The Best Scenic Drive in Every State
Road trip? Road trip!
The vastness of the American landscape cannot truly fathomed until you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, staring down a massive thunderstorm as it engulfs a distant mountain. Or whizzing along a pristine coastline dotted with palm trees and crystal waters that emerge after a long drive through a rocky canyon. In some states, you can experience multiple ecosystems in rapid succession: In Oregon and Washington, for example, you could transition from craggy coast to rainforest, mountaintop, and high desert all before stopping for lunch. You can drive 12 hours and see nothing but Texas, but said Texas includes various ecosystems and a dope wine country.
The American roadways have long had a mythical allure. And in the past year, they’ve proven more invigorating than ever: a way to remain isolated while experiencing true grandeur. No matter where you are, chances are there's a fantastic, accessible drive nearby. Below you’ll find our favorite in each state, which can be enjoyed on their own or stitched together into a wider exploration of the country. If ever there was a time to embrace the open road, it’s now.
Alabama: Highway 78US 78 runs all the way from South Carolina to the Arkansas border. It carries you over nearly 200 miles of Alabama, from the Appalachian Mountains into the Talladega National Forest, all on a two-lane strip of tarmac that ebbs and flows with the terrain. Pull off near Leeds to catch a movie at the old-school Grand River Drive-In movie theater. If you have the time, set aside a whole day to wander the lakes of Holly Springs National Forest. And ideally another whole day for Birmingham, which you know you’ve been meaning to visit.
Alaska: Haines HighwayIt’s not the road or even the legendary backdrop that puts Haines Highway at the top, because natural beauty is already something Alaska has in abundance. It’s the wildlife-watching opportunities along Haines that make the difference. Also known as the Valley of the Eagles, it’s home to the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world. There’s also picnicking to be done all up and down the Chilkat River, and you can camp at countless stops like Chilkoot Lake (great kayaking, too) or Mosquito Lake. And when it’s really time to get out from behind the wheel, pull off for a cold one at Haines Brewery.
Arizona: Highway 179Look, you can never go wrong with Route 66, and Arizona is home to a number of its most iconic spots. Just outside Sedona, though, is the Red Rock Scenic Byway, which boasts everything from breathtakingly beautiful rock formations to early Native American cliff dwellings. If you’re a believer in the supernatural, you’ll find the Byway is sprinkled with what like-minded folk refer to as “vortexes” of spiritual energy—two of the biggest are Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock, formations which are stunning regardless of your personal beliefs. Around Sedona, stop off at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village as well as the Amitabha Stupa & Peace Park, where you’ll find a 36-foot-tall Buddha and a stupa that matches that same fantastic red of the rocks in the background.
Arkansas: Talimena National Scenic BywayOnly 18 of Talimena’s 54 miles are in Arkansas, but they make it count. Running through Queen Wilhelmina State Park on the crest of Rich Mountain, Arkansas’s second highest peak, the brilliantly colored vistas and winding roads that are so fun people drive hundreds of miles just to enjoy them, scattered with so many photo opps and historic points like the Pioneer Cemetery—which features its own ghost story—you’ll be spoilt for choice. Be sure to visit the1930s Wonder House, which from the outside appears to be a regular ol’ two-story stone abode and from the inside turns out to have nine levels. Then stop by the renovated Queen Wilhelmina lodge to unwind over hearty Southern fare. Nicknamed the "Castle in the Clouds," it comes with a breathtaking side of Ouachita Mountains views.
California: Pacific Coast HighwayThe PCH is both one of the most famous and one of the most picturesque roads in America. It’s almost a shame if you’re driving it with a destination in mind, instead of just soaking in the journey. The route is littered with famous stops: Long Beach, Malibu, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Big Sur—but the unmissable platonic ideal of PCH is the Pebble Beach 17-Mile Drive. That’s where all those PCH photos come from. You have to pay $10.50 per vehicle to drive through, but it will be worth it. Another not-to-be-missed scenic stop is Muir Beach Overlook; you might recognize the long wooden stairs from dreamy PCH photos, too. It's a national treasure chest packed with gems hidden and beloved.
Colorado: Pikes Peak HighwayColorado’s not exactly lacking for scenic drives, but the twisty stretch of tarmac on Pikes Peak is among the most storied in the U.S. The Pikes Peak Summit House, which as you may have guessed is a house at the summit of Pikes Peak, is not just a place to take pictures or get coffee. It is also a place to eat donuts. Excellent, excellent donuts that happen to be the only donuts in the world made above 14,000 feet in altitude, where they have been served for more than 100 years. The altitude is said to make the donuts even more delicious. We can say from experience that this is true.
Connecticut: State Route 197Route 197 takes you through the stretch of Connecticut known as the Quiet Corner. Bigelow Hollow State Park and Nipmuck State Forest provide all the hiking, biking, and boating you could ever want, as mile after mile of road goes by with not much more than a few feet separating you from densely wooded hills. Every so often, you’ll pass through a charming little New England town that looks exactly how you imagined a charming little New England town would. Woodstock, for instance, where you can stop for a free tour of family-run dairy Fairvue Farms.
Delaware: Brandywine Valley Scenic BywayDelaware’s not exactly a large state, but there’s enormous wealth along this 12.3-mile stretch of Route 52 (also known as Kennett Pike) and Route 100 (AKA Montchanin Road): plenty of beautiful hills, classic bridges, museums, and more exorbitantly nice estates than any one road should have. You’ve got the Wilmington Flower Market in the spring, the Brandywine Festival of the Arts in the fall, and Brandywine Creek State Park at any time of year. Browse the antique shops in charming Centreville Village, and stop at Buckley’s Tavern for some hearty comfort food before you get back on the road.
Florida: Seven Mile BridgeThe open blue sea stretches out on all sides as you drive the longest bridge in the Florida Keys, and one of the longest anywhere in the world. But Seven Mile Bridge is actually not one single bridge—it’s two, one older one for cyclists and foot traffic and a newer, separate expanse for cars. The former is closed for repairs until 2021, which means driving is currently both the best and only way to experience it.
Georgia: State Route 197Head into the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and you’ll be rewarded with some pretty killer turns. Pull over somewhere quiet and get out of your car, though, and you’ll see gorgeous scenery like this. During Prohibition, the highway was a moonshine route. Today, it's a destination for artisanal pottery, stained glass, and wood furniture. Moccasin Creek State Park is your go-to for camping, hiking, and fishing. Lake Burton, meanwhile, is where you can put a day trip inside your road trip with boating, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and all the lake-related activities.
Hawaii: Hana HighwayMaui’s Hana Highway is a 52-mile stretch of asphalt that winds so tightly the trip can take hours. Part of the holdup comes from crossing a whopping 59 bridges along the way, most of which are only one lane across. You could complete the drive in about two and a half hours if you somehow manage to resist stopping to take pictures at the many scenic pullouts along the way, but … why would you do that? Some of them have waterfalls! Where you can swim! When it’s time to rest, stop around mile 9 at Ho’okipa Beach Park for a bite at the family-run Mama’s Fish House Restaurant.
Idaho: Tetons Scenic BywayIdaho’s packed wall to wall with scenic beauty: Winding roads, mountain lakes, deep canyons, and, yes, a giant roadside spud or two. But the western part of the state’s Teton Scenic Byway is the star of a state woven with scenic drives. Here, the stratospheric mountain peaks that began in Wyoming continue to loom large over a twisting 70-mile jaunt that winds past seemingly endless vistas, a springtime mega-bloom of kaleidoscopic wildflowers, and small towns like Driggs and Victor. The latter is home to the hugely influential Grand Teton Brewing, should you like to grab a growler to enjoy on a side hike in Targhee National Forest… after all, the brewery is credited with introducing American beer nerds to the big to-go bottles in 1989.
Illinois: Ohio River Scenic BywayIllinois is home to what Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed “the world’s most beautiful drive.” It’s a beautiful 2.5-mile ride and all, but those looking to put a few more miles on their wheels should opt for the Ohio River Scenic Byway instead. The 188-mile trek is a leisurely cruise through Southeast Illinois’ rolling river valley, darting into the Shawnee National Forest, across scenic bridges, and through small towns including Metropolis, where a giant Superman statue serves as the signature roadside attraction. While you’re here, take a detour into the Shawnee for a look at the Garden of the Gods, a collection of natural sandstone monoliths that make a strong case that the old Bull Moose had barely explored Illinois before making that wild decree.
Indiana: Ohio River Scenic BywayThe Ohio River Scenic Byway is nearly 1,000 miles, 303 of which stretch through the small towns and vineyards of southern Indiana. Pull off at towns like Veyvay or Madison and enjoy antique shopping and cute cafes. You can also check out the limestone gorges at Clifty Falls State Park, or pop by Thomas Family Winery (try the cider, not just the wine) and then simply enjoy the views whilst you wait the appropriate time before getting back on the road.
Iowa: Driftless Area Scenic BywaySome 10,000 years ago, a massive ice sheet just barely missed Iowa’s northeastern corner, bulldozing or burying much of the rest of the state. But not here. Here you have 144 miles to drive along high limestone bluffs, dense hardwood forests, verdant river valleys—the Upper Iowa River will make you reach for your paddle—and scores of Indigenous burial sites, known as effigy mounds. Ride this scenic roller coaster from Yellow River State Forest to Decorah, stopping to split a pint at legendary Toppling Goliath Brewing. After a quick climb out of a very old meteor crater, you’ll zig-zag your way toward New Albin, the Minnesota border, and down into the wildlife-dense sloughs and wetlands of the country’s grandest waterway.
Kansas: Gypsum Hills Scenic BywayThirteen miles of Route 66 cut through the part of Kansas that looks exactly like what you expect Kansas to look like. But head south toward the Oklahoma border and US-160 will challenge your notion of the state’s geography. The Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway offers a straight shot (Kansas ain’t much for curves) through the high plains region, with mesas, red soil, and even some canyon emerging, unfurling a crimson-tinted landscape that seems more Old West than Dorothy Gale. Keep an eye out for armadillo—again, this is not the Kansas you were expecting.
Kentucky: Route 77When the fog is thick, the road and dark mossy boulders are slick with rain, Route 77’s eerie appeal primes you for what’s up ahead. What you’re looking for here—the big draw—is the Nada Tunnel. While its name is taken from a long-gone logging town, it’s also an apt description of the amount of space this one-time railway tunnel affords you (though it’s pronounced “NAY-duh”. Not “NA-duh”). It is only 900 or so feet long, but only one lane wide. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of a construction worker killed in a dynamite blast. There is no interior lighting. Gather your courage, look carefully for the telltale headlights of an oncoming car, pick your moment, and go. The ethereal beauty Red River Gorge awaits on the other side... once you catch your breath, that is.
Louisiana: US 90
Route 90 is a vast East-West highway, and its Louisiana stretch runs 297.6 miles along the state’s entire southern border. It crosses over Sabine River, passes through historic towns like Lake Charles, Morgan City, carries you from prairies to marshlands to New Orleans. Stretch your legs at one of Lafayette’s many excellent dives. Above all, stop in at this specific Chevron station for a deep-fried boudin ball. And a meat pie or two. For the road.
Maine: Park Loop Road, Acadia National ParkAcadia National Park is a beautiful place on its own, but toss in a smooth band of asphalt and you have the most stereotypically gorgeous fall drive imaginable. The 27-mile stretch that comprises Park Loop Road spans forests and lakes, mountains and rocky coastline where fog rolls in so thick, you might mistake it for an avalanche. Spend the evening in Bar Harbor, preferably tucked away at Cottage Street Pub with a Back River Gin cocktail. Getting back on the road can wait til morning, once the fog burns away.
Maryland: Chesapeake Country Scenic BywayThe Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway is a cultural tour that runs through some of the nation’s most historic sites, from 18th-century courthouses to former plantations. The oldest national scenic byway in the state of Maryland, this route has the range—you can glide between the main streets of some of Maryland’s most scenic small towns to the Chesapeake Wine Trail to piers you can fish from as the sun goes down. You can drive yourself right onto a free tour of Chesapeake Farms. Plan to stop for food at one of the restaurants on or near Kent Island, like Fisherman’s Inn—you want that view right over the water.
Massachusetts: Mohawk TrailThe Mohawk Trail has been recognized for over a century as one of the most scenic roads in the entire Northeast, and was used for hundreds of years before that by Native Americans and early settlers. In Shelburne Falls, along the Deerfield River, you will come upon something very special: the historic Bridge of Flowers, which between April and October is open and blanketed in a vibrant flower garden. When you finally manage to tear yourself away from the splendor, refuel down the road with pancakes at Gould’s Maple Sugarhouse.
Michigan: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Michigan is home to more than 3,200 glorious miles of scenic shoreline, and in any other state Lake Michigan's M-22 would be the no. 1 pick, hands down. But Michigan is also home to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Jutting from the choppy, crystalline waters of Lake Superior are approximately 40 miles of cliff faces that look like the world's biggest toddler went to town with a paintbrush, resulting in streaks of brilliant color that pop more and more the closer you get. Which is to say, yes, you should absolutely get out and stretch your legs on a hike to places like Chapel Rock. Stop off in Munising for picnic provisions and Oberon, and don't forget to send a card from the post office in the town of Christmas.
Minnesota: Highway 61/The North ShoreHugging the frigid coast of Lake Superior, this northern Minnesota wonderland is a rat-a-tat tour of the state’s most stunning sights, which whiz by with alarming speed as you wind through dense forests and up and down roller coaster hills. The trip starts in the unexpectedly vibrant Duluth before firing you along the waters, where you’ll catch sights like the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse, the funky little Swedish-inspired town of Lutsen, and enough waterfalls and lake overlooks to fill a thousand screensavers. Plan to make it a multi-day adventure: You’ll absolutely want to explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Grand Marais. Plus, the North Shore is overflowing with great breweries, which all but demand frequent—and overnight—stop-offs to enjoy.
Mississippi: Natchez Trace ParkwayThe Natchez Trace Parkway was once part of a vital supply route spanning Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Back then, the 444-mile route was walked by boatmen, who were responsible for floating goods down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, then getting home somehow. Around Mile 41, look for the Sunken Trace—where the trail, and the trees alongside it, appears to be sinking lower than the rest of the surrounding ground, pushed down by years of foot traffic on readily eroded soil. Pull over just past Mile 122 for lunch and fire up one of the grills at River Bend picnic area.
Missouri: Highway 19
Highway 19 is a North-South route extending between Thayer and New London. Follow it and you get a taste of American history and the land we created it on. Hermann is a gorgeous village to cruise past, and farther down the road you can catch views of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Moving through the heart of the Ozarks means Highway 19 takes you right through the town of Eminence, where you might spot the only two bands of wild horses found in the Midwest. Stop at the Dairy Shack to scoop up some soft-serve before you continue on.
Montana: Beartooth HighwayIf you’ve ever been to Yellowstone, there’s a fair chance you were on the Beartooth Highway, since it’s one of the few ways in and out of the park. You’ll generally find it open May through October. As you pass rugged lodgepole pines and clear, frigid mountain lakes, keep an eye out for the Bear’s Tooth itself—a sharp, jagged-looking peak, visible from the highway, that does indeed resemble an incisor belonging to the sort of creature you wouldn’t want to run into while hiking. Head to Two Bit Saloon in the Yellowstone border town of Gardiner when it’s time to kick back over some karaoke and well drinks with the locals.
Nebraska: US Route 83US Route 83 runs 222 miles through the dazzling plains of Nebraska, carrying travelers on an oftentimes pink-hued road past stabilized dunes, river valleys, and homes designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Spend a night stargazing in the small town of Valentine, and from there make a quick detour West to sip apple wine at the Niobrara Valley Vineyards. If you can, do this route in the summertime. This is your chance to find out what “tanking” is.
Nevada: Valley of Fire Highway
If you’re heading to Vegas, hop off Interstate 15 for a quick trip to Mars. Millions of years ago, shifting sand dunes formed a stunning region of sandstone in the southern tip of Nevada. The drive offers an array of warm colors in stripes, from the prevailing rustic red to orange and cream-colored slickrock. A particularly lovely stretch is Mouse’s Tank Road, which is woven through with hiking trails, colorful rock striations, and petroglyphs. Before you leave the area, make sure to visit Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza for drinks, slots, breakfast burritos, and an astonishing inventory of commercial fireworks (legal while still on tribal land; less so once back on stolen land).