The United States is filled with breathtaking scenic drives, ranging from the striking California coast to the historic roads of New England. One notable example is the Blue Ridge Parkway, spanning 469 miles. This picturesque route winds its way through limestone caverns, crystal-clear mountain springs, and the awe-inspiring beauty of the Appalachian region. Throughout the year, the parkway showcases various panoramic views, each unique to the season.
Occasionally, it is not only the natural wonders but also the man-made attractions that enhance the journey. While driving along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, you can enjoy the view to the west, which showcases remarkable examples of American architecture such as the renowned Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, once the tallest building globally. Another memorable experience awaits travelers on U.S. 1 from Key Largo to Key West, where they cross coral reefs on the Seven-Mile Bridge and reach marinas where they can hand-feed tarpon and unwind at beach bars playing Jimmy Buffet hits while sipping margaritas.
These are just a few examples of the exciting road trips you can embark on throughout the United States.
Hana Highway, Maui
The T-shirts proudly declare: “I successfully navigated the challenging road to Hana.” The journey from Kahului to Hana covers a distance of 52 miles, which can take over two and a half hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll encounter winding roads that meander past steep sea cliffs adorned with flourishing mango trees. It’s highly recommended to make stops at roadside stalls to indulge in delectable banana bread and admire the breathtaking Jurassic landscapes at every corner. Once you reach the quaint town of Hana on eastern Maui, you’ll find a unique red-sand beach shielded by a cinder cone, where both nudists and endangered monk seals leisurely bask in the warm sunlight.
Just a short 30-minute drive beyond the termination point of the Road to Hana lies the enchanting Pools of Oheo, an absolute must-visit. Nestled within Haleakala National Park, these tranquil pools feature seven tiers that gently cascade, creating a captivating natural wonder.
Blue Ridge Parkway, the Carolinas and Virginia
Stretching for approximately 469 miles, a winding ribbon of asphalt cuts through the magnificent landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks. This meticulously constructed road was designed to cater to the desires of travelers in search of scenic viewpoints in the Appalachian region. Regardless of the time of year, this route offers a breathtaking panorama, adorned with rolling slopes ablaze with vibrant autumn hues, lush forest canopies during the summer, and even ski resorts during the winter season.
Within the mineral-rich Appalachian Mountains, visitors can delve into the mines and try their luck at panning for precious gems like emeralds, amethysts, rubies, topaz, and even gold. The parkway serves as a haven for nature enthusiasts, with its diverse array of habitats hosting hundreds of bird species and boasting a greater variety of tree types than the entire continent of Europe.
Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Like a well-disciplined army facing Lake Michigan, the rock stars of American architecture gracefully align themselves along this urban route. The buildings of Chicago command attention with their captivating designs. From the imposing and angular presence of the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower and once holding the title of the world’s tallest building, to the refined Belle Époque charm of the Rookery by
Burnham and Root, and the minimalist beauty of Mies van der Rohe’s post-Bauhaus structures, each structure exudes its own unique allure. Without exaggeration, this can easily be deemed the ultimate road for architecture enthusiasts worldwide.
Spanning a mere 15 miles, Lake Shore Drive invites you to pause your journey and appreciate the impressive sights along the way. One notable stop is Millennium Park, where you can explore the renowned Cloud Gate sculpture, affectionately referred to as “The Bean,” an iconic symbol of the city. So, while the drive may be brief, it’s worth savoring every moment by immersing yourself in the architectural wonders and cultural attractions that await you.
Highway 2, Nebraska
Covering approximately one-fourth of Nebraska, the landscape is dominated by the mesmerizing presence of Sandhills, rolling sand dunes cloaked in a lush carpet of grass. These undulating formations create a captivating sight, stretching as far as the eye can behold. For a truly immersive experience in the expansive vistas of the Great Plains and pastoral scenery, embark on a journey along Highway 2. This highway spans 52 miles, extending from the South Dakota border to Grand Island. As you traverse this route, you’ll be treated to panoramic views that showcase the breathtaking beauty of the region.
Situated right in the heart of the Central Flyway Migration Corridor, the sand dunes serve as a haven for various avian species. Keep an eye out for majestic cranes as you make your way along Highway 2. For an even closer encounter with nature, a visit to the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center, conveniently located just off Highway 2 in Wood River, provides a fantastic opportunity to observe and appreciate these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
17-Mile Drive, California
The renowned 17-Mile Drive meanders through the breathtaking Monterey Peninsula in California. This picturesque route, extending from Pacific Grove to Carmel, winds its way along the Pacific coastline while passing through portions of the Del Monte Forest that belong to the exclusive Pebble Beach golf community. As you navigate this privately-owned road, you’ll be treated to a feast for the senses. From majestic cliffs battered by the surf to bustling colonies of harbor seals and numerous scenic overlooks, the 17-Mile Drive offers an abundance of natural beauty. However, it’s the mesmerizing sunset vistas that truly make it worth the $11.25 entry fee for driving along this route.
U.S. 1, Florida Keys
Embarking on a journey from the mainland to the enchanting Florida Keys, travelers are transported to a veritable paradise of beach bars, thrilling water sports, and the vibrant community of Parrotheads, devoted fans of Jimmy Buffett. Spanning from Key Largo to Key West, the iconic Overseas Highway seamlessly connects the islands like a string of precious beads. Along this picturesque route, you’ll encounter charming lighthouses, mesmerizing underwater coral reef parks, and the awe-inspiring Seven-Mile Bridge, one of the longest bridges globally. Prepare to be captivated as you traverse this scenic highway, immersing yourself in the natural beauty and unique ambiance that the Florida Keys have to offer.
Route 12, Utah
Utah’s awe-inspiring red rock landscapes take center stage on State Route 12, a captivating stretch that weaves its way between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks. This 124-mile route showcases the majestic beauty of the region, with its vibrant sandstone canyons, breathtaking bluffs adorned with purple sage, and the thrilling challenge of navigating the narrow and cliff-hugging ridgeline road known as The Hogback. As you embark on this unforgettable journey, you’ll also have the opportunity to explore charming small towns along the way. It’s worth noting that access points are limited, adding an element of commitment and exclusivity to the experience. Prepare to be spellbound as you immerse yourself in the captivating wonders of Utah’s red rock landscapes along State Route 12.
Bluebonnet Trail, Texas
Spreading their vibrant blue hues across the southwestern United States, bluebonnets are captivating wildflowers. Their abundant presence is particularly notable in Texas, where they proudly hold the title of the official state flower. From March to May, these spiky blossoms adorn the landscapes, creating a mesmerizing sight. To embark on an unforgettable road trip to witness the beauty of bluebonnets, commence your journey in Austin. This vibrant city is home to the renowned Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center, paying homage to the first lady who championed national beautification efforts. Take a moment to marvel at the native flowers showcased here before setting off on an eastward adventure along U.S. Route 290.
North Shore Drive, Minnesota
The shoreline of Lake Superior in Minnesota is a breathtaking testament to its glacial origins. In the city of Duluth, a picturesque walking path traces along the edge of the lake, offering glimpses of the city’s highlights. Take a leisurely stroll and you’ll encounter
delightful sights such as a vibrant rose garden and the impressive aerial bridge. Nearby, an opportunity awaits to witness the sight of ocean tankers anchored in the St. Lawrence Seaway, the final inland port on their journey. These massive vessels patiently wait to be loaded with essential commodities like iron or grain from America’s heartland before setting sail to destinations worldwide. It’s a captivating experience that showcases the interconnectedness of Minnesota’s majestic Lake Superior shoreline with the global economy.
Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
Step into the realm of the highest continuous paved road in the United States, where Trail Ridge Road awaits your arrival. This remarkable route commences at the Beaver Meadows Entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, gradually ascending to an astonishing elevation of 12,183 feet. As you traverse this breathtaking path, you will cross over the majestic Continental Divide, following a route once traveled by Native Americans. Keep your eyes peeled for the graceful presence of elk, deer, and bighorn sheep, gracefully navigating the dramatic tundra above the tree line. After approximately two to three hours of awe-inspiring driving, you will reach Grand Lake, a true gem nestled in the heart of Colorado. As the state’s largest natural body of water, Grand Lake is not only a haven for water sports enthusiasts year-round but also harbors a historic town brimming with rich heritage. Prepare to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature and the allure of this vibrant lakeside community along Trail Ridge Road.
Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
While the White Mountains offer endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year, it is the dazzling autumn display that steals the spotlight along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway. Stretching for 34.5 miles, this scenic route becomes an unrivaled spectacle during the fall season. In October, devoted leaf-peepers flock to witness nature’s fireworks as maples, alders, and birch trees burst into a breathtaking technicolor display. The vibrant hues paint the landscape in a mesmerizing palette that captivates all who venture along this highway. In the springtime, the scenery transforms once again, with delicate yellow violets and enchanting wood anemone gracing the surroundings. Whether you choose to explore during the autumn blaze or the blossoming of spring, the Kancamagus Highway promises a visual feast that will leave a lasting impression.
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana
Traversing the majestic Rocky Mountains and showcasing the awe-inspiring beauty of Glacier National Park, one of America’s most remarkable public works projects unfolds along the rugged terrain. This extraordinary feat of engineering, known as Going-to-the-Sun Road, weaves its way along the spine of the Rockies, offering panoramic vistas of snow-capped peaks, serene sub-alpine meadows, and glistening lakes that dot the landscape. Spanning approximately 50 miles, this captivating route unveils the splendor of the Continental Divide, connecting travelers to the heart of nature’s grandeur.
Highway 101, Oregon
In contrast to the privately owned coastal areas along the rest of the West Coast, Oregon’s stretch of the Pacific shoreline is entirely under state ownership, granting the public unrestricted access. Spanning approximately 400 miles along Highway 101, these pristine beaches offer road trippers unparalleled vistas of untouched natural beauty. As you traverse the coastal route between Port Orford and Brookings, just an hour’s drive apart, you’ll encounter a captivating blend of rugged sea cliffs juxtaposed with the serene pastoral landscapes and idyllic farmlands of Oregon’s charming small towns.
During your journey, keep an eye out for a unique roadside attraction that is sure to catch your attention. Look for the striking sight of a Tyrannosaurus rex replica at the Prehistoric Gardens, situated against the backdrop of the lush rainforest landscape. This captivating stop invites visitors to explore a collection of 23 life-size dinosaur replicas, creating an immersive experience that takes you back to the prehistoric era.
Olympic Peninsula Loop, Washington
Highway 101, serving as both a picturesque route and the primary road encircling the peninsula, creates a scenic loop around one of the largest wilderness areas in the contiguous United States. To fully immerse yourself in the natural wonders of the region, embark on a counterclockwise drive from the base of the peninsula, which will lead you through captivating landscapes and notable attractions.
As you ascend into the Hoh Rain Forest, located within the heart of the wilderness, you’ll find yourself surrounded by towering ancient Sitka spruce and majestic western hemlock trees. The lush greenery and enchanting atmosphere of this forest create a truly awe-inspiring experience.
Venturing off the loop, approximately 18 miles from Port Angeles, a visit to Hurricane Ridge presents a breathtaking panorama. From this vantage point, you can catch glimpses of the picturesque San Juan Islands, adding to the allure of the journey.
Route 6, Massachusetts
Connecting Cape Cod’s picturesque landscape of sand dunes, beaches, marshes, tidal ponds, and charming fishing villages, the easternmost section of Route 6 provides a scenic journey that stretches all the way to Bishop, California. This enchanting route offers various options for exploration, from attending music festivals and visiting art galleries in Provincetown to enjoying family-friendly beaches on the bay side or taking in panoramic views of the Cape Cod National Seashore on the ocean side.
For an unforgettable experience, we recommend booking a whale-watching boat tour between May and October. This is the perfect opportunity to witness the majestic presence of humpback whales, known as big-winged New Englanders, as they grace the waters. Keep your eyes peeled for these magnificent creatures and capture a glimpse of their awe-inspiring displays.
Anchorage to Valdez, Alaska
Embark on an extraordinary journey from Anchorage to Valdez, where the Glenn and Richardson highways merge to create a mesmerizing route. This scenic drive meanders through ancient glaciers and majestic mountain ranges, boasting numerous peaks that remain unnamed, highlighting the untamed beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.
As you traverse the approximately 300-mile stretch, make a stop in Palmer to marvel at the domesticated musk oxen, living remnants of the Ice Age that have thrived in Alaska’s remarkable landscape. Continuing your adventure, catch glimpses of the iconic Trans-Alaska Pipeline as it intermittently appears along the route, a testament to human engineering amidst the rugged wilderness.
The final leg of your journey to Valdez presents a thrilling descent from Thompson Pass, which stands at an elevation of 2,678 feet. During this awe-inspiring 30-mile drop, you’ll witness the breathtaking cascade of waterfalls in Keystone Canyon, an exquisite display of nature’s power and beauty. The journey culminates as you arrive at sea level, greeted by the majestic expanse of Prince William Sound.
Lemhi Pass, Montana and Idaho
In 1805, Meriwether Lewis reached the towering spine of North America, the Continental Divide, at the lofty Lemhi Pass, standing at an elevation of 7,323 feet. Rather than discovering the mythical Northwest Passage leading to the Pacific Ocean, Lewis gazed westward, only to behold an endless expanse of majestic mountains. For intrepid adventurers equipped with four-wheel drive vehicles, it is now possible to experience the same historic vista by traversing narrow Forest Service roads. Access to this significant viewpoint can be gained from either Beaverhead Rock State Park in Montana or the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho.
Silverado Trail, California
Embark on a remarkable road trip where the culinary delights rival the breathtaking scenery. Running alongside numerous vineyards and wineries, the Silverado Trail on the eastern fringe of Napa Valley offers an array of delectable food options and the opportunity to indulge in some of the most tantalizing meals in the American culinary landscape. Even for those not behind the wheel, a must-try experience awaits at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, where the Estate Collection tasting flight showcases the finest vintages. This esteemed winery gained fame when its 1973 cabernet triumphed over French wines in a renowned blind taste test. For epicurean enthusiasts, a visit to Yountville’s three-Michelin-star French Laundry restaurant promises to be an unforgettable highlight of the journey.
Ocean Drive, Newport, Rhode Island
Experience the breathtaking beauty of a 10-mile coastal journey that encompasses both historic grandeur and awe-inspiring vistas over the water. Along the scenic Ocean Drive, not to be confused with Ocean Avenue, travelers are treated to a visual feast of Gilded-Age “cottages” and captivating maritime scenery. Prepare to be mesmerized by the opulent mansions constructed for influential figures of the late 19th century, including the Vanderbilt, Astor, and Morgan families. As you explore this coastal route, history enthusiasts will find delight in visiting the storied Fort Adams, a significant United States Army post from the early 1800s to World War II, providing a fascinating glimpse into the past.
Park Loop Road, Maine
Embark on a captivating journey through Acadia National Park, a loop that can be accomplished within an hour, provided the summer crowds don’t congest the 27-mile, two-lane road. However, regardless of the season, it’s essential to allocate sufficient time to savor the majestic vistas of high ridgelines, dramatic rock cliffs, and the rugged North Atlantic coastline that adorn this route. Along the way, be enchanted by the spectacle of Thunder Hole, an oceanfront cavern where crashing waves create a resounding explosion of foamy surf against the shore. If you have the luxury of spare time, consider immersing yourself in the world of lobster fishing, perhaps even procuring your own catch to enjoy a delectable supper at home.
Highway 143, Tennessee
Embark on a captivating journey along Highway 143, a 12.5-mile stretch that traverses the picturesque Roan Highlands in Tennessee’s Appalachian Mountains. This scenic route offers uninterrupted vistas of rolling slopes adorned with vibrant heather and, in early summer, the delightful sight of purple rhododendron blossoms. The highlands section of the Appalachian Trail is renowned for its unique feature called “balds,” where treeless summits are blanketed with lush grasses. Take a moment to immerse yourself in their beauty by stopping at Carvers Gap, a short walk away just across the border in North Carolina.
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Michigan
Take a delightful journey along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan on a short, yet enchanting, 7.4-mile drive. This scenic route unveils the grandeur of the colossal Sleeping Bear Dunes, dense forests that create a canopy overhead, and a vast freshwater lake that stretches so far that the opposite shore remains out of sight. While the drive itself could be completed in less than 30 minutes, the captivating lookout points over the lake and dunes are bound to captivate your attention. As you near the end of the loop, you’ll cross a reconstructed covered bridge, reminiscent of the one originally built by Pierce Stocking in the 1960s. To further enhance your journey, take a brief five-minute detour up South Dune Highway to witness the breathtaking view of Glen Lake from the summit of the “Dune Climb,” a towering sand mound estimated to reach approximately 450 feet in height.
The High Road to Taos, New Mexico
Embark on a breathtaking 77-mile journey between Santa Fe and Taos, where every turn presents a picturesque scene waiting to be captured. Along this route, you’ll encounter a myriad of captivating sights, including ancient pueblos, expensive desserts, lush forests, vibrant wildflower meadows, and charming 17th-century adobe towns that serve as vibrant artists’ colonies. The High Road to Taos Scenic Byway will lead you through Chimayo, a haven that combines art and history, while treating you to awe-inspiring canyon vistas overlooking the majestic Truchas Peak, standing tall at an elevation of 13,102 feet. Regardless of the direction you choose, this scenic route is framed by two towns bursting with vibrant colors and unique personalities. If you find yourself in Santa Fe during the sweltering summer, be sure not to miss the opportunity to attend a concert at the Santa Fe Opera, a delightful experience not to be missed.