Travel's Best Road Trips 2015
Buckle up for the ride of a lifetime with Travel’s Best Road Trips 2015, our coveted list of the most picturesque and awe-inspiring drives around the world.
We pulled together a panel of 5 experts — including avid hiker and road tripper Michelle Bucher, 100RoutesAcrossAmerica.com founder Shannon Entin, and award-winning travel journalist Mike Shubic — to share their recommendations.
Page-Lake Powell, Arizona and Utah
Located on the central border of Arizona and Utah is one of the most stunning recreational areas in the country, Page-Lake Powell. It’s extremely scenic, with tall canyons, red-rock formations and sand dunes, and it’s an unparalleled place for activities such as houseboating, waterskiing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping and so much more.
Page-Lake Powell is about 4 hours north of Phoenix, and there are a number of sights not to miss in the area. My favorites include Horseshoe Bend, one of the most photographed areas on the Colorado River; Antelope Canyon, the subject of a photo that sold for $6.5 million in 2014, setting an all-time record; Rainbow Bridge, which is accessible by boat; and Lone Rock, a spot on the western end of the lake with great access for boats to sand dunes and cliff jumping. Plus, the 710-foot-high Glen Canyon Dam is an engineering marvel.
Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada
Just a short 2-hour road trip north of Las Vegas, you’ll find State Highway 375, aka the Extraterrestrial Highway. This is the place where more UFO sightings are reported than anywhere else in America. Highway 375 is located fairly close to Area 51, making it a unique road-trip experience.
Along the way, you’ll pass several alien-themed shops and roadside attractions. We brought along alien masks, tinfoil and toy alien guns to use while posing for pictures in front of the Extraterrestrial Highway sign — a highlight of this road trip. And keep an eye out for any UFO sightings while driving along!
Sea to Sky Highway, British Columbia, Canada
The Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, British Columbia, is a beautiful drive with lots of great attractions along the way. The road hugs the North Shore Mountains, offering picturesque views of the many small islands in the Pacific Ocean. Stop in the town of Squamish for a ride up the Sea to Sky Gondola, which takes you to the top of the iconic Stawamus Chief. This mountain is known worldwide for its rock climbing and hiking trails, as well as its stunning vistas of the valley below.
The Sea to Sky Highway is also a gateway to several stunning hikes in the Garibaldi Provincial Park region, including those around Elfin Lakes, the Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge and Garibaldi Lake.
Skyline Drive, Virginia
Roads named Skyline Drive call to me. This road through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia has the views to live up to the name, but get out and hike for the real reward. Stop at a camp store — if only to observe the Appalachian Trail hikers gathered to rest, refuel and socialize. Strike up a conversation, and you'll hear true tales of stamina and fortitude. I left with renewed vigor and a burning desire to do something epic in my lifetime, plus a bear sighting and a mountaintop family photo for our holiday card.
17-Mile Drive, California
The 17-Mile Drive through the Monterey Peninsula rivals the Pacific Coast Highway in quintessential California fame and beauty. This loop hugs the coastline, running alongside Pebble Beach Golf Links, past the landmark Lone Cypress and through the Del Monte Forest.
For a $10 toll, drivers seeking a scenic route can experience everything they could possibly ask for packed into just under 20 miles of roadway. Our insider tips? Stop at the Fanshell Overlook to catch the harbor seals and at Spanish Bay to camp in the same spot where Don Gaspar de Portela landed in 1769. Unfortunately, motorcycles aren’t conducive to golfing; no bikers are allowed on this drive.
Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming
Charles Kuralt, the legendary host of the television show On the Road, called this “the most beautiful drive in America,” and it’s hard to deny that. The Beartooth All-American Road, aka the Beartooth Highway, runs from Red Lodge, MT, into the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. While it’s less than 70 miles, the drive takes at least 3 hours, thanks to legendary switchbacks and a rugged landscape of forests and alpine tundra. It’s surrounded by the Custer, Gallatin and Shoshone national forests and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and it borders Yellowstone, so you’re driving through a millionplus acres of undeveloped land.
Beartooth Highway itself is the highest-elevation highway in the Northern Rockies and one of the most rugged areas in the Lower 48 states (20 peaks surpass 12,000 feet in elevation). Hit the Rock Creek Vista Point rest area (which is at 9,000 feet above sea level) and the West Summit (whose highest point is at 11,000 feet) to feel the full significance of Beartooth’s elevation. Note that gnarly weather is a factor, so double-check that the passes are open before you make the trek.
Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Seattle is known for its robust ferry system, which connects the islands of Washington state. From downtown Seattle, you can drive onto a ferry that will take you across the Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island, the start of a fantastic road trip around the Olympic Peninsula. You needn’t drive the full loop of more than 300 miles, but if you do, you’ll see picturesque shorelines, waterfalls, pristine lakes, mountain views and even a rain forest.
Take State Highways 305 and 104 toward Port Gamble, a town that’s straight out of Pleasantville. Highway 104 meanders north, and then turns into US Route 101W, which will take you to the town of Sequim. Fantastic inns, restaurants and outdoor activities await. On a clear day, drive to the top of Hurricane Ridge for views of Vancouver Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
On the western side of Olympic National Park is Sol Duc, an unforgettable rain-forest day trip. Marymere Falls, near the famed Lake Crescent Lodge, and the lake itself are also worth a stop. If you continue west along State Highway 112, you’ll reach the most northwesterly point in the contiguous US, Cape Flattery.
Heritage Highway 89, Utah
This route links several distinct areas of scenic beauty and Western history. Little Denmark was settled by early Mormon pioneers from Scandinavia. Glass and woodworking studios reflect this heritage, and the towns boast numerous well-preserved historic buildings. Sevier Valley is farming and ranch country. Visit the Butch Cassidy Museum in Richfield and his childhood home in Circleville; take a dip in the Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe; and shop for antiques in Sevier. Stop in Panguitch’s charming historic downtown and, farther south, watch as the red-rock rims of the Colorado Plateau begin to rise. Finish up in the colorful town of Kanab, or explore other wonderful destinations within easy reach, including Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.
Great River Road, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa
Start in picturesque Dubuque, IA, home of the shortest, steepest railway in the world and an aquarium that showcases the fish of the Mississippi. Nearby, run the bases at the Field of Dreams baseball diamond, or cross into Wisconsin to visit the Dickeyville Grotto, an eccentric shop made of seashells and costume jewelry. Head north on the Great River Road to Prairie du Chien, WI, a river town with a colorful past. Visit villages such as Harpers Ferry and Lansing, IA, or check out the world’s largest six-pack of beer in La Crosse, WI. In Wabasha, MN, visit the National Eagle Center and see bald eagles in the wild. Finish with a pint of legendary Peanut Butter Porter at Dangerous Man Brewing Co. in Minneapolis.
Gulf Coast, Alabama
Road trip along the Gulf of Mexico, and you'll want to spend most of your time — and food budget — on Alabama's coast. Yes, you'll love its sugary white-sand beaches and Caribbean-like waters, but the real treasure here is the food. In Orange Beach, AL, don't miss the build-your-own bloody mary menu at Brick & Spoon; the Murder Point oysters at Fisher's Dockside; and Ginny Lane's blackened shrimp and grits — served with sweet, crisp fried green tomatoes and a remoulade that I still dream about.