10 Great Scenic Drives in America

posted by Chris Valentine

Thanks to thousands of miles of coastline, a variety of mountain ranges, millions of square miles of forest, and some amazing desert terrain, America has many of the world’s most scenic drives. Starting on the East Coast and driving west, here are ten picture-perfect roadways where you will never hear the phrase “are we there yet?”

The Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia/North Carolina

The beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway runs from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, through North Carolina, and ends at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Along with the historical landmarks, incredible vistas, and the numerous small towns that line the route, a 105-mile stretch of the parkway, (Skyline Drive), runs through Shenandoah National Park and features some of the country’s best mountain scenery. There are also plenty of places to hike, picnic, fish, and swim along the way. Also, don’t forget that your trip ends in the Great Smoky Mountains, near the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, one of the world’s top family vacation destinations, so plan accordingly.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Tennessee

Winding through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just outside of its gateway town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail may be one of America’s best-kept secrets. The roadway lets families with small children and those with limited mobility enjoy the beautiful Smoky Mountains from the comfort of their car. The one-way, five-and-a-half mile drive traverses 5,000 feet of altitude, winding through many scenic overlooks and trailheads, often along a “Roaring” creek. This could have been a hiking trail, but park rangers turned it into a narrow driving loop to expand accessibility to its numerous wonders along the way. The Smoky Mountains are best enjoyed by staying in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge rental cabins, which offer comfortable mountain living in comfort for visitors.

Overseas Highway, Florida Keys

Highway One, “The Overseas Highway”, runs from Miami, Florida to Key West. The highway features forty-two bridges, simultaneous views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and the world’s best Key Lime Pie. Key Largo attractions include John Pennekamp State Park, glass-bottom boat tours, and Alabama Jack’s – home to the world’s best Conch fritters. You can also take an “African Queen” river tour on the actual steamer used in the original 1952 movie. The tidal flats at beautiful Anne’s Beach in Islamorada extend out over a mile and a half. Along with excellent nightlife, Key West attractions include “the Southernmost Point Buoy” and the “Ernest Hemingway House.” Almost every key has quiet beaches and cottage rentals on both the Atlantic and the Gulf side.

Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A

Sugar-white sand beaches, coastal dune lakes, and an eclectic mix of Caribbean colored homes make Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A a drive not to be forgotten. The twenty-four-mile stretch along Florida’s “Emerald Coast” runs from Rosemary Beach to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, and passes right through the picturesque little town of Seaside, Florida. Jim Carey fans know Seaside as the setting for his 1998 film “The Truman Show.” Families flock to Seaside for its easy walkability, charming downtown loaded with shops and restaurants, and the famous Seaside vacation rentals. Seaside recently won the title of “the Best Beach on Earth for Families,” by Travel + Leisure magazine.

The Pacific Coast Highway

California’s Pacific Coast Highway features some of our country’s most dramatic coastline. You can drive the PCH in about eight hours, starting at Santa Barbara and ending in Monterey. But there’s so much to do and see along the way, that you could easily take a week to make the trip, especially if you enjoy camping. A stop at Hearst Castle alone fills at least a half-day. Other don’t-miss attractions include the Old World Danish village of Solvang, America’s happiest city – San Luis Obispo, and the Stunning McWay Falls. Then, of course, there’s the breathtaking scenery of Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula, also home to some of the world’s best golf.

San Juan Skyway (Million Dollar Highway), Colorado

Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway cuts through the beautiful multihued San Juan Mountains. Durango, Silverton, Telluride, and Ouray are a few of the major historic towns along the 235-mile route. Travel + Leisure magazine named the San Juan Skyway one of “America’s Best Spring Drives” in 2012 thanks to its million-dollar views. Take it slow, however, as sections of the road have steep drop-offs and no guardrails.

Scenic Byway 12, Utah

Scenic Byway 12 in Utah has the highest concentration of National and State Parks, scenic overlooks, trailheads, and points of interest of any road in the United States. Connecting Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks, this 112-mile, incredibly spectacular drive also offers a roadway through the arches of Red Canyon. Other major attractions along the route include Anasazi State Park Museum, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, and Bryce Canyon. There are also seven scenic backways, nine towns, and twelve visitor centers along the way, all worthy of a visit.

Highway 163, Arizona/Utah

Head north on Arizona highway 163 for dramatic views of our nation’s most stunning terrain – Monument Valley. You may recognize the multicolored buttes of Monument Valley from the film “Forrest Gump” or as the backdrop for many an advertisement. Fans of vintage westerns know the territory as “John Wayne country” thanks to the five blockbuster movies filmed there, including Stagecoach. This is Navajo country, so spend a night at the Navaho-run View Hotel for a sunrise and sunset that you will never forget. For a complete experience and access to parts of the valley that are otherwise off-limits, take a Navaho-operated tour.

Seward Highway, Alaska

Designated a National Forest Scenic Byway, Alaska’s Seward Highway connects the cities of Anchorage and Seward. For the first fifty miles heading south from Anchorage, the highway winds along the shore of Turnagain Arm, at the base of the Chugach Mountains. The scenic roadway spans 127 miles. Ice-blue glaciers, alpine valleys, salt-water bays, and spectacular mountain views make this one of the most unique scenic drives in the world.

Saddle Road (Route 200), Hawaii

Feel like you’re driving in the clouds as Hawaii’s Saddle Road on the Big Island reaches an elevation of seven thousand feet. The 54-mile drive from Hilo features lots of scenic and changing terrain – ranging from rainforest to desert – with dips and rises, lava flows and great views of the Mauna Loa, and Mauna Kea volcanoes. Notoriously considered “one of the most dangerous roads in the world,” Route 200 is now completely paved, but it’s isolated and often misty, so care is advised. The best part – it’s in Hawaii.


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