including Californication, but ultimately felt like this song was more in line with the sound I wanted. It also helps that the music video features the band driving across the emptiness on a lonely road, much like you will.

The Distance – Cake

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Cake is another band that defines the 1990s. No other song embodies the idea of driving off into the unknown than The Distance. The singular focus of the driver and his ceaseless obsession is understandable. This song also happens to be my anchor song for when I run 5Ks, driving me home to the finish line.

Life is a Highway – Tom Cochrane

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One hit wonders can be found across the musical landscape of the 1990s. Tom Cochrane is no exception to this rule. Life is a Highway was a massive hit, but didn’t lead to great success in the US for Tom. It did, however, lead to a spot on this playlist, so he’ll have that!

Into the Great Wide Open – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

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Tom Petty was a master storyteller with his songs. The story of Eddie (played by a young Johnny Depp in the video) could have been the story of any number of people who took a shot at heading across the deserts of the southwest to Hollywood. It’s not all glitz and glamour, but it is life.

Cars – Fear Factory

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I think this song is perhaps the most left field choice on this playlist. I absolutely love this remix/cover that Fear Factory did with Gary Numan. Like a lot of songs from the 90s, this song is strongly associated with one of the first racing games I ever owned. It gets me pumped everytime I hear it.

Drive – Incubus

Drive is the first Incubus song I heard and it brought me into the wonderful world of their music. Make Yourself is a stellar record in its own right with Drive leading the way. The idea of being ready for what tomorrow has in store, or what is over the horizon, is exactly the thoughts I have when riding down a desert road.

2000s and Beyond: The End of the Desert Road Trip Playlist

Of all the eras featured on this playlist, this twenty year span features the least amount of songs. This is a combination of the 70s featuring a ton of classics and the fact that desert themed or inspired songs just aren’t as common as they used to be. Still, there are some great hits to round out your playlist.

Old Town Road – Lil Nas X (ft. Billy Ray Cyrus)

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The monster hit of 2019 is the best way to dive into the music of the 2000s and beyond. Old Town Road was everywhere and for good reason. It crosses genres, has catchy lyrics, and a fun music video to go with it. As an added bonus for this desert road trip playlist, it features outlaws, horses, and cowboys too!

Long Road to Ruin – Foo Fighters

While the Foo Fighters have a massive catalog dating back into the 90s, I felt this song was the most fitting for this playlist. Hopefully while your exploring the desert landscape, there are no dead ends in sight.

Dani California – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Dani California is the full story of a girl RHCP front man has written about twice before (Californication and By The Way). Telling the story of a hard life that took her across the country, she spent plenty of time driving through the desert. Hopefully, you avoid the fate she met in the Badlands.

I Am The Highway – Audioslave

Chris Cornell is one of the best lyricists and singers of my generation of musicians. Combing with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave, lead to one of the defining hits of the 2000s. For those who have spent enough time on the road, you’ll certainly feel like you’re becoming one with the highway.

Howlin’ For You – The Black Keys

So many songs from The Black Keys albums Brothers and El Camino could have made an appearance on this list but I think Howlin’ For You is the best of the bunch. Auerbach’s lyrics and voice combine perfectly with the sparse guitar and steady drum beats to bring you closer to the end of your trip.

Go With The Flow – Queens of the Stone Age

When thinking of songs I wanted to end this desert road trip playlist, I immediately thought of Queens of the Stone Age. Go With The Flow is a great cap because getting out on those wide open roads are really all about going with the flow. This becomes the perfect send off to keep on going until you finally find what it is you’re looking for.

Where to Listen to This Desert Road Trip Playlist

So now you’ve got 50 great songs to enjoy while you speed along hot desert roads. “But Zack,” I hear you asking, “Where should I go while listening to this epic playlist?” The answer is really anywhere you want, but the best place would be heading across the American Southwest. I recently took a trip from Colorado to California through Utah and Nevada. The vast country you’ll drive through is the perfect place to break out these songs and put your foot down on the gas. I wish I had come up with this list as we sped between Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. It’d also work great with this epic trip to Yellowstone via Zion National Park or a trip like this one from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon.

If you’ve made it this far, then I encourage you to let me know what you think in the comments below. What songs did I miss the mark on or leave off? Or let me know where you’re going to be listening to this awesome mix!

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16 Responses

  1. I love your criteria! ALSO — I love that you added The Black Keys and QOTSA. Those two bands especially make me think of desert driving! I totally approve of your playlist!

  2. LOVE this!! Some great classics, a good dose of country and everything that seems like it would be a perfect soundtrack to a road trip in a movie 🙂 Need to plan a desert road trip now haha!

  3. This is a nice collection of songs for the forthcoming road trip. Though my collection includes, few Arabic songs, Alan Walker, Ellie Goulding, Adele, and few more. Different people different choices. But few of the songs mentioned in the collection, I definitely love.

  4. I have never set up a road trip playlist. But it is a great idea. I have an eclectic taste in music so I would have no trouble including different eras. Some great songs on your playlist. Lots that I could sing to. To the eternal regret of hubby!

  5. Love this Ultimate Desert Road Trip Playlist you came up with. We must be kindred souls cause I love the selections of alternative rock and classic rock mixed in. I think the only switch I would make is your Metallica & Doors choices. For Metallica, I would swap it to Fuel & for the Doors I would switch to Riders on the Storm!

  6. There are some fun songs on the list, and a great variety too! Wanted Dead or Alive is perfect for a desert road trip, as is Old Town Road. I’ll download a few of these!

  7. This is a great list! Music always makes a road trip so much better. I too often relay on the radio for entertainment, and that never turns out the greatest. I really need to work on creating some playlists for my next trip. Some of these songs, like Life is a Highway and Free Fallin’ are some of my favorites and would make for a great drive!

  8. So cool to have a songlist easy to refer to on my next road trip. I confess, there are several songs here that i have never heard but that’s good because I now have new music to listen to! I usually like peppy songs while I am on the road, to make sure I can focus and stay awake during the journey!

  9. This is an excellent playlist, Zach, though I have to say I prefer Disturb’s version of “Sound of Silence” to Simon & Garfunkel’s. Some songs on here I’ve not heard of and need to check out!

  10. Really appreciated this list as we are about to embark on a roadtrip through the 4 corners! I added many of these to my playlist!

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