The Best Scenic Drive in Every State
Road trip? Road trip!
The vastness of the American landscape cannot truly be 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 lately, 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 78
US 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 Highway
It’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 179
Look, 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 Byway
Only 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 the 1930s 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 Highway
The 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 Highway
Colorado’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 197
Route 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 Byway
Delaware’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 Bridge
The open blue sea stretches out on all sides as you drive the longest bridge in the Florida Keys, one of the longest bridges anywhere in the world and just one part of the Overseas Highway. Technically, this is actually not one single bridge, but two, one older one for cyclists and foot traffic and a newer, separate expanse for cars. Arguably, the further you drive out into the Keys, the better the views get—and when you're ready to park it for the night, the stranger the bars get, too.
Georgia: State Route 197
Head 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 Highway
Maui’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 Byway
Idaho’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 Caribou-Targhee National Forest… after all, the brewery is credited with introducing American beer nerds to the big to-go bottles in 1989.
Illinois: Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway
This one is all about twofers. One of the most beautiful destinations in Illinois, the 33-mile Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway celebrates the beauty that lies at—you guessed it—the intersection of two rivers, the Illinois and the Mississippi. (The Missouri River also makes a brief appearance: it joins the other two in Alton, Illinois, just south of Pere Marquette State Park). This trip also covers just one section of a long string of river towns that lie along the Great River Road, a route that winds along the Mississippi and traverses 10 states including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and beyond.
Indiana: Barn Quilt Trail
Come on down to LaGrange County, Indiana, and live like the Amish do for a weekend (or at least, you know, see how the Amish live). Along this route—which is a little more like a region, touching six different small towns all specializing in the cozy art of quiltmaking—you’ll run into a number of spots selling colorful homemade blankets, fresh farm goods, and more.
Although the area is primarily farmland, there’s still plenty of unique fun to be had. After all, how often is it that you get to gaze upon classic barns decorated with enormous quilted murals, dine out on Amish baked goods like jams and pies, and soak in the quiet, simple beauty of a landscape like this?
Iowa: Driftless Area Scenic Byway
Some 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 Byway
Thirteen 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 77
When 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 Park
Acadia 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 Byway
The 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 Trail
The 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, sandwiches, and more at Baked.
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 Shore
Hugging 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 Parkway
The 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 appear 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 Highway
If 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.
Nebraska: US Route 83
US 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).
New Hampshire: Kancamagus Highway
State Route 112 has, of course, the scenic overlooks. It has the towering trees and sparkling lakes and historical colonial heritage. All of that good stuff. And then it also has those special elements—waterfalls feeding into sandy-bottomed pools waiting for you to swim in; wooden covered bridges that lead you over the river and into a waiting picnic spot, which is also a fishing spot if you want it to be. No trip through the Kanc, as it’s known to its friends, is complete without a pit stop at Clark’s Trading Post for some souvenir maple syrup.
New Jersey: State Route 49
SR 49 has a sprinkle of all the very best stuff the Garden State has to offer. Like the Maurice River Bluffs Preserve, a freshwater haven for migrating songbirds. And the Palace of Depression, a life-size castle made of junk you’ll see if you pull off in Millville. And Big John’s Pizza, a cash-only, no-delivery, no-slices-you’re-in-this-for-the-whole-pie joint in Bridgeton. Never say New Jersey doesn’t have range.
New Mexico: El Camino Real National Scenic Byway
Forget what you heard: this historic highway in New Mexico will forever alter whatever barren images of the New Mexican desert you might have previously had. This road was used by Spanish conquistadors making their way from what is now Mexico City to San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe—a brutal journey of nearly 1,600 miles. Although the entire trek is filled with wonder, it’s the southern section that really shines both in terms of scenery and experiences.
Kick things off in Truth or Consequences, where mineral hot springs are a dime a dozen, and journey down the road to Las Cruces: a small city backed by the Organ Mountains, a range so exceedingly colossal and jagged, they’ll make you want to stop in the middle of the highway and stare. Along the way, stop for a green chili cheeseburger in Hatch, go interstellar at Spaceport America or the Very Large Array, and don’t forget to stop at the utterly-bizarre White Sands National Park—and its adjacent missile range—before your trip comes to a close.
New York: Hawk's Nest
Take Route 97 out of Port Jervis, and your next 90 minutes will be filled with an impossibly beautiful series of bends abutted by sheer rock faces on one side and a steep drop overlooking the Delaware River on the other. Following the river’s path as closely as this highway does makes it an unusually winding one, but if that isn’t enough to make you take it extra slow then the scenery definitely will be.
That or the wild turkeys wandering across the road. Give your pounding heart a chance to slow back down with stops at small New York towns like Hancock and Narrowsburg. In Barryville, brake for local jams, cheeses, and honey at River Market.
North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a treasure trove of natural beauty. Part of a nearly 470-mile stretch that cuts through the heart of Appalachia, doing it right will take you more than just one day (especially if you wanna hike the Appalachian Mural Trail). Around Mile Marker 328.3 you’ll hit the Orchard at Altapass, a nonprofit offering live music, hayrides, and fresh apples.
At Mile Port 334, pull over to go square dancing in Little Switzerland. When you reach Mile Port 384, it’s time for some souvenir shopping at the Folk Art Center. Mile Post 408.7? The Pisgah Inn is the area’s best and only dining room with a view. Between April and October you can camp right there, too.
North Dakota: Sakakawea Scenic Byway
Stretching from Washburn to Stanton, the Sakakawea Scenic Byway traces the routes of settlers Lewis and Clark. Stop for an archaeological tour at Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site, first inhabited by humans more than 11,000 years ago. For the outdoorsy folks, Cross Ranch State Park provides a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in undeveloped stretches of the Missouri River, with miles of hiking trails that are accessible year-round—including by cross-country skis, come wintertime. Wind down in Washburn with fresh-baked pie at Dakota Family Farms.
Ohio: Ohio River Scenic Byway
Remember this one from Indiana? Running alongside the Ohio River for most of its length here, this breezy scenic byway snakes right past some really awesome barns that are 100% Americana ... right down to the tobacco advertising. Palate-cleanse with some cafe-browsing and antique-shopping in New Richmond, and then when you’re really done for the day post up at Portsmouth Brewing Company, one of the oldest surviving breweries in the Midwest, dating back to 1843.
Oklahoma: Talimena Scenic Drive
That scenic drive from Arkansas we mentioned earlier? This is the other (larger) half. Things are just as sweet on the Oklahoma side of the border, where countless random turn-offs lead you to farming villages and little side drives. Pull over for photos at Panorama Vista, and, when you hit Horse Thief Springs, park and take a hike up the Ouachita Trail. And definitely pull over at Billy Creek Recreation Area or Cedar Lake Recreation Area, where you can camp, hike, and fish the afternoon away.
Oregon: The Columbia River Gorge Highway
Just a 40-minute jaunt from Portland, both the Washington and Oregon sides of this drive—known as I-84, if you're boring—are sandwiched by towering cliffs that draw gasps around every bend. Gaze upon the towering Rooster Rock, or a hidden waterfall peeing out of the Douglas Fir, or an eagle soaring over the expanse. About those waterfalls: There’s a scenic drive tucked into this scenic drive: Oregon's Historic Columbia River Highway.
This winding, lush road shoots off into the forest and brings you past dozens of Oregon’s most scenic waterfalls, from the hidden Oneonta to the world-famous Multnomah. Once you’ve gone East enough, you have choices: Shoot through the gorgeous town of Hood River and connect to another scenic drive up Mt. Hood, or head across the Bridge of the Gods to see the gorge from the other’s state’s point of view.
Pennsylvania: Route 6
Spanning a butt-numbing 400+ miles of Northern Pennsylvania from the Ohio border to the New York borders, Route 6 more than makes up for its lack of Amish furniture with a dizzying array of Pennsylvanian beauty. Expect to stop frequently, lest you miss sights like the jaw-dropping Pine Creek Gorge—Pennsylvania’s verdant answer to the Grand Canyon—or a chance to walk 300 feet above a canopy of trees on the Kinzua Sky Walk, a 2,000-foot-long viaduct built in 1882 (don’t worry, Pennsylvania has a storied tradition of structural engineering).
You’ll also roll through endless small towns, peep Lake Eerie, and even dip through Scranton, should you like to form your own opinions on whether Pizza by Alfredo or Aldredo’s makes the superior pie.
Rhode Island: Ten Mile Drive
Rhode Island being rather tiny itself, this drive, as the name suggests, is not a long one. No matter. Get on the road in the early morning and wind your way around a loop that circles Newport’s most lavish seaside mansions, the lush green lawns set off by surrounding water. Get out and wiggle your toes in Brenton Park, where the Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Finish with a glass of red in the bright, sparkling dining room of the Castle Hill Inn.
South Carolina: Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway
The conventionalist will tell you to drive along swank Hilton Head, and the contrarian will tell you to hit the dreamily eerie Botany Bay Road, despite it only running .4 miles. Both are gorgeous. But Cherokee Foothills is a road tripper’s drive: A ~120-mile adventure that passes along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains and packs a wealth of worthy pit stops, from mountain tunnels to roaring waterfalls and rickety old covered bridges.
You’ll be tempted to take side quests to places like the stunning Table Rock, reflective Lake Hartwell, or any number of vertiginous overlooks. After you complete them, continue on: Completion this voyage from east to west is rewarded with a glimpse of the gigantic fruit that is Gaffney’s Peachoid, a must-see for fans of roadside kitsch.
South Dakota: Needles Highway
Some might suggest that most of western South Dakota is a scenic drive. But the Needles is special. Head to Custer State Park, where, under the looming shadow of the Crazy Horse Monument, clusters of giant rock spires give the Needles Highway its name. You'll only drive about 14 miles, but the road winds up and up, through tunnels and across vistas as the rocks grow more jagged and bizarre, evoking giant fresh-air stalagmites.
Take a quick stop at the Sylvan Lake—a crystal mountain pool so serene it almost looks fake—then go where the road takes you, which should probably be the nearby Spearfish Canyon. After yet another underexplored mini-trip, you'll have a clear shot to the Badlands or Devils Tower. Everybody wins!
Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains is the country’s most-visited national park on a technicality: You sort of have to drive through it to get to many major cities. But the thing is, the park’s network of gorgeous roads—soaring up and down, with sheer cliffs and explosions of foliage everywhere—creates a spider web of drivable scenic beauty. If you’re looking to whiten your knuckles, the section of Highway 129 known as Tail of the Dragon packs 318 tight curves into 11 miles of road. For the less death-wishy, the Newfound Gap road takes you through the heart of the park from Gatlinburg and across the North Carolina border, with unforgettable views all the way.
Texas: Hill Country
Much of Texas’ famous bigness consists of long, desolate nothingness (which isn't always a bad thing!). But South Central’s Hill Country seems painted onto this landscape, offering up a respite that still feels uniquely Texan: a geographical and philosophical collision of Southeast and Southwest. How you drive it is a matter of taste.
For a nice panorama, head northwest of San Antonio to Banderas Pass where, if you time it right, you’ll catch an explosion of vibrant bluebonnets. Devil’s Backbone loops around farmland and rolling hills, while the Willow City Loop is awash in the color of 5,000 varieties of wildflowers come spring. Feeling dangerous? Hit up the Twisted Sisters’ heart-pounding 200 curves along huge drop offs and through narrow tunnels. Maybe don’t do that after wine tasting: You’re in Texas vineyard country, so consider making this a multi-day adventure. You’ve got plenty of roads to explore (in the morning, of course) if you do.
They call Utah SR-12 the Million Dollar Highway, but that seems to be selling it short. The road blasts through a greatest-hits collection of what makes Utah arguably the most gorgeous state in America: a collection of mythical hoodoos, towering monoliths, distant red-rock faces, petroglyphs, and adventures through slot canyons and river gorges.
In just under 123 miles you’ll pass two national parks (Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef), one national monument, a national forest, and state parks that put many national parks to shame. Whether you’re the kind of person who likes jumping into the pool underneath a 130-foot waterfall or just driving at high speeds through holes in rocks, there’s an adventure for everyone here.
Vermont: Route 7
As it goes in the Northeast, all beautiful roads lead to Canada, and Vermont’s Route 7 is no exception. Beginning in Pownal just north of the Massachusetts border and continuing 176 miles miles to Highgate just south of Quebec—one of the shorter journeys on this list, lasting just three hours!—this is a surefire way to check out all those lakeside, foliage-rich, mountain-backed Vermont destinations you’ve heard so much about over the years, including Burlington, Manchester, Rutland, Emerald Lake State Park, the state’s (nick)namesake Green Mountains, and more.
Virginia: Skyline Drive
Skyline is part of the same road as North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway, and you can guess how it got its name just from looking at this photo. The speed limit here is 45 mph, and Virginia is infamous for its speed-limit enforcement, so this one’s really all about what you can look at as you crawl along. Or just pull over to one of the nearly 70 overlooks that dot the route. There are a couple of outposts where you can pick up food, but try to save your appetite for the blackberry ice cream pie at Big Meadows Lodge.
Washington: Chuckanut Drive
State Route 11, north of Seattle is an uncommonly tight and twisty trail. It’s been around since 1895, though the natural beauty of the densely packed forest and steep cliffs has obviously been around a bit longer than that. Those inclined toward hiking should head into Larrabee State Park. You can fuel your trip with the biscuits and gravy from the Rhody Cafe, or, if you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you can pull over at the Taylor Shellfish Farms retail store, pick out some fresh crab, and grill it up right there in the picnic area.
West Virginia: State Route 16
West Virginia’s hilly terrain is marvelous to look at, and as a coal-mining region has played a huge role in our country’s development. As you roam up and down the hills and across the New River Gorge Bridge in the national park of the same name—the newest in the US!—you’ll also see the remnants of that mining tradition in the form of the ongoing reclamation projects, and closed mines. Personally, I recommend taking this particular bridge by foot—you can take a tour (secured by safety cables) right underneath, with peregrine falcons diving down around you.
Wisconsin: Great River Road
You’ve heard of mountain towns. You’ve heard of river towns. Well, y’all, get ready for this: a 250-mile journey that’ll take you past 33 idyllic river-mountain towns, making for one of the best road trips this side of—and literally alongside—the Mississippi. Along Wisconsin State Highway 35, you’ll fly by cideries and wineries, local diners and inns, boats bobbing on steady water, lookout points across calming, verdant hills, and all manner of villages riddled with that small town charm we all love to wax poetic about.
Come in autumn to catch some of America’s best fall foliage blooming along the riverbanks; come anytime to enjoy geocaching, museums, and wine tasting, all great for helping you stretch your legs.
Wyoming: Beartooth Highway
As with Montana, the Beartooth Highway is the best of the best in Wyoming. The drops are steep, and you’re two miles in the sky, so it’s too treacherous to even remain open in the winter. But come summertime, and your first glimpse of the vistas from Tibbs Butte, you will forget all that. Near Cooke City, stop at the Top of the World Store for some ice cream. You’ve earned it.