Hit the road and enjoy the scenic views from Hawaii to Rhode Island.
From the dramatic California coast to history-lined thoroughfares of New England, there are countless scenic drives across the country—and some stellar standouts. We’ve picked the American routes with heart-stopping views. On the winding Blue Ridge Parkway, for example, don’t be surprised if the morning mists seduce you like a country melody. The 469-mile road, which turned 75 years old last year, wends its way past limestone caverns, clear mountain springs, and Appalachian majesty, offering different panoramic vistas depending on the season.
U.S. 1 in the Florida Keys
Photo: M. Timothy O'Keefe / Alamy
And on U.S. 1 from Key Largo to Key West, travelers are treated to a good time, Florida style. The island chain’s stretch of road encompasses everything from underwater coral reefs and 7 Mile Bridge, one of the longest in the world, to marinas where you can hand-feed tarpon.
So bring a friend or your family and hit the road.
Leaving the mainland for the 120-mile-long island chain of Florida’s Keys, travelers enter a paradise of beach bars, water sports, and Parrotheads (Jimmy Buffett fans). From Key Largo to Key West, the overseas highway strings the islands together like beads, running past lighthouses, underwater coral-reef parks, and across 7 Mile Bridge—one of the longest bridges in the world.
Stop: On the docks at Islamorada travelers can hand-feed bait fish to tarpon more than six feet long.
Route 12 in Utah
Photo: Stefan Baeurle
The red rock majesty of Utah is on triumphant display on State Route 12 winding between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks. The 124-mile strip has funky small towns and very few entry points, so it takes a map and determination to witness the steep sandstone canyons and bluffs of purple sage, and to tackle the narrow cliff-hanging ridgeline road called The Hogback.
Stop: The log-and-sandstone Kiva Koffeehouse in Escalante supplies travelers with art, coffee, and views of Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument.
17-Mile Drive, California
Photo: imagebroker / Alamy
The so-called 17-Mile Drive spanning California’s Monterey Peninsula clocks in at less than 10 miles long. On a privately owned strip off Highway 1, stretching from the towns of Pacific Grove to Carmel, the road runs through the Del Monte forests belonging to the exclusive Pebble Beach golf community. With surf-beaten cliffs and colonies of harbor seals, it also boasts spectacular sunsets over the Pacific that residents say are worth the $9 entry fee to use the private road.
Stop: The Monterey Bay Aquarium has sunlit kelp-forest tanks, a petting pool, and a million-gallon tank with giant sharks and sea turtles.
Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia and the Carolinas
Photo: Andre Jenny / Alamy
Blue Ridge Parkway
Carolinas and Virginia
The nearly 500 miles of blacktop twisting through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks was built for travelers seeking Appalachian overlooks. It’s a panoramic drive for all seasons, with undulating slopes of color in autumn, a bounty of forest canopy in summer, and hot-cider ski resorts in winter. The parkway has become a paradise for birders: with 59 resident species, it boasts more diversity than the entire continent of Europe.
Stop: In the mines of the mineral-rich Appalachian Mountains, visitors can pan for emeralds, amethyst, rubies, topaz, and even gold.
Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Lake Shore Drive
The rock stars of American architecture line up like soldiers facing Lake Michigan, starting north at Hollywood and reaching south through Jackson Park, spanning 26 miles. But the downtown buildings are showstoppers, from the blocky staircase of the Willis Tower—formerly the Sears Tower and tallest building in the world—to the Belle Époque elegance of Burnham and Root’s Rookery, to the stark post-Bauhaus boxes of Mies van der Rohe. It is the greatest architecture road on Earth.
Stop: In Millennium Park, listen to free summer concerts under Frank Gehry’s fretwork bandshell.
Bluebonnet Trail, Texas
Photo: Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images
Between Austin and Houston lies the Lone Star State’s most beautiful scenery, especially from March to May when the wild bluebonnets are out in force. From Austin, you’ll pass a chain of seven interconnected lakes on the Colorado River, including Lake Buchanan, a wilderness resort area popular with fishermen and artists.
Stop: To admire more of the state’s native flowers, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center, named for the first lady who made national beautification a priority.
Hana Highway, Maui
Photo: Royce Bair/Alamy
The T-shirts all say: I survived the road to Hana. It can take more than four hours to travel the 52 miles from Kahului to Hana, as you snake past steep sea-cliffs lush with blooming mango trees, buy banana bread from roadside stalls, and pull over for Jurassic vistas. In tiny Hana, a town on eastern Maui, a cinder cone shields the red sand beach where nudists and endangered monk seals bake idly in the sun.
Stop: Drive past Hana to where the road ends (or becomes unpassable, according to most rental car contracts) to visit the Seven Sacred Pools, a gently cascading, seven-tiered gulch at Haleakala National Park.
Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
Photo: Witold Skrypczak/Alamy
Trail Ridge Road
Welcome to the highest continually paved road in the U.S.: the Trail Ridge Road winds as high as 12,185 feet through Rocky Mountain National Park. Following a route traced over the Continental Divide by Native Americans for thousands of years, visitors can see elk, deer, and bighorn sheep above the tree line in the dramatic tundra.
Stop: The imposing Victorian splendor of the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, CO, was Stephen King’s inspiration for The Shining.
North Shore Drive, Minnesota
Photo: Joseph Sohm/Corbis
North Shore Drive
Lake Superior’s Minnesota shoreline is a thing of glacial beauty. As you drive from Duluth toward Two Harbors, Gitche Gumee’s “shining big sea waters” stretch out to the right and birch and maple northwoods climb high on the left. You’ll also get a look at ocean tankers anchored in the last inland port of the St. Lawrence Seaway as they wait to upload iron or grain from America’s heartland before sending it out to the world.
Stop: Duluth’s four-mile lakeside sports path shows off the city highlights: a rose garden, pre-Prohibition brewery, an aerial bridge, and the largest grain elevators in the world.
Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire"
Photo: Daniel Dempster Photography / Alamy
Though the White Mountains are a year-round sportsman’s paradise, the autumnal fireworks are the undisputed highlights of New Hampshire’s 36-mile Kancamagus Highway. Serious leaf-peepers visit in October to see the maples, alder, and birch blazing in full Technicolor glory. In spring, expect yellow violets and wood anemone.
Stop: Take the half-mile hike to Sabbaday Falls, near Waterville, NH, to visit a three-tiered waterfall with easy access to the road.
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