Scenic Road Trips

What stirs in your soul when you see natural beauty on a road trip? Does standing on a ridge-top vista over the sea mellow your mood? How about the refraction of sunlight through a forest? Or morning mist on a rolling river? The effect of a scenic road trip is unachievable by other electronic, cinematic, or other means. To appreciate it, you must experience it. Buckle up, charge the camera battery and order the list below to suit your priorities.

Hana Highway -- Maui, Hawaii

Waterfalls, rainforest hikes, lush gardens and crashing ocean waves are all highlights of the 68-mile Hana Highway. Its popularity, then, is no surprise. To beat the crowds, leave the hippie town of Paia early in the day and beeline to Hana, along Hawaii Routes 36 and 360. Then, do your roadside stops on the way back. My favorite spots include the Venus Pool, a turquoise freshwater lagoon separated from the ocean by a natural rock barrier; Upper Waikani Falls, at mile maker 21, and the Garden of Eden, a 26-acre trail-laced, seaside arboretum, at mile marker 10.5.

Skyline Drive, Virginia

The rolling beauty of Shenandoah National Park and the surrounding countryside have inspired writers and musicians for ages. Today Skyline Drive inspires drivers along its 105 miles from Front Royal, VA, to Interstate 64, about 25 miles west of Charlottesville, VA. The road tops out at Stony Man peak (4,010 feet) and serves up dense forests, high meadows, hiking trails (including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail), waterfalls and 80,000 acres of wilderness. Watch for black bear and deer and, in the fall, hawks, falcons and other raptors.

The Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) through Big Sur, California

For rugged beauty, coastal and forest access and funky pit stops, the 90-mile drive through Big Sur, CA, has few equals. Snaking between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Highway 1 has more abrupt undulations than the stock market, so drive patiently. Stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which features an 80-foot waterfall splashing onto the sand. Watch gray seals frolic at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Catch a cocktail and sunset from a majestic overlook at Nepenthe Restaurant and dine in the hobbity coziness of Deetjens Big Sur Inn.

Vermont Route 108 from Stowe to Jeffersonville

To bask in the glory of New England fall foliage, you could drive almost any road in Vermont to almost any town. My top pick is Stowe, VT, a hilly settlement in northern Vermont rife with church steeples, warm taverns and cozy inns. Among the classics is the Stone Hill Inn, a bed-and-breakfast set amid manicured gardens, and The Stowe Inn, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The driving peaks at Smugglers’ Notch Pass, where the road carves a dramatic cut between Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak. Park and hike the Long Trail toward Sterling Pond for exquisite scenery and solitude. Then continue north on Route 108 and drop through the dazzling colors of Green Mountain National Forest for about 8 miles to Jeffersonville, a village of antique shops, galleries and colonial architecture.

Wisconsin's Great River Road

Wisconsin's only National Scenic Byway, the Great River Road meanders for 249 miles and through 33 towns along a bluff-lined section of the Mississippi River. From the small community of Kieler, amble north to Tennyson, an old mining community that supplied almost all of the lead used by the Union Army in the Civil War. The next town north, Potosi, claims to have the longest continuous main street in the world (3 miles). Further on, Lynxville offers a chance to watch vessels transit Lock and Dam 9. In Nelson, the Chippewa River hits the Mississippi River, forming a huge sandbar that hems in Lake Pepin. The route also includes the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, a 261-mile-long protected area that attracts bird watchers.

The Hot List

Explore America’s most stunning scenery.
Join the conversation on Social Media!
Stay updated on the latest travel tips and trends.
Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss Travel Channel in your favorite social media feeds.

Next Up

Fall Foliage Road Trips

Suggestions for fabulous fall foliage road trips throughout the US.