Suggested Vehicle: Mazda Miata
The most iconic of American roadways, the Pacific Coast Highway is probably best known for its jaw-dropping stretches along California’s coast, but we suggest making the most of this singular highway by taking it all the way south from the Olympic Mountains in Washington, down Oregon’s gold coast, and then snaking your way along the western-most edge of California. The 101 winds and weaves its course along the cliff’s edge of this breathtaking coastline, making the drive equally thrilling for driver and passenger alike. From snow-capped peaks and sea lions to Redwoods and wine country, there are ample opportunities for diversion along this epic roadway.
Suggested Vehicle: 63 Ford Falcon (Jimmy Buffet’s ride)
These 113 miles of roads and bridges take you from the mainland and Miami south to the Florida Keys and Key West. The path was first forged as a rail line as part of the Florida East Coast Railway, but following a hurricane in 1935, the roadbed and bridges were eventually bought by the state of Florida and developed into the Overseas Highway. The southernmost extension of US highway 1 features 37 bridges including the renowned Seven Mile Bridge, which is one of the longest in the world. A truly unique driving experience, the Overseas Highway offers motorists one-of-a-kind vistas of turquoise blue waters and coppered sunsets. The typical four-hour drive can be taken at a much more leisurely pace as you can stop at keys along the route for fishing, catching a glimpse of the area’s unique wildlife, or sampling local cuisine.
Suggested Vehicle: 87 Jeep Wrangler
Traveling west on Interstate 90, Badlands National Park is a quick detour south on your way to the Black Hills in western South Dakota. The 30 mile stretch of the Badlands Scenic Byway features a gorgeous landscape of expansive prairie, winding canyons, and austere rock formations. The stark beauty of the striated sandstone provides some of the best photography opportunities in the entire region. Sunset was our favorite time to snap some pics as the play of light on the rocks is truly spectacular.
Suggested Vehicle: RAM 1500 (Laramie trim line)
Known as “The Great Sky Road,” this southern alternative to I-80, officially dubbed the Snowy Range Scenic Byway, runs through the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. While Yellowstone and the Tetons may get more press, this beautiful section of southeastern Wyoming boasts some of the best scenery in the state. In addition to the snowy peaks and picturesque valleys, the area hosts a bevy of wildlife watching opportunities as you travel up from the prairie and into the mountains. If you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tail and mule deer, yellow-bellied marmot, even the occasional bighorn sheep.
Suggested Vehicle: Subaru Forrester
Once again, taking the road less traveled, Route 89 runs roughly parallel to I-15 but makes for a more deliberate pace allowing motorists to soak in all that Utah has to offer. Traveling south to north, this journey takes you through a comprehensive survey of western landscapes. Because there are so many National Parks along this route, we recommend allotting a few days to take it all in. Starting in southern Utah route 89 meanders between Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park and then shoots north, passing through mountainous country, forests of white fir and Rocky mountain maple, stark desert terrains, and skirting the Great Salt Lake.
Suggested Vehicle: Alfa Romeo Giulia
On the North Carolina/Tennessee border, this short section of Highway 129 in the Great Smoky Mountains along Deal’s Gap is a mere 11 miles long and yet it packs a mind-bending 300 plus curves. The “Tail of the Dragon” attracts motorists from all over the country and is a particular favorite of motorcyclists and sports car owners for its swift curves and lush greenery. Whether you plan on driving it with four wheels or two, you’ll have to take it slow. The 30-mph speed limit ensures not only safety but also makes this drive a leisurely one, meandering down one of the world’s most winding roads.
Suggested Vehicle: Ford Delux
Located on Edisto Island, the Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Area provides a unique glimpse into the cultural and ecological legacy of the South Carolina coast. The area is one of the few undeveloped sections of South Carolina coastline, featuring salt marshes, stunning beachfronts, hardwood forests, and coastal wetlands. Along your drive through the park you’ll encounter overhangs of Spanish moss-draped oak, loblolly pine, and cabbage palmetto. Stop off at the Pockoy Island Trail for a hike along the “Boneyard beach” strewn with pale, surf-scoured dead trees (a photographer’s favorite). In addition to the natural beauty on display, you’ll discover historically significant structures and ruins dating to the Colonial and Slave periods. The serene and captivating 6 ½ mile driving tour of Edisto Island will leave you spellbound.
Suggested Vehicle: Toyota Land Crusier
Take your Utah road trip from memorable to epic by following Highway 89 northward, and head for perhaps the most spectacular of all mountain vistas in the US, Glacier National Park. Along the way you can make a pitstop in Yellowstone National Park, home of the Ol’ Faithful Geyser and numerous herds of bison. As geologically wondrous as Yellowstone might be, the real awe-inspiring monuments to deep time await you in the sheer magnificence of Glacier National Park. The only way to see it properly (and literally as it is the only road that passes through the whole park) is along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road which sweeps its way along the shore of Saint Mary’s Lake, climbs over Logan Pass and the Continental Divide, and skirts the magnificent Lake McDonald to the west. Few places on earth can match these imposing mountain walls, the park’s namesake glaciers glinting in the summer sun, and the jewel-like hues of the emerald and sapphire of the lake waters. For road trip destinations, they just don’t get more dramatic than this.
Suggested Vehicle: Buick Enclave
New England is renowned for its eye-popping fall foliage and there are few better drives to take in these seasonal fireworks than the Kancamagus Scenic Byway located in northern New Hampshire. Nature’s canvas gets painted in the boldest brushstrokes of shimmering gold, crimson, and orange. There are lots of hiking, rock climbing, and camping opportunities along the route which makes this not just a great detour during the fall but an awesome outdoor destination throughout the summer as well.
Suggested Vehicle: GMC Acadia
Travel the opposite end of US Highway 1 up Maine’s ruggedly beautiful coastline where you’ll find thousands of islands, shifting sand dunes tufted with beach grass, and craggy inlets hewn out of primeval rock by the thundering surf. Mount Desert Island, the largest of Maine’s coastal islands, hosts the enchanting Acadia National Park, dotted with lakes, wetlands, coniferous and deciduous forest, and ringed by its distinctively rocky coastline. The most noteworthy natural feature is Cadillac Mountain, at 1530 ft it’s the highest mountain on the eastern seaboard and affords a monumental view of the area for visitors. Acadia also features unique wildlife watching opportunities. Check out the north Atlantic puffins, catch sight of a peregrine falcon, or go whale watching. Plus, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the park, including hiking, camping, and even kayaking.
Great article! I can tell this guy really knows his scenic routes!
What about good ole’ Route 66? That used to be the road trip staple! I can’t accept that this star has lost it’s shine. It is definitely a change of scenery compared to this other lot, but Route 66 takes you back to a different time and a slower pace of things that I really think more people need in this day and age.
Great article! These routes look stunning, each in their own right! Adding some to the bucket list. Thanks for sharing!
Oh yes. I have driven the Route. Me and Denny took the trip in 1969. We drove it all the way form St Louis to San Bernardino for his sisters wedding. I have some great memories from that trip. I went back with my own wife years later but the road had changed.
I had to come back and re-read this one again. So far I’ve done two of these rides – Pacific coast highway 1 and the route through the Badlands national park. I’ve got to make plans to ride the tail off the dragon! But I don’t wear golden pants so I won’t be in any Alfa Romeo. That ride is meant for a motorcycle anyway.