9 Outstanding Scenic Drives
Story by Patricia Corrigan
Patricia is a journalist, photographer and book author based in San Francisco.
The lure of the open road leads drivers to beautiful spots across America.
If you’re ready for a weekend getaway or a longer respite from your routine, a road trip on one of America’s classic scenic drives makes for a perfect change of pace. Whether you make the trip with family and friends, head out on your own or travel with your sweetheart, we recommend these nine road-tested journeys through some amazing landscapes.
What’s not to love about a road trip in Hawaii? Our glorious 50th state features many coastal drives, but the one that gets you bragging rights is the 42-mile-long winding road from Lahaina to Hana, on Maui. Try it with the top down for the best views of beautiful beaches, rocky cliffs, rushing waterfalls and mountain forests, and plenty of interesting places to pause along the way.
Charming small towns stitch together this breathtaking 124-mile drive that passes through or nearby two national parks, three state parks, a national recreation area, a national monument and a national forest. No wonder the U.S. Department of Transportation has named it an All-American Road, one of the best scenic drives in America.
Mountain mamas — and papas — are drawn to drive this 236-mile route through southwest Colorado. The San Juans are the most rugged mountains in the state, so rent an SUV and head out on this All-American Road that climbs over four mountain passes, winds through two national forests and passes through the archeological center of the U.S.
Rustic barns, working ranches and abandoned railroad trestles are scattered across the Texas Hill Country’s bucolic landscape, and in spring, the 13-mile Willow City Loop is the go-to drive for fans of wildflowers. We’re talking bluebonnets, bluebonnets and more bluebonnets — the state flower — but also Indian paintbrushes, prairie verbena and pink evening primroses.
This famous parkway prohibits commercial traffic, billboards, gas stations and fast-food restaurants, and the speed limit is just 50 mph — now that’s a scenic route! As you drive the 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, a leisurely pace allows time to explore waterfalls, monuments and Native American mounds and to stop for picnics in the countryside. An easy side trip takes you to Tupelo, Elvis Presley’s birthplace.
Black bears, residents of the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park, cause most of the traffic jams on this mellow 11-mile driving loop that appeals to history buffs and travelers looking for a peaceful vacation destination. A valley surrounded by mountains, Cades Cove features rolling meadows punctuated with log homes, historic churches and mills built in the early 1800s by farmers who immigrated from Europe.
A string of tropical islands, the Florida Keys extend 120 miles from Miami to Key West, the southernmost city in the continental U. S. As you drive along this unique coastal highway, pick a Key — any Key — and stop to explore the historic towns, indulge in wildlife watching and chill out as you view amazing sunsets with the locals.
If bluegrass is music to your ears, find your way from one jam session to another on this 330-mile journey through southwest Virginia that puts you in the birthplace of the genre. Plenty of gifted musicians play traditional tunes year-round in nine major venues and over 60 affiliated venues along the drive, which follows U.S. Highway 58 and assorted two-lane byways dotted with weathered barns and green pastures.
Celebrated in song and story, redwood forests are a peak vacation experience in more ways than one. These towering trees routinely reach 350 feet tall and some are more than 2,000 years old. To make the most of this scenic route, cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and drive 4.5 hours north on Highway 101 to Eureka, in Humboldt County. Along the way, you’ll pass wineries, historic coastal towns and majestic redwood trees growing on both sides of the road.
RelatedView all articles
Read more stories about scenic drives.
Music lovers and history buffs love these foot-stompin’ stops in the Delta.
A drive south along the Mississippi River leads to memorable music.
This iconic drive along the Mississippi River doesn’t miss a beat.
The 440-mile drive pays homage to the state’s diverse landscape.
The All-American road traverses slickrock and features a petrified forest, a beautiful waterfall and gourmet dining.
Challenging drive leads to beautiful vistas and simple food.
The Hawaiian island’s tropical embrace offers a memorable vacation in paradise.
A road trip reminds one traveler how his home shaped him forever.
An easy road trip takes you from a world-class city to a top national park.
The lure of the open road leads drivers to beautiful spots across America.
Maine’s inlets, bays and islands hold countless wonders and mysteries.
Old-world charm and exquisite landscape merge for a South Carolina drive like no other.
On the “Mother Road,” you’ll find welcoming smiles and the guardian angel of the trail.
The leisurely road trip takes drivers through America’s South.
Taking three days to complete this three-hour drive isn’t uncommon; there’s a lot to see.
A weekend road trip through Illinois farmland leads to classic diners, drive-ins and big city splendor.
Riding waves renews joy and restores confidence after a bad mountain fall.
Traveler’s long-awaited road trip starts in Seattle and winds through the Northwest.
Visit log homes, churches and other buildings from the early 1800s on a relaxing 11-mile road trip.
Road trip continues through the northern California redwoods and on to sunny SoCal beaches.
Ontario’s largest provincial park influenced some of Canada’s most iconic art.
Soak in the hot springs, ride the narrow-gauge railroad or stay in a cozy lodge during this road trip.
Explore the trails of Southwest Virginia with easy day hikes.
The classic novel "Anne of Green Gables" is set here, but that's only part of the island's allure.
Rich culture, great seafood and lively music distinguish this Nova Scotia journey from all others.
Grand Teton National Park lies on the outskirts of this popular vacation town.
Minnesota’s North Shore All-American Scenic Drive leads to a prime wilderness experience.
The northwest Connecticut road trip showcases scenery and shopping.
The drive from Boulder to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park reaps many rewards.
Willow City Loop ranks high as a bucket-list drive for wildflower lovers.
Hike, swim or just enjoy the views on this rural road trip.
Outdoor enthusiasts revel in this remote park’s opportunities for adventure.
This scenic region runs north from San Francisco through Redwoods National and State Parks along Highway 101.
Relax, dine and play in the area’s charming coastal towns.
The route through the Medicine Bow Mountains features fly-fishing, camping and more.
The long way home makes for a great road trip.
A workaholic who dreads weekends and a wanderer constantly in motion explore Canada’s Sea to Sky Highway.
A world traveler explores southern Vancouver Island and looks for a place to call home.
Choosing the “old road” opens up a world of appealing characters and beauty along the “Main Street of America.”
Communities on the Crooked Road welcome visitors to the nine-day summer festival.
From po’boys and jazz to barbecue and blues, take a food-driven road trip between America’s Southern sister cities.