There’s a reason you prefer driving over flying. Maybe it’s the road trip snacks or shamelessly belting out your favorite tunes, but more than likely it also has to do with that feeling you get when you’re driving down an open road—windows rolled down as you gaze at the beautiful landscape.
If anything proves that it’s not always about the destination, but how you get there, it’s our nation’s scenic roadways.
We’ve put together five of our favorite scenic drives in the U.S. that will make you glad you decided to take the road less traveled on your next road trip.
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana
A visit to Big Sky Country wouldn’t be complete without experiencing Montana’s world-renowned scenic highway, Going-to-the-Sun Road.
A 50-mile paved two-lane highway, Going-to-the-Sun Road spans the width of Glacier National Park, crossing the Continental Divide at 6,646-feet at Logan Pass. Along the way, expect breathtaking, panoramic views of glacial lakes, subalpine meadows, cascading waterfalls, humbling mountain peaks, and incredible alpine tundra.
There are several scenic viewpoints and pull-outs along the road, like the iconic Jackson Glacier Overlook, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs and enjoy the alpine wilderness around you. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meandering bear searching for berries or Bighorn sheep hanging out near Logan Pass.
Nervous drivers beware though—this drive isn’t for the faint of heart. Portions of Going-to-the-Sun Road are narrow and navigate over steep cliff sides, hugging the mountainside. However, if you’re a little uneasy about being behind the wheel, you don’t have to miss out. Visitors are encouraged to experience the Going-to-the-Sun road by way of tour buses or the free National Park Service shuttle.
Due to unpredictable weather and frequent snowfall, you’ll want to check the current road conditions before you set off on your alpine adventure.
Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
Home to thirty of the tallest mountains in the Rocky Mountain Range, Colorado is no stranger to high-reaching mountain tops and high-elevations roadways. So, it comes as no surprise that the highest continually paved road in the U.S., Trail Ridge Road, is in the Centennial State.
Reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet, Trail Ridge Road highlights the incredibly diverse landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park as it travels through dense evergreen forest, negotiating subalpine fir and spruce, before climbing above treeline into a spectacular alpine tundra.
Designated an All-American Road by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Trail Ridge Road is for anyone looking to experience glacier-carved valleys, pristine alpine lakes, and sweeping mountain vistas. You can drop by the Alpine Visitor Center for a bite to eat, strap on your boots and hit the trail, or just pull over at a panoramic overlook to take in the views.
If you’re looking to get up close and personal to Colorado’s alpine wilderness without leaving the comfort of your car, you won’t want to miss Trail Ridge Road.
Skyline Drive, Virginia
Arguably at the top of the list for fall-vibe drives, the historic Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park is an East Coast favorite for enjoying beautiful displays of lively wildflowers and vibrant autumn hues.
Stretching for 105 miles through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, this renowned mountain highway offers 75 unique, picturesque overlooks, as well as a variety of hiking trails, waterfalls, and day-use areas along the way. With incredible vistas at every turn, navigating Skyline Drive couldn’t be easier. Simply follow strategically placed mileposts, arranged mile-by-mile, to keep a tally of the drive’s top attractions.
Observe one of the park’s highest peaks, Hazel Mountain, from the Hazel Mountain Overlook, or hike into Hazel Country, through the thick hemlock forest and mountain laurel. Experience Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park, or take in panoramic views of the valley below at Calf Mountain.
When you’ve reached the end of the road, if you’re just not ready to call it quits, you can continue on to the Blue Ridge Parkway toward the Great Smoky Mountains. Just be sure to keep calm and cruise along at the posted 35-mph speed limit—this area is frequented by wildlife!
Overseas Highway, Florida
When you think of scenic coastal drives, you probably don’t imagine driving directly over the ocean. Well, just as its name implies, overseas driving is exactly what you get when you traverse the Overseas Highway in Florida.
The Overseas Highway is one of the longest bridges in existence and built on top of an old legendary railroad, which makes it one of the most unique scenic drives in the country. The highway, which spans 113 miles, consists of a series of bridges and roads that begin on mainland Florida and hop from one island to the next until you reach the country’s southernmost point, Key West.
The Seven Mile Bridge is one of the major highlights of the drive along Overseas Highway because it allows you to drive over the ocean for an inconceivable 7 miles, with nothing but emerald seas on both sides. However, there are several other noteworthy attractions along the Overseas Highway. For instance, two state parks, John Pennekamp and Bahia Honda, offer a reprieve from bustling crowds and an opportunity to explore the country’s only living coral reef barrier.
You won’t be hugging the side of a cliff, but this drive is sure to leave you in awe. If you’re heading to the Keys, it’s worth adding the Overseas Highway to your bucket list.
Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon
A list of must-see highways wouldn’t be complete without including America’s first scenic road, The Columbia River Highway. Aptly named “The King of Roads,” the Columbia River Gorge is 70 miles of lush forest, majestic waterfalls, and magnificent overlooks.
Often considered a destination in and of itself, historic structures and natural wonders, like 620-foot Multnomah Falls, draw visitors from around the world looking to immerse themselves in pristine wilderness.
From Vista House, you’ll descend 600 feet to river level via a strategically designed smooth, winding road. From there, you can explore a 5-mile stretch called “waterfall corridor,” which consists of one of the largest concentrations of waterfalls in the country. Popular hiking areas and falls include Latourell, Oneonta Gorge, Shepperd’s Dell, Bridal Veil, and Wahkeena, but a network of trails and footpaths will lead you to a variety of hidden falls and through thick fern forests.
You can continue down the highway to Bonneville Dam, one of several historical landmarks in the area, or finish off your trip at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, where you can learn all about the area you just explored. To say that the Columbia River Gorge is the gem of the Pacific Northwest is an understatement and whether you choose to drive, bike, walk, or hike, is completely up to you.
Sure, you could fly, but if you’ve already made the decision to travel to a beautiful destination, why not travel a beautiful highway to get there? Or maybe you’ll be inspired to make one of these scenic drives your next travel destination. Either way, you’ll be grateful you took a detour or two from your original travel plans. After all, that’s what road trips are all about!
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