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While international travel is extremely limited right now, an epic road trip can get you out of the house, enjoying beautiful scenery while still doing your part to flatten the curve. There are some great drives through America’s eastern region, bringing opportunities to experience history, nature, food and more. Many of these top picks will bring you to places where you can get out and enjoy the fresh air, hiking trails and picnicking alongside a lake or river.
*Keep in mind that as things are changing on practically a daily basis, be sure to confirm the latest information on closures before heading out to avoid disappointment.
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One of the best short and scenic mountain drives in the U.S., Skyline Drive is a 105-mile route that travels along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. You can enjoy breathtaking views just steps from your vehicle with nearly 70 overlooks that showcase the scenery. A National Scenic Byway and National Historic Landmark, If you want to get out and hike, while social distancing, of course, there are miles and miles of hiking trails to explore. Keep an eye out for the wildlife along the way like wild turkey, black bear and deer.
One of the most beautiful drives in the U.S. is along the Overseas Highway, which runs from the tip of mainland Florida near Miami south into the Florida Keys. Spanning 113 miles, it crosses a series of roads and more than 40 trans-ocean bridges all the way down to the southernmost point at Key West. The longest of the bridges is Seven Mile Bridge, which stretches seven miles across sparkling aquamarine waters linking Knight’s Key with Little Duck Key, although you’ll enjoy amazing panoramic views of coastal flats and islets the entire way. A snorkeler’s and diver’s paradise, beneath the water’s surface is an incredible world of brilliant colored fish and coral reefs.
Traveling through Highway 6 will bring you through Cape Cod, but a drive on 6A, an approximately 62-mile route, is especially enjoyable with much less traffic and picturesque scenery. The tree-shaded roadway passes beautiful historic homes and Cape Cod Bay while running through some of the most historic villages in the country like Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans. Wear a mask and you can pop into the enticing little shops and antique stores.
The 27-mile Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park is a great way to explore Maine’s breathtaking natural beauty. While summer and fall are busy, you probably won’t mind – you’ll want to go slow with all the incredible scenery. This is the main avenue for navigating Mount Desert Island Park, starting near the Hulls Cove Visitor Center on the north side of the island in Bar Harbor, connecting the park’s lakes, mountains, forests and rocky shores. Take your time and enjoy the rugged coastline along the North Atlantic Ocean bordered by lush evergreen trees.
The White Mountains cover about a quarter of New Hampshire and are considered the most rugged in New England. The range is also home to Mount Washington with its 6,288-foot-tall peak, making it the highest in the Northeast. One of the best drives to experience the scenery here is The Kanc (short for Kancamagus). The 34-mile drive between Conway and Lincoln boasts covered bridges and offers fun outdoor adventures like the Bretton Woods Canopy zip line tour. By riding the tram at Franconia State Park, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of it all.
About 75 miles in length, the Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway runs between Heflin and Fort Payne in Alabama, traveling through some of the state’s most beautiful scenery. You’ll see lush mountains most of the way, along with interesting geologic formations and charming historic rural communities, traversing through portions of Cleburne, Calhoun, Cherokee and DeKalb Counties. There are plenty of picturesque hiking trails to enjoy along the way, with the Dugger Mountain Wilderness Area one of the best. When you get to Fort Payne, be sure to visit DeSoto State Park to see its magnificent waterfalls, like the 107-foot-high Desoto Falls, one of the state’s tallest.
Connecticut State Route 169 National Scenic Byway offers views of beautiful untouched wilderness and historic New England architecture, traveling from the community of Lisbon, continuing past Canterbury, Brooklyn, Pomfret, and Woodstock to the border of Massachusetts. Views also include maple and pine groves and glacially deposited rocks and boulders that are strewn throughout fields. It’s just a 38-mile jaunt, but you’ll enjoy plenty of postcard-perfect photo-ops.
Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway is a 118-mile-long route named as such for skirting the base of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, where the ancestral Cherokees once lived. Starting in Cherokee County, it follows SC 11 all the way through Spartanburg, Greenville, Pickens and Oconee Counties to the west. Throughout the drive, the mountains will be looming on the horizon while passing multiple roadside stands and peach orchards as it makes its way through various villages.
The Highland Scenic Highway is a beautiful corridor through the national forest starting from the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center at Cranberry Glades to just north Edray on U.S. 219, with four developed scenic overlooks along the way. It traverses numerous changes in elevation measuring more than 2,000 feet bringing spectacular views of the rugged Allegheny Mountains. If you can stop at the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area in Hillsboro, you’ll see impressive displays of diverse animal and plant life from the mountainous wetlands.
In the so-called “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park is one of the most beautiful parks in the U.S., famous for its 600-foot-high gorge with the Genesee River winding through. Driving the length of the park from its southern entrance, a little over an hour from Buffalo or Rochester, is less than 20 miles, but along the way, there are many places to stop and capture photos, take a hike or picnic. It’s also home to three waterfalls, and if you want to see more, Niagara Falls is a 90-minute drive away. In autumn, with the falls framed by all of that color, it looks like something out of a painting.
Vermont may not have an ocean coast, but it has a dazzling freshwater coast along Lake Champlain, offering gorgeous views of the lake and the Adirondack Mountains across the border in New York. Lake Champlain stretches for 120 miles across both Vermont and New York, with the northern tip in Canada, offering nearly 600 miles of shoreline to enjoy. For one of the top drives when it comes to views, drive south from Burlington on Route 7 to Mount Philo State Park where you can take a detour by driving to the summit for a panoramic vista. Then continue south to Route 22A through Vergennes and Button Bay State Park. Here you can take a trek along the bluff that overlooks the lake, or rent a boat to get out on the water.
The Enduring Farmlands Scenic Byway is a 65-mile route showcasing the historic towns of Hawkinsville, Pineview, Rochelle, and Abbeville, along with the serene countryside. It’s a trip back in time, providing a short but peaceful escape through the region’s small-town agricultural heritage, which still produces timber, peanuts, watermelons, pecans, poultry, cotton and sorghum. The Pulaski County Courthouse in Hawkinsville, built in 1874 in Neoclassical Revival style is picture-worthy, as is the 1907 Historic Opera House. Just south of town Mile Branch Park offers nature trails and picnic spots, with the Ocmulgee River winding through.
The 66-mile drive from Point of Rocks to Emmitsburg through the Catoctin Mountain Region of Maryland is especially picturesque. While it’s a standout when it comes to the beauty of autumn foliage, it’s worth the trip in spring and summer too. Stop to visit Cunningham Falls State Park to see Maryland’s largest waterfall, Cunningham Falls, enjoy the 43-acre lake and explore the remains of a historic iron furnace. Afterward, you can drive by the Camp David Presidential retreat and the Pen Mar Park, a former amusement park where you can enjoy a beautiful view from the Scenic Lookout.
Traveling 45 miles along U.S. highways 19 and 74 between Bryston City and Marble, the Nantahala Byway will bring you through the spectacular Nantahala Gorge. A beautiful riverside drive, you can stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center to zipline or get out on the river. If you’re looking for a longer trip and want to see a breathtaking waterfall, detour toward the community of Sapphire. Here you’ll find Gorges State Park, one of the most impressive settings in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, home to the 150-foot-high Rainbow Falls. Just a quarter-mile upstream is a popular natural water slide, Turtleback Falls, and less than a quarter-mile downstream Hidden Falls offers a tranquil swimming hole.
Less than two hours from New York City, the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway is a 52-mile route through the Catskills that will bring you on a journey through historical, charming hamlets and villages, each unique with something special to offer. It links the hamlets of Phoenicia and Pine Hill, the villages of Fleischmanns and Margaretville, and the towns of Olive, Shandaken, Middletown, and Andes. In between are serene farmlands, waterways and beautiful mountain views.