Taking a classic, all-American road trip is a rite of passage for many travelers. Thankfully, you needn’t look far as just about every state in the country offers a great scenic drive or three. Sure, there are the obvious choices like Highway 1 over the Florida Keys and Hawaii’s Road to Hana. But the country offers many lesser-known – though just as stunning – scenic drives. Here are three of the best scenic drives in the U.S.
Million Dollar Highway (Colorado)
Colorado’s “Million Dollar Highway” (technically U.S. Route 550) traverses a relatively short 25-mile-path between Silverton and Ouray. As the most beautiful piece of the larger San Juan Skyway, it offers literally breathtaking views of the state’s western landscape. There are no guardrails along most of its stretch as visitors climb over three extreme mountain passes, all topping 10,000 feet. The weather is severe and unpredictable year-round with record snowfalls frequently forcing the state to close the road entirely.
State Route 12 (Utah)
Utah is home to some of the country’s most breathtaking national parks. Connecting the dots between them is one of the easiest ways to find the most scenic drives in the United States. Scenic Byway 12 may not sound all that alluring, but the 120-mile stretch between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon is like a highlight reel of the state’s stunning natural landscape. Outside of a handful of small, eclectic towns, there are few traditional services (gas stations, restaurants, etc.) along the way. With a limited number of entry points onto the road, it requires a bit of planning, a detailed map, and a hearty sense of road trip adventure to navigate.
Going to the Sun Road (Montana)
Going to the Sun Road is the only road that traverses Montana’s incredible Glacier National Park. Since its completion in 1932, the 53-mile route has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark – both with good reason. The narrow, two-lane road is treacherous in parts, but the panoramic mountain views of one of the country’s most beautiful states make it worth the drive. With its location along the Continental Divide, the weather can be bleak and unpredictable, particularly in winter. Most years, the road doesn’t open until June or July, giving visitors only a four-month window to experience its beauty.
Skyline Drive (Virginia)
You might be surprised to learn that one of the country’s most visited national parks lies just 75 miles from the center of Washington, D.C. Shenandoah National Park is the crown jewel among Virginia’s green space with 75 scenic overlooks and more than 500 miles of trails (101 of which traverse the Appalachian Trail) stretched across nearly 200,000 acres. It’s a diverse landscape that covers wetlands, dramatic rocky cliffs, and waterfalls, and is home to hundreds of bird species and the relatively rare black bear. Skyline Drive is the only public road through the park. The scenic drive covers 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains with stunning panoramic views on either side. While a relatively brief ride, on a good, clear day, it takes a minimum three hours to drive end-to-end. But, honestly, you’re going to want to linger a whole lot longer.
Acadia All-American Road (Maine)
Minutes from the tiny tourist town of Bar Harbor, the Acadia All-American Road offers one of the most unique and varied drives in the United States. At its lowest elevation, the winding two-lane road hugs the Maine coastline near sea level. At the summit of Cadillac Mountain (an elevation of 1,530 feet), a scenic lookout provides sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and the state’s rugged coast. The scenic drive between both elevations offers plenty of opportunities for hiking (check out the harrowing Precipice Trail), bird-watching (the park is home to nesting falcons), and grabbing a traditional popover at the wildly popular, waterfront Jordan Pond House. At daybreak, visitors can catch the very first rays of sunlight to hit the continental United States from the summit of Cadillac Mountain. After dark, the park provides prime stargazing opportunities thanks to its lack of light pollution.
Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway (New Mexico)
Old West towns, ancient cliff dwellings, and copper mine ruins — all just a part of the Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway. This 93-mile scenic drive in southwestern New Mexico crisscrosses six climatic zones across the Continental Divide in the country’s first-ever national wilderness area, the Gila. It’s vast, open, dramatic, and among the most remote wilderness areas in the lower 48. The drive alone is the star of this area. But, Silver City (where this loop drive begins and ends) is a worthy destination in its own right. The once-booming mining town has a fascinating and eclectic history that dates to the 1870s, and the Silver City Museum is well worth a visit to hear the complete story.
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