Road Trip! 10 Don't-Miss Scenic Drives
Head out on these highways.
Hit the road, Jack. You can come back when you're ready. Although, these scenic drives have such spectacular views and great attractions, you may not be ready for a long, long time.
Tor Johnson Photography, Hawaii Tourism Authority
Road to Hana, Maui, Hawaii
Drive through paradise when you hit the road to Hana, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Or opt for a tour, since the mile markers here are confusing (they start over after #16, among other oddities). This curvy road runs just over 64 miles, connecting the towns of Kahului and Hana, and takes over a day to complete if you stop to watch surfers from the bluff at Ho’okpa or hike to the waterfalls at Twin Falls. You might also opt to picnic at Kaumahina State Wayside Park, buy fresh-baked banana bread along the road, shop for souvenirs at Nahiku MarketPlace or see tropical rainforest plants, including taro, gingers, papayas and rainbow eucalyptus, at an arboretum. (Tip: bring insect repellant to ward off the mosquitoes.)
Going to the Sun Road, Mont.
Weather can close Going to the Sun Road, in Montana's Glacier National Park, so check ahead before you visit. You’ll need a couple of hours to drive this 50-mile route straight through, but you'll probably want to stop at historic Logan Pass, the road’s highest point, or at a picnic area, spectacular waterfall or trailhead. Keep your eyes open for Bighorn sheep and mountain goats, and see a glacier from Jackson Glacier Overlook. Don’t want to drive, since parking is usually tight, and there’s nowhere in the park to gas up? See the sights from Glacier’s shuttle buses or take a guided tour. Find your options here.
Overseas Highway, Florida Keys, Fla.
Wear your sunglasses on this road to shield your eyes from the glare on all the sparkling, blue-green water. This 113-mile route takes you over 42 bridges that link the Florida Keys. The highway actually begins on the mainland, as the southern-most portion of U.S. 1, and winds up in Key West. Look for dolphins, osprey and other wildlife; you may spot tiny, protected deer on Big Pine Key. Time your trip, if you can, to catch a breathtaking sunrise or sunset. You can drive this route in about four ours, but don't rush. Stop along the way to reef dive, dine on fresh lobster, or pick up trinkets from a gift shop.
Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
Old King’s Highway, Cape Cod, Mass.
Old King’s Highway, or Route 6A, is a 34-mile road between Bourne and Orleans. It’s also the longest contiguous historic district in the U.S. Look for homes and churches listed on the National Register of Historic Places; charming New England-style shops; and views of salt marshes, harbors, tidal flats and beaches. This tree-shaded road probably began as a trail for Native Americans, and become part of the Plymouth Colony’s “King’s Highway” in the late 17th century. Later, as the maritime industry flourished, sea captains built their homes here. Today, visitors to Yarmouth, Sandwich and other towns along Route 6A will find quaint bed-and-breakfasts, country inns, antique shops, heritage museums and gardens and more.
Ben Nugent, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce
Blue Ridge Parkway, Va. and N.C.
"Leaf peepers” crowd the Blue Ridge Parkway each fall to see the trees turn stunning shades of gold, crimson and orange. But this roadway, which runs 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, and connects Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is beautiful in any season. Expect a slow ride; drivers take their time to enjoy the views. Stop at the Visitor Center to use an interactive wall map and decide what to explore. Hear Appalachian or bluegrass at the Blue Ridge Music Center from June to October; hike trails past waterfalls and wildflowers; or fish a river or stream for trout or bass.
Cameron Davidson, Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge
Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg and other cities, Texas
Take your pick of scenic drives in Texas Hill Country, which begins north of Austin, dips south to San Antonio, and then goes west for about 200 miles before the landscape becomes flatter. Start in Fredericksburg to see Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, then take the winding Willow City Loop for some of the most unusual geology in Central Texas. This 13-mile stretch of beautiful meadows, creeks and cliffs is spectacular in the spring, when bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, Mexican poppies and other wildflowers burst into bloom.
Marc Bennett, Fredericksburg CVB
The so-called Swiss Alps of Texas loop runs 80 to 100 miles or more, from Bandera to Concan, depending on which secondary roads you take. These hills range in elevation from 1400 to 2400 feet; the deep canyons you’ll pass were formed by the Frio and Nueces Rivers. Slow down to spot golden-cheeked warblers and armadillos, or stay at a dude ranch in Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World.”
Steve Rawls, Fredericksburg CVB
Venture out along the Gruene-Fredericksburg-Bandera Loop for pastoral views of farmland, ponds and rivers and orchards. This 236-mile route is popular with motorcyclists, and history buffs will enjoy the Gruene Historic District, where German farmers settled in the mid-1840s. Many of the early homes and buildings have been restored, and you can still go honky-tonking at the Gruene Dance Hall, built in 1878.
Great River Road, Minn., Iowa, Mich., Ark., La., Wis., Ill., Ky., Tenn., and Miss.
Often called the best drive in America, the Great River Road roughly follows the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, some 3000 miles away. You’d need about 36 hours to drive straight through, but why would you? There's too much natural beauty, history, and culture to experience as you pass through ten states. You’ll find dozens of river interpretive centers, scenic overlooks, dams and locks and other attractions as you journey through busy urban centers and tiny river towns. Check the road conditions before you go.
Mississippi River Parkway Commission
Driving Utah's Highway 12 Scenic Byway is like hopping in a time machine. The landscape bears witness to changes in human history, geology and archeology, and as you follow the road, you'll see some of the most remote and rugged terrain in the U.S. The scenery varies from the remains of an ancient sea bed to a high, alpine forest as the route passes through Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, three state parks, a national forest, a national recreation area and Grand Staircase National Monument.
Steve Greenwood, Utah Office of Tourism
Pacific Coast Highway, Calif.
This 550-mile highway is considered one of the best motorcycle rides in the country. It’s also fun to drive in a convertible, so the wind can lift your hair as the views lift your spirits. Also known as California State Route 1, the roadway twists and curves, with sharp drop-offs and narrow shoulders in many places. Check the California DOT for info on mudslides or other road conditions before heading out. You’ll need at least three or four days to explore the many sights and attractions along the way, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey; the artsy galleries and boutiques in Carmel-by-the-Sea; and Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
Carol M. Highsmith, Visit California
High Road to Taos, N.M.
You can cover the High Road between Santa Fe and Taos is less than three hours, but you’ll be tempted to get out and explore some of the charming villages along the way. In Chimayo, traditional weavers sell their work and display award-winning pieces in galleries. Look for an 18th-century mission church, featuring Spanish Colonial architecture, in the town of Las Trampas, or purchase a permit to visit historic Taos Pueblo, a World Heritage Site where the adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over a thousand years.