9 Outstanding Scenic Drives


Above photo: Capitol Reef National Park in Utah features dramatic rocks. Photo by Charles Williams

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.

The Road to Hana, Hawaii

 

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.

 

Utah’s Scenic Byway 12

 

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.

 

The San Juan Skyway in Colorado

 

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.

The Willow City Loop in Texas

 

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.

 

The Natchez Trace Parkway through the South

 

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.

 

Cades Cove in Tennessee

 

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.

 

Florida’s Overseas Highway

 

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.
 

Virginia’s Crooked Road

 

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.

 

California’s Redwood Coast

 

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.

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