Scenic Driving Routes You Have to Experience This Fall

Take the long way home.

Photos: Shutterstock; Design: Kelly Millington/Thrillist

No country in the world has quite the array of scenery that we do in America, and there’s perhaps no better season to experience it than fall, when picturesque highways across the country beckon road trippers with vibrant colors and cascading waterfalls. No matter what part of the country you live in, there’s likely a scenic drive within a few hours of home where you can cruise under red rocks, through deep river gorges, or along heavenly mountain tops. Yes, hiking is great and all, but some places are just better experienced from the comfort of a car, which is why Thrillist partnered with Safelite® to spotlight 10 drives that let you enjoy the changing seasons from behind your glass.


Pacific Coast Highway, California

The quintessential California road trip runs along Highway 1, where crashing waves, golden mountains, and the rolling hills of wine country seem to stretch on forever. The journey begins on the sun-soaked beaches of Santa Monica, running up through Malibu and Ventura and into rows of vineyards in Santa Barbara. Stop and stretch your legs by touring the grandeur of Hearst Castle, then visit an elephant seal rookery right on the beach.

The route continues up the coast to Big Sur, where you’ll find one of the most stunning nature reserves in America at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, then relax and enjoy the sunset with a bite to eat at Nepenthe just off the highway. From there, it’s on to the Monterey Peninsula where the iconic 17-mile drive caps the trip with the most dramatic ocean scenery of the drive. Continue on into San Francisco, and if you still can’t get enough of California’s coastal beauty, the shores of Bodega Bay and Mendocino are less than two hours away.


North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota

Those not from the Midwest might not fully understand the staggering beauty that lies along the Great Lakes. The easiest, and often most dramatic, way to appreciate it is along Minnesota’s 154-mile Highway 61. Start out by visiting the Lake Superior Maritime Museum in Duluth to get a historical context of the country you’re about to explore, then set out driving up and down hills, through thick forests, and along open water. You’ll careen past bluffs along Lake Superior, where new views pop up literally around every corner.

Along your journey from Duluth to the Canadian border, you’ll pass the Split Rock Lighthouse, a 1909 structure set atop a dramatic cliff, with a history that’s equally as theatrical. You’ll also pass through the Swedish-themed town of Lutsen, and past eight state parks — nearly all of which have hikes to waterfalls, should you want to take a break from your car. If you want a little upper body exercise, pull off at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, one of America’s most popular spots for human-powered water sports.


Skyline Drive, Virginia

You may find yourself musically inspired as you travel atop the Blue Ridge Mountains on Skyline Drive, best experienced in fall when the normally blue-hued mountains turn brilliant shades of orange, red, and gold.

Begin in Shenandoah National Park at the Front Royal entrance station, and cruise at the strictly enforced 45 miles per hour stopping at as many of the 70-plus overlooks as you care to photograph. If you want to keep the scenic adventure going, you can also pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap and continue another 469 miles through Appalachia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Overseas Highway, Florida

Henry Flagler’s vision of a railway connecting the Florida mainland to the rogue island of Key West was one of the great engineering ambitions of the 20th century. And though that railroad was wiped out by the Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the road lives on as a magical overwater road trip through the turquoise bays of the Florida Keys.

Beginning in the mouth of the Everglades just south of Miami, the road crosses 42 bridges over 113 miles, each one bringing you further from the stresses of life and into the laid-back ethos of the Keys. Along the route, you’ll pass landmarks and get a chance to sunbathe in paradise at Bahia Honda State Park. The bright blue waters and equally alluring sky make the entire journey feel like a tropical vacation, best concluded by watching the sunset from Key West’s Mallory Square.


Needles Highway, South Dakota

South Dakota is home to the most underrated scenery in America, at least according to those who’ve never been lucky enough to visit. But one jaw-dropping drive along the Needles Highway will have you seeing the state in a whole new light. The trip begins in Custer State Park, where buffalo roam and even sometimes cause traffic jams along the highway.

The road winds through the Black Hills among forests of aspen and spruce trees, where curious granite towers stick up from the landscape beyond. You’ll pass viewpoints out over sprawling mountain valleys, then squeeze through the narrow rock openings for which the highway is named. Don’t feel bad taking pictures of your car barely clearing the granite walls; the 14-mile highway isn’t meant to be traveled quickly. Finish by relaxing with an outdoor lunch at Sylvan Lake, as you say to no one in particular, “I had no idea South Dakota was so beautiful.”

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Of course, before you head out on the open road, you'll want to make sure your vehicle is road-worthy. That includes your windshield and other vehicle glass. From quick chip repairs to full windshield replacement and safety system recalibration, Safelite has you covered. And if glass damage happens while you're in the middle of your scenic journey, it's all good — Safelite has repair shops in all 50 states. Visit to easily schedule service.


Million Dollar Highway, Utah

Quite simply, there's no better red-rock-viewing drive in America than Utah's Highway 12, which looks like a movie set made completely of paper mache. Rest assured these rocks are all real, as constructing something as dramatic as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would be fairly impossible. (Though the towering hoodoos in Dixie National Forest are suspiciously reminiscent of cartoons.)

The southern Utah Marscape continues through two national parks — Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef — as Highway 12 crosses gaping canyons and dramatic cliffs. Heads up, acrophobics may want to hide in the back during the drive over Hell’s Backbone, a narrow bridge near the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness area with a terrifyingly sheer drop-off.


Columbia River Gorge Highway/I-84, Oregon and Washington

Your car will feel almost as if it’s floating along the Columbia, as this interstate parallels the river meandering through its namesake gorge. You’ll glide through granite canyons that cascade down into the deep blue water, rolling up and down soft hills as the views get more expansive.

Wineries dot the landscape beside the highway, as rows of meticulously planted vineyards add a little hint of Napa to the already stunning scenery. Pop into The Gorge White House and Winery or Hood River Vineyards to look around and take a break from the road. Or for a more active option, walk the trek to Multnomah Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest.


Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming

The main road in and out of Yellowstone National Park runs along a skyline of mountain vistas that look, as the name might imply, like a beartooth. When you get to the Wyoming side, you're up over 10,000 feet, which is why it's only open during warmer months. Even then, you can catch snow-capped mountains all along the way, effectively America's answer to the Icefields Parkway in Canada.

The road offers some pretty sheer drops and intense elevation, and driving it isn’t always for the faint of heart, especially in inclement weather. Though when you catch the sights from Tibbs Butte in Wyoming and can take in the grandeur of the American West, the white-knuckle driving seems worth it.


Road to Hana, Hawaii

For tropical scenery, no drive in America — and maybe the world — tops the Road to Hana. The 64-mile journey is packed with waterfalls, views of the Pacific, and even an eerie moonscape toward the end. You’ll find Pa’iloa’s black sand beach in Wai’anapanapa State Park, a cove so coveted they sell parking places in advance. There’s also the Garden of Eden arboretum, a trip deep into tropical plants that immerses you in the aroma of the islands.

The most important thing to remember about driving Maui’s famous Road to Hana is that it’s meant to be taken on island time. That means you may well find yourself behind a slow-moving car whose occupants are taking in all the tropical beauty, so rather than getting impatient, look at it as an opportunity to join in the aloha spirit.


Haines Highway, Alaska

Alaska has nature that's on a different scale from the rest of America, where mountains seem taller, glaciers more imposing, and wildlife more untamed. You'll experience it all along the Haines Highway, where you'll feel miniscule driving into the heart of the highest mountains in the country. It's also home to the largest concentration of bald eagles in the world, which you can spend some quality time with when you pull off at Valley of the Eagles.

You might also spot black bears, foxes, and lynx along the way, and a side trip to Million Dollar Falls is always good for getting the blood flowing back to the legs. Just remember much of this road stretches into Canada, too, so bring your passport.