Feb 6, 2024
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The 12 Best Scenic Roads & Road Trips in the USA

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The USA, a vast tapestry of landscapes, cultures, and stories, is best experienced on four wheels. Buckle up, adventure seekers, for we’re embarking on a journey to discover the most breathtaking road trips and scenic drives the USA has to offer. From the sun-drenched Pacific Coast Highway to the vibrant foliage of the Blue Ridge Parkway, prepare to be dazzled by diverse terrains, awe-inspiring vistas, and charming roadside stops.

This article is your roadmap to unforgettable experiences. Whether you crave coastal breezes, mountain majesty, or desert wonderlands, we’ll unveil routes that cater to every travel style and desire. We’ll delve into iconic journeys like Route 66, whispering tales of America’s bygone era, and hidden gems like the Beartooth Highway, where soaring peaks and turquoise lakes steal your breath away.

But beyond the asphalt ribbons, we’ll delve deeper. We’ll recommend quaint towns brimming with local flavor, national parks teeming with adventure, and hidden viewpoints that capture the soul of the American landscape. This is more than just a list of roads; it’s an invitation to embrace the freedom of the open road, to discover the unique character of each region, and to create memories that will last a lifetime.

1 – Route 66

  • Location: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona y California
  • Distance: 2,450 miles (3,900 kilometers)
  • Days: 1 week
  • Key points: St. Louis (Missouri), Cadillac Ranch, Grand Canyon Caverns, delve into Navajo history, Meteor Crater, the California coast

Route 66 is the quintessential road trip route in the United States and one of the most iconic routes in the world. 2,450 miles – 3,900 kms of asphalt that connect Chicago with Los Angeles, the cold of the northeast with the hot Californian south. This route was inaugurated in 1926 and for more than 50 years it was the backbone that crossed the country from end to end. Condemned to ostracism due to the large highways built in the 60s and 70s, it still remains a place of worship for countless road trippers, motorcyclists and the curious, as well as being part of the global history of the United States. Route 66 runs through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, with many people considering the best section to be the one that runs from the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. Cruising down Route 66 is a journey through American history and pop culture, offering diverse landscapes, quirky towns, and iconic landmarks.

2 – Overseas Highway, Florida

  • Location: Florida
  • Distance: 113 miles (182 kilometers)
  • Days: 1 – 2 days
  • Key points: Seven Mile Bridge, sunset at Key West, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, kayak or paddleboard through mangroves, dolphin & whale watching, Bahia Honda State Park

The Overseas Highway, a 113-mile stretch of U.S. Route 1, winds its way through the turquoise waters and vibrant coral reefs of the Florida Keys, connecting mainland Florida to Key West. Nicknamed the “Highway that Goes to Sea,” it’s more than just a road; it’s an iconic journey offering unparalleled ocean views, charming island towns, and endless opportunities for exploration. But beyond the breathtaking ocean views, the Overseas Highway offers a treasure trove of must-see attractions and must-do activities to make your road trip truly special. It is most crowded during peak season (winter and spring). Consider visiting during shoulder seasons (fall and early winter) for pleasant weather and smaller crowds. Pack plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat for protection from the strong Florida sun. Bring your swimsuit and beach towel for refreshing dips in the turquoise waters.

3 – Route 12, Utah

  • Location: Utah
  • Distance: 122 miles (196 kilometers)
  • Days: 1 – 2 days
  • Key points: Capitol Reef National Park, Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park

Utah’s Route 12, also known as Scenic Byway 12, is a 122-mile road trip dream, weaving through diverse landscapes and offering breathtaking scenery every turn.  Route 12 promises an unforgettable journey through Utah’s diverse landscapes, history, and culture. Embrace the adventure, soak in the beauty, and create lasting memories on this scenic byway!

4 – Beartooth Highway, Montana y Wyoming

  • Location: Montana and Wyoming
  • Distance: 66 mile (107 kilometers)
  • Days: 1 – 2 days
  • Key points: Top of the World at Beartooth Plateau, Rock Creek Vista, Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area, Lake Solitude, hiking, the charming mountain town Red Lodge

Beartooth Highway, photo: m01229

Beartooth Highway is a 66-mile (107-kilometer) mountainous stretch of U.S. Highway 212 that offers stunning views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains in Wyoming and Montana, reaching an elevation of 10,947 feet (3,335 meters) above sea level. With over 10,000 mountain lakes and 20 peaks that exceed 11,500 feet (3,500 meters) in height, Beartooth is one of the most popular mountain routes in the United States. The road is mostly winding and its altitude allows you to enjoy countless views of the winding roads of southwestern Montana and northwestern Wyoming. The Beartooth Highway is only open from late spring to early fall, so be sure to plan your trip accordingly. Pack layers of clothing as the weather can change quickly in the mountains.

5 – Tail of the Dragon, Tennessee and North Carolina

  • Location: Tennessee and North Carolina
  • Distance: 9 miles (15 kilometers)
  • Days: 1 day
  • Key points: Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, Fontana Lake, Nantahala National Forest, Cherokee (North Carolina)

Tail of the Dragon aerial view

Starring in many television series and movies, the legendary Tail of the Dragon or U.S. 129 route winds through the Great Smoky Mountains through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and North Carolina for 9 miles (15 kilometers) with 318 tight curves. It is considered “the destination” for the thousands of motorcyclists who ride it throughout the year. A technical road, it requires caution due to its tight turns.

6 – Pacific Coast Highway, California

  • Location: California
  • Distance: 650 miles (1,050 kilometers)
  • Days: 3 days
  • Key points: Golden Gate Bridge, Visit a winery in Napa Valley, whale watching in Monterey Bay, Redwood National Park, surf in San Diego, Santa Barbara beach, Bixby Creek Bridge, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Morro Bay State Park, Hearst Castle in San Simeon

One of the most popular destination for road trips in the world. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), also known as California State Route 1, is a legendary road trip route that snakes along the California coast for over 650 miles. The iconic stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles gradually materialized throughout the 1920s and 30s, including the challenging Big Sur section built partly by prison labor. It’s more than just a highway; it’s an iconic  experience, offering breathtaking ocean views, charming towns, diverse landscapes, and endless opportunities for exploration. Buckle up, because you’re in for a treat!

7 – Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

  • Location: Virginia and North Carolina
  • Distance: 469 mile (755 kilometers)
  • Days: 3 days
  • Key points: Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, Linn Cove Viaduct, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile (755 kilometers) scenic route that winds through the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It’s known as “America’s Favorite Drive”.  It offers stunning vistas of rolling hills, valleys, and forests. The Blue Ridge Parkway is most popular during the fall foliage season, so if you’re planning a trip, be sure to book your accommodations well in advance. The Blue Ridge Parkway is open seasonally, typically from late spring to late fall.

8 – Columbia River Highway, Oregon

  • Location: Oregon
  • Distance: 70 miles (112 kilometers)
  • Days: 2 days
  • Key points: Columbia River Gorge, Latourell Falls, Bridge of the Gods, Bonneville Dam, Vista House, Multnomah Falls

The Columbia River Highway, in Oregon, is a classic driving route known for its dramatic views of the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls. If you are looking for a scenic drive with stunning views, the Historic Columbia River Highway is a great option. The highway winds its way through the Columbia River Gorge, offering breathtaking views of the river, waterfalls, and mountains. There are also many places to pull over and take in the scenery, including Multnomah Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the United States. The Historic Columbia River Highway is a popular destination for cyclists and hikers as well. There are several trails that follow the highway, offering challenging climbs and beautiful views. If you are planning a trip to the Columbia River Gorge, be sure to include the Historic Columbia River Highway on your itinerary. You won’t be disappointed!

9 – Hana Highway, Hawaii

  • Location: Hawaii
  • Distance: 65 miles (106 kilometers)
  • Days: 1 day
  • Key points: Twin Falls, Wailua Falls, Pipiwai Trail, Black Sand Beach, Red Sand Beach

The Hana Highway, also known as the Road to Hana, is a beautiful and scenic drive on the eastern coast of Maui, Hawaii. It’s not just a road, but an adventure that winds through lush rainforests, past waterfalls, and along rugged coastlines. The drive takes about 3-4 hours, so start early to avoid crowds and have time to enjoy the stops. The road can be narrow and bumpy, so a Jeep or other high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Pack snacks and water: There are few places to stop for food and drinks along the way.

10 – U.S. 2 Route

  • Location: North Dakota del Norte and Montana
  • Distance: 932 miles (1,500 kilometers)
  • Days: 4 days
  • Key points: Glacier National Park, Missoula, Great Falls, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, Bison National Wildlife Refuge

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

U.S. 2 Route is not a route for any season of the year. Winters in North Dakota and Montana can be unbearable, but during the warmer summer, spring, and fall months, the endless prairies, in the purest American Western style, come alive with life, vegetation, and color. This route is long, about 932 miles (1,500 kilometers), and runs horizontally between the two aforementioned states. Much of the route is made up of large pieces of farmland. The sky in this area of the United States is immense, and you will see that solitude marks most of the journey, as you will cross two of the least populated states in the country.

11 – Dalton Highway, Alaska

  • Location: Alaska (Fairbanks to Deadhorse)
  • Distance: 480 miles (669 kms)
  • Days: 5
  • Key points:Coldfoot, Yukon River Bridge, Deadhorse, Cross the Arctic Circle

Dalton Highway and the Brooks Mountain Range

The Dalton Highway, officially known as Alaska Route 11, is a 480-mile highway in Alaska that runs from Fairbanks to Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields. It is one of the northernmost roads in the world and is a popular destination for adventure travelers.  This gravel road traverse the heart of Alaska’s remote wilderness and through some of the most untouched landscapes in the world. Witness diverse scenery, from boreal forests and mountain peaks to the vast Arctic tundra. Stop at the iconic Yukon River crossing, refuel in the isolated town of Coldfoot, and reach the industrial heart of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. However, be prepared for the challenges: navigate the unpaved road, face unpredictable weather, and pack for extreme temperatures. Plan meticulously, bring essential supplies, and respect the fragile environment for a safe and awe-inspiring adventure.

12 – Red Rock Country, Arizona ok

  • Location: Arizona
  • Distance: Around 80 miles (130 kilometers)
  • Days: 2-3 days
  • Key points: Oak Creek Canyon, Red Rocks, Sedona, Chapel of the Holy Cross

Red Rock Country, photo: Bill Gracey

Immerse yourself in Sedona’s magic on a 3-day adventure! Begin with a scenic drive through Oak Creek Canyon, marveling at waterfalls and vibrant foliage. Hike Cathedral Rock for panoramic views, then savor dinner at a local restaurant. Embark on a thrilling jeep tour, unraveling Sedona’s history and geology. Stargaze under the clear night sky, reveling in the celestial spectacle. Hike Bell Rock’s challenging trails for rewarding vistas, then explore the charming Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. Consider capping your trip with a breathtaking hot air balloon ride over the red rocks. Remember, this is just a suggestion – tailor it to your interests and create lasting memories in Sedona!

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