Great destination drives and must-see scenic rides will have you reaching for your keys.
Some travelers know that the journey can be every bit as enjoyable as the destination. Whether you’re headed somewhere exciting like a world-class city or a rustic national park, or simply up for a good road trip, here are some ideas to get you from point A to point B while having a great time in between.
Cascade Loop Scenic Byway, Washington
From vineyards to volcanoes, a few days on this scenic drive allows you to explore towns, wineries, lakes, and alpine views. “You can make this trip what you want it to be—kick back and eat local food, or raft or hike for a more outdoorsy experience,” says Annette Pitts, Executive Director of the Cascade Loop Association. (Her own Volkswagen favorite experience is with her once-owned 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia Pop Top van.) Stop at the Diablo Lake Overlook for spectacular views of jewel-colored glacial lakes and verdant peaks. Grab a room in Lake Chelan and spend a tasty evening walking lakeside from vineyard to vineyard.
Valley of Fire Scenic Byway, Las Vegas to Lake Mead, Nevada
Sometimes a drive isn’t about the end point, it’s about what you see along the way. This stretch in Nevada is one such run of road: along its 8-mile route, fiery red rock formations serve as a dramatic lead-in to Nevada’s oldest and largest state park. Thirty minutes from Las Vegas, each vista transforms with the changing light throughout the day, making for multiple photo-perfect moments. Look for Elephant Rock — a large rock formation that looks like a wooly mammoth — as you enter the park; it adds to the otherworldly vibe. Rainbow Vista Trail is a can’t-miss stop; hike 1.5 miles to see the Fire Wave rock formation (aka the “Bacon Wave”). Summer temps can reach 120 degrees, so visit during fall through spring.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Denver, Colorado
The dramatic scenery changes on this half-day, urban-to-wilderness drive ensure no one will ever be bored by the view outside the windows. On the highest paved road in North America, drive the byway in the morning to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and get good summit views. (Note that there’s a fee to reach the summit.) For a unique Rocky Mountain experience, see the bristlecone pines at the Mt. Goliath Interpretive Trail, maintained by Denver Botanic Gardens. At the peak, you’ll have a commanding view of Colorado, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see bighorn sheep in the distance and mountain goats considerably closer.
Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois
Lake Shore Drive is a destination all its own. As the name implies, this road traverses 15 miles along the shores of Lake Michigan. Along the way, you’ll see several beaches facing the lake to the east and stunning architecture to the west. Head north to Lincoln Park, where the historic zoo is the main draw—and don’t miss the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, a lesser-known treat. Exit the Drive at Fullerton Avenue to frolic with the colorful winged creatures in the lush indoor setting of the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven.
Great Global Drives
While the U.S. has plenty of great drives, we didn’t want to make the rest of the world feel left out. Here are some international routes to add to your list:
The Alaska-Canada Highway is a grand 1,387-mile adventure through some of the most rustic country in Canada and Alaska.
The North Coast 500 in Scotland makes a winding course through the majestic Scottish Highlands.
The Garden Route in South Africa offers coastal and mountain vistas along its 120-mile route.
Stelvio Pass, Italy, is a proving ground for serious drivers, with more than 60 hairpin turns in the Alps.
The High Road to Taos Scenic Byway, Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico
With a backdrop of turquoise skies, this 83-mile drive is a visual treat in any season, with springtime blooming orchards, vibrant summer wildflowers, and fiery fall color changes. For a stop that many tourists miss, visit the Poeh (pronounced “Po”) Cultural Center, a small but robust museum focused on the culture of the people of the Pojoaque Pueblo, and its gift shop with unique finds. (In the Tewa language, “Poeh” means “path,” or “the road taken in life.”) After your visit, grab a breakfast burrito with the locals just up the road at El Parasol.
The Beartooth Highway to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The glacial lakes and alpine views on this route make a spectacular warm-up to Yellowstone National Park. Grab a selfie in two states at the Montana/Wyoming border. At the West Summit pullout, look for the highway’s namesake peak, Na Piet Say (Crow for “the bear’s tooth”), a spire that juts out from the Beartooth Plateau. The Beartooth is open late May through early October, with plenty of lakeside stops for picnics, kayaking, or hiking.
The Overseas Highway, Miami to Key West, Florida
The Overseas Highway from Miami is a great way to island-hop by car; it stretches 113 miles over 42 bridges to connect drivers to the Florida Keys. The longest and most-photographed of these is Seven Mile Bridge, which connects Marathon in the middle Keys to the terminus in Key West. With proper timing, you can drive, park, and grab some epic sunset photos as you enter Marathon. Many old railway bridges are still visible from the Highway; one to catch is a trestle at Old Bahia Honda State Park.
Can’t get enough scenic drives?
Here are other great routes to explore:
Pine Barrens Scenic Highway, New Jersey, a 130-mile route through more than one million acres of pristine forest.
The Bluebonnet Trail, Texas Hill Country, a springtime tradition for families and couples who want to capture fields of flowers in bloom.
Wine roads in Napa Valley Wine Country, California. There are several scenic drives in Napa winding through gently rolling hills with many vineyards, such as the Wine Road in Mendocino and Sonoma County and the Tesla Road in Livermore County.
The Saw Mill River Parkway, a great way to travel between Connecticut and New York City on winding roads through lovely country.