From the stunning ocean views of the Pacific Coast Highway to the spectacular backdrop of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America boasts several of the world’s most scenic drives. So grab the camera, gas up the car, and enjoy the ride. Here are ten of our country’s most picturesque roadways.
Scenic Byway 12, Utah
Starting at Capitol Reef National Park, Scenic Byway 12 in Utah has a higher concentration of scenic overlooks, National and State Parks, and points of interest than any other road in the nation. Scenic Byway 12 spans 112-miles and travels through the spectacular Grand Staircase Escalante. With nine towns, seven scenic backways, and twelve visitor centers along the way, you will want to plan for at least two days to cover the drive. Notable attractions along the route include Bryce Canyon, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Anasazi State Park Museum, and Kodachrome Basin State Park.
The Pacific Coast Highway
The eight-hour drive along California’s Pacific Coast Highway features some of our country’s most rugged coastline. Beginning in Santa Barbara in the south, and ending in Monterey, the highway features dozens of interesting towns, attractions, and scenic overlooks. Don’t-miss stops along the road include Hearst Castle (plan at least a half-day), the recreated Old World Danish village of Solvang, and McWay Falls. Spend a night in America’s happiest city, San Luis Obispo, or camp under the stars in the Big Sur region. When the kids get cranky, Santa Cruz has a beachside boardwalk amusement area with one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the country.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and ends at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Skyline Drive – often thought to be the northernmost extent of the parkway but actually a separate road – is a 105-mile highway that runs through Shenandoah National Park, and offers some of our country’s best mountain scenery. The Drive has an endless number of places to picnic, hike, fish, and swim, so plan a full day. The Blue Ridge Parkway ends in the Smoky Mountains, one of the world’s top family vacation destinations, so bring the kids, for sure.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a nature trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that has been developed by the park rangers for cars. One of America’s best-kept secrets, the one-way, five-and-a-half mile loop begins and ends in the gateway town of Gatlinburg, and traverses major elevation gains and falls, trail intersections, waterfalls, picnic areas, and easy hikes. It’s a perfect way for people with limited abilities or families with small children to enjoy the splendor of the Smoky Mountains, and is regarded as being just like hiking, but in a car. More than 10 million visitors come to the Smoky Mountains and America’s most popular national park each year, and the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge provide a galaxy of attractions to entertain them, including luxury Gatlinburg cabins nestled in the foothills for a home away from home in nature.
Overseas Highway, Florida Keys
Florida’s Highway 1 runs about 140-miles from Miami to Key West. Also called the Overseas Highway, the road features forty-two bridges and gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, often at the same time. Attractions along the route include John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo, the beautiful Anne’s Beach in Islamorada, and the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West. Palm-tree lined beaches, gentle trade winds, and endless sunshine give the Florida Keys a tropical paradise feel.
Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A
Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A looks out over the Gulf of Mexico along the Florida Panhandle. Powder-white sand beaches, coastal dune lakes, and a sprinkling of colorful Caribbean style homes make Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A an exceptional driving experience. The road has dozens of small beachfront towns along the way, each offering a unique feel. The little town of Seaside, for example, hosted Jim Carey’s 1998 film “The Truman Show”, and the quaint cottages that comprise the town remain one of the most beguiling accommodations on any coast.
Route 200 (Saddle Road), Hawaii
The one-time white-knuckle drive along Hawaii’s Route 200, better known as Saddle Road, is now paved and at least two lanes wide in most stretches. The scenic roadway runs from Hilo to Kona and offers incredible views of the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes. Saddle Road runs through four distinct types of terrain – tropical forests, arid deserts, lush grasslands, and misty mountain tops.
San Juan Skyway (Million Dollar Highway), Colorado
Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway winds through the beautiful San Juan Mountains. In 2012, the San Juan Skyway earned Travel + Leisure magazine’s title of “America’s Best Spring Drive.” The route features several historic towns, including Telluride, Durango, Silverton, and Ouray. Due to many sections with no guard rails and steep drop-offs, you may want to take the Million Dollar Highway at a slow pace.
Highway 163, Arizona/Utah
The northbound drive on Arizona’s Highway 163 offers stunning views of one of our country’s most spectacular natural wonders – Monument Valley. Film cameras love this road too – fans of old westerns may remember Monument Valley from the John Wayne hit films “Duke”, “Stagecoach”, “Fort Apache”, “Rio Grande”, and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”. More recently, Tom Hanks jogged this stretch of road in the 1994 blockbuster “Forrest Gump”. You may also recognize Highway 163 as the backdrop for many an automobile advertisement.
Seward Highway, Alaska
Designated a National Forest Scenic Byway, Alaska’s Seward Highway spans one-hundred-and-twenty-seven miles and connects the cities of Anchorage and Seward, Alaska. For the first fifty miles of the highway, driving south from Anchorage, you wind along the shore of Turnagain Arm at the base of the Chugach Mountains. You’ll spot lots of wildlife like beluga whales, mountain goats, black bear and moose along the Seward Highway. Alpine valleys, salt-water bays, and ice-blue glaciers make this one of the world’s most impressive scenic drives.