There are plenty of beautiful driving roads in America (hi, Colorado!). But most involve driving so far out into the middle of nowhere that you need to take a vacation to enjoy them. So, we've put together this guide of great driving roads that don't require packing sleeping bags or checking into a seedy motel. Some are well-known, others are so under the radar not even the locals know of them. As usual, you're welcome.
[Editor's Note: Buckle up.]
Near New York City
Best Known Road: Bear Mountain
There’s no shortage of fine roads around Bear Mountain, but Seven Lakes Drive is a seemingly endless series of sweepers and bends around the mountain that’ll make you sad when you reach the end.
Lesser Known Road: Hawk's Nest (shown)
New York’s Route 97 out of Port Jervis—also called Hawk's Nest—is more than just a fantastic, winding piece of asphalt that’ll keep you entertained for about 90 minutes. It’s a road for connoisseurs, and history buffs know that it once served as the fun route for the cognoscenti en route to the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
Best Known Road: Pikes Peak
Easily the most famous mountain road in America, Pikes Peak has been home to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for generations. It’s almost entirely paved now, meaning the steep drops are much less horrifying than they used to be (was once entirely gravel), but this is still about as challenging a road as exists anywhere in the world.
Lesser Known Road: Skyline Drive (shown)
Head further south to a little town by the name of Canon City, and there’s a one-lane road called Skyline Drive that runs along the very top of a very steep ridge. That’s it in the GIF above. (If you have a fear of heights whatsoever, stock up on anxiety pills now.) This is a must-drive.
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Near Los Angeles
Best Known Road: The Pacific Coast Highway (shown)
Anywhere along the famed Pacific Coast Highway is good, but it’s really worth it to spend the time to head north to Big Sur, where those extra miles will pay off in a major way, thanks to the kind of scenery that can’t be bought and some truly demanding curves.
Lesser Known Road: Highway 192
The hills overlooking Santa Barbara contain some of the best driving roads in all of California. Along the hour it takes to traverse Highway 192, there’s an overabundance of elevation changes, plenty of switchbacks, and very little time to get bored on straight stretches. Pro-tip: take a turn and get lost in one of the semi-rural neighborhoods. Fun can be had even at 15 mph.
Best Known Road: Chuckanut Drive
Chuckanut Drive is a half-hour’s worth of curves that started off life back in 1895 as a part of a trail. It’s located about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, and passes through several small towns along the way, should you want to make a day out of it.
Lesser Known Road: Gifford Pinchot Forest/Mt. St. Helens (shown)
The National Forestry roads on the North Side of Mt. St. Helens are simply amazing. Some have been paved in the past few years, and several others have some pavement and some stretches of very smooth gravel, perfect to stretch your all-wheel drive’s legs. RF 99 and RF 25 are especially amazing, but almost none of them will do you wrong.
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Best Known Road: Twisted Sisters (shown)
Once you head southwest of Austin, the Twisted Sisters have pretty much everything you’d want in a great road: over 100 miles of twists and turns, river-adjacent views, and plenty of cliffs. They’re quite possibly the best driving roads in Texas.
Lesser Known Road: FM 1155
Head due-east, just past Brenham—best known as the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream—and you’ll be rewarded with 30 minutes of tight corners, long bends, and a belly full of ice cream.
Best Known Road: FM 455 (shown)
Every Dallasite knows you must drive far past the sprawling suburbs if you want any semblance of a fun drive that doesn’t include egregious violations of the posted limit. For a good road that doesn’t involve crossing into Oklahoma, FM 455 is easily accessible but still relatively lightly traveled; and despite the mostly flat Texas landscape, it features a very rhythmic pattern of s-curves.
Less Known Road: FM 219 From Dublin to Lake Whitney
Considering Lake Whitney and Dublin (spiritual home of Dr. Pepper) are both rural tour destinations, it’s kind of surprising that the stretch of FM 219 that runs between them isn’t more traveled. But it’s not, and it’s awesome.
Near Washington, D.C.
Best Known Road: Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway (shown)
Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway combine to become the ultimate choose-your-own adventure story. Get on Skyline just under an hour west of town, then drive the fantastic roads until you've heard every song on the radio three times. There are plenty of places to turn off and head back home, or you can choose to keep going all the way to the end of Blue Ridge—at which point you’ll have been driving continuous curves for roughly six hours.
Lesser Known Road: Chesapeake Country Byway, MD
Starting about an hour outside of D.C., the Chesapeake Byway is less of a challenging mountain pass and more of a cultural jaunt. While you’re there, it’s also got some of the best seafood in the country.
Best Known Road: Blackjack Road (shown)
Running between Galena and Savanna, Illinois, Blackjack Road is really a collection of various highways, and it’s got tons of twisty bits to keep you entertained. When you get to Savanna, Poopy’s is a legendary biker bar-slash-tattoo parlor that’s worth checking out.
Lesser Known Road: Highways 144 and 28 to Sheboygan
Ask any Chicagoan (we did) and they’ll all tell you the best roads near Chicago are in Wisconsin or Michigan. Fortunately, Wisconsin and Michigan aren’t that far, and if you take 144 and 28 up to Sheboygan, you’re rewarded with plenty of curves over rolling hills, and on the way back you’ve got lake Michigan right next to you the whole way down.
Best Known Road: Tail of the Dragon (shown)
With over 300 turns in fewer than 10 miles, no turn offs between the start and the finish, Deals Gap, otherwise known as Tail of the Dragon, is a mecca for any proper gearhead. It does get somewhat full of like-minded individuals, though, so you’ve got to know the right times to go to avoid traffic, but it’s worth the research.
Lesser Known Road: Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest's Route 197
There are some truly great drives in the Chattahoochee Forest, like Georgia State Route 197, which is essentially one long string of corners. The roads to and from there aren’t so bad either.