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In America, driving means more than just getting from one place to another. Automobiles are an American tradition and an enduring symbol of freedom, mobility, and control over one’s own destiny. From coast to coast, America’s landscape varies greatly, from dramatic mountain ranges to peaceful prairies and coastal byways. Travelers can experience them all just by hopping in a car, blasting some tunes on the radio, and gazing out the natural beauty out the window. Road trip season is in full swing, so pack your bags, fill up your tank, and take a drive along some of these scenic American drives.
Pacific Coast Highway is frequently described as the most scenic drive in the world. The drive along Highway 1 takes about five hours, but it sees very high volumes of traffic in the summer months. The road from Cambria to Monterey spans 123 miles, and the road from Point Reyes National Seashore to Jenner and Mendocino spans 140 miles. Along this iconic route, you’ll see many of California’s top highlights including the redwood forests, Big Sur, Monterey Bay, and Sonoma County wine country.
The most scenic way to reach America’s southernmost point is on Florida’s Overseas Highway, which is also known as Route 1. This route spans 113 miles and includes a series of bridges between Miami and Key West. Keep an eye out for old railway bridges as you drive along this route, which are survivors of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. Although this early 1900s rail project was never completed to connect the Keys with the mainland, you can still see remnants of the historic bridges today.
Lots of scenic drives travel through America’s national parks and forests, and the San Juan Skyway passes through several of them. This 233-mile route passes through the San Juan National Forest, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forest. In between the huge mountain peaks, you can explore the ruins of old Native American homes and quaint towns. But if you aren’t planning to stop, you can complete the drive in about five hours. Depending upon the season you visit, you can see waterfalls, wildflowers, colorful changing leaves, and stunning snowy landscapes.
There are many scenic drives throughout the Great Smoky Mountains, spanning from Tennessee to North Carolina and Virginia. But one of the most spectacular drives you can take is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which twists and turns for nearly 500 through the mountains. This route also reaches into the Shenandoah National Park as well. There are dozens of resident bird species that live in this area, so it has become a popular traveling route for bird watchers. The autumn season is one of the best times to take this drive to see the colorful changing leaves.
If you’re looking to explore Utah a little off the beaten path, don’t miss driving along the Moki Dugway. This is a graded-dirt stretch of road along State Route 261, with plenty of twists, turns, and switchbacks to satisfy every driver’s need for excitement. Along this route, you will travel the 1,100-foot descent, which is only three miles long but takes much longer than you’d expect. Although the scenery is magnificent, keep your eyes focused on the road because the drop-offs are steep!
To explore the natural beauty of Maine, take Park Loop Road through Acadia National Park. Park Loop Road extends 27 miles along two lanes. Summer and fall are particularly busy times for the park, but if the traffic is light, you can complete this drive in about an hour. But take your time to take in the rugged coastline of the North Atlantic Ocean with its high ridgelines bordered by lush evergreen trees. Many visitors pull off to hike around the park or to join a local tour on a lobster fishing boat. The entire Atlantic coastline along Maine spans 3,478 miles, which is surprisingly more coastline than California has! If you have more time to explore the area, venture a bit further to visit Kennebunkport, Portland, and Freeport.
Explore the magnificence of towering mountains, luscious valleys, cedar forests, and alpine tundra as you drive through the beautiful Glacier National Park on Going to the Sun Road. This road runs about 52 miles in the park and will take you about two hours to drive if you don’t make any stops. One of the most popular stops along this route is at Logan Pass, where the road passes the Continental Divide. Because of heavy snowfall in the area, this scenic drive is only open to traffic between June and early fall. If you want to learn more about the glaciers and native people who once called this land home, you can take a class at the nearby Glacier Institute.
If you love natural scenery and American history, then head to Newport, Rhode Island and travel along Ocean Drive. This is a 10-mile coastal drive that gives visitors an amazing view of historic mansions, quaint cottages, and elaborate modern homes. You can even stop at Fort Adams to learn about garrisoned soldiers in history. There are lots of boats and a peaceful rugged coastline to take in along the way.
It’s difficult to find a part of Hawaii that isn’t scenic, but you can really get an appreciation for the Hawaiian landscape while driving along the Hawaii Belt. State Routes 11, 19, and 190 all form a circle around the perimeter of the Big Island of Hawaii. Along this scenic route, you’ll see jungles, volcanoes, farmland, beaches, mountains and valleys. If you drive the entire route, you’ll clock in about 300 miles. Most people split this drive into several days so they can get out of the car to explore the natural beauty and local culture along the way. One of the most popular places to start this drive is in Kailua-Kona, which is famous for its hardened lava flows.
Dalton Highway is a 414-mile road that runs through central and northern Alaska, and it’s one of just two North American roads that cross the Arctic Circle. Many people start this drive at Mile 73 of the Elliott Highway, 84 miles north of Fairbanks, and end at Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay oil field. You’ll get to see the Yukon River, the Brooks Mountain Range, the North Slope tundra, and the Continental Divide at Atigun Pass along this drive. Since sections of the road are still primitive, this journey should only be attempted by pick-up, SUV, AWD, and high-clearance cars only.