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From the more famous routes to lesser-known byways and highways, here are some of the most scenic drives in America.
There’s truly special something about just going for a drive when the scenery around you looks like a painting. Often, we get so focused on getting to the final destination that we forget to enjoy the journey, but sometimes the journey is the whole point! When it comes to a country with such diverse landscapes and a car-friendly culture, it’s so easy to plan a drive and find all sorts of beautiful views. All you have to do is crack open the windows, hit play on your ultimate road trip playlist, and take in the open road.
Below are some of my absolute favorites!
8 of the Most Scenic Drives in America
1. The Kancamagus Scenic Byway
When it comes to my home state of New Hampshire, there are so many incredible drives to choose from! However, if I had to just pick one, it’d have to be the Kancamagus Scenic Byway. If you ask, it probably tops every local’s list. Known fondly as “the Kanc,” this byway runs through 34.5 miles of New Hampshire Route 112 and I’d argue is the best place for fall foliage come October. It cuts through White Mountains National Forest and will, quite literally, take your breath way.
To start your drive, begin in Lincoln and drive towards Conway. Stop along the way to take in views of Osceola Range, Pemigewasset Wilderness Area, and Sugar Hill. Don’t miss the Albany Covered Bridge, which dates back to 1858, and if you want to stretch your legs, go for a short hike to Sabbaday Falls. Don’t be surprised if you meet a moose on your journey!
See more in our “New Hampshire” episode
2. The Oregon Coast Highway
As far as West Coast states go, I still think Oregon is one of the most underrated. Washington with is Pacific Northwest climate and California with its eternal sunshine often overshadow the Beaver State, which is sandwiched in the middle. However, anyone who’s road tripped or, better yet, taken an RV along the scenic Oregon Coast Highway will tell you there is no shortage of draw dropping landscapes.
The whole coastline is around 363 miles long and Route 101 will take you along most of it. It’s best to plan at least a week to drive from Astoria (made famous by one of the best “scary” movies of all time) down towards Port Orford where Oregon’s southernmost lighthouse is located. Along the way plan for short hikes, many, many lighthouse stops, and all sorts of unique natural wonders. Cannon Beach is particularly incredible as is the majestic Thor’s Well, Sea Lion Caves, and so much more. Be sure to bring a rain coat no matter the season!
See more in our “Oregon RV Trip” episode
3. The Pacific Coast Highway
There’s no drive quite as iconic as the Pacific Coast Highway in California. This is the kind of drive you imagine doing in a convertible as you make your way down the Golden State. At over 650 miles from top to bottom, it’s the second longest route in all of the United States and brings you to some of the most famous towns and landmarks along the way.
Start in San Francisco and make your way down towards San Diego, never driving more than 2 hours a day to best enjoy your trip. Wind your way down through Monterey and Big Sur, home to one of the coolest coastal cliffs in the world, and stay overnight in the storybook town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Then make your way down to San Luis Obispo to check out the opulent Hearst Mansion before staying over in the quirky Madonna Inn. Before you go all the way down to Santa Barbara and see why Oprah decided to build her home here, stop in the Danish village of Solvang. Then venture into the very busy Los Angeles and witness Hollywood come to life before finishing off in the laidback San Diego. All along the way you’ll want to pull off to enjoy the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
See more in our “Monterey & Big Sur” episode
4. The Blues Highway
Stretching 1,400 miles from Wyoming, MN to New Orleans, LA, U.S. Route 61, is not only one of the most scenic drives in America, it’s also one of the most historic. After all, this highway inspired one of Bob Dylan’s best albums, Highway 61 Revisited, and his most famous song, “Like a Rolling Stone.”
This highway has been nicknamed “The Blues Highway” for its connection to blues music, especially the many famous musicians that were born along the way. Following the Mississippi River, the highway passes through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
It’s pretty hard to cover the entire route in one go, so if you really want to see as many music-related sights as possible, I’d start with a visit to Graceland in Memphis, TN before making your way south. This will take you through Mississippi, which is known as the heart and soul of blues. Legend has it Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil where Route 61 crosses with Route 49 in Clarksdale! When you go, be sure to download the free Blue Trails app so you don’t miss a landmark.
5. The Blue Ridge Parkway
Connecting Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s longest linear park at 469 miles. As the name suggest, the drive runs along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is in no short supply of epic views and Southern charm. Be prepared to slow things down to enjoy the drive – the speed limit hardly every goes about 45 mph.
Start off with Shenandoah with its own 105-mile long Skyline Drive, and checkout the historic Charlottesville before hitting the road. Your next stop will be the epic Natural Bridge and some time exploring Roanoke. Keep going to see the charming Mabry Mill and take in the change as Virginia turns into North Carolina. Don’t miss Flat Top Manor, Grandfather Mountain, and Linville Falls. If you’re visiting during late spring, early summer, stop in Craggy Gardens to hike the Craggy Pinnacle Trail to enjoy the rhododendrons. Finish off your trip with at least a weekend in Asheville to explore all the unique things to do and fantastic places to eat.
Bonus: If you want to continue on, the epic Tail of the Dragon is about 90 miles west of Asheville and is every motorcyclist’s dream. Its name comes from that fact that within 11 miles you have a whopping 318 curves!
See more in our “Asheville” episode.
6. The Twisted Sisters
For a shorted drive, you’ve got to check out the epically named The Twisted Sisters in Texas Hill Country. The beginning of this 100-mile loop route starts in Medina, which is only 60 miles from San Antonio. While most people think of Texas and think of wide open roads, The Twisted Sisters give offers up a more rugged landscape and combines three farm-to-market roads (FM) to show you a whole new side to the state. Beginning with FM 337 from Medina, you’ll get to experience some of the curviest sections of the route. Don’t forget to stop off at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum and grab a bite to eat at Bent Rim Grill.
FM 337 will then give way to FM 336 where the real “loop” part of this route begins. Think plenty of rolling hills and ranches with maybe a real live longhorn or two along the way. Once FM 336 ends, head west on RT 41 and look for signs for FM 335. This’ll take you back south and at Camp Wood, you can turn back onto FM 337. A lot of drivers agree this section is best for last! It’s said that on just this last section of road, you’ll have changed direction over 130 times. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m just going to take their word for it.
See more in our “Texas Hill Country” episode
7. Needles Highway
As northern section of South Dakota Highway 87, Needles Highway stands out in a region known for its epic road trip offerings. As its name suggests, what makes this 14-mile stretch unique is that it goes through high granite structures that look like needles. Even more fitting are the narrow tunnels that’ll remind you of trying to get a thin piece of thread through the eye of a needle! Located in Custer State Park, there are two tunnels you’ll want to pass through – Needle’s Eye Tunnel and Iron Creek Tunnel! Back when SD 87 was built in 1922, workers had to blast through some granite and they made sure to only make it wide enough for a single car to pass through.
Take your time along this drive and stop for all the panoramic views in the park like Sylvan Lake and Needle’s Eye. If you’re up for some hiking, the Cathedral Spires Trail is only 1.6 miles out-and-back, and for the more adventurous there are plenty of rock climbing opportunities.
Perhaps the most special view of all, though, is the perfectly framed view of Mount Rushmore on a clear day.
8. The Overseas Highway
If you had to name one of the most famous drives in America, it would have to be the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys! Stretching 113 miles over turquoise waters, it brings drivers through the famous “keys,” or small islands made up of coral deposits, and is known as the “Highway that Goes to the Sea.” It also makes up the beginning of U.S. Route 1, which begins in Key West and goes all the way to the Canadian border in Fort Kent, ME.
With 42 bridges, the highway is able to connect all the small islands, and each one has its own unique community and things to do. Of the major keys, Key Largo is home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park; Islamorada is the best spot for sport fishing (stop into Robbie’s Marina for breakfast on your way!); Marathon is home to the Turtle Hospital, and Key West is the liveliest of them all with a fun atmosphere and plenty to see in one island. On your way, don’t forget to try as much key lime pie as you can get your hands on and see who’s got the best recipe!
See more in our “Florida Keys” episode
And there you have some of the most scenic drives in America! From East to West Coast, any of these drives will remind you why we have a song called “America the Beautiful.”