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Hitting the open road and driving to your next vacation destination is not only a great way to see the country, but an experience everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. What makes a road trip even better is when it’s a particularly scenic drive. In fact, road tripping has become such a popular way to travel that people plan their entire vacations around epic stops along America’s highways. Any one of these spectacularly scenic road trips will remind you why “America the Beautiful” was written. You’re sure to find a drive that will inspire you to get behind the wheel, fill up the tank, crank up the tunes and hit the open road.
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The peninsula’s only major route is the loop highway. Connect with it on highway 101 at the junction with 104, following it counterclockwise through Port Angeles and Aberdeen, veering off at Highway 12, just west of Olympia, connecting with 101 north along the Hood Canal. You’ll pass through lavender farms that surround the small town of Sequim, and if you head up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park you can look down to San Juan de Fuca Strait out to Vancouver Island in British Columbia and the San Juan Islands. Just a bit further west lies one of the most beautiful lakes in the nation, Lake Crescent, filled with emerald-hued waters surrounded by lush greenery and an abundance of waterfalls. On the west coast, discover breathtaking beaches – at low tide, peak into tide pools, filled with starfish, hermit crabs and other sea creatures.
If you want something really different, you might want to travel the Seward Highway, a 127-mile stretch of road between Anchorage and Seward, Alaska. It winds through the breathtaking Alaskan wilderness offering dramatic views of the shorelines of Turnagain Arm, the towering, craggy peaks of the Chugach Mountains, waterfalls, azure-colored glaciers and dazzling valley lakes. Just some of the wildlife you might spot along the way includes moose, eagles and bears. Once in Seward, magnificent Resurrection Bay comes into view, with its waters frequented by humpback whales, orcas, harbor seals, porpoises, otters and sea lions.
Highway One is legendary for its jaw-dropping scenery, extending nearly 656 miles, mostly along the coastline, from Orange County just south of Los Angeles up to Mendocino County, several hours north of San Francisco. Several of its sections are known as the Pacific Coast Highway, including the 123-mile, twisting, cliff-hugging, spectacular stretch from Monterey through Big Sur, home to a rare purple sand beach where mountains plunge into the Pacific. It continues to wind south, passing Hearst Castle and finally on to Morro Bay. From picture-postcard beaches to the crashing waves and soaring redwoods, this drive offers some of the most unforgettable views on earth.
Utah’s Patchwork Parkway, also known as Scenic Byway 143, follows a 55-mile course rising from 6,000 feet on the western slope to over 10,000 feet across a majestic plateau, gradually descending to 6,500 feet along the eastern slope with pioneer communities at either end. This route was once traveled by American pioneers as well as Native Americans who hunted and gathered along the way. This route was named after the pioneers who used to lay quilts on top of the snow to protect their feet from the frigid temperatures as they traveled. The beautiful roadway features a number of overlooks along the way for visitors to stop and admire the gorgeous scenery, including brilliant orange and fiery red canyons, slit cliffs and forest-covered plateaus.
Nearly 500 miles of highway winds through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Park, built for travelers seeking Appalachian scenery. Begin in Asheville, N.C., driving through the mountains to Skyline Drive in the national park, the highlight of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s stunningly beautiful year round, with autumn arguably the most breathtaking, featuring undulating slopes of brilliant hues. In the summer you’ll enjoy a bounty of forest canopy, and a snowy wonderland with ski resorts during wintertime.
If you’re looking for wildlife along with impressive scenery, South Dakota’s Black Hills and Badlands offers it all. In the Black Hills you’ll discover golden meadows, canyons, beautiful lakes and lush, forest-covered hills along with a host of different creatures, like bison, deer, bighorn sheep and even wild burros. Stop by Mount Rushmore just outside Custer Sate Park and then travel the Needles Highway to view some of the most unique rock formations on the planet. Head east toward the Badlands Scenic Byway, SD 240, where the highway traverses through Badlands National Park for a little over 30 miles, following impressive cliffs and buttes the entire way. In addition to the dramatic scenery, this park is home to bison, bighorn sheep, antelope, bald eagles, black-footed ferrets and more.
While this drive is certainly not for the faint of heart, most find the fear felt while navigating the twists and turns at the edge of steep cliffs – without benefit of guard rails — is worth the reward of what may be some of the most jaw-dropping vistas on earth. Every time you turn the corner, it seems the views just get better and better, with the soaring, jagged peaks of the San Juan Mountains and numerous historic mining structures to gaze at. You’ll find plenty of lookout points so that you can pull over and get a closer look. Though the section of the roadway referred to as the Million Dollar Highway stretches for about 25 miles in southwestern Colorado, following U.S. 550 between Silverton and Ouray, the scenery between Durango and Silverton is rather stunning as well.
Driving the Overseas Highway from the tip of mainland Florida near Miami into the Florida Keys offers an especially unique experience. It spans 113 miles as a series of roads and 42 trans-ocean bridges all the way down to America’s southernmost point, Key West. The longest of the bridges is Seven Mile Bridge, stretching seven miles across turquoise waters connecting Knight’s Key with Little Duck Key, though you’ll enjoy amazing panoramic views of coastal flats and islets the entire way. A snorkeler’s and diver’s paradise, beneath the surface of the water lies an incredible world of brilliant colored fish and coral reefs, with a number of dive sites to stop at along the way, including the 70-square-mile John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.
This National Scenic Byways All-American Road, is a 67-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 212 in Wyoming and Montana, and the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies. One of the nation’s most dazzling drives, it’s also bound to make your heart pound, requiring nerves of steel to get through portions of it. The byway crests at nearly 11,000 feet in elevation, at the aptly named viewpoint, Top of the World. It features magnificent views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, open high alpine plateaus dotted with nearly endless glacial lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls and a ton of wildlife, including moose, bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain goats, mountain lions and bobcats.
The Belt Road, or Mamalahoa Highway, consists of Hawaii State Routes 11, 19 and 190, which encircle the Big Island of Hawaii. Driving around it, you’ll see everything from active lava flows and stark white beaches to mountains, lush jungles and deserts of lava. Numerous towns and parks offer the chance to get a closer look at the scenery and enjoy the local flavors. Stop at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm just before the village of Captain Cook to learn about locally grown coffee as well as sample Hawaii’s luscious local fruits like passion fruit, guava and Kona oranges. The Belt Road rises in altitude while lowering in temperature, until it reaches Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where you can stop and safely view the active lava flows in the park – best accomplished with a ranger-led hike.
This spectacular 50-mile, paved two-lane highway bisects Glacier National Park east and west, spanning the width of the park and crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. Scenic viewpoints and pullouts line the road, allowing motorists to stop and enjoy views of a wide variety of terrain, including large glacial lakes, cedar forests and windswept alpine tundra at its peak. Wildlife can be spotted at just about any point along the roadway, but mountain goats and bighorn sheep are almost always seen at Logan Pass, lounging in the sun right alongside the highway. The road is only open from June through early fall due to heavy snowfall.
The Hana Highway extends 52 miles along Maui’s northern coast from Kahului to Hana, winding around nearly 600 curves along the way. Along just about every bend you’ll discover black sand beaches and sweeping ocean vistas as well as a number of waterfalls and plenty of lush Hawaiian jungle. As the narrow twists and turns can be a bit harrowing, you’ll want to stop at least a few times along the way for photo ops as well as hiking the trails. Around mile marker 11, look for a pullout along the road and take the path to Lower Puohokamoa waterfall, which plunges 130 feet into a pool below. You can even take a cool dip in one of the waterfall pools. About 27 miles east of Kahului, pull over at the Garden of Eden and Botanical Arboretum to see where parts of Jurassic Park were filmed. Another five miles in is Waianapanapa State Park, known for its scenic black sand beach, sea caves and a rock arch. Hike to the sea cave and you might just get the chance to watch the water turn blood red due to the presence of millions of tiny shrimp.
The Pacific Coast Scenic Byway follows the Oregon coastline along Highway 101 and is one of the most photographed regions in the country. As the state of Oregon owns the entire coast, it offers preserved unobstructed natural vistas along the roughly 300 miles of magnificent beaches, wind-sculpted dunes, seaside cliffs and marshes. On the south end between Brookings to Port Orford, fierce sea cliffs stand in contrast to pastoral farmlands, while the north end is marked by majestic rain forests and a rugged coastline dotted with beach towns. Several rock formations are home to large colonies of sea lions and seals, and, between November and June you’ll want to keep an eye out over the horizon to catch a glimpse of passing grey whales.
This 160-mile circuit links picturesque Cape Cod’s network of beaches, sand dunes, tidal ponds, charming fishing towns, lobster and clam shacks. The drive takes in virtually all of the Cape from quiet villages on the bay side to scenic but desolate dunes along the outer Cape’s national seashore as well as lively Provincetown. Begin by crossing the Sagamore Bridge into Cape Cod, heading to Sandwich, the oldest town on the Cape, home to numerous museums and antique shops. The route continues through Yarmouth, Brewster and Orleans, edged by some of the most picture-perfect beaches. The famed summer resort town, Provincetown, is a colonial seaport with elements of a Portuguese fishing village, and the host of an abundance of art galleries and music festivals.
This route stretches for 56 miles from Santa Fe to Taos, delivering one picture-perfect moment after another. It takes the traveler through an authentic remnant of Old Spain, including beautiful views of towering mountains, ancient Indian pueblos, deserts, forests, wildflower-filled meadows and artists’ colonies in 17th-century adobe towns. The road climbs from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the Rockies, with gorgeous canyon vistas over Truchas Peak at 13,102 feet.
While you may not be able to enjoy ocean views in Minnesota, the North Shore Scenic Byway rivals some of the best with its 150 miles of rocky coastline. Begin at Canal Park in Duluth, and take a journey through stunning unspoiled wilderness along the edge of the world’s largest freshwater lake. You’ll pass magnificent cliffs and beautiful beaches bordered by the Sawtooth Mountains along with countless acres of birch, pine and aspen streams. Rivers, streams, waterfalls and picturesque lighthouses are also spotted along the way. You’ll want to stop to enjoy the small town charms of the friendly communities you’ll encounter, home to historic museums, cultural exhibits, unique shops and eateries.
This breathtaking, winding highway spans 74 miles from Troutdale to The Dalles in Oregon. It was the first paved road in the Northwest and the first scenic highway in the U.S. World renowned for gorgeous waterfalls, summer wildflower displays, architectural gems and the stunning overlooks of the Columbia River Gorge, it’s sometimes referred to as the “King of Roads.” Travelers enjoy ever-changing perspectives of the gorge, including sweeping panoramas from 900 feet above the river, while hikers may feel as if they’ve entered paradise with the numerous trails along the byway, many of which lead to hidden waterfalls.