50 Most Beautiful Highway Drives in America
With spring on the horizon, now is the time to begin planning your next road trip, keeping in mind that the journey is more important than the destination. These trips are for those who like to stop and take in the views along America's legendary highways -- and maybe do some Instagramming that will make office-bound friends a little jealous. There is something for everyone among these scenic road trips. Just make sure to research the route thoroughly before hitting the road.
The Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway runs 73 miles from Heflin to Fort Payne, encompassing a good chunk of the lush mountain range along the way. The route alternates among panoramic views, interesting geological formations, and historic rural communities dotted with cotton fields. Stop for picturesque hiking trails, particularly in the Dugger Mountain Wilderness Area.
Between the harbor town of Seward and the port town of Anchorage, the Seward Highway spans 127 miles of mostly unspoiled wilderness. Pull over for salmon viewing at Moose Creek (a good summertime activity) or gaze at Kenai Lake, a zigzag-shaped body of water in Chugach National Forest famous for its scenery.
The Mogollon Rim is an enormous wall of rock that cuts diagonally across much of eastern Arizona, and the best way to appreciate its breadth is by driving Forest Road 300, otherwise known as Mogollon Rim Road Scenic Drive. Stop almost anywhere to absorb endless forest views from the edge of the rim. Road trippers will also find plentiful campgrounds and the world's largest stand of ponderosa pines.
The Arkansas Ozarks' Pig Trail Scenic Byway stretches only 19 miles but has more than its share of natural beauty and gentle rolling hills. The route may have been used by Native Americans or fur trappers, and was heavily trafficked during the Civil War by troops from both sides. Today, travelers enjoy mountain views, waterfalls, rock formations, and the beautiful Mulberry River. The entire Victorian-style downtown of Eureka Springs is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Officially known as California State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway is a popular locale for a breathtaking Big Sur road trip that begins in Monterey and ends in Morro Bay. Dazzling views of soaring cliffs along the Pacific Ocean coastline and the road's tight turns make this a scenic trip that takes about five hours to complete. Along the way, make sure to stop at the Bixby Creek Bridge -- one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world -- and McWay Falls for photos.
The 47-mile-long Trail Ridge Road is the signature drive of Rocky Mountain National Park. The highest continuously paved road in North America, it rises to 12,183 feet amid rugged peaks. Following a route past the Continental Divide once traversed by generations of Native Americans, visitors today can see elk and bighorn sheep. The road is closed during the region's harsh winters and reopens in May.
Connecticut State Route 169 National Scenic Byway offers views of unspoiled wilderness and historic New England architecture in its brief 38-mile jaunt through the state's northeastern corridor. Look for colonial homesteads and stone churches in between stretches of thick backcountry and lush open fields.
Delaware may be a small state, but it's home to the largest preserved stretch of coastal marshland on the East Coast. The Route 9 Coastal Heritage Byway affords gorgeous views of the marshland and its thriving wildlife. The two-lane road travels alongside the Delaware River and Bay Estuary for 52 miles, passing historic towns and impressive buildings such as the John Dickinson Plantation in Dover.
The striking Overseas Highway, also known here as Highway 1 or the "Highway That Goes to the Sea," includes 112 miles of roadway and a total of 42 overseas bridges from Miami to Key West. The entire span can be traveled in about four hours, but it's better to take time to enjoy the trip. Keep an eye out for restaurants and attractions along the way. Stopping at the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key -- the only home of this endangered species -- is free, for instance.
The Cohutta Wilderness Loop begins in far southeast Tennessee and surrounds much of the Cohutta Wilderness in northern Georgia. The drive passes babbling brooks in a steady climb to breathtaking vistas near Chatsworth and Fort Mountain State Park. The wilderness area is the largest east of the Mississippi River and offers exceptional opportunities for hiking, birding, fishing, and more.
The gorgeous Hana Highway along the eastern coast of Maui is 52 miles long and not for drivers who are in a hurry. The roadway boasts 600 curves and a whopping 59 bridges (many of which are single lane). It clings to cliffsides in what travelers contend is a worthwhile but sometimes hair-raising trip. Along the way, stop at Pua'a Ka'a State Park to enjoy its waterfalls and swimming holes.
The Sawtooth Scenic Byway lives up to its distinction as the 100th National Forest Scenic Byway, with a rich tapestry of forest and geological sights continuing for 75 miles. The drive takes about three hours without stops, but the views of the Sawtooth Mountains rising beyond the shimmering Salmon River will have most travelers pulling over often to snap photos.
Illinois contains only 188 miles of the nearly 1,000-mile Ohio River Scenic Byway, but the route passes through a beautiful region of southern Illinois, full of natural scenery and historical attractions. Don't miss Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest or the statue of Superman in the small town of Metropolis.
The Great River Road, the longest and oldest National Scenic Byway, snakes through Iowa along the Mississippi River for 349 miles. There are limestone bluffs, riverside towns, and ample opportunities for water recreation along the way, and Bangert Gardens in Burlington offers free tours of its collection of native flora.
For 63 miles, the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway runs roughly parallel to the Missouri River along a route once traversed by Lewis and Clark. It's named for the landscape of scenic forested hills carved by glaciers that once covered the area. Visitors will also find rich farmland and historic architecture, including Fort Leavenworth.
The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway takes a 45-mile route over several highways and state roads from Stanton to the historic Nada Tunnel in Zachariah. The main attraction is, of course, the Red River Gorge, a national geological area and natural landmark where travelers can explore stone arches, ravines, and cliffs overlooking miles of unspoiled Appalachian forest.
The Great River Road is rich with historical sites along its entire length, and the portion in Louisiana offers a view into antebellum life. From Baton Rouge to New Orleans, the route includes many separate roads that wind alongside the Mississippi, passing stretches of swampland and many preserved plantation homes under broad oak canopies.
The Acadia All-American Road is a short 40-mile journey through Acadia National Park in Maine and includes a spectacular view from Cadillac Mountain. As with many national parks, visitors pay $25 for a vehicle pass that lasts seven days, but there are "fee free" days scattered through the year. There should be time to visit Thunder Hole, where the waves really sound like thunder, and explore the tidal pools of Otter Point.
The Mountain Maryland Byway zigzags and loops 193 miles through the mountains of the state's western corridor to encompass as much of the area's scenic beauty as possible. The river valleys of the Alleghenies are a sight to behold any time of year, but particularly so when the fall colors turn. Don't miss the Washington Street Historic District in Cumberland on the eastern end of the route.
Route 6 follows the hook of the Cape Cod peninsula for 118 miles. Though clogged with traffic on many holiday weekends, the road is a convenient gateway to all Cape Cod has to offer -- the festivals of Provincetown, the family-friendly bayside beaches, the unending dunes of the National Seashore, and the many opportunities for fresh seafood.
For its entire 28 miles, Michigan Highway 119 hugs the shore of Lake Michigan as it rounds Little Traverse Bay. The greatest attraction here is the mixed canopy of trees enveloping the lakeside road, otherwise known as the Tunnel of Trees Heritage Route, especially when the forest colors are changing. The Thorne Swift Nature Preserve along the way protects a beautiful area with spiritual significance to the Ottawa Indians, who once inhabited the area.
The North Shore Scenic Drive follows the pristine shore of Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, through 142 miles of some of the most unspoiled wilderness in the continental United States. The route begins in Duluth and continues through seven state parks that are beautiful even in winter, when visitors might see the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.
The Mississippi Delta Great River Road explores the lands shaped by the Mississippi River's flooding over thousands of years, primarily following Highways 1 and 61 for 250 miles. The route beautifully showcases the river and the state's picturesque countryside. It's also a must for music fans, who can see the origins of blues greats such as B.B. King and Muddy Waters at the Delta Blues Museum ($10 for adults).
The best way to see Missouri's Ozark hill country is along the Blue Buck Knob Scenic Byway, a 24-mile road that bisects the Mark Twain National Forest, full of densely wooded scenery the author made famous in his works. Along the byway is the Noblett Lake Recreation area, where travelers can take time to picnic or fish for trout.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is the route to take when visiting Glacier National Park. It takes at least a full day to appreciate the grand vistas of the mountains and glacier-carved valleys while traveling through the park and over the Continental Divide. Logan Pass is the highest point in the park accessible by car and a beautiful vantage point for photos.
From its western-most point at the South Dakota border to Grand Island, Highway 2 travels through 370 miles of Great Plains scenery, including the undulating sand hills that enliven the landscape and are actually just sand dunes covered with vegetation. Begin or end your drive with a free visit to the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center in Wood River.
The Pyramid Lake Scenic Byway showcases just a small portion of Nevada's vast swathes of uninhabited desert, running from Reno through remote areas dominated by rugged mountains and salt flats before ending at pristine Pyramid Lake, the state's largest body of water. The drive is only 30 miles long, but it takes at least two hours to drive the isolated route there and back.
Though only 36 miles in length, the Kancamagus Highway is the best way to see New Hampshire's dramatic White Mountains by car. Autumn is particularly beautiful for the legendary foliage, but sporting activities and scenic views abound in any season. Walk the half-mile to Sabbaday Falls, but be on the lookout for moose, particularly after dusk.
Escape New Jersey's suburban sprawl with the Wallkill, a scenic drive that follows the Wallkill River from Lake Mohawk and includes idyllic views of rolling farmland and quaint historic towns. The 25-mile drive through the state's northern corridor is dotted with tourist-facing farms and insight into the area's mining history.
The Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway is a curvy 95-mile trip peppered with steep switchbacks as it traverses high desert forests and passes Old West ghost towns and a copper mine. At the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, visitors can tour the cave homes of the Mogollon people from more than 700 years ago. Family admission to the caves is $10.
The Lake to Locks Passage in upstate New York follows the western edge of Lake Champlain between two breathtaking mountain ranges -- the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains. The route extends for 200 miles from Waterford to just shy of the Quebec border, passing bountiful natural beauty and historic sites like Saratoga National Park, the location of the 1777 battle that was a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Including stretches through Virginia and North Carolina, the famous Blue Ridge Parkway boasts almost 300 scenic overlooks of the Appalachian Highlands, waterfalls, and other natural wonders along its 469-mile path. Programs led by National Park Service rangers can point out some of the area's elusive wildlife and threatened and endangered plant species.
The roadside attractions are the best part of North Dakota's Enchanted Highway, a 30-mile route through the western half of the state enlivened by a series of colorful metal sculptures. Start with "Geese in Flight" in Gladstone on Interstate 94 and end the drive in Regent, where a gift shop offers miniatures of the statues for sale.
Otherwise known as the Gateway to Ohio's Scenic Wonderland, the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway follows State Route 374 through an outdoor paradise that includes its fair share of historic attractions, as well. Of particular note along the 30 miles of lush woods and distinct rock formations is Old Man's Cave, a cave with waterfalls where early settlers once lived.
Located in the Ouachita National Forest in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, the Talimena Scenic Drive takes drivers through 54 miles of mountain views (some visitors especially recommend the spring bloom and fall foliage). On the Oklahoma side, stop to view the Horse Thief Springs Historic Site, once a water source for bands of outlaws that inhabited the area after the Civil War. The state also includes the longest stretch of Route 66, nicknamed America's Main Street and known for its colorful roadside attractions.
Running for 70 miles along the Columbia River, the Columbia River Highway passes many waterfalls springing from the dramatic cliffsides of the Columbia River Gorge on its way from the lush evergreen forests of Portland to the drier eastern Oregon plateau. This was among the first scenic roadways in the United States, dating to 1913, and remains a National Historic Landmark. The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center Museum ($9 for adults and children over 16) includes guided searches for animal habitats and live raptor presentations.
The stretch of U.S. Route 6 more colorfully known as the Gateway to the Endless Mountains Scenic Byway is frequently named one of the nation's most scenic drives for its unparalleled views of the Endless Mountains and Susquehanna River. Along the route's 38 miles, motorists pass historic mining towns and numerous hiking trails, many of the best starting in Riverside Park.
Perhaps in keeping with the proportions of the state, Rhode Island's most picturesque drive is a paltry 10 miles long. But Newport's Ocean Drive is a double-sided showcase of ornate Gilded Age mansions on one side and rocky Atlantic coastline on the other. Most of the mansions offer tours for a fee, but you can see more natural beauty for free walking the mansion-side Cliff Walk.
The 118-mile long Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway is so named because it skirts the base of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, where the Cherokees once lived. Mountains loom on the horizon for the duration of the drive along Route 11, which passes numerous roadside stands and peach orchards on its way through area villages.
Also known as Highway 240, the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway passes through 31 miles of buttes, cliffs, and spires, and showcases Badlands National Park ($20 a vehicle for seven days) with its array of rock formations. The 30-mile loop off Interstate 90 can be completed in about an hour, but that's without stopping to enjoy the scenery along the way.
U.S. Highway 441 is the main route through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation's most visited national park. The 32-mile road passes the park's lush rounded peaks, often shrouded in fog, and functions as a gateway to area hikes, many near Newfound Gap at the state line. End the day in Gatlinburg, the kitschy tourist town to end all kitschy tourist towns.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive highlights many of the greatest car-accessible sights within Big Bend National Park. It cuts a path in the western half of the park between the Burro Mesa and the Chisos Mountains, ending at the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook on the banks of the Rio Grande. Keep an eye out for flora and fauna, as Big Bend is a hotspot of biodiversity, particularly birds, bats, and cacti.
The 124-mile Highway 12 Scenic Byway passes through plenty of the glorious canyon land for which southern Utah is famous, including Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest State Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The byway concludes at the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park, heralded by miles of panoramic views. On the way are archaeological sites, cattle drives, hiking, skiing, and more, depending on the season.
In its 200 miles, the Green Mountain Byway cuts straight through the center of Vermont, affording visitors a convenient route through the state's lush farmland and many of its best communities for tourists, including Stowe, Wilmington, and Granville. In terms of iconic New England scenery, this route is difficult to beat.
The 25-mile George Washington Memorial Parkway along the Potomac River is mostly in Virginia, with small portions in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Maintained by the National Park Service, it's most notable for historic landmarks and monuments, including the Marine Corps War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, which includes President John F. Kennedy's gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a Sept. 11 memorial. There are fees for parking or a bus tour, but walking the grounds is free.
The Olympic Peninsula encompasses three vastly different ecosystems in a relatively small area, and as the region's only major route, Highway 101 covers them all. Also called the Olympic Peninsula Loop, the eight-hour drive passes alongside Puget Sound and through subalpine forests on its way west toward rugged coastline and the moss-strewn trees of the Hoh Rainforest.
The Highland Scenic Highway traverses numerous changes in elevation measuring more than 2,000 feet. Scenic viewpoints of the state's rugged Allegheny Mountains abound along the route's 52 miles. The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area in Hillsboro showcases the diverse animal and plant life of the mountainous wetlands.
The Door County Coastal Byway makes a scenic, 130-mile loop around the peninsula often called the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Travelers along the route are treated to views of peaceful dairy farms, bountiful fruit orchards, limestone bluffs, the state's largest park (Peninsula State Park), and miles of shoreline ideal for water sports and other recreational opportunities.
There's a relatively low population in Wyoming but no shortage of gorgeous drives. In the northwestern part of the state, the Beartooth National Scenic Byway crests at nearly 11,000 feet, making it the state's highest paved road on a path famous for panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains, including one turnout for the Clay Butte Lookout.