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The western United States offers a multitude of amazing road trips, but these are surely the most spectacular of all.
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Following the Oregon coastline along Highway 101, the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is one of the best road trips in the United States, thanks to its breathtaking scenic beauty. As the state of Oregon owns the entire coast, drivers can soak up amazing unobstructed natural vistas along the roughly 300 miles of picture-perfect beaches, wind-sculpted dunes, seaside cliffs and marshes. On the south end between Brookings to Port Orford, dramatic sea cliffs stand in contrast to pastoral farmlands, while the north end is marked by lush rain forests and a rugged coastline dotted with quaint beach towns. There are also a number of rock formations that are home to large colonies of sea lions and seals, and, between November and June, be sure to keep an eye out over the horizon, as you just might catch a glimpse of passing grey whales.
Highway One in California is legendary for its awe-inspiring scenery, particularly the 123-mile winding, cliff-hugging stretch from Monterey to Big Sur on the Central Coast. In fact, this drive is often ranked among the top scenic drives in the world. Here, mountains plunge down to the roaring waves of the Pacific on one side while majestic, towering redwoods flicker past on the other. In this area, you’ll even find a rare purple sand beach near Big Sur at Pfeiffer State Park along with an impressive waterfall that cascades down to the sand. If you want to continue south, the highway passes one of America’s few true castles, Hearst Castle, before reaching the picturesque beach town of Morro Bay.
If you have a fear of heights, you may want to avoid this one. A top road trip in Colorado, it boasts steep cliffs but is worth the reward of what may be some of the most awe-inspiring vistas on the planet. Each time you turn a corner, it seems the views just get better and better, with the towering, jagged peaks of the San Juan Mountains and a multitude of interesting historic mining structures to gaze at. You’ll find plenty of lookout points so that you can pull over and get a closer look too. 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, don’t miss the section between Durango and Silverton, as it’s rather spectacular as well.
Unlike most highways, this nearly century-old route was built purely for the scenery, and it definitely delivers in a big way. The magnificent, winding highway stretches for about 75 miles, from Troutdale to The Dalles in northern Oregon. It was the very first paved road in the Pacific Northwest, and the first scenic highway in the nation. It’s internationally renowned for its abundance of breathtaking waterfalls, brilliant wildflower displays in the summer and fall foliage in autumn, as well as impressive overlooks of the Columbia River Gorge. Sometimes referred to as the “King of Roads,” many call it “one of those drives that must be done before-you-die.” Discover ever-changing perspectives of the gorge, which includes sweeping panoramic vistas from 900 feet above the water, and take time for at least one hike on the numerous trails along the byway, many of which lead to hidden falls.
Going To The Sun Road is a jaw-droppingly beautiful 50-mile highway that divides Glacier National Park east and west, spanning the width of the park and crossing the Continental Divide. Frequently named one of the best, if not the very best, scenic drives in the U.S., you’ll not only see brilliantly-hued glacial lakes, cedar forests and waterfalls, but lots of wildlife. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep often hang out at Logan Pass, soaking up the sunshine right along the roadway. While you’re in this region, you might as well as add on the 67-mile stretch of US Highway 212 that traverses through both Wyoming and Montana – it’s the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies, and another one of America’s most dazzling drives. This one is bound to make your heart pound, and some feel that it requires 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. There you’ll enjoy 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.
This section of US Highway 50 was given its name for somewhat obvious reasons – it passes through a primarily barren uninhabited, extremely remote area of Nevada. At the same time, it offers that fabulous freedom of the open road feeling along with a number of interesting distractions. The highway follows the Pony Express route, skirting mining camps and going over juniper and pine forest-covered mountain ranges. When it comes to places to take a break to enjoy a bite to eat or fuel up, you won’t have to worry as there are plenty along the way.
One of the must-experience highlights here is Great Basin National Park, one of the least-visited and most remote national parks in the country, with hiking trails to pristine mountain lakes and ancient pine forests where you can walk for hours without seeing another soul. Its isolation and desert air also means you can enjoy some of the darkest night skies in the continental U.S, with meteors, millions of stars and five planets all coming into view.
A road trip on the Kenail Peninsula offers the chance to experience the ultimate wilderness adventure, including some of the best fishing, paddling, hiking and wildlife watching. Make your way through Chugach State Park with its soaring, craggy peaks, azure-hued glaciers, dazzling lakes and waterfalls, as well as the vast 1.9-million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Just some of the wildlife you might spot along the way include moose, eagles and bears. One of the best ways to begin is by acclimating yourself to the spectacular surroundings by hiking the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage before heading south in a four-wheel-drive vehicle – while most of the roads are good, you won’t want to miss taking one of the rugged side trips.
This journey is a long but unforgettable one, spanning for over 860 miles through six national parks in the Southwest. Start at the Grand Canyon, but forget about the tourist-filled South Rim and head to the North Rim, which offers fabulous hikes without the crowds, like the trek on the North Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls. Utah is loaded with breathtaking parks, like Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, an ideal place to pitch a tent and enjoy views of moonlit hoodoos at night. At Capitol Reef National Park, explore vibrantly-hued canyons, domes, and arches, while Arches National Park features some astonishing, unique red rock formations that make for incredible photographs, along with some of the best mountain biking trails in the country.
The only major route on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula is the loop highway. Begin at Highway 101 at the junction with 104, and follow it counterclockwise through Port Angeles and Aberdeen. Veer off at Highway 12, just west of Olympia, and connect with 101 north along the Hood Canal. You’ll pass through beautiful aromatic lavender farms that surround the small town of Sequim, and, by heading 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 stunning lakes in the entire country, Lake Crescent, filled with emerald-hued waters that are surrounded by lush greenery and an abundance of waterfalls. On the west coast discover a wild coastline with fantastic beaches where at low tide, you can peak into the multitude of tide pools that filled with starfish, hermit crabs and other sea creatures.